Justice For All Time: Geoff Johns talks "JSA/JSA"

Thu, August 12th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

Cover to "JSA" #68 & #69
To many fans "JSA" is the DC book that could- a series based on the Justice Society of America, who seemed to be dead to many fans, that became one of DC Comics' best selling books because of the quality of the product, not hype or gimmicks. And with scribe Geoff Johns going solo on writing chores, the Detroit Pistons fan is taking the JSA back to their roots… literally.

"'JSA #68' begins a five-part story called 'JSA/JSA,'" Johns explained to CBR News. "It's an epic we've been wanting to do for quite awhile and finally, the timing was right. Essentially, Degaton -- the time-traveling Nazi -- has gone back to 1951, right after the House of Un-American Activities forced the JSA to retire, and caused an event that definitively ends the careers of the JSA. It's up to the modern day team to travel back in time and convince their counterparts to once again don their masks and rejoin the Justice Society. Of course, for some of them that is easier said than done. We'll be taking a look at the JSA heroes of the Golden Age in a slightly new light, and seeing really why they deserve to be recognized as inspirational heroes."

While "JSA" is often lauded for the layers of sub plots, in this case Johns admits those stories kept this JSA story from being as soon as he'd have liked. "I've been wanting to tell this story since my first year on 'JSA.' It just was never the right time. 'JSA' is a book that allows sub-plots to flow in and out, rather than trade paperback arcs. It's a book I feel benefits from its organic pacing, specifically written for that monthly fix, from the developments with Black Adam to the resolution of Hourman. That said, as the pieces lined up with Sand's return and the Hourman situation is now coming to a resolution -- most of the deck has been cleared and everything fell into place.

"Peter Tomasi, Don and I have talked extensively about story developments, arcs and character: from more dealings with Kahndaq, to a JLA/JSA adventure crossing thru dimensions, to the new incarnation of the Injustice Society, to Power Girl's long waited journey to her origins. We have plenty lined up, it's a matter of which comes next. Finally, JSA/JSA fit within where the book was heading, and the developing themes. I'm thrilled Stargirl is such an important part of this story as well -- since she is still a very personal character to me and one I often don't bring to the forefront of the JSA.

"We've spent plenty of time on Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific and several of the others, but it's time to rotate the spotlight a bit. Adjust it so a new cadre of JSA members can cut loose."

As announced at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, artist extraordinaire Alex Ross will be providing covers to the first two issues of the storyline and Johns says it is exciting, "Because Alex Ross rocks. I met Alex a year or so ago and, we share a lot of the 'old school' interest in super-heroes. He was a fan of JSA, I was a huge fan of his and when this story came up and we asked him if he would grace the book with a cover or two of his, he agreed. Thank GOD. I have seen the sketch, the painted covers are in, and Peter Tomasi had a heart-attack. Alex deserves all of the recognition he gets."

"JSA" has stayed true to the spirit of the original Justice Society- something Johns has strived to do continually out of respect for the originals- but it does make one wonder that if this series is true to the originals (while featuring some of the original character), then where is the conflict and contrast? "That's the beauty of the story," smiles Johns. "Today, as Stargirl says in the first issue, she can't imagine the 'original' members of the JSA ever being...new. Or somewhat novices. Or even having problems. The two teams might not be as different as you'd think in terms of them continuing to try and rise above mediocrity and push themselves to be a true hero. The first Mr. Terrific, Terry Sloane, is dealing with his less-than-perfect brother, while Al Pratt, the original Atom, has been forced to take a job that some might not agree with. We get to see the original JSA in their prime, not quite the perfect heroes they will be remembered as yet but well on their way."

If this story has you interested but the prospect of the large JSA team and history scares you off, Johns is here to assuage any fears. "Well here's our origin box, which I think sums it up nicely.

"During the days of World War II, a group of costumed mystery men gathered together to form the first and greatest super-hero team of all time. Now, fighting alongside the surviving original members, a new generation of heroes has been born, promising to uphold the legacy their predecessors created and inspire other heroes across the world. Today, the JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA lives again!

"Issue #68 is extremely ground-level. An introduction of the concept of the Justice Society, and the characters -- with some major twists and action thrown in. Actually, #67 is an IDENTITY CRISIS tie-in issue that serves as a very jumping-on issue as well. Dave Gibbons is doing the artwork for that one. It's a look at the characters of the JSA, specifically Dr. Mid-Nite, Terrific, Stargirl, Power Girl, Flash and a few others in the face of the events of 'Identity Crisis.' Either one of those issues is an easy lead-in to our series."

Readers of "JSA" have seen the notions of redemption and justice explored deeply in the series, but it doesn't mean the series is deviating from its theme of family, explains Johns. " [Those themes are] Absolutely intertwined with family. Religion, Mr. Terrific's feelings about his wife, Dr. Mid-Nite's 'army' within Portsmith, Doctor Fate and Fury, the hunt for Sand and the journey into the time stream to save Rick Tyler, Hourman's son. It's all about family. And that theme will continue to be at the forefront of the 'JSA' in 'JSA/JSA.'

"The minute this book just goes out and saves the world, working for the government or some such nonsense, is the minute it loses what's important and special about the JSA. This book is a niche book, and we don't need to be anything else."

Around issue #50, former co-writer David Goyer's swansong, the team's membership became quite large and in the opinion of some, too bloated. The team has recently been trimmed down and Johns explained the reasons behind the current roster. "The JSA is not the JSA without Alan Scott and Jay Garrick. It's just not. Everyone else, our rotating cast of a dozen or so, can be moved in and out. Just because Doctor Fate is not an official member currently doesn't mean he'll never be in the book again or never join again. It's supposed to be fluid. Captain Marvel will return. We'll get a new member sometime in late '05 or early '06. Maybe two. Characters will come and go, but again, like with Hawkman, we want to do it organically.

"Of the new stable I really do feel Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite bring a lot to the book, and again, Stargirl helps represent the youth. The new crew coming in.

"Jakeem Thunder, Hawkgirl, Sand, Power Girl, Wildcat...that's the problem. Peter and I are always like, 'The team needs to be smaller.' And then we look at the list and we don't want to lose anyone! Grant Morrison created the new Jakeem Thunder, thankfully. He's a huge part of what makes the JSA special to me, a young man who is learning how to be a real hero. The same can be said of Tyler, the android Hourman. He's making an appearance in a few months, and later next year he'll return to the JSA in a huge way. Roy Thomas co-created Hector Hall (Doctor Fate) and Al Rothstein (Atom Smasher). John Ostrander introduced the new Mr. Terrific. Matt Wagner the new Dr. Mid-Nite. James Robinson and David Goyer the new Hawkgirl. Not to mention all the wonderful originals. It's really a team compromised of characters manifested from some of the best in the business and, like the comic book itself, is made up of the legacies of these creators. That's cool to me. And trying to be real heroes is cool to me too."

Fans of Geoff Johns' books have noticed ties between most of his books ("JSA," "Teen Titans," "Flash" and the upcoming, "Green Lantern: Rebirth") but Johns says he isn't trying to create his own corner of the DCU. "I don't think so. 'Flash,' 'JSA' and 'Teen Titans'...there's not much crossover unless you look at the speedsters. I'm trying to integrate the books naturally into the rest of the DCU, obviously with Identity Crisis spilling into all of the titles, similar themes will be hit upon. But 'Flash' is much different than 'JSA,' 'Titans' much different than 'Flash,' etc."

Geoff Johns has always been a proponent of moving superheroes forward but keeping them fun and unlike many who've read comics as long as him, he doesn't feel that superheroes are stale, saying, "You always need heroes. Real heroes.

"I don't know if there are any specific elements that hold characters back. I think if you can see something special in a character, then you should tap into that and try and share it. Don't let someone say 'Hawkman is broken and he can't be fixed.' If you have an idea for it, and you believe in it, don't be afraid to do it.

"I'm thrilled to death that Grant Morrison is creating a brand new Seven Soldiers; a new Mr. Miracle, Zatanna, Spawn of Frankenstein (the coolest concept imo). Grant is one of the writers that showed me these minor heroes and characters could be beyond interesting, and in fact, sometimes more engaging than the icons we already know. (In fact, I have a nod to his work on Animal Man in Teen Titans #14) With Grant coming into the DCU at full blast, and with what he's got coming up, I think even more people will realize there's more to life than Spider-Man and Batman when it comes to super-heroes. I love the icons, I really do, and I would kill to write Superman or JLA or X-Men but it's nice to see other characters shine within the genre."

 
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