SPOILER WARNING: There are some spoilers for "Justice League of America" #1, on sale now, below.
Yesterday, Geoff Johns and David Finch planted their flag in comic shops with the release of DC Comics "Justice League of America" #1. The expansion of the publisher's powerful team franchise came with a 50-state variant cover promotion spotlighting the flags of every part of the union as well as many mysteries as to what would bring together heroes from Green Arrow to Catwoman in one story.
With the book freshly read, CBR News spoke to Finch about his artistic goals for the series and how "Justice League of America" will be switching up his style in terms of his approach to characters in general and the massive cast in specific.
Below, the artist explains his side of the collaboration with Johns from the stoic nature of Martian Manhunter to the central role for former supporting character Steve Trevor, and along the way, Finch tells why he's working to change the minds of his critics, what tools come into play when prepping the villains of the book and why he's ready to draw the new JLA for a long time to come.
CBR News: David, when I spoke to Geoff Johns about your work on "Justice League of America," one of the things that really stood out to me was how much Geoff talked about your character work here. This gig seems to require a lot more "acting" from the figures on the page than people may associate with you. Has that made this collaboration different for you from previous efforts?
David Finch: It really, really has. I think I knew right from the minute that Geoff started talking about this book it was going to be different – and that that'd be a more positive experience for me – but I had no idea how much it would affect not only the way I'm drawing this but also how much I'm enjoying the series. I'm having the time of my life because I have a real investment in these characters. And to be honest with you, I have much more of a reader's investment in these characters than an author's because I'm hearing these stories and am really getting into the characters and what they're about. It's making me a big fan, which makes the job a lot more fun.
What was the #1 thing you talked about in terms of building this cast up? This book seems to be built a bit more on interpersonal tension than the regular "Justice League" series. What feel did you want to bring to the cast overall?
I think they're not necessarily as much of a natural fit and they don't have as much experience together as the Justice League proper may have. So there's a little bit more room for them to have growing pains as they get to know each other. That makes things a lot more interesting. And also, they're characters that have agendas. They're there specifically to further their own agenda, so that makes for a lot of surprises coming up in terms of characters interacting. Though to be honest, this is Geoff Johns' show. [Laughs] I'm really happy to be consulted on it and involved in, but this is something he's been planning for a very long time, and it ties into things he's been setting up in other books. My involvement is much more in how I'm trying to bring across his vision. So I don't want to exaggerate and say I'm deciding what characters are on the team and what their goals are. That's not my place.
Well, let's talk about your approach to drawing the cast then. One standout in the first issue was how you drew Martian Manhunter. His eyes seem a lot beadier under his brow than he's been drawn sometimes in the past, and that makes him look much more alien. What did you want to get across with your portrayal?
He's utterly expressionless. He's a total enigma. And I think I get criticized a lot for my expressions anyway, so maybe he's a natural character for me. [Laughs] But I wanted to make his eyes much smaller because he is so much of an enigma, and you can really see a lot of someone's soul through their eyes so I wanted to make that as distant and remote as I could. And generally, I wanted people to have to look up to him. He's a very tall character, and I'm trying to emphasize that in relation to the other characters. I think that height difference makes him look more apart and alien. I want to make sure, as much as I can help it, that I never draw him just standing beside the other characters like a part of the team. I want him to stand apart and always feel a little bit separate and out there.
On the other side of the equation, Stargirl is a character who's all personality – all bright and bubbly. Like you said, most people probably identify you with a certain kind of action pinup style. Does a character like Stargirl give you the opportunity to fight against that impression?
Yeah. She's a real departure for me. She's not what I've ever done comfortably – a character who's happy and optimistic and even bubbly in the face of some pretty negative things as the story goes along. So it's been a lot of fun to stretch that muscle, maybe for the first time ever. And she was so well described by Geoff. We had a chance to talk about this, and it really felt pretty natural for me to draw her. It didn't feel uncomfortable at all. In fact, I feel really comfortable with all the characters.
In terms of the action stuff that you're already known for, you've got your options to draw with guys like Hawkman, Green Arrow and Katanna. Have there been any standouts in terms of who you're digging the most?
You know, the real revelation for me right now has been Steve Trevor. I think he's a really, really interesting character. He's gotten himself in such a difficult position because he has no superpowers of his own, and his authority is pretty limited as well. Now he's got to control these characters who are pretty uncontrollable, not get himself killed in the process and not get in trouble with his bosses. That's almost an impossible job. In fact, I think it is basically an impossible job. I love the fact that because he's such a central star in the book that you see the characters through his eyes. It makes them that much bigger and more imposing. I think it's a great approach.
Do you consider Steve the real main character in the book?
I certainly do, yeah. For me, Steve is the book. He's the main character, though I don't know if Geoff would have the same response to that question.
Looking at some of the revelations of the first issue, one of the biggest ideas introduced is that Trevor and Amanda Waller have built this team as a counterpoint to the Justice League on a person-to-person level. You already drew one big splash page of the Superman/Bamtan League. Are you looking forward to drawing them in conflict with the JLA any time soon?
I'm really much more interested in this cast. I actually feel like I could draw them in this book for years. They're so interesting, and I already have a bit of ownership over them even having only drawn two issues so far. They feel...really close to me. I was trying to say that in some other way that didn't sound incredibly corny. [Laughter]
One of the big mysteries surrounding this book is the villains who will be a part of the series. We saw some shadowy figures in this first issue that will draw some speculation for sure, but when you're drawing this big iconic, heroic cast, how do you make your villains stand apart?
I have to admit, a lot of times when I'm drawing I don't intellectualize things a whole lot. Maybe I should do that more. But with villains, I think that they can have a little more visual variation than the heroes, which makes them more fun. But my favorite thing to draw in people is characters that have a darkness and an anger to them but more than that I want almost an apprehension to them. It's all about...not so much the action but the potential chaos they bring to it. I guess it's really all about the suspense.
Your work on "Dark Knight" added some horror elements to the superhero world. Do you consider this book more of a suspense thriller then?
Yeah, it really is. It feels like that to me, but there are ways we present this where it is a little more horror-ish or sometimes more noirish. But if I had to classify this, it'd be to say it's more political than anything. I think there's more political subtext in what Geoff is writing. It's a smart book.
You're working on issue #3 now. Are there any moments coming up that really sum up for you what you're enjoying most about drawing the series?
I don't want to reveal too much, but I can say that they all fight at some point, and that's been a blast. Drawing them all on the page together fighting as a team with big, over the top chaos is great. I was drawing Batman, and that tends to be more "punch 'em up" while in a book like this, a whole city can be destroyed. It's got a pretty grand scale, and I haven't done that in a while.
Speaking of the whole team together, I know the place where you've drawn that so far has been for the covers, and "Justice League of America" was released with the 50-state variant gimmick. Was there one state you wanted to grab the cover of for any strange reason?
Well, I'm a Canadian. [Laughter] So truthfully, I didn't have a cover that I really wanted to have. I'm right across from Michigan, so maybe it could be Michigan? Actually, I lived in LA for six years, and I've been all over the states much more than I've been across Canada, so I like them all.
"Justice League of America" #1 is on sale now from DC Comics.