This week sees the release of Justice League #59, the first issue from the series’ new creative team of Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Tamra Bonvillain, and Josh Reed. The issue also begins building a new roster for the titular team, with longtime League mainstays like Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Hawkgirl joined by returning members Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Queen Hippolyta and newbies to the team Black Adam and Naomi.
Last week Bendis and Marquez met with members of the comics press to discuss Justice League, the latest in a long line of collaborations for the duo. Persevering through technical difficulties, the creators discussed their working relationship, how Justice League spins out of Bendis’s recently-wrapped run on the Superman titles, and what’s in store for readers who check out the series.
The first question was regarding creating the line-up for the new team. Bendis called it the most fun part of the task, and said that his experience on past team books like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy had prepared him for the task. He said he looked for what would be the best line-up for this specific moment in time for the characters. The only character he said DC, specifically Jim Lee, asked him to include was Black Adam, given the upcoming film starring The Rock. Bendis said including Adam challenges “the idea of the Justice League.” Bendis also said someone else suggested Naomi, and he consulted with his Naomi collaborator David F. Walker on how she would be used in the series. Marquez added that one of the challenges of putting the team together is not repeating stories that have already been told with these top-tier characters. He described Bendis’s pitch to him as being about the coolest characters in the DCU and how they interact with each other.
Bendis was asked how working on Justice League had impacted the way he thinks about Superman. Bendis said that his Superman run had already included the Justice League during the storyline in which the Man of Steel reveals his identity to the world, so it felt natural to continue exploring the new dynamic between Superman and the rest of the League. He praised new Superman writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson for what he’s doing with the character.
Asked about character pairings they were looking forward to working with, Bendis noted Black Canary and Hawkgirl as a pairing he enjoys. He cited the Justice League Unlimited cartoon and past Justice League runs as influences on how he writes the characters. Marquez also named Black Canary, in combination with Green Arrow. He said he’s excited to draw characters he hasn’t drawn before, in particular Black Adam in contrast with Superman. He also said Bendis has scripted some fun scenes between Batman and Naomi, and Bendis described Naomi as “as raw a character as this team has ever had,” and cited Batman’s natural mentoring role as an influence on their dynamic.
Regarding the pair’s working relationship, Bendis quipped, “Successful.” He said C.B. Cebulski showed him Marquez’s work and that it spoke to him. Bendis said they challenge and inspire each other “in the best way,” and that he can throw anything at Marquez and he’s always up for the challenge. Bendis also said he likes to include things that he knows Marquez enjoys drawing, and mentioned a creator-owned book that the two of them are working on together in addition to Justice League. Marquez said that he and Bendis are good friends, and that they “always have an ongoing conversation.” He also noted that they both enjoy spotlighting character moments, something that Bendis’s writing excels at, and that they often have a “give and take” that can help their stories grow when they disagree on where things should go.
Bendis was next asked about the erroneous rumors of DC changing Black Adam’s name to “Shazadam.” On that point Bendis was unequivocal that, “At no time ever in the history of the planning of this book, in any format, in any stage, in any way has the production ever been about Black Adam changing his name, his legacy, his anything.” He described the rumor as being akin to someone reporting that Marvel was changing Spider-Man’s name to ‘Web-Headed Menace’ because someone calls him that in a comic, and that he didn’t respond to the rumor earlier because it was “so ridiculous.” Bendis said they’re very excited about Black Adam’s storyline in Justice League, citing Adam’s longevity within the DCU as being integral to how the character responds to things. Marquez said it’s interesting as a reader of the scripts to see how the series handles Adam’s past, and whether the bad things that he’s done should be the only things that he’s judged for.
A question was asked about a Green Lantern being included in the series. Marquez said that there had been conversation when they were crafting the line-up about where characters were in their own stories, and that some of those characters may not be on Earth right now. Bendis, returning after a brief disconnection from the call, said that there will be a Green Lantern-focused story coming “very soon,” not saying any more for fear of spoiling things. He said that events in the Green Lantern series will be reflected in the Justice League series. “Almost every character in this book is being shared in another story, Bendis said, “and I’m desperate not to accidentally spoil someone else’s very hard work.”
Regarding characters they’re looking forward to working on, Bendis said, of the main cast, “all of them.” He also said there would be a lot of guest-stars, saying that The Flash has been in every issue so far even though he’s not officially a member of the team. Bendis also said that he and Ram V are collaborating on a Justice League/Justice League Dark team-up that will unite the main and back-up features “in a unique way.” Marquez said he was excited to do design work on some of the characters, noting Hippolyta and the first arc’s new villain specifically. He also said he’d gotten some enthusiastic feedback from Black Canary fans online about the slight updates he’s made to her costume.
On the opposite said, asked about characters who were “daunting” to work on, Bendis mentioned Black Adam’s storyline as challenging given it being “counter-intuitive” to the team and the series, but said that it wasn’t a challenge to “run away from.” He also described adding Naomi to the series as a challenge given the larger universe that she brings with her, and that was established in her origin miniseries. Marquez said one of the biggest challenge on the series is putting his own spin on characters and a team that have been around for decades. He also noted Black Adam as a character he hasn’t spent much time with, and that it’s been a challenge to represent him on the page as more than “a cackling villain.” He said he’s strove to make Adam relatable to readers, given that he’s one of the series’ protagonists even if he’s not a good guy. Bendis added that the intelligence of all of the characters took him by surprise, and that “there are no goofballs on the team,” though Green Arrow comes close.
Bendis was next asked how Naomi’s inclusion in Justice League impacts plans for the future return of her solo series. Bendis said that Naomi “has gotten a pretty intense view of the DC Universe quickly,” and that she’s rattled by everything she’s seen already. He described the second series as being about how she processes everything that she’s seen, including what will happen to her in Justice League. “It’s still coming,” he stressed, and added that the delay of the new series due to Jamal Campbell’s working on Far Sector had allowed he and David Walker to explore new aspects of Naomi’s hero’s journey that they would not have been able to before.
Marquez addressed his approach to redesigning characters, and whether there were any besides Hippolyta that he was looking to redesign. Marquez described the sketchbook he has of character costume designs, and said that the somewhat rotating cast of the series might open up opportunities for him to redesign or put his own spin on characters’ costumes. “There’s a lot of opportunity to play with design,” he said. Bendis also noted that events in the Superman and Batman titles might allow Marquez some chances for tweaks/redesigns to their costumes as well.
A question was asked of Bendis about how the return of all past continuity at the end of Dark Nights: Death Metal had impacted how he approaches characters he’s already written. Bendis said no, and that the main thing Death Metal did was restore “the truth of those characters.” He said Justice League and the rest of the DC line were reflecting that and the moment that the characters are in.
Marquez was asked about how he approaches Superman, a character the questioner described as a non-chalant badass. Marquez said that drawing Superman comes naturally to him, and that he always wants to make sure his Superman is kind. “He’s the friendly neighbor everyone feels comfortable with,” he said, adding that he feels like he’s “nailed” the character when he’s able to convey Superman’s affection for those around him. Bendis said he could tell how much Marquez loves drawing Superman and Batman when reading his work on Batman/Superman with writer Joshua Williamson. Bendis says being with the Justice League is where Superman feels “most comfortable in his skin,” and that you can always see that on his face.
The topic of creating a new villain for the League came up, and Marquez said he looked at other characters who’d appeared in the past five to ten years to make sure he didn’t reflect any of those characters. Marquez said his design for the series’ new villain shifts slightly over the course of the first arc as part of his character. Bendis talked about how the character acts as an introduction for readers to Naomi’s world, so he was very deliberate about the character’s voice not being over the top or irreverent. He also said the villain has a specific goal, and that it’s clear why he wants what he wants, describing the character as “an immovable force.” Bendis also expounded on the world that the villain comes from as being one that the heroes of the League have never seen before, and that will knock them for a loop.
A question was asked about if there are characters “outside of the expected norm” that Bendis and Marquez would like to see on the team. Both answered yes, but declined to elaborate, though Bendis teased upcoming storylines that are spinning out of his last issues on Superman and the United Planets’s own version of the Justice League.
Asked to tease the aforementioned Justice League/Justice League Dark crossover, Bendis said that the story would also hearken back to the new Lord of Chaos that he created during his last year on Superman. “We’re very early goings in the collaboration,” Bendis said, and he praised Ram V for his willingness to work with the “nonsense” that Bendis has thrown at him.
Regarding Black Adam again, Bendis said he’d known the character would be part of the team for a long time, and that he’s also known he and Marquez would be taking over the title for a long time, so he was able to plant seeds for things during his last year on Superman that he can pick up on and pay off in Justice League. Marquez said Black Adam was always on the team from the day he became involved with the series. He said, as a reader, he “took some convincing” regarding Black Adam being on the team, and said that Adam and Naomi are “the heart of the book.”
Who will be the Justice League’s official Flash, Barry Allen or Wally West? Bendis said Barry will appear as a guest-star, and that he’s been in every issue so far. “It’s Barry, for reasons,” Bendis said. “And anything else I say is a spoiler to someone else’s story.”
The duo were asked which Justice League runs they feel got the balancing act of so many characters ‘right.’ Bendis said that Justice League of America #200 is a perfect superhero comic, and part of the reason that he loves doing jam books. He also praised Brad Meltzer’s run on the series, and again named the Justice League Unlimited cartoon as “an enormous influence on what I think is the energy of our book” in terms of acknowledging the characters’ legacies.
Marquez echoed that, saying the series distilled the characters down to their essence, and noting that the cartoon is a large touchpoint for a lot of fans. He also mentioned the Grant Morrison-written JLA as an influence, as well as Alan Davis’s JLA: The Nail series as one that gets to the core point of what makes the Justice League the Justice League. He said a core conversation that he and Bendis had had when they started working on the series was “Justice for who,” and that they push Superman’s impact on the team in the book. Bendis added the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire Justice League International run as a huge influence as well, particularly in the way it touched on different genres throughout.
Asked to expound on the “Justice for who” question, Bendis said a conversation the characters have in the first issue about diversifying the team’s lineup is one that he thinks people are having in real life as well. He also said they have the benefit of the series not being set in the real world, so they can address issues with that in mind. Marquez said they’re never trying to be heavy-handed with their message or approach to the series. “This is a book about earnest belief in the possibility of a better world,” he said, and stressed that it needed to include everyone, and that the Justice League isn’t just an American team or even just an Earthbound team.
The final question was about teasers for what’s coming in the series. Bendis said he loves how all the characters and subgenres in comics can converge in Justice League, and that that convergence allows for unique storytelling opportunities. He said that every character brings a huge storyline with them, and that Justice League will help tell those stories in a way that allows “a lot of guest stars.” He also described the forthcoming Checkmate series as being a part of the Justice League storyline. Marquez echoed Bendis’s remarks regarding the varied characters and storylines, and said the series will “spend time in different places” and bring in the casts of other characters’ titles. Bendis also joked that it’s an excuse for him to continue to write the Wonder Twins.
Justice League #59 arrives in stores and digitally tomorrow, March 16th.