Since it was first announced, reaction to writer James Robinson's rebooted version of DC Comics' Justice Society has ranged from elation, to concern, and back and again. The excitement? Robinson is returning to a franchise he made viable in the first place, nearly two decades ago. The concern? Rather than Golden Age versions of the characters, the new Justice Society characters are younger, hipper, and living on another planet.
With a lot of questions still in the air about the series, we chatted with Robinson over the phone about the upcoming book in advance of its release. And while he couldn't answer everything, for fear of spoilers, we did chat about what it's like to build a world, how the core three characters will stay true to their roots, and whether there's a chance that a certain fan favorite character could also get a young, hot reboot:
MTV Geek: It almost feels like between Earth Two, and The Shade, that you’re coming full circle and returning to your roots in the DC Universe.
James Robinson: If you want to look at it that way, sure. But it’s just how things fall into place. The idea that I was going to do The Justice Society with the relaunch has been around for a long time, and even as what that Justice Society team was, and where it was going to be taking place, and all these things... It was always with my name attached as the writer.
I’ve been with it this whole process as it evolved into Earth 2, where we’re not just presenting a team, but an entire world. I’ve been working on it for so long that it feels like an exciting new step for me, and not really a return to the old. With The Shade, he’s such a familiar old friend for me that I was gratified and relieved to see how comfortably and easily I could fall back into writing his dialogue, and how he thinks,a and how he talks, and everything else.
It’s more just happenstance, and synchronicity that I’m doing these books at the moment. But if you want to look at it as me returning to familiar territory that fans enjoy, and I’m not going to be killing any more kids, or dismembering any more superheroes, then you’re welcome to do that.
Geek: Do you have a mission statement for the book? Without getting into spoiler territory - because I know you can’t - can you tell us what the vibe, or the feel of it is?
JR: The mission statement is one of two things. It’s to create a compelling world for Earth 2 that is both familiar enough that we haven’t gone to some alien, crazy upside-down place, but it also stands apart from the regular DC Earth where the rest of the DC Universe books are set. And then world-build from there.
The secondary goal is that slowly you’re going to see from various storylines, and various aspects of this world, you’re going to see the formation of The Justice Society. That is something that will be coming up, but this isn’t one of those books where, we’re all together, and let’s go kick Brainwave’s ass, or whatever it is. This is a much bigger tapestry, a much bigger world, but it’s a world that, while it stands apart, if at some point if it was to meet with the main DC Universe in some way, it would feel organic, and feel right.
It isn’t like it’s an alternate Earth with a gimmick. Like Earth X used to be Earth where the Nazis won World War II; those very pat answers. This is sort of an interesting world in that there are some things that are similar to our Earth, the one that we are on, and also the world of the primary DC Universe. But at the same time there are some key things that have happened to very key events in the past that make this world somewhat different.
Geek: For you as a writer, what is it like to even approach creating an entire world?
JR: Slowly and carefully. [Laughs] The main thing is, with any book when you’re doing it, The Adventures of Cave Carson, or the entire world of Earth 2, or the Fourth World, or wherever you want to do it... It always starts with certain plot points that immediately come to you, and you always want those moments to happen at some point, and you work towards them. There are some characters that come to you almost fully formed in your mind, and those are you anchors. And same with the world, there are some aspects of the world that you say, this is what I want to do, here or there, or there. They’re the anchors, and you slowly begin to add the other pieces so it links, and forms, and becomes a whole tapestry.
Geek: Hm. Let’s talk about--
JR: Hang on a second. That was a “Hm,” like, “I’m not believing that sack of--”
Geek: No, no, that was a “Hm, that was interesting.”
JR: I’m not playing poker with you anytime soon.
Geek: [Laughs] Okay, then, to keep going with this world-building, what’s the process like? Do you physically start drawing maps, or just a lot of ground-work and research that goes into something like this?
JR: Like with everything, and this was even the case when I was doing Starman, I’m amazed on how well I brought that all together at the end... About seventy percent of that was planned, but there was thirty percent were just things that fell into my lap, or ideas I hadn’t even had that formed at the last minute. I read an interview with Neil Gaiman when he was talking about Sandman, and he said almost the exact same thing about that run, that there was a lot of that stuff planned, but there were also a lot of things that fell in his lap.
Everybody that does these overall visions of stories, and arcs, and sagas... you plan for a lot of it, and then other things are happy accidents. I just have a lot of notebooks, and I do a lot of sketches, and I cut out pictures this and that, like everybody does. I’m one step away from being a fourteen year old schoolgirl drawing unicorns on the cover of my notebook. I do a lot of that, but at the same time, some of things - despite all of that planning - are things that pop into my head at the last minute. Or the artist will suggest it, or the editor. And I’ll say, “Oh, I never would have thought of that before.”
Geek: Just to continue on something you touched on, with the New 52 still relatively, er, new, why is it important to bring in another continuity so soon?
JR: I’m talking a little bit about things, where ultimately the decision rests with Dan Didio, and I can’t speak for him, but I was aware there was a demand from readers for the Justice Society, and this was a way of bringing a new, fresh take on that team, so it was something that fans who wanted those characters would see a new, rebooted approach to them. This was the way that made the most sense, I think.
Comics are supposed to be fun. And if could criticize online fans, and even online journalists - not you, but just the way things are reported sometimes - they’re so analyzed, and criticized that the fun gets taken out of the books and the experience of reading them.
You said mission statement earlier, and one of the goals is to do this in a way that is not confusing, or bewildering... I’ve read online people saying, “Why are you doing this, people are going to be confused, it’s trying to be a new user friendly, jump on board and enjoy the comic DC Universe. What are they thinking?”
Well, what we’re thinking, what I’m thinking is that I have to do my job right, so that when people pick this book up, they understand what they’re reading, and just enjoy it. Based on the parameters of the new DC Universe, this was the best way to give fans a new Justice Society, and on top of that, if you don’t really have the generational comic book thing, which is not really part of the new DC Universe, to be honest and frank about it, this is the best way to do it. Otherwise, you have potentially two of the same characters running around in one world, and it takes away from what makes either of them special.
What those characters are, it allows me to make those characters unique, special, and focused in this bigger picture of Earth 2, this world I’m creating.
Geek: You’ve written a bunch of a different iterations of these characters now... Is there someone that you’ve tackled before, like a Jay Garrick or Alan Scott, where something popped, or just struck you in a different way than how you’ve written them before?
JR: Honestly, this answer is easy, but it feels like I’m just brushing you off... The first three characters that you see - apart from the Trinity - in issue one will be Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and Al Pratt. As I said repeatedly in other interviews, just to hammer the point home: people that want more of the old school Justice Society... That’s just not going to happen. This is a reboot, these are new interpretations, but I really tried hard to distill what I loved about these characters... I wanted to find what made them special to me.
In a less obvious way, I wanted to bring out the two-fisted integrity and courage of Al Pratt. Back in the old days, when he was just a little guy with a big heart and muscles, with no atomic power or what have you, his bravery resonated. In this world, he’s a soldier - when his journey begins, he’s a soldier. We see the bravery and grit this guy has.
With Alan Scott, I wanted to show the gallantry, the bravery, he’s almost the epitome of heroism. In this world, he’s kind of the perfect man, but I think there’s a love of Earth, and a love of humanity in him that I wanted to shine. He’s this knight that will defend the Earth to his dying breath.
And what I’ve always loved about Jay Garrick is he’s the everyman amongst us. He’s the guy you like. He’s the guy, if your daughter had to bring a guy home, and say that she’s dating, it’s Jay Garrick. If you had to go out for a beer with someone, it’s Jay Garrick. If you had to follow a guy into a fight, it’s Jay Garrick. He would have your back. So that cool, honest, everyman, Middle American quality that I’ve always admired in him, I tried to bring out. People are worried he’s too young... He’s twenty-one years old. He’s not the old man he was. But that sense of honesty and genuine integrity that he has, I’ve really tried to put into that character. And furthermore, one of the reasons I’ve really enjoyed writing him is that he’s really our point of entry. The fantastic stuff that we witness as they unfold int he future will kind of be seen through the eyes of a young man who is learning how to become the hero that destiny has foisted upon him.
Geek: Any final thoughts on the book?
JR: This book is going to be fantastic! It really is. I think it’s great writing on my part, and I’m being candid about this, it’s a little bit vain, but whatever. I certainly know when I’m writing and I’m not happy about it, but I’m really happy about this. Nicola Scott is doing the job of a lifetime. The inking is gorgeous. And I think this book will be a book that people enjoy, that they have fun with, and genuinely excited to read every month. I stand by that. I think people should take a chance, but i don’t even think there’s a chance to take. This is a genuinely good book, and everyone is going to love it.
Geek: And just to sneak in one last question: are we going to get a younger, sexier Ma Hunkle?
JR: I can neither deny or confirm that.
That sounds like a confirmation to us! Earth Two #1, featuring a younger, sexier Ma Hunkle will hit comic book stands on May 2nd from DC Comics.