With sales of its first issue totaling over 360,000 print copies since its September debut, DC Comics' "Justice League" remains the biggest draw in superhero comics. And with March's issue #7, the series steps into the current era of the DC Universe with a new story written by DC CCO Geoff Johns and illustrated by fan favorite artist Gene Ha, both of whom spoke with CBR News about the story, the team and the ramifications coming after an opening battle with Darkseid in the current Jim Lee-drawn arc.
"You're going to see friendships," Johns said of how the team will have changed during the five-year gap between issues #6 and 7. "Obviously, Green Lantern and Flash are friends. Green Lantern and Batman? Not so much. We saw a relationship between Superman and Flash start to develop in issue #4, and that will carry on in #5. There will be more with Aquaman and Wonder Woman and all the characters in the next arc. But really, what happens when we jump the five year mark is that you're going to get a sense of how they're viewed as a whole by the world. That's what the Gene Ha issue is about -- what they're like today and how they're viewed by the rest of the world. There's also a little bit about what the makeup of the team is."
His artist agreed that the weight of the world will come to bear in the new arc. "This is not a threat or menace to the Justice League just yet, but there's definitely a situation where people in power in the government or in the world all know that if the Justice League ever goes rogue, there's no way to stop them," Ha said. "The only reason they stand by and allow the team to continue on fighting is because there are bigger threats like Darkseid and other big name villains who are on the horizon that only the JL can defend against. That's the only reason Congress, the Pentagon and the White House haven't actively instigated plans to destroy the Justice League."
Johns expressed an interest in continuing to develop relationships between teammates as new threats came their way. "The personal relationships have changed, but there's also some things that have stayed the same. One of the things I really focused on -- and Jim and I talked a lot about this -- is that one of the taglines we have is, 'They're not gods. They're the Justice League.' That means, for us, they're people. People have personalities, and some people get along while some don't. Some relationships will alter and change, but not all of them. I think there's something really interesting about Batman and Green Lantern being at odds. They just have a different philosophy. You'll see Batman and Green Lantern have a pretty intense scene in 'Justice League' #5 that adds some more depth to that, and we'll explore that later as well."
Ha noted that the pages fans have seen from issue #7 play with this idea in ways readers may not have guessed. "In the preview that's been released, a lot of people noticed how Batman didn't have a glowing green umbrella over his head. Some people assumed this was because Batman didn't need an umbrella, but frankly, none of the other heroes do. Green Lantern is just having fun and tweaking Batman's pointy black nose every chance he gets. They've definitely gotten to know each other, but they're not quite comfortable yet. And they're more than willing to snap wet towels at each others asses at every chance available."
Of course, no superhero team is worth its salt without villains to test their mettle, and both creators promised that the bad guy quotient for the new arc would have a major impact on the title, even after an opening story that featured the biggest villain in the DC pantheon. "Darkseid is obviously a massive challenge, but the next one they face is going to be a new villain that challenges them in a very different way," Johns said. "Some of it is about scale. It's harder to get bigger than Darkseid in terms of scale, but it's also about being personal. And our next villain is extremely personal to these heroes."
Ha added, "I'll say this: the big point of the story was introducing the new character dynamics between the main members of the Justice League, so I got to have a lot of fun with how they react to each other and things like that. But the other part of this story is setting up the new villain universe. There's a lot of really subtle stuff going on there. I'll just say that I'm not doing the next issue of the book, but oh man -- I really wish I was. Something fantastic is being set up for that.
"Really, the fun was getting to set up new character dynamics," Ha continued. "There are scenes like the ones between Green Lantern and Batman where GL is trying to look cool, and Batman is constantly trying to make him not look cool. He never quite pulls it off, but he's constantly pushing the limits of it. There are other things, like relationships I can't describe without giving away spoilers, that allowed me to play with the subtle elements of what everyone thinks of everyone else. I'm a guy who would be very happy doing superheroes in a coffee shop shooting the crap, but there's also a lot of explosions and fighting in this issue. Geoff has jammed in a huge amount of character stuff, too, which I enjoy the best."
Asked whether the team would expand to a bigger lineup in issue #7 as has been hinted by early Jim Lee promotional art, the artist said, "I'm not introducing any new costumed JL members in the one issue I'm doing. There are some new characters showing up, but none of them are members of the team in costume."
However, Ha was relishing the chance to play with the new versions of DCU favorites, including the Kryptonian Battle Armor version of Superman. "I know that a lot of people did not like how George Perez did the cover to 'Superman' #1 where the armor looked like separate plates, but frankly -- I kind of liked it! I'm just a huge fan of George Perez. I mostly stayed towards the Jim Lee version but threw a little Perez in there. I saw a few comments online that some people didn't like it, but most people seemed to like how it turned out. It was a bit of a compromise between the two."
Of course, this isn't Ha's first exposure to the Man of Steel's world in the New 52. He drew and designed the new version of Krypton for Grant Morrison's reborn "Action Comics" and shared his thoughts on that particular challenge. "Grant had some definite things in the script that he wanted," Ha explained. "He wanted the crystals -- and I'm not sure where this exact term comes from -- which he called 'Sun Crystals' from the 1970s movie. Jim Lee had already establishing the concept of the Kryptonian battle armor as the costume theme of the book. There was a little bit of Grant and I pitching back and forth about what the society on Krypton was like. I was looking for something that had a late Republican Roman decadence to it, except instead of being turned into an empire, it just blew up.
"Grant wanted some Syd Mead influences in terms of the surroundings," Ha continued. "I threw in some things, like the fact that I'll openly admit to stealing some design concepts from an artist called Ragnar, who does books like 'Big City' which is just beautiful. Look up 'Ragnar design' on Google, and you'll see the most amazing stuff. He was very inspiring to me, but I can't draw like him, so it came out very differently. I'm trying to do this with an eye to the fact that this is a new design for Krypton as a whole, so I've tried to do some things where people who draw nothing like me can take what I've done and make it their own."
Ha also explained that his recent run of comics for DC has kept him engaged and entertained as an artist, though the journey into the New 52 has had it's unexpected twists and turns. "I signed up last year to go exclusive with DC, just in time for the 'Flashpoint' event. And up until the second issue of that, I had no idea the New 52 was coming," he laughed. "I was working full time on that, and as the New 52 came up, I didn't work on any of the books because as they were being done, I was working full time on 'Flashpoint: Superman.' After that, I was assuming I was going to transfer over to a slate of books I had wanted to work on when I signed up with DC, but I hadn't written anything into the contract. For instance, now that they have me exclusive but they don't have Alan Moore, they're not really interested in doing more 'Top Ten' right now. And I understand that. I thought they might want to, but frankly, I know that the big, banner name there is Alan Moore.
"Everyone was so excited about the new 'Shade' miniseries, and I hope it continues 12 issues. But from what I've been hearing from James Robinson, the sales aren't big enough to continue all the way to my issue, which is supposed to be #12. I did probably the earliest Shade story ever that's been published, so I was going to do an issue set before that. Buy 'Shade' issues! If the sales are strong, they'll actually publish through #12."
But before the artist can move on to the Shade's world, he'll help launch the modern Justice League. As Johns describes it: "Really the League is about these seven characters and their place in the world and their place amongst each other. But our idea is to make sure they're people first."
"Justice League" #7 ships in March from DC Comics.