Sometimes, even heroes need college.
After all, accountants go to school, and doctors go through residency. So for the newer legacy heroes of the Justice Society of America, it only makes sense to go to superhero college.
And in JSA All-Stars, next month's new spin-off title from JSA, writer Matt Sturges and artist Freddie E. Williams II will be exploring what it's like for a new team of crime-fighters to focus on training, while still facing some of the most formidable JSA villains in the DC Universe.
"They're taking these young people and creating a program to make them the best possible thinking and fighting heroes they can be," said Sturges, who has been co-writing Justice Society of America with Bill Willingham up until this spin-off. "Their goal is to train up these superheroes in a very practical way, teaching them tactics, maneuvers, and all the things that Power Girl has learned over her many years of being a superhero, with Magog providing tactical training that he learned during his years in the Marines. It's like 'superhero college.'
"The idea is to train these guys up to be not only a team, but also effective superheroes for the time when they go off on their own," he said.
With Power Girl as leader and Magog providing tactical oversight, the team splits off from the "main" Justice Society group after this month's Issue #33.
"What happens is that, when everything goes to hell in the next issue of JSA, Power Girl and Magog see this as an opportunity to try something that they've been talking about, which is creating a team within a team," Sturges said. "Is the JSA splitting up? It's hard to say for certain. But they're taking this opportunity to take these other members away from the conflict they've been having and try something new."
While DC fans might wonder what kind of comic will be produced with a character like Magog in a leadership role and the recent events of Blackest Night hanging over their heads, Sturges said JSA All-Stars won't be as dark as it might imply.
"I think if you've read other comics that I've written, it's not going to be too far afield, tonally, from what I've written. There are bad things that happen, and there is drama, but there is also levity and light-heartedness. And there's hopefulness," he said. "The overall tone I wanted to get was that these are people who are, for the most part, coming into their own as adults and heroes. So we're talking about the stories of these people as they mature, and that is going to involve drama and romance and humor. It's running the gamut of emotion. It's not going to be a super dark book of evilness and horror and bloodshed, but it's not going to be wacky either. Hopefully it will find a middle ground and its own personality that people will enjoy.
"I've always been a big fan of films where people are training to do things, like The Right Stuff, or Officer and a Gentleman," he said. "And this is my opportunity to show not just superheroes hitting bad guys, which this comic definitely has, but also superheroes learning how to hit bad guys in the most effective manner possible," he said.
Of course, putting Power Girl and Magog together as leaders isn't going to be the smoothest beginning for the new team. Things are a little shaky at first, Sturges said, "because while Power Girl and Magog have an agreement on what they're trying to accomplish, the way they do it finds them frequently at odds with each other, sometimes very much so. It will be a very dicey thing to see how long they can remain leading this team together."
Besides Power Girl and Magog, the team will be made up of Hourman, Wildcat III, Stargirl, Damage, Citizen Steel, Judomaster, Cyclone and King Chimera. However, Sturges emphasized that Power Girl is the one in charge.
"She's the boss," Sturges said. "But Magog is basically the field commander and head trainer. I think it's safe to say that he wishes he was the boss instead of Power Girl. So the two of them are going to have to work out their differences. Unfortunately, they're probably not going to work them out in the healthiest way possible."
The story that begins in JSA All-Stars #1 involves "a JSA villain that we know and love," Sturges said, and he's the one who put the bounty on the heads of our team in the previous storyline in Justice Society of America.
"We'll find out who it is in our very first issue," the writer said. "We won't be dragging it out. And also, this villain is the one who has made Stargirl exempt, and we'll find out why over the course of the first storyline, which is essentially the payoff for that part of the JSA storyline. Why was the JSA targeted? Why was the bounty put on their heads? And why wasn't anybody attacking Stargirl? And the consequences of that lead to the first big mission for the All-Stars."
But as the new comic opens, the team is a little shaken up from what's happened with the JSA, particularly some of the team members who aren't even sure it's a good idea to start a new group.
"Stargirl in particular is someone who wonders if she's on the right team," Sturges said. "And it may take some convincing. Maybe some people will decide they're not on the right team. Cyclone isn't sure how she feels. And so some people will be convinced that this is the place for them. Some people may decide that it's not. We'll just have to see how it shakes out."
Yet most of the characters see an advantage to being on a team that invests the time and effort into training them to be better at what they do. "King Chimera is a new character that kind of exemplifies the attitude, although he's an extreme case," Sturges said. "King Chimera's whole goal, as far as we can tell, is to become the most effective hero he can possibly be. And he's willing to do anything in order to achieve that goal. He doesn't really care what other people think about him. He's not there to make friends. He's the guy on the reality show who's like, 'I'm just here to win. I'm not here to make friends.'
"What he wants and what he expects is to be trained as well as possible, and to take that training and use it effectively to fight the bad guys," Sturges said. "What the other folks on the team – Wildcat, Citizen Steel and even Cyclone – they're there in the hopes that this is a team that is going to teach them how to be the best they can be."
Of course the one member of the team that doesn't exactly need training is Hourman, a veteran in his own right. But he becomes part of the new team to act as liaison to the other JSA group.
"He and Liberty Belle are not getting divorced. I'll go ahead and spoil that," Sturges said with a laugh. "They have decided to act as liaisons between the two teams. So essentially, because they're married, they're a really effective conduit to make sure the two teams are communicating with one another. Obviously, there have been some bad feelings and there are some people who don't like each other. But the JSA, they all hope that they're essentially one team."
The difference between the two groups is what the writer calls "a question of focus," and as a result of this team's focus, the All-Stars will be put through some tough training as they go through "superhero college."
"At one point in JSA, someone said, 'The JSA isn't the military.' And Magog responds, 'Well, it should be.' And I don't think the All-Stars are military, or at least not militaristic. But they are extremely rigorous," Sturges explained. "Training is going to be difficult, sometimes painful, but it's going to pay off and reap huge dividends. Magog's attitude as a Marine is no pain, no gain. So we'll see some of that. And it's more of a question of emphasis than anything else."
With Power Girl and Magog starring in their own titles, the JSA All-Stars comic will reflect the status of the heroes as they lead the new team. Magog in particular has some growing of his own to do, and readers will see him begin to make discoveries about his new powers.
"Obviously, Magog is very headstrong. Obviously, Magog is not the most likable person in the world," Sturges said. "He's been through a big change. He was just a guy with strange abilities, and then suddenly, he's been transformed by this 'god' into something else. He got some of his powers through magical means, and some of those are yet to be discovered. In his own series, you'll learn fairly soon the extent of what it is that has happened to him. And that's requiring him to make a lot of adjustments in his own life. I'm not sure even Magog knows who Magog is. And he's going to have to work that out, and it's probably not going to be easy for him. "
And while several characters will question their role on the team, readers shouldn't expect major shake-ups in the line-up anytime soon, allowing the writer to put a renewed focus on these characters who sometimes got overshadowed in the larger JSA. "The team is going to be relatively stable. It's not going to be a revolving door, but there are going to be a couple of additions. There are going to be a couple of subtractions," Sturges said. "I think anyone who read Blackest Night #4 is aware of one very big subtraction. I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it."
As readers may have guessed, the first couple issues of All-Stars take place before Blackest Night, Sturges said. "That's just one of those coordinating things that couldn't be helped," he said, adding that the changes made by events in Blackest Night will be reflected a few issues later.
"We're going to see over time that the events that take place in the first storyline, which get cataclysmic near the end, are just the beginning of something even larger that will play out over time," Sturges said. "So this is one of those things where, if you watch closely, you're going to see things that play into a larger picture."
The comic also gives Sturges the opportunity to reunite with Williams, who he worked with on the recent mini-series Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!
"Freddie and I have been working together for the past, gosh, it's been almost a year since we started doing Run, and Freddie's style has developed so much, even in just that short time," Sturges said. "He's really at the top of his game. He's doing fantastic stuff. Freddie recently wrote the DC Guide to Drawing Comics Digitally, and he has taken his digital approach to whole new levels in this book. So the fight scenes are epic, and his character work is really dynamic and beautiful. Some of the splash pages are just gorgeous. So I think there's a lot to look forward to with the art in this book as well as the story."
Sturges is also writing the upcoming JSA Annual with Keith Giffen, which will not only involve the All-Stars team, but the entire JSA. "Everyone is going to get involved in that Annual," Sturges said. "As far as crossovers between me and Willingham's JSA, there will be some stuff. There is a little bit of hijinks even in the first issue of the two separate books, just to let you know we're in the same space together. But as far as the two books crossing over, I'd rather not say anything... just yet."