TV producer James Tucker and famed comics scribe J.M. DeMatteis last worked together on Justice League Unlimited. Now, some 15-plus years after the show’s ending, the pair have reunited for a comic book revival of the beloved series, Justice League Infinity. The seven-issue miniseries (with art by Ethen Beavers) is a direct sequel to the animated story, and for the first time takes these dynamic heroes into the depths of the multiverse.
Ahead of issue #1 (out starting July 6), we sat down with DeMatteis for a deep dive into the series, including his work on the various JL projects, how this book aligns with its animated predecessors, and what to expect with the story in general.
AIPT: As someone who’s written several iterations of the Justice League, what was the process like capturing the voices of these specific versions of the characters?
J.M. DeMatteis: Well, y’know, I know these versions of the characters, having written for the show way back when, which is obviously one of the reasons why I’m working on this book. So they’re pretty lodged in my head. To be honest one of the things I’ve been doing as I’ve been working on it is rewatching some of the episodes on HBOMax, which really underscores and clarifies everybody’s voices very easily. It wasn’t hard for me at all. When you’ve worked on characters like this it’s sort of like, I’ve had it with other characters where there’s a gap of years and then you return to the characters, and it’s sort of like getting together with old friends. There’s a little bit of awkwardness at first, for a couple minutes, and then you sort of slip into old habits, and then you get really, really comfortable with each other. So it was the same thing here. It took a little bit to kinda straighten my brain out, and make that connection, and then you just click and you’re back with your old friends again.
AIPT: Is there any specific character which took a little bit more of that awkward process than others.
JMD: No, not of the core cast. The story, without getting into too many details, spans the multiverse so we have different iterations of characters popping up, and so finding the right voice for those characters that are new characters. Even if they’re characters that may have appeared in DC Comics before, this is their first appearance in the Justice League Unlimited universe. So we’re recreating these characters, just as they did on the tv show, we’re recreating these characters for the animated universe.
So it always takes a little bit of time to find the right voice for characters you haven’t used before, but even that, once you get characters sort of talking to each others, put them in the same room, put them in the same situation and they start talking, they more or less takeover. I don’t figure out what the voice is, they sort of tell me what their voice is. And that’s what happened in this case.
AIPT: You mention the multiverse, which is obviously something which was never really dug into the animated series aside from the “Justice Lords” arc. Along with that, are there any other things you’re really excited to explore here that were never really explored in the animated series?
JMD: Well, this is maybe the biggest story that’s ever been told in the Justice League Unlimited universe. It’s a really, really big story. When we set out I knew it was going to be big, and by the time we got to the ending even I was amazed at how big this story got. So that was fun. That was fun to take these characters and stretch them out that far in this multiverse, cosmic setting was really great. We’re treating this as if it’s the next season of the show, or as if this is a feature length film spinning out of the show, so we’re moving these familiar characters forward. We didn’t want to just revisit them and have them in the same place, acting the same way.
You can even see in the little bit of promo art that was released. You see that the Martian Manhunter is in a very different place. He’s been living in India in a different form, under a different identity. He’s left the Justice League behind. So everybody’s in a little bit of a different place and we get to explore that, and play that against the bigger themes of the story.
AIPT: Other than your runs, are you drawing inspiration from any particular Justice League runs, or other comics which deal with the multiverse such as Multiversity?
JMD: We looked through a lot of these multiversal, if that’s the word, stories that had been done. And see again, I don’t wanna give away too much, but I came across an alternate universe version of the Justice League, that I never even knew about and I think that has not been used very much. And we sort of took those characters and pumped them up and expanded them and they’ve become very, very important, especially a few central characters on that other team, become very, very important to the story. So that was fun. It’s frustrating when I can’t talk about who it is or what they’re doing. But this other iteration of the Justice League, I had so much fun with and I’d love to spin them off into their own series, and that’s about all I can say about that.
The other thing I really enjoyed was moving forward these relationships so that we could look at where is J’onn now in his life, what is the relationship between John Stewart and Vixen, and where does Hawkgirl stand in all this and how does she feel about that? As James said recently, we’re trying to wed intimate character moments with a big cosmic story because if you don’t have those important character moments the cosmic stuff can kind of overwhelm everything. The only reason, ultimately, that we ever go on any journey with any story is because we care about the characters. And there are so many people out there that love this show and have been clamoring for its return for so many years.
So we want to make sure that they get those characters that they love, and that we’re really invested with them and that we get a new look at them. And then once we’re hooked into those characters we can go off on our cosmic adventure. But it doesn’t start getting really cosmic til the second issue. The first issue is much more character centric, although we do have our requisite action, we get a little glimpse into the Kirby-verse in the first issue. But the first issue is really, really about looking at the characters, who they are, where they are right now and then if we go into the multiverse.
AIPT: You’ve mentioned J’onn Jones a couple times now, can you talk about what’s behind the decision to have him living his life as a woman currently?
JMD: Well, you know, James and I talked about that. He’s a shape-shifter. He is capable of being anyone and anything. I don’t think it’s giving that much away to say that, I think it was kind of established in the series anyway, that he’s been traveling the world trying to understand himself and understand humanity in a new way. He’s removed himself from the Justice League. Living in the Watchtower he’s high above the world. He’s high above humanity, and he really wanted to get involved with humanity on the ground level. So he’s had over the years many identities, and this particular identity is a female identity. It just seemed to make sense. I don’t know if it’s anything that we’ve seen before, and we wanted to explore that. That particular identity and J’onn’s relationship with this very dear friend of his New Delhi is a really kind of sweet aspect of the story that we really get into in the beginning of the story.
AIPT: Is that a conscious effort on you all’s part to speak to some of the conversations that we’re having these days, or is that just how you see the evolution of J’onn’s story insularly?
JMD: I think the broader conversations that are going on right now certainly gives us the room to do something like this, but I never make story choices based on what’s going on out there. My story choices are always about the characters. Y’know is this a natural evolution for the Martian Manhunter, or for any of our characters. So we didn’t do this to make a point about anything, we did it because it seemed like a natural evolution for J’onn. If it makes a point, all the better, but that wasn’t the reason why we made that choice.
AIPT: A moment ago you mentioned fans clamoring to see this universe again, but it’s been virtually 20 years since the show’s been on air, so what influenced the creation of this story now?
JMD: I don’t know what got it going at DC, honestly. I know that Andrew Marino, who’s our editor, is a huge, huge, huge JLU fan. So I’m assuming that they recently did the Batman Adventures series and that seemed to be going well, and so they thought what else can we do, and JLU seemed like a natural outgrowth. And for me it was just an opportunity to return to this universe that I really have great affection for, and to work with James. James and I worked together on a number of the animated shows and a number of the animated movies, but we really got to work with each other 1-on-1 on this series in a way that we had never worked together before. And it was such a pleasure, aside from being just a wonderful creative force, James is just a really, really good guy. It was just a pleasure to get to know him in this way and to work together in this way. So the combination of working with James and returning to this wonderful universe, it was just a no-brainer for me.
AIPT: In the series we see the Justice League together, and is this still the lineup we left the series with, or are they just these specific members we’re seeing in this series right now?
JMD: We’re picking up where we left off. In Justice League Unlimited there was an almost infinite array of characters on that series. You’d tune in every week and see five characters you hadn’t seen the week before. We’re focusing more or less on that main seven, but we also get glimpses of other people, Mister Miracle and Barda show up, Elongated Man shows up, Blue Beetle shows up, but the main focus is on that main crew. Then I hope that if we get more of these, then we can expand it out from there. But I think after being away from it for so long the fans are most interested in seeing where’s Superman, Batman, Flash, where’s John Stewart, where’s Shayera, where’s Wonder Woman? Where are they at now? So we really did focus on them very strongly in this series.
AIPT: You’ve talked a good bit about this being a follow-up to where these character are, and not to get too much into spoiler territory so if you can’t talk about it, you can’t talk about it, but one of the big things the series’ leaves us with is what happens to Lex and Darkseid. Is that something the series might be following up on?
JMD: It’s so hard to answer this. Let me just say there are elements of the Kirby-verse that are happening in this story. You will see Darksied. I won’t say how or what or why. It’s the multiverse. It might not even be the Darkseid we know. But you will see Darkseid.
Before we end I want to talk about the artwork a little bit as well because a comic book lives or dies on the artwork, regardless of how brilliant or awful the story might be. Ethen Beavers is just doing an extraordinary job on this book. He has a real challenge. The challenge is to evoke the style of the tv series, and yet it’s not an animated show, it’s a comic book, and there’s a certain style of storytelling, there’s a certain way to tell a story in a comic book. Panel to panel storytelling is not the same as an animated image moving across your screen. And he has to evoke that Bruce Timm style, and yet create his own individual style at the same time. He has threaded all those needles, and done such a beautiful job.
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