After the conclusion of the Justice League of America's current storyline, writer/artist Bryan Hitch is planning an even longer-form story -- with discussions also underway with Justice League writer and DC executive Geoff Johns about a crossover between the two Justice League books.
Since the series' debut in June, Justice League of America has introduced mysteries and planted seeds for several story threads, from the cryptic, time-traveling characters in the Infinity Corporation to the strange "Stones of Forever" that seem to manipulate time to the disappearance of the gods of Olympus. And at the center of the current storyline is the appearance of Rao, the god from Superman's home world.
Working with inker Daniel Henriques and colorist Alex Sinclair, Hitch promises that he'll get to all of these threads, and hopes to get the series on a more regular schedule (after a fill-in issue hit stores in November). Newsarama talked to Hitch to find out more about the mysteries so far, why his first storyline takes such an interest in religion, and what's coming up next.
Newsarama: Bryan, why were you interested in exploring the idea of a god — particularly the god from Superman's home world — being the main villain in your Justice League of America story?
Bryan Hitch: When you're dealing with something like the Justice League, you need something that's world-spanning and world-threatening. I'm not too keen on the clubhouse Jsutice League — the idea of the watchtower or the clubhouse or the satellite. That doesn't seem to fit with the kind of lives they lead in their own books anyway.
Superheroes tend to be very reactive. Something comes and they take up a defensive posture. They're not generally an offensive group. They don't go on the offensive except in the final act of your story. So I was trying to think of a way the whole league could be a part of — something that affects the whole world.
So I liked the idea of a "god" coming to Earth, and the idea that most people would think that's a nice thing, not a dark character who's there to oppress, but somebody who's seemingly there to bring peace, prosperity, health, happiness, etcetera to the world's population.
And that's something that even the superheroes themselves can't do, so how do they react to a situation like that, even as they see it as being an overall threat?
I thought it was a new kind of situation to put them in.
I also don't think you need six people in every panel reacting to the same thing. I like the idea that this is an unlimitedly budgeted HBO series, so you can have an ensemble cast and you can use them in some issues, but not all issues. It's not something that has to have six or seven people in every panel reacting to what's going on. That's an X-Men book, you know?
So this story pulls together my years and years of thinking about working on these characters, so it's a very well-seasoned response to being given the chance to work with them.
And Rao specifically was one of those little "click" moments, when I thought about the idea of a god story — somebody who could be potentially benign. I grew up with Superman saying "Great Rao!" as a kid, so I made that connection. And Superman fighting his own god seemed like a potentially great fight, where he's fighting something greater than himself.
Nrama: You also utilize time travel to tell this story. You mentioned that you didn't want six characters together in the story all the time, and you've accomplished that by sending some to different eras. But was that also an element you wanted to use as a non-linear storytelling device? And will we learn more about the mechanism being used for this time travel — the Infinity Corp.?
Hitch: Yeah. Yeah, with non-linear storytelling, sometimes effect can precede cause. So you're seeing some of the stuff happening in Justice League of America #1 that you won't get the full answers to, say, what happened with Barry and Hal until really the final few issues, the final couple of issues. And how their stories intersect with the finale isn't necessarily a linear thing in the way it plays out.
It's also a way of showing how Rao began, how we got to the Rao now. There's quite a big twist coming in the last couple of issues of this arc, and I don't want to spoil it, because it's pretty monumental, in terms of the scope and where Rao's endgame ultimately ends up being. And it's not necessarily what you think it's going to be.
So yes, it's a way of playing with the narrative structure a little bit. But also, there's a much bigger story than just Rao at work in the JLA run. The stuff I'm setting up in #1 that won't be resolved until, potentially, say, #50. So there's a really long-form game here.
There's an endgame to my entire run on the book, and I know what it is. The fun is actually getting there and what threads you seed throughout the story.
So there are some things, such as the Infinity Corporation, those mysterious stone columns that they have glowing blue in that room, and the fact that on ancient Krypton, Rao happens to have a dozen red glowing stone cylinders as well — there's a story to that that we won't necessarily see played out in this first arc. That will be a much longer form story. And just who the Infinity Corporation are and what they're struggling with in their story is quite an interesting one. Dan Didio certainly thought it was a good idea. [Laughs.]
I mean, I hope that I can pull it off to the extent I imagine. It's a big story. And Rao is just the first chapter of a much larger story.
Nrama: You mentioned wanting to put each character up against Rao, and obviously that's been interesting to see with Superman. But with this last issue, there was a real concentration on Wonder Woman, who is also a god, and she's in Olympus. Was that part of why you were compelled to tell this sort of story, and how would you describe Wonder Woman's role right now in the Rao story?
Hitch: Wonder Woman has grown up as royalty and with the idea of the real-life existence of gods and goddesses. And there's a cool "fish out of water" story as she becomes one of them, especially when confronting a situation where there's another so-called god that they've never seen before — again, not a dark side god — in the wake of the idea that the gods she's known have abandoned her, Olympus and the Earth for some reason. That's again one of the larger stories here.
In essence, this first arc is introducing Wonder Woman's long-form story across the whole run. The second arc has a much bigger chunk about the Olympic gods.
For her, she's confronting the idea that she may be seen as a god, and people pray to her. But as a god of war, what they're praying for, in many cases, is the death of other people. I think that's an interesting thing to play with, the idea that she's not being prayed to to help and heal — she's being prayed to to help people have victory over other people. And that's something she's going to start to deal with head-on in the second story.
Again, this is not just about everybody dealing with Rao, but this is the introduction of several story points that we'll play with in other stories.
The idea for me is that each one of these characters is a lead character. That's why I don't think there should be a team leader. They're all alpha males and females. They defer to each other naturally when one has an expert lead on a situation, but it's a natural thing. Each one of these people could lead a story as well, and they will as the story goes on.
Nrama: Well, let's talk about the last issue's inclusion of suicide bombers. That's reflective of the fears we have today about terrorism, isn't it? This dark side of religion?
Hitch: There always is a dark side with religion. Religion has been responsible for more war and death and destruction in our society's history. We're talking about modern-day religious fundamentalism, but the Catholic Church has been responsible for its fair share of religious fundamentalism when you go back to the Crusades, and billions of people they slaughtered in the name of their faith.
Religions do tend to be intolerant of other religions. Religious fundamentalists, as we know now, are quite happy to take any measures at any extremes to enforce their particular world view.
I think if you're going to deal with the arrival of a religion, especially when it's going to be the prophets, who are to a great degree religious fundamentalists, they want the death of other religions, they want only Rao's love to be followed. They think they're doing a very nice thing. They think they're doing a very noble thing, but at the same time, they're not considering the wants of other people. And they're just going to use their faith and their religion to blind themselves to anything but the truth they particularly advocate.
The thing that I found most compelling of all these little seeds that play out wasn't just the suicide bombing for me. It was the parents forcing their little girl to convert. I was brought up a very strict Catholic, and as an adult, I'm certainly not that. And it's certainly not the kind of thing I brought my kids up to believe. Personally, I'm an atheist, but not in a way that atheism is my religion. I'm quite happy that other people believe, as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else. And I'm quite happy for my children to find their own way to a faith, if that's what they want to do. And I won't tell them that, as far as I'm concerned, God doesn't exist. That's their choice to make, I guess.
I've seen it myself growing up, and I still see it now — parents force-feeding children a religious worldview, whether they think they should have it or not, even when the children don't want to go to church, being forced to go to church. They're the ones, often, who grow up not wanting to go to church, because I think it's something that's rammed down their throat. But again, that's something that happens with religion in today's society, especially by people who have this evangelical belief in a particular belief or religion do tend to want to stuff that down your throats somewhat and not allow for your point of view.
It's a difficult topic, I suppose, in conversation, because if somebody believes in one thing and to you it seems like it's as wild as believing in Santa Claus or magic, to suggest that what they believe may not be true, because that's something that I don't believe, you end up in an argument. It's not something where they say, "OK, fair enough, you believe what you believe; I believe what I believe." But when you challenge somebody who has — and it's usually a belief in religion, not necessarily faith. There's a line I always remember from a novel where there's a character who says "I would never be stupid enough to confuse religion with a belief in God." I think those two things are very separate.
But when you come down to it, I suppose, people who have that very fervent, religious belief, I think they're very threatened by anything that challenges it.
But I don't want to ram that kind of stuff down readers' throats. I just kind of touch on it. You can make your own mind up from what I'm doing with it — the parents forcing their child to convert or the suicide bombing stuff. I don't want to say that in the story: "Oh look. Religious suicide bombers." You get that impression from reading it.
You're always told to write what you know, and this is the stuff that I know growing up. I was going to be a priest once upon a time. And my answer to "what changed your mind" is I always say, "I discovered Superman was cooler than God." So in essence, although that's kind of an amusing anecdote, it is kind of all of that stuff that's playing out for me in this story.
Nrama: DC has been trying to stick to a monthly schedule with most of their books, and Justice League is a little off from that. Do you think that'll probably be the case going forward? After all, you're having to do a lot of the work for this series.
Hitch: Yeah, but there's been other stuff going on which has kind of affected schedules on this front less so than my working life. So yeah, we've been talking about this, how to deal with all of that stuff so we can actually get the book out. And how many books ship late every month, it's surprising. But I'd rather not be one of them, on the whole.
We did the fill-in issue for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that we're all starting to slip behind, and it's a bit unfair to expect the colorists and your inkers to do it overnight, just to get your ass out of the fire.
But anyway, the idea is we're working towards a very solid monthly schedule this year. So stay tuned. All looking good. But you never know.
Nrama: You've got a lot of seeds planted for the future of this story. Is there anything you want to tease about what's coming up?
Hitch: There's a lot coming up. There's a lot I can't say. We've just been planning a lot of what to do with the second half of this year. There's some pretty huge stuff happening where we plug into the DC line as a whole. Geoff and I have been talking about a big crossover between our two books, like, the scale of the "Darkseid War" story, but that's the both of our books. So we're just in the early stages of discussing that. And as I've said, first, I have this long run arc first, for stuff that you'll only really get answers for from #1, if you stick around for that whole lot.
So it will grow, it will build, and there's some pretty big stuff happening. Rao really is just the lighting on the touch papers. There's much, much bigger stuff coming. So I'm hoping everybody will stick around. So far, so good.