You've seen Alex Ross tackle the Marvel universe in "Marvels" and in the "Earth X" and its various spin-offs and sequels. You've seen Alex Ross tackle the DCuUniverse in "Kingdom Come" and four different treasury sized graphic novels. What you haven't seen Alex Ross do is provide the art for a regularly scheduled comic. That's all going to change next summer as the first of the twelve issue series "Justice" will be released by DC Comics, as announced today during the Alex & Jim panel at Wizard World Chicago (our friends at Newsarama will have a full write-up of the panel a little later today). CBR News talked with Ross about his plans for "Justice."
"In very many ways, 'Justice' is a direct follow-up to what Paul [Dini] and I did last year with 'JLA: Liberty & Justice,'" Ross told CBR News by phone earlier this week. "In a way, it's taking the tag-line name of that project and pushing it over to its own book.
"['Justice' is] that thing that I haven't really done yet which is a straight up villains versus heroes kind of dynamic in a comic book," Ross told CBR News earlier this week. "Since 'Marvels' and 'Kingdom Come' mostly were about observing the heroes and in the case of 'Kingdom Come' it was a civil war amongst super heroes..., it wasn't really the satisfaction of the 'Superfriends versus The Legion of Doom.' This is that project. This is me, a man and creator who takes himself way too seriously, now taking the prospect of a Justice League versus their greatest foes combined way too seriously. Which is what I think I'm selling to the public is my own ego of completely believing that everything I do must matter so damn much," joked Ross.
In some ways, Ross says "Justice" is an attempt to bring back the good old days of super hero storytelling.
"In good part, yes, but at the same time I'm a big fan of contemporary writing styles. Ever since Alan Moore changed the landscape for all writers in comics, I think that the bar has been raised in terms of the level of drama and intelligence we expect from our material. If you look back at the 'Superfriends' cartoons nobody is going to respect those as being of such highly intelligent faire. So, I don't want to return us to the wistful days of yesteryear where things were as crudely written for the children they thought the show was for, not necessarily the number of adults who would hold on to the dream of what that show promised. So, anything I would deliver of similar regard is to be thought out carefully. This is me trying to take a stab at all the DC villains that I've never touched on before. Here I'm re-envisioning these characters through the filter of not so much an update, but how can I go back to the roots of what made someone like Brainiac possibly fearsome the first time? How can you look at these characters without deciding people need armor to look cool now, but reinvigorating a sense of how they may have been scary the first time around and recapturing that."
"Justice" is a unique project for Ross. It's a twelve issue series that's he's co-written with his "Earth X" writing partner Jim Krueger. In addition, he's painting the series. Ross is well known as a meticulous painter and his process takes time. So, two important choices were made for this series. For one, artist Doug Braithwaite will be penciling each issue with Ross painting over his pencils. This frees up a lot of Alex's time, allowing him to stick to the publishing schedule. Secondly, the series will be published bi-monthly, all told lasting two years. And with the series launching next Summer, this gives the "Justice" crew a chance to put as much in the can ahead of time as possible.
"I'm an enormous fan of Doug Braithwaite's and I'm a big follower of contemporary artists who have strong, realistic draftsmanship," said Ross. "Doug I've had a four year relationship with on both 'Universe X' and 'Paradise X,' the follow-ups to 'Earth X,' and I have the greatest trust in his ability and the ability of the two of us to combine for the ultimate pay off being that for those who come strictly for me alone, they will get that effect with the final product. You will not look at this and say it's not Alex Ross."
This isn't new territory Ross and Braithwaite are exploring as the duo did team up on a number of covers for "Universe X." For the purposes of "Justice," Braithwaite will handle all the layout and physical drawing of the series, while Ross will follow with his familiar style, but not to the taxing degree it takes the artist to do those once a year graphic novels. "Justice" will be a marriage of two art styles, looking like an Alex Ross book with Doug Braithwaite influences.
"We're not really all that different," said Ross. "With the physical life drawings there, I think I can take just about any draftsman that is drawing things realistically and put my influence on top of that. Whether it be the lighting, shadow work, rendering of paint on figure, all that will lead to the final conclusion being an art style you would recognize as Alex Ross.
"Beyond that, I can use a kick in the butt in my work as well. I can learn from another draftsman that is possibly a bit more free in some ways with the way he approaches his layouts just to learn a new sensibility. Where I go through so much exhaustive reference just to start drawing something, the truth is here I jump in and that work has been done and I can lend almost a surface level approach and allow the fluidity that is within the draftsmanship of Doug Braithwaite to infect my work to make it have a life it possibly hasn't had before."
The genesis of this project begins where "Paradise X" ends. Ross thought it would be fun to roll the crew he'd been working together with on the "Earth X" saga onto a DC project. Initially the duties of each member of the team would remain the same, Ross and Krueger on plot and script, Ross and Braithwaite on covers and Braithwaite on interiors. Ultimately, Ross thought about it and a change was in order.
"I started to look upon 'Justice' greedily and thought, you know what, that's the thing I should be illustrating. The taste of wanting to work with another talented penciller has been with me for a very long time. So, this opportunity to take advantage of Doug and his talents is something that I've wanted to jump in to. It's an opportunity I'm jumping at.
Moving on to the story, Ross says "Justice" has a complex and engaging story with a big, climactic payoff.
"The overarcing story line is sort of a subversive collecting of the villains in to a typical master plot that will have them rub out their adversaries - the super heroes - essentially putting together that grayest of all Luthor/Brainiac type of schemes. As it is, Jim and I have put our heads together to make this complicated plot that reaches into all these different areas and addresses each and every character. As we have this enormous cast that will take up and dominate our story, we'll be looking to have plot twists and a scheme that is hopefully worthy of everyone's respect or at least enough to get them confused, at least at first."
In terms of the heroes and villains that make up the cast of "Justice," Ross says fans should expect to the main seven, the formative group, that we commonly think of as the JLA, plus a number of secondary figures, many of which made appearances in "JLA: Liberty and Justice."
"My vision of DC is much influenced by the sort of collection of their main arch-types as they came to fruition between the 60s and 70s and mostly were there throughout the 80s, up until the start of the 90s where pretty much everything was thrown out for a good ten years before the period we're in right now where 99% of all characters have been or are being returned to what they have been before. In what Paul and I have done and what Jim and I are drafting on to is a landscape of DC, where this is the clean, unencumbered form of their mythology that doesn't demand you know previous issues of continuity and you can jump in more freely."
As one might expect, the conclusion of "Justice" will see a large battle sequence, similar in scale to the battles Ross drew in "Kingdom Come," plus our heroes will wear a special armor, designed by Ross, to assist in their fight.
"The conclusion of our tale involves our heroes going to battle and thus being prepared for it," said Ross. "So, there will be a costume redesign of sorts for every member of the JLA befitting them for war. This has also entailed multiple designs given for the various villains where I've decided there are multiple things they could be adorned with. Certain characters - like the Joker who I think of as a potential clothes horse - might be wearing a different outfit every time. I mean, why should he wear only the one purple tuxedo? The sketches I've done, which are quite numerous for all these different villains, they involve multiple takes on them."
Ross realizes just how big an undertaking this series will be for him and he's looking forward to the long commitment to the project and giving something back to the fans.
"This is a major commitment for me to get in to. On my end, it's trying to get back to my comic book roots in just making a regular comic book that people can afford more easily than say my once a year $10 items. Frankly, I haven't really been in this place because ever since'Marvels' came out, they priced that at an abominable $5 bucks because they thought they could jip people an extra buck for the plastic cover. So, ever since then, graphic novels of whatever format have been $5 including 'Kingdom Come.' So, I've not been at that $3 price in a long time. There are definitely people who've followed ably the works I've done that I've co-plotted with Jim Krueger and Kurt Busiek before and done the covers and designs for, but the complaints that I never illustrated the full works never went away. This is where I want to show them that I understand their concern, I see it, I appreciate it and I'm going to give you everything I can to win back your trust."