As the cast of Justice League of America struggles to get along, there's a deeper question writer Steve Orlando is exploring in the title's first few stories: Are people inherently good?
The question will really come to the forefront as the books moves forward, culminating in confrontations during the "Curse of the Kingbutcher" storyline that begins later this summer.
This week's Justice League of America #7 gives Orlando some time to develop the characters, particularly the attraction between Killer Frost and the Atom, as well as setting up the next storyline featuring the villain Terrorstrike.
Newsarama talked to Orlando to find out more about Justice League of America, and we also caught up with the writer about his new mini-series, Batman/The Shadow, which has a second issue coming out this week.
Newsarama: Steve, this Justice League of America team felt like an unlikely team of characters, so it's not surprising that part of their struggle is to work together as a team. Where is the team right now, and how does Batman feel about his choice to get these characters together?
Steve Orlando: Well, Batman isn't the leader, and that's one of the big drivers of the team. We stated the mission of what Vixen and Batman think the world was going to need going forward, but a lot of JLA is about the difference between concept and actualizing that concept.
Batman and Vixen have decided this team needs to be there. Batman, in his mind, does not want to be the leader. He wants to show that there are things you can learn from other people, and he wants to be different. Same with Vixen, same with anyone. There are things we can learn from any of our peers.
But…how many New Years resolutions are given up by February every year. There's a vast gulf, especially for someone as rigid as Batman, between understanding that he wants to do something and actually doing it.
So as things become more stressful, as things spiral out of control, he falls back on his own ways. And that creates tension among people who were on board with his idea - this idea of showing people that they can be inherently good, that they can be heroes themselves.
As soon as Batman ditches out on the press conference in issue #5, it's a red flag for some of these characters, saying "You know, you sold us on this, but now where's the delivery? What are you actually doing besides talk to support this idea?"
So the conflict is there and it's going to be greater and greater. As people have already seen, with Black Canary and Killer Frost at the end of issue #4, something's not adding up. He is mysterious in a different way than usual. He's both more open and more aloof than usual. And that's not to mention the fact that he has a different deal with Lobo for being on the team than anyone else.
This is a book where everybody signed up thinking they were going to do something that gives the world a message about what we need to survive as a culture, and it's really because of the ongoing deterioration and failure of that goal, working together as a team despite lofty ideals, and bringing that to the people - it's really become a question. The whole book is a question.
Are we inherently good? Can we be inherently good? These are the things the JLA wants to believe, and they're the things they think are vital. But as their own animosities and tensions drive wedges in between them, we'll find out whether they can overcome them and answer that yes, they are inherently good.
And as the book becomes more and more imperative, it'll be important to find out the answer to that question on a worldly scale. At our hearts, are we inherently good?
Nrama: Are they coming up against some threats that specifically challenge them in that way?
Orlando: Yeah, "Curse of the Kingbutcher," which is coming up in issue #10 and #11, is about this very question. We've seen that there's a force that's granting people whatever they want, a wish. Like anything, when people are put on the spot, they say the first thing that comes to their mind. So sometimes these wishes work out, but sometimes they don't.
With the "Curse of the Kingbutcher," the Lords of Order have finally stepped in and said, you know, this is bringing too much chaos. We must take these wishes back from people. And for people, especially, who live in Vanity, where Ray is from, it's like having their heart ripped out.
The JLA is there to step in. But it's magnified in this argument between Ray and Batman. You have a character that, I would argue (and Ray would argue), does not believe in hope and does not believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and the chance to be good. Famously, Batman has a plan for everything, and it's come back to hurt him in the past - his plans to beat the JLA being used against him. And his plans against his own teammates in Gotham used against him.
And Ray came into this team thinking he had a lot to learn from Batman, but now he doesn't know if he really wants to be like him at all.
And so this conflict of the Kingbutcher becomes a huge conflict within the Justice League as well, because the Ray believes in giving people a chance. And if things do go in the wrong direction, then you deal with it.
And for the Ray, this is an important idea, because that thought process of expecting catastrophe - that's the very thought process that led to the Ray being locked up in his house until he was 18 by his parents. People were not willing to give him the chance to be anything but a danger.
The appearance of the Kingbutcher puts an imperative on this, as he's going to ruin people's lives for the greater good. It's a little too real for Ray, and it's the next step in what is really a loss of innocence for him.
Nrama: You're also working on Batman/The Shadow, which is about two issues into the story. The real focus of that story is on Batman's detective abilities.
Orlando: Yes! Batman/The Shadow is the world's greatest detective coming up against the world's greatest mystery.
Batman is always going to represent us - he's the pinnacle of human achievement, and he walks among gods as a human and he gains respect. And so his struggle in this book is, in many ways, something that we all deal with when we face something that is truly unknowable.
The Shadow is potentially completely unknowable. So how does Batman accept that and move forward to save lives?
It was touched upon with the Court of Owls, that some things are simply bigger and older than Batman will ever be. These are the kinks in his armor. How does he handle something he simply cannot do?
And the Shadow is insufferable in that sense. The Shadow knows. You have the distillation of detective work and everything that Batman is about, and then you have a character who works outside the system, that can clog men's minds, that can read men's minds, and has been operating on a completely separate set of rules than Batman always have.
That's the allure of the Shadow, but it's also the frustration.
There's also something about the Shadow that Batman has rebelled against. Bruce has forced himself to be good enough to be about justice. But I would argue the Shadow is not about justice as much. He's about punishment. He's almost like an unfinished thesis statement and Batman is the thesis.
I think there's an immense amount that they each can learn from each other, but they do have to face their own faults. And in the case of Batman, how does he accept a mystery that maybe can't be solved?
Nrama: What's it been like working with Scott Snyder on the story and Riley Rossmo on art?
Orlando: It's an amazing opportunity to work with either of them. Riley and I worked on "Night of the Monster Men." This work on Batman/The Shadow is some of the best work he's ever done, and he's bringing the best out of me. It's a privilege to work with him. It's a privilege to work with Ivan [Plascencia] as well, the colorist working on the book.
The back and forth with Riley, the pure creation of it - where I actually step back a bit on the scripts and give him more room - these are the most organic, exciting pages I've ever written and, I would say, that Riley's ever created.
And working with Scott, you'll never find someone working in comics today with a better understanding of who Batman is and what he stands for and what challenges him. So it's a privilege to work with Scott as well.
I'm a huge Shadow fan. The Shadow's arguably my favorite character in all of fiction. I have a signed Alec Baldwin movie poster in my house. So I came to this with an immense love for the Shadow. And obviously, I love Batman. I've worked with him before. But coming together with Scott, it's almost like having a conversation between the two characters, and I think that plays out beautifully in the book when he and I plot the book, and it makes it one of the most intriguing things I've ever worked on.