Dwayne McDuffie: Bringing On The Bad Guys in Justice League of America

A comics interview article by: Sean Boyle

September’s Justice League of America #13 marked the debut of new series writer Dwayne McDuffie (Fantastic Four). Though this is his first tenure as writer of the Justice League comic book, Dwayne is already a League veteran, having been the writer/producer of Cartoon Network’s Justice League Unlimited. I recently caught up with Dwayne to talk about his upcoming run on the League and his first arc “Injustice League Unlimited.”

Sean Boyle (SB): So your first arc, titled “Injustice League Unlimited” kicked off last month. Tell us about how the story came about? Why did you choose this story to launch your run?

Dwayne McDuffie (DM): I really just wanted to get some villains in there. The book had done a lot of work over the past year building the characters and their relationships. All of that stuff was in really good shape. What we hadn’t seen a lot of was the huge action you would expect in a team book like this. The tough thing about having such a big and powerful team is finding something that threatens them. I may have overcompensated a bit...

SB: [laughs] Possibly. Your lineup did take up two full covers. Speaking of the villain’s lineup, in the JLA Wedding Special, the prologue to “Injustice League Unlimited,” we got to see the reverse “Big Three” in Lex, Joker, and Cheetah. How do you see their relationship and dynamic as a group?

DM: That’s a lot of what I’m building within the story actually, so I can’t really give you anything useful without revealing too much about the plot. There are a lot of things going on there that I’m looking forward to.

SB: What goes in to the Injustice League’s selection of a member? Are they looking for menacing villains that can fight the big guns, or something more?

DM: Luthor believes in certain things, Cheetah believes in others, and Joker just thinks this is kind of fun. They are looking for people powerful enough to damage the Justice League, or people powerful enough to screw up their lives. This all plays out further down the line, and we’ll see a lot of this resonate.

SB: Well, you already said you can’t get into the story too much, but let’s talk about Joker if you can. The Joker is a wild card in every story, and he seems to have a dicey relationship with some of the other members, namely Cheetah. Does Lex see him as a necessary evil? Does this new group hinge on the Joker’s involvement?

DM: Considering what happened the last time somebody tried to assemble the villains and didn’t let the Joker play, it’s probably a good idea to let the Joker play. I’ll leave it at that.

SB: Sounds ominous. How about we talk about the good guys then? There is a common perception that, when a new writer comes onto a team book like Justice League, he will scrap the previous lineup in favor of his own personal choices. You left Brad’s team almost completely intact. Why did you choose to keep this team in lieu of a roster change?

DM: There are a couple of things. DC had a really specific idea of who they wanted on the team, which I was cool with. It took them a year to really build the team, and it didn’t seem appropriate for me to mess with that. I didn’t want to come in and say “Okay, we’re gonna have Aquaman, Ray Palmer, and three other characters I made up.” I really like the team we have, and it’s fun to see them interact. There is plenty of stuff out there in this cast of characters to play with.

SB: One of the most noticeable aspects about this JLA lineup isn't exactly who is on it, but who isn't on it. JLA mainstays like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter are not on the team. However, the most interesting character in the fold, to me, is Green Arrow. Ollie's wife, best friend, and protégé` are all on the team together. We already saw him try to help in issue #13. What is your take on Green Arrow, and his relationship to the team while not being a member?

DM: He kind of gets to be on and around the team by default. As you said, he has personal relationships with everybody. He’d love to step in and help, but he just can’t do that anymore. He’s at the point in his life that he wants to see Roy come into his own. If Roy is there, he’s gonna let Roy do it. Also if you read the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, he’s not exactly in a position to help right now.

SB: The newest addition to the team is John Stewart. Why did you bring in John Stewart? What does he bring to the League as an individual, separate from the other Green Lanterns?

DM: I view him in the same way I view Red Tornado and Vixen and all the other characters that aren’t top tier characters that don’t have their own books. They are blessings to me because I can actually do stuff with them. There is a real limit of what I can do with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Hal Jordan is included with them as well, because he has his own book every month. Those four characters all have solo books that are the appropriate place to deal with their personal lives. In Justice League its’ pretty much business for them. The only personal stuff I can do with those specific characters is their interactions with the other team members. You’re not going to read a lot about Superman and Lois’ relationship in this book because JLofA isn’t the place for it.

SB: Because there are numerous other Superman titles…

DM: Right. So John to me is a lot more fun to use than Hal because I can do stuff with him. There are all kinds of really cool stuff going on with Hal in the monthly Green Lantern book, but I can’t do that stuff in JLofA with Hal. So I like using John.

The model I keep using is the 1970’s Avengers written by Steve Englehart, which is one of my favorite comic runs. Sure, you had Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor in the book, but you also had Hawkeye and Mantis and Scarlet Witch and these characters you never heard of at the time. Basically, all of the emotional stuff was happening with all the B-list characters. Iron Man and Thor were there to kick ass, but you couldn’t get into their personal stuff too much because they had other books. It’s a good model to use. Justice League has to count for something. They can’t all just get together and fight villains and then the book ends because that would get very boring very quickly. There has to be an emotional component to it, and most of that will come through Black Lightning and Red Arrow and Red Tornado.

And as a side note, if I could pick new characters, I would pick characters that don’t have colors in their name. [laughs]

SB: [laughs] Yeah, it seems like a lot of characters are ascribed to a certain color and they all currently reside with the Justice League.

DM: It certainly seems that way…

SB: Stemming off the previous question, we all know what Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman can do, but is it the B-listers who really make the league “The League”? Is this the place where the smaller characters can be seen as ass-kickers too?

DM: Well, Justice League is a place where these characters can get some real face-time. You can see these characters in stories that count. Whether or not these characters can carry their own books I really don’t know. However, they’re all interesting characters. And in the combination with a team that has Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, you have the readership to show people how cool these characters really are.

SB: One of the new dynamics you have brought to the team in JLofA #13 is the banter back and forth between John and Black Lightning. Is this a friendship you’re looking to develop throughout your run?

DM: I’m not sure yet. What I really wanted to do was quickly distinguish between the two of them personality wise. I’m going to do that in several ways with other characters, but that was an exercise for me to separate and find the individual voices within the characters.

SB: Another thing I noticed in JLofA #13 is that there is not just one leader on the team. You seem to have brought a vocal leadership to the team with John. Batman is the tactical leader. Superman and Canary are emotional leaders. Do you see it vital to a team like the League to have multiple leaders? Will we be seeing more of these qualities in other characters?

DM: Well, I think there definitely is a leader, and it’s Black Canary. However, I also think Canary needs to learn how to lead. She’s always been the “I do what I want to do, shut up Oracle”-type character. Now she’s in the position of being in charge.

I sort of see the League as a sports team. When you have a good team, even if you’re the team leader, you let the other talented guys on the team do what they do. When there’s a question of what to do, the leader steps up and says we do it this way. If you’re on a team with Michael Jordan, and Michael says “I want the ball,” you give him the ball. If Superman says “I can do this,” you don’t say “no Supes, we do it my way.” You just let Superman handle the situation. If you think the Joker is behind a situation, and Batman tells you it’s actually the Riddler, you listen to Batman.

That’s basically where I see Black Canary going. She has the tendency to want to run off and do things herself, and now she recognizes that in other professionals. If they have a way of solving things, she’ll let them handle it. Looking ahead, it may be that she does that too much, but we’ll find that out…

SB: So how do you handle all the different voices in the book? In issue #13, John seemed to carry a very commanding personality and really shined in that specific issue. How do you approach that?

DM: Well, I like to see things from the point of view from the new guy. Whenever you’re doing the first issue of a team book or the first issue of an episode, there’s no reason for characters to talk about what they do and how they do it with people they’re already comfortable with. It’s a common expository device to see things from the point-of-view of the newest character. Since John is the newest guy, he had the primary point of view.

SB: So are your issues sort of built around the premise that certain characters will be the primary point-of-view for a specific issue?

DM: You know, it’s not going to be that structured. There is no other way to talk about Batman escaping when no one is around than just using monologue. However, I really want to stay as external as possible with the book instead of narrowing it down to a handful of voices. This book is about the interactions of the characters and not so much about just one of them per issue. That’s not to say that I won’t write an issue with two of them stuck in an elevator. I just want to keep the majority of the book external.

SB: Further down the line, are there some stories you may have wanted to use in Justice League: Unlimited that you may explore in the comic?

DM: Actually, no, there aren’t. The characters in Justice League of America are a lot different from the characters in the TV show. None of the stuff from the show really tracks in the comic, in my opinion. John Stewart is a completely different guy with a different background, Superman has a different personality, Hawkgirl isn’t even the same person. So there aren’t any stories I have left over from Unlimited that I’m dying to tell. I’m having fun figuring out this specific team.

SB: One of the characters that have popped back up is Firestorm. Is it safe to assume that JLofA will eventually explore some of the questions brought up at the end of your Firestorm arc?

DM: That specific story is going to lead into Countdown somewhere down the line. I’m not exactly sure where, but that stuff will be taking place in Countdown.

SB: As a comic writer, you have worked on three of the biggest teams in comic book lore, so what separates the League from the other teams in your mind?

DM: Well, quite simply, they’re the best. It’s the truth. They’re the biggest, most powerful, most famous superhero team in existence. It’s Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman with a crew of characters that those three believe are worth our time. It doesn’t get any better than that.

SB: Isn’t that the truth. Thank you very much for your time Dwayne! Keep up the great work!

DM: Thank you!

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