Now more than ever, DC Comics seems obsessed with the future stemming from both Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Dawn of the DC. One man, however, still wants to explore the rich undercurrents of the past: Geoff Johns. And to do so he’s returning to his own past with an all-new Justice Society of America (issue #1 launches today).
But the story starts a little before this week. In recent months, in fact, Johns and a host of other creators (including artist Mikel Janín) have been revisiting some of the biggest heroes of the Golden Age. Flashpoint Beyond, for instance, hinted at a return of both the JSA and (perhaps more specifically) Stargirl. And once that event wrapped up, Johns immediately leapt from merely teasing into launching The New Golden Age, which was meant to “unlock DC’s epic and secret-ridden history of heroism.”
The opening salvo, though, is still a one-two shot: first Stargirl: The Lost Children (which debuted November 15) and now Justice Society of America, the team’s first proper series since 2011. Whereas the Stargirl book focused on more of a mystery with teen heroes, JSA follows Helena Wayne (aka, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman) on a timeline-hopping adventure that explores the very history of the squad. Both a love letter to and a profound dissection of the Justice Society of America, the series delves headlong into why these Golden Age heroes remain so vitally important in the here and now.
To explore all things JSA first-hand, we spoke with Johns and Janín about the new book. That includes their collaborative process, building this story and the accompanying world, Johns’ continuation of his first JSA book, Helena as a hero and protagonist, and what surprises may be in store. (Hint: Johns said there’s more books coming as part of the Golden Age revival.)
AIPT: Geoff, I’m a big fan of your earlier Justice Society of America series. I think it’s pretty quintessential DC storytelling.
Geoff Johns: Thanks, Chris. I love the characters. I had a lot of fun on that first one.
AIPT: Hopefully we’ll talk about that in a little bit.
But I want to talk about how this series spins out of both Flashpoint Beyond and The New Golden Age one-shot?
GJ: There’s a lot of history here. And I love DC history; there’s so many legacies and stories here that have been told and that haven’t been told.
But I’m hoping those who read Justice Society of America, like you, will get something out of it the same as someone who didn’t read JSA or even the one-shot. And Helena will take you through this journey of who she is and what the JSA is and what it is in the future.
There’s this attack and [Helena’s] mother helps her escape it and she ends up back in 1940. So I tried to make this as accessible as I could to all readers.
Because we do have new characters; Ruby Sokov, the new Red Lantern. She’s brand-new but she has a history. And Gentleman Ghost, he clearly has a history, but you don’t need to know. And if you do know it, it’s fun because you can ask, ‘How did he get on this team?’
Everyone knows who Batman and Catwoman is, and they had a daughter and this is her journey.
AIPT: Mikel, what’s it like working with someone who’s very clearly a DC history expert? Does that make your job easier or more complicated as the artist?
Mikel Janín: I think it’s part of both, right? It’s a bit challenging. Yes, of course, Geoff knows everything about the universe and about the characters. And sometimes you feel that you are several steps back, and so you’re trying to catch up with everything. But at the same time, you have all the confidence that it’s going well, because he’s in charge. So, for me, it’s like I’m invited to this journey. And I’m having a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying being part of this book.
AIPT: I think it’s also interesting that this “journey” comes at the end or so of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is very much about the new age or era of heroes. Is this series at all a reaction to some of that?
GJ: We started talking with our editor, Andrew Marino, about The New Golden Age, I’d noted that Batman has a group of books and Superman has a group of books — and that’s all great. But back in the day, there was a group of books that was part of the bigger DC universe but also told stories all on their own.
And so the goal here was to create this new Golden Age, like there’s a sub-group of books, and JSA and Stargirl are just the first two. And there’s others that are coming, and the hope would be that these characters deserve their own little sub-universe. There’s a lot of different characters in here that can have series and mini-series, and so to curate and kind of figure out a new little corner, it felt like the right time, especially with the exposure the JSA has gotten between Stargirl and Black Adam. Hopefully more people will give the characters a chance.
AIPT: What is it that distinguishes these Golden Age heroes from the “triad” of DC (Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman)?
GJ: It’s a totally different thing. For me — and I know the characters are new to Mikel because he didn’t grow up with them — but growing up with the characters, they were always there first. They were the first, and they felt so grounded. When I think of the Justice Society of America, I don’t think about adventures in space. I don’t think about gods and giants. I think about grounded characters that are relatable. And even their powers aren’t aren’t overly gigantic; they’re pretty grounded overall. And I love that about them. They’re more human and relatable in a lot of ways.
And I just feel like they’re, they’re endlessly unexplored. You can add a character in here, like the Golden Age Red Lantern, and suddenly how many stories are there to tell about him and his day and his era and his origin? It’s just like throwing a rock in a pond — all these ripples come out. This era just draws me in as a writer who loves DC history and the characters. And they don’t get any love, and everyone deserves some. I just gravitate towards this universe because I do think it’s it’s endlessly explorable; I get excited about being in the universe. It’s an amazing playground full of wonderful opportunity.
AIPT: We’ve talked about new characters, but what was the onus for making Helena the focus of this book? I feel like she’s someone who represents not enough stories having been told and yet there’s a greater awareness of who she is and what she represents.
GJ: She’s such an interesting, complicated legacy character, because she’s taking on the legacy of Batman — and her mom in a lesser way because her mom’s still alive in the story. But there’s a moment in the first issue where she says, ‘Everyone said my dad was about darkness and fear, but he’s my dad, and that’s not what I saw.’ And it wouldn’t be what she saw. She didn’t see that and he was different. And he did evolve and he did open his heart up and become someone who loves somebody and had a family and gave it up to be a dad and a husband. There’s something wonderful about her perspective on who Batman was and what she then does with the JSA, effectively saying, ‘I know what my dad would’ve done; I’m going to do what my dad did.’
So if you’re buying a Justice Society of America comic, chances are you know who Batwoman and Catwoman are. So that made her even more of an accessible character, and having her as a POV character. She’s this character who can take us through this story as someone who is both old and new. I don’t think she’s been seen in any substantial way since [Crisis on Infinite Earths]. So bringing her back and examining legacy through her eyes, that felt very accessible. Plus, Mikel draws the hell out of her.
AIPT: Beyond Helena, what else can we expect from this lineup of the JSA roster?
GJ: You’re going to see the JSA in 1940 and the JSA in 1976 and the JSA of today. It’ll be a team of characters we know, and there’ll be some new faces and even some new changes. And that’s kind of the whole point: the constant evolution of the JSA. We’ve been trying to keep some of these characters and stuff as surprises. So when you’re reading the first issue, you’re like, Solomon Grundy? What is it?!’
AIPT: Yeah, definitely a big shocker there.
GJ: I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s the same JSA we’ve seen for a long time.’ That doesn’t mean those characters aren’t great, but I want you to open that book up and say, ‘That’s not what I expected.’ And hopefully when we get to the present JSA, we’ve got some surprises, too.
AIPT: Mikel, as an artist, what’s it like to tackle a few different eras of the JSA? Did you reference anything particular?
MJ: Something that I think comes with a team is that there’s somehow a happiness inherent to the team. Like, some of those characters were created when there were dark times in life. And there’s a parallel now; we live in dark times. So, then, we have to find those happy characters and those weird characters. So, having Solomon Grundy and Ruby, this sort of works in the sense of the old books, right. Like, you didn’t know what to expect when you got into these books as a small child, and you wanted to know more about them. And I think this inspires me when creating this world. We’re playing with characters — some of them are old, and some of them are new. You want to have fun with all of them.
AIPT: Geoff, getting back to your first JSA series, is this a kind of spiritual successor? Are there things you wanted to revisit or work out again in this new book?
GJ: I’m not rebooting any continuity. This JSA, it’s picking up right where it left off. I think all the history happened. That’s why the 76 era is back in there, too. And it’s 1976 specifically. There’s a reason that all these characters can exist and continue on.
AIPT: And back to maybe some Stargirl stuff, how much connection or overlap is there with what’s going on in JSA?
GJ: If you read them both, you’ll see the bigger picture if, but you can read them separately and get a complete story. What happens in Last Children will spill into JSA — we see the first kind of glimpse of that with Judy and her dad, right?
AIPT: You guys have been working together frequently since the Flashpoint Beyond stuff. What’s that collaborative process been like?
GJ: With Mikel, my job is to tell the story and not overkill it. I’m trying to keep it open because his work is just so beautiful. I don’t want to do 18 panels on one page. I love how how beautiful it is
It’s a little like a combination of Frank Quitely and Tim Sale; this beautiful amalgamation of, but then it’s his own style. So I want to make sure that he’s got the space like Jeph [Loeb] would always give Tim.
AIPT: As spoiler-heavy or -lite as you want, what can we expect from the rest of this series?
GJ: I just hope they enjoy it. We’re having a great time with this JSA book, and I really wanted to do a book that feels like a classic DC book, but still feels brand new and full of surprise. And so if you love the history of the DC Universe, or you love these characters, then you’re going to be happy.
There’s revelations that I’m excited for people to see. And I’m excited for people to meet some of these new characters. There’s a couple of big moments coming up. There’s a lot of Dr. Fate stuff; he plays a pretty big role in this. And I’m excited for that. I don’t want to spoil anything, but we’ll just continue to expand out the areas of all the JSAs — the 40s, the 70s, today and even the future, and hopefully have fun doing it.
AIPT: It’s all been great so far. But do you feel like you want to build that legacy or is this just about telling a damn good story?
GJ: I tried to put characters on the map with the first JSA. We brought in Stargirl and made her more prominent. We brought in Doctor Mid-Nite (Pieter Cross). I think we put these characters on the map. Even maybe Cyclone, too.
My hope is that in this generation, when we see some of the new characters, they continue to continue to survive. I’m really excited to use Yolanda Montez as Wildcat; I never got a chance to write her before A lot of the new characters we’ve introduced — Salem was one of my favorites, and we’ll see her with Dr. Fate.
So hopefully some of these new characters, because all the new characters that we introduced in The New Gold Age, in the last few pages, all those characters and how they affected the legacies…will be played out.
I’m just hoping a couple of those get elevated and stick. Even though I work with the classics all the time, I love adding new characters. I just sneak them in. It’s about trying to give them a more prominent position on the stage that is a DC Universe.
Variant covers courtesy of Jerry Ordway and Yanick Paquette, respectively.
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