From the launch of their New 52 universe, DC Comics have placed their Justice League franchise at the forefront of their storytelling. So it's no surprise that the publisher's "DC Comics: Champions of Justice" panel Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego covered bases all across the DCU.
Taking the stage for the presentation were DC Chief Creative Officer and "Justice League" writer Geoff Johns, upcoming "Wonder Woman" artist David Finch, upcoming "Wonder Woman" writer Meredith Finch, artist Nicola Scott, and "Green Lantern" writers including Van Jensen, Charles Soule and Robert Venditti.
DC SVP of Marketing John Cunningham played MC for the panel, introducing the lineup before turning discussion towards the future of the now Lex Luthor-led "Justice League." Johns said he and Finch were proud of using the villain as a main character. "At the core of 'Forever Evil,' we asked what situation we could put him in that would force him to behave as a good guy," he said, calling the event a very personal story for Luthor. "The story right now focuses on Luthor holding a very big secret over Batman. He knows he's Bruce Wayne...and the next few issues will be about [Lex trying to make them team up]" while Batman will in turn try and infiltrate Lexcorp.
In issue #34, both the Doom Patrol and Element Woman will take a larger role in the DCU. Johns called The Chief of the Doom Patrol "even a bigger bastard" than Luthor. "We're playing them more like a superhero support team. They're very wounded people, and the Chief has only made them worse," he said of the team as they prepare to take down the new Power Ring.
Moving on to Johns' work on "Superman," the writer spoke highly of collaborator John Romita, Jr. "It's really a privilege and an honor to work with someone like John who's been around so long at Marvel, and he really wanted to come over and tackle Superman," he said. "We sat down and read every Superman comic from the New 52 and plotted the course of who that character is and what he's been through." Johns said that the human side of Clark Kent had been taken out of the series, but their new take on the Daily Planet staff will help bridge that gap. Coming up is a big change for Jimmy Olsen, which Johns referred to saying, "Dare I say it, it's bigger than Turtle Boy."
In the meantime, the focus on new character Ulysses will continue. "For us, the focus really is Clark Kent and his relationships and all the people around him," Johns said of Romita's balancing the action of the Ulysses story with the Clark Kent ideas. In coming issues, a new villain called the Machinist debuts who has been watching Clark from afar for some time.
The incoming issues of "Wonder Woman" by the Finches was up next as Meredith said that she was definitely building on the character as established by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. "It wasn't like I had to figure out who Wonder Woman was," she said, noting that the new team would focus on Wonder Woman's personal life outside her interactions with the Greek pantheon. "And we have a really cool villain that we've come up with. It's going to be an old character that people are familiar with reimagined in a totally new way...when people find out who this character is, they're going to be shocked. They're going to have shock and awe."
Talking about his own "Superman/Wonder Woman" series, Soule said his goal for the title is "Why not try to give them more than they can handle?" The "Doomed" crossover that currently is running still has some major turns as it reaches its climax. "Superman had his big New 52 fight with Doomsday a few months back, and he got infected and got a little bit of Doomsday in him...it's not going well," the writer said. The ramifications this has for "Superman/Wonder Woman" is that it forces the characters to grow apart. "When that happens, can a couple survive it?" the writer asked, saying he wanted to make a series where personal drama and relationship issues took on true comic book form such as Lois Lane becoming infected by Brainiac. "I know a lot of people have been interested in seeing [Lois and Wonder Woman] interact...the thing I love about writing it is that you can illuminate both characters [in this big superhero punch up fight.]"
After that, there will be some tie-in issues of the title to the "Futures End" weekly as Soule then shifts back to his personal ideas for the future of the series.
Back on the solo hero beat, Venditti and Jensen talked about their new take on "The Flash" which shifts between new challenges for Barry Allen in his police department job and a future version of the character who's losing time due to his powers. "It's kind of broken him, and now he's running back in time to try to fix what's broken in the Speed Force," Venditti said. The New 52 Wally West is the lynchpin of the story as one of the major failings that the future Flash is trying to fix is the death of the young character. The co-writer added that he felt the connection between the adult Flash and the new Kid Flash adds a unique element to the New 52.
Jensen spoke to the sci-fi elements of the book as well as the character interactions. "It's a lot to work into the issues, but it's all really good stuff. It's a character I've always wanted to write, and I'm enjoying every second of it," he said.
The "Uprising" story arc continues in the upcoming "Green Lantern" #33 where Venditti will explore the idea of Hal Jordan as military strategist as the villainous Durlans work to overtake a cosmic well that can make them all powerful. The coming story arc will deal with the idea of power as well, measuring how Hal Jordan can retain his humanity as he takes on more and more power and responsibility in the Corps.
Meanwhile in "Green Lantern Corps," the long simmering plot of the character Fatality being replaced by a Durlan will come to a head in issue #33. "It was kind of hard to write in a way because it was such a tough wringer to run [John Stewart] through...this whole arc has been about him overcoming these past tragedies," Jensen said, adding that the idea of the arc has largely been about who is more fit to the lead the Corps between Jordan and Stewart. "It's a lot of big action combined with some really interesting spectacle and these intense character moments." #33 focuses on Stewart's hunt for the real Fatality, which Jensen joked, "It's really nice to write a story without a thousand characters in it."
In discussing "Red Lanterns," Soule took an opportunity to thank Johns for setting the stage of the GL universe that they all get to play in now. In his upcoming issue #33, the fight between Guy Gardner and Atrocitus over the fate of the Red Lantern Corps will finally arrive. "There have been all these sweet adventures going on while Guy is building his gang, but in the background up bubbling is Atrocitus who is getting ready to take it all back," Soule said. Gardner is worried that he made a mistake in taking over the Corps, so of course he goes to a space bar to figure out his next step...by asking advice of John Stewart. "That sounds like it might not be that compelling until they get into a huge bar fight, which is pretty action packed." Atrocitus comes back in the second half of the issue where the villain appears with his new cult of characters complete with "priestly robes." The whole story builds to the incoming "Red Lanterns" Annual, which Soule promises will complicate the story significantly as it brings the action back to earth.
Soule also spoke about his work on "Swamp Thing" where the writer said that since taking over the book "I've been exploring this idea that Swamp Thing is kind of new to his job...he's only been Swamp Thing for a few months, and when you're new at your job, there's a lot of things you don't know how to do," the writer explained, saying that the character has been misled often and is too trusting considering the power he's been entrusted with.
"I've been doing a lot of world-building on 'Swamp Thing,'" Soule said, crediting the many acclaimed writers who worked on the character before him. The next arc will add a new layer to the many mythologies of the franchise as machines decide that they need their own avatar like the Green and the Red have had for centuries.
Scott then spoke about leaving "Earth 2" as the series is just set to launch its own weekly series. "This amazing freedom we've had because we are in our own continuity and our own universe allows us to create so much havoc," she said. The big moment before she leaves is the introduction of the new Superman in the current #25 and the incoming #26 where he'll "comfortably take on the role of being a champion and how it all goes down against the evil Superman."
The fan questions went straight to hot button topics as a woman asked why DC seemed "ashamed" of its diverse heroes while Marvel seemed to be successful at getting people excited about their diversity. To her, most DC characters of color or dealing with disability have been removed, white washed or cancelled. Cunningham said that he believes this perception is just that – something that is promoted in the media but doesn't hold up as that imbalanced when you actually look at the books. Johns agreed, saying that DC is bringing characters like Cisco Ramon to their TV universe as well as in the comics, but they don't promote such a move as the debut of an Hispanic character so much as the promotion of a great character who happens to be Hispanic. "Just because it isn't announced on 'The View,' doesn't mean it's not there," added Scott.
Another fan asked a more traditional story based questions wondering whether the new Wally West would fully embrace the mantle of Kid Flash. "I think you can say that we will see Wally run," Jensen said, trying to stay more cryptic.
Asked how they collaborated on "Wonder Woman's" stories as a married couple, Meredith Finch explained that the ideas for the book start completely with her, and then she will bounce certain aspects of her story off of her husband due to his long experience in the industry. "My input in the story is really limited to 'I know what I love to draw,'" David added. "That's all the influence that I really want in the story. I love to work with someone who has a vision for their story."
Citing how quickly elements from the comics make it to the screen and vice versa, a fan asked whether any part of "The Flash" comic book will bleed into the show. Johns said there was one example of this that is absolutely true even as Venditti claimed ignorance of the connection. "You know it. I'll just have to remind you after," Johns said before adding that characters like Cisco Ramon and Ronnie Raymond appearing are part of the core of how DC is approaching their superhero TV shows.
The tease in "Earth 2" of a Red Lantern coming to earth was asked after, and Scott said that many of the dangling plot threads of the series will find their resolution in the weekly series.
A Cyborg fan wanted to know if the character will continue to take a strong role in "Justice League," and Johns said that he's enjoying pairing the young hero with Shazam who "probably brings him down a bit maturity wise...Next to Lex Luthor and Batman, they're probably the two main characters in the next storyline."
Johns added that the story of new Power Ring Jessica Cruz will lead into an exploration of the mystery about what destroyed Earth 3, and that overall, he's hoping to inject more humor into the series.