A League of Changes

Joe Kelly on the League's New Lineup

4 December 2002

With the Obsidian Age wrapped up and Aquaman back in the present safe and sound, the JLA isn’t looking to rest on its laurels. As the cover to February’s issue #78 showed, a lineup change is in the offing, and from appearances, it looks as if the Big 7 won’t be the only heroes on the team.

From the cover, it can be gleaned that Faith (who first appeared in JLA #69), as well as Manitou Raven (the Apache shaman from the Obsidian Age storyline, who’s a nod to Apache Chief from Super Friends), and Major Disaster will be joining, while Kyle Rayner’s Green Lantern will be replaced by John Stewart. Something old, something new, something borrowed…all the League is missing someone blue.

Newsarama: First off, the cover to issue #78 looks a little slim - is the lineup as shown the full team?

Joe Kelly: No — there are more guys than shown on the team - more than eight. I’m loosening the reins a little as far as who’s on the team for a little while, and expanding past the Big 7 to try and get a little fresh blood in, and try some new things, but also obviously, keep those guys around. Although some of the characters who are conspicuously absent on the cover are going to be absent for a while.

NRAMA: Such as the Martian Manhunter?

JK: Could be.

NRAMA: Well — the other character that seems almost a little odd to be missing, especially in light of the recent storyline is Aquaman. After all, the League just went through all this trouble to rescue him, and he shows his appreciation by not rejoining?

JK: Right — don’t worry — all of the big questions get addressed in #76 as to who’s on the team. As we’re all hamstrung constantly because of solicits, if people aren’t visible in that lineup, you find out why in #76. On top of that, as I said, there are one or two guys who are just missing from the cover shot on #78, who are sticking around.

As far as the Aquaman stuff, I would just point people to his ongoing series. It’s one of the tough balancing acts with the JLA — they’re not fully my toys, so when something comes along, and they tell me they’re going to do a big relaunch for Aquaman, and they want it to come out of a story I’m telling, it’s like, “Great — when do I get to use him?” Well, he has to go through X, Y, and Z for a little while. Sometimes it takes a little while for that kind of stuff to kick back, but there usually is a master plan for most of it.

NRAMA: In that sense, is John Stewart “yours” to use in JLA now, or is Ben [Raab] going to be using him in Green Lantern?

JK: I think he’s going to be mine for a while. We haven’t explicitly discussed how tightly we’re going to link those guys. There will be a little bit of a hiatus for Kyle in Green Lantern, and John will be in both books for a while, but I’m not exactly sure for how long. I think by the time I bring John in, in #76, Kyle will be heading off into space.

NRAMA: Looking at the overall lineup again, this is pretty much the first time since Grant Morrison’s restart of the series that the team isn’t based on the core of the Big 7. Traditionally with the book, it’s a tightrope time — while there have been runs with second tier characters as members that have been very successful, there are also runs where characters like Vibe and Gypsy showed up, which seemed to start the death knell for the team — and the series. Was it your plan when you came on to go for at least x amount of time with the big guns before adding some new faces?

JK: Yeah — definitely. You don’t want to come in and wreck what people have set up before you, and what the fans like. You have to build up that respect base first. But that being said, I don’t think anybody sits down and says, “I want to take something that works and throw it in the trash, just to try my own thing.”

For me, the types of stories that I want to tell require a little bit of an emotional shakeup within the group, and it’s kind of hard to do some of those things with characters that I have to share. So, when you’re allowed to mess round a little bit. Manhunter’s a great example — you’ll see in December why he’s taking off for a while, and I know some people will go ballistic over it, because he’s never been out of the League since it was restarted. But, two issues later, you’ll see what he’s doing, even though he’s not in the League.

So, in the same way that Batman was out of the League for a while during Mark’s run, that’s how these guys are “out” of the League. In terms of the new characters, it’s really just an opportunity to try some new things and see what sticks, and set up some new concepts and spin off the stories. The Big 7 will always be around, though — when we need Aquaman, he’ll come back. But yeah — overall, it’s a tightrope to walk. I hope people will take the chance with it. I’ve seen the boards and know there’s some questioning going on out there for example, as to why someone like Faith would stick around.

NRAMA: Now that you mention her — given the track record of recently created characters designed to fit in with the Justice League, Faith and Manitou Raven almost have a targets on their backs, don’t they?

JK: Well, not really. Speaking of Manitou Raven a little, as people have figured out by now — he’s Apache Chief. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a Justice League character who has never been in the book, so here was an opportunity to introduce him in a different way, and suddenly reveal to people that he’s Apache Chief, and he’s a different kind of magic user instead of Zatanna.

NRAMA: Okay, but putting Apache Chief in the team, albeit in a different form — while it’s cool for people around your age who remember the character from the Super Friends cartoon - some younger readers who see the character could quite easily come away with the impression of “So what?”

JK: Well, they get to learn a little history from us old fogeys…

NRAMA: Well, yeah, but isn’t there a touch of vanity almost, in doing that, adding something to the team that meant a lot to you, personally?

JK: I guess you could say that, but for me, vanity would be disbanding the League and doing whatever I wanted, or playing these characters completely differently than they should be played, for example, making Superman a dick, just because it would be funnier. I’ve definitely seen that done on books before, and I don’t like it. To me, the introduction of Manitou, with the nod to Apache Chief was a chance for an expansion. Zatanna’s the only magic user that anyone ever uses with them. I love her as a character, but at the time we were looking to change the makeup of the team, the Vertigo project with her was in full swing, as well as some other stuff that’s not yet known about.

So, adding Manitou was just a chance to do something new and show people something different, really. To me, it’s the same level of vanity of thinking you’re able to tell a JLA story in the first place. I think new characters have to show up, and not just new villains, to mess with the status quo a little bit, to allow for opportunities for things like romance which you’re not supposed to have between characters who already know each other and are married. Conflicts, which you certainly get in the JLA already, can now be spun out in new ways. And really, they’re just some new toys to play with — if some of them don’t work, they’ll go away, and if they do work, they’ll stick around. Luckily, we’re in a medium that’s flexible enough that you can experiment.

NRAMA: And in this case, change is good?

JK: “Good” will be decided by the fans, but change isn’t to be feared. While it may be seen by some as the height of vanity for me to bring in a character that I knew growing up, I’m actually afraid of the opposite condition - I’m more concerned about complacency — not taking any chances, or not taking any risks. The whole concept of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” is one that I have no interest in. Why bother, if that’s the case? Everything can be tweaked, and everything can be messed with, and for ongoing drama, you have to mess with the audience and string people along — give them some of what they want, but try something new. I love those elements, and that’s what I like to infuse into the series when I can.

NRAMA: Speaking of other changes you’re making on the team, was the inclusion of John Stewart in any way suggested from above, since the JLA cartoon has him as a member? Peter David has pretty much said that a big reason for the revamp of the Teen Titans was to have a comic that was closer to the cartoon version that’s coming up. Were you under the same pressure?

JKJ: Yeah, but not in such as conspiratorial way as it might sound. To the degree that DC is a business, and Warner Brothers is a business, and they’re in the business of creating recognizable franchises, making the comic look a little bit like the cartoon is not such a bad thing. That said, I definitely have the latitude that if I don’t like a suggestion, I can definitely say no thanks. When the John Stewart conversion came up, Hawkgirl was mentioned as well, and I wouldn’t mind having her around, because I think I could do some cool stuff with her, and it would be nice to balance her out against Wonder Woman, because they’re really not the same character. If I can keep John Stewart for a little while, and not have to call in every time I want to use him in a different way, then I’d love to have him. Any character whose destiny I can define on my own is a big plus for me.

So, sure, there were discussions about adding both John Stewart and Hawkgirl, but it really wasn’t in that moustache-twirling way like it might look. It is funny though — people think that I’m being screwed with, and can’t do what I want, but any time you work with somebody else’s characters, you have to take a certain responsibility to what they want. Anybody who says different is either just lucky that no one is paying attention, or lying. It’s not your stuff. You try and put your stink on it for sure, and you hope that you do something that people like so you get to do a little bit more, but at the end of the day, if they call up and tell you that Superman has to eat Rice Chex all month, because they just signed a deal with them, then he’s got to eat Rice Chex. Luckily, that’s never happened.

NRAMA: Keep your fingers crossed. Speaking to your last addition to the team - Major Disaster, are you looking to give a little bit of an Avengers vibe to the team, opening its arms to a reformed villain?

JK: Well, he has been on the team before. When I was looking on the giant lists of who has ever been on the team, I saw that he had been on there, so there’s precedent for him being there, and I had done that story previously in Action after Our Worlds at War, where Superman offered him the chance to reform, so it was great serendipity to get to play with that.

Again, part of his membership is due to the conflict angle that we couldn’t have really had on the team before his arrival. There hasn’t been too much of that yet, just because the Obsidian Age story was so big and plot heavy. There were 21 characters at one point, and was kind of hard to explore the characters in depth. But the JLA doesn’t have a Wolverine —type character, and not that he’s Wolverine, but he is someone with a bit of darkness in their background, and that’s nice to have to play with in someone other than Batman. And it certainly is a little bit of cross-pollination between my two books to have that Superman story pay off in JLA.

When we come down off the Obsidian Age stuff, it’s still kind of chaos, so #76 is a very quiet issue, with everybody getting ready to go their own ways, and we don’t necessarily have a lot of scenes in the first arc after that, where they’re just sitting around and chatting, but there will be a moment or two between Superman and Major Disaster.

NRAMA: Is the new lineup going to be it for a while, or is it still flexible in regards to more members joining? Black Vulcan and El Dorado are probably free…along with the Wonder Twins.

JK: Eh — I was always partial to Wendy and Marvin. Seriously, though, the lineup will stay fairly steady after this — for a while.

NRAMA: Looking to wind things up, with everything you’ve done to the team and members in the Obsidian Age, are you looking at trying to top yourself, or shift focus to tell slightly different stories?

JK: Maybe it’s post 9-11, but I became a lot more interested in watching people deal with one another, who are all heroes in their own right, but all have their own perspective, than dealing with untouchable gods and goddesses. That’s partly why when you see these team shifts and how the members develop over the course of time, 90% of them have a real humanistic base to them. So yeah, I’m looking to tell slightly different stories than the Obsidian Age.

NRAMA: So what’s on tap?

JK: The first post-Obsidian Age arc will show the JLA getting proactive — they find out about a threat that’s light-years away from earth, sort of by accident, and they decide to go out and face it before it’s ever going to bother them, and there are repercussions for making that decision. Everyone’s always wanting to see a more proactive League, and this will be their chance.

NRAMA: Will that allow you an exploration of sorts of the League in the same way as Action #775 was for Superman, giving you the chance to answer the question why the League is a reactionary force, for the most part?

JK: Not quite in that story arc, but the whole year will reflect that feel a little. When you do introduce new characters, there are very legitimate questions — why would this person be in the League? Why does, Faith, for example, deserve membership when other people weren’t even asked? Over the next year, I’m really going to have a throughline of looking at why the League does exist and what each member is about. It probably won’t be too apparent at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year, that will be a clear focus.

As far as specific upcoming plans, we’re doing another big story next summer that will have biweekly shipping, and as of right now, Doug [Mahnke] is going to draw the entire thing. There will be an arc before it that someone else will draw, that will hopefully give him the lead time he needs to hit all six issues. The story is as important as The Obsidian Age story, but the scope is a little more refined — it’s not going to be crazy time jumping again.

NRAMA: So you’re not killing Aquaman again, and bringing him back as an annual event?

JK: No — that’s not the plan [laughs]. The story is going to be really cool, and I’m really excited about it. It’s something that I’ve been building towards in my run, and its taken almost two years to get to it. A lot of the questions that are set up in the post Obsidian Age stuff will be dealt with in that story.

We’re also going to be using Faith as a character, showing why she’s got the juice to be on the team, both from a power level, and from a background level. We’re going to learn more about where she comes from, and why the people who she left behind want her back. That’s going to introduce some new villains, and guys who will definitely screw with the League over the course of the next year — very, very nasty people. Rumor has it that they might even people the people who gathered the Elite. They’re going to be a lot of fun.

Again, this gathering of heroes, who are at the same time both gods and men, is really interesting to me. To analyze that in a different way, and to look at what League membership means in a slightly different way, a little bit more organic version is what I really am after. It’s all part of the big experiment and all happens for a reason, and gives me the opportunity to do some really cool stories.

Hopefully people will dig it and give it a shot.

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