Interview: Priest Takes the Wheel with JUSTICE LEAGUE

He’s no stranger to the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, but has been running with a more troubled anti-hero of late… now, Deathstroke writer Priest takes on the Justice League with tomorrow’s issue #34, teaming with another veteran creator, artist Pete Woods. Priest was on hand to chat extensively about his plans for the team, how they interact, and what we’ll be seeing that we’ve never seen before in a Justice League comic.

Matt Santori: So, I need to preface this interview by saying I was absolutely a devoted reader the FIRST time you wrote Justice League back in 1995.

Priest: Hah! So, YOU were the one!

MS: Safe to say it feels different this time around?

CP: Actually, not really.

Justice League Task Force, more or less, THE DYSFUNCTIONAL X-MEN of DC Comics. The premise was the Task Force was the Navy SEALS of superheroes, a strike team that would be sent on missions by the main Justice League. Only, there was no cooperation between the two editorial offices so the main Justice League never sent the Task Force anywhere.

Cover art by Pete Woods

In protest, I told my editor, Ruben Diaz, that, until they (the office across the hall) began to treat us as part of the JL franchise, the Task Force would do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because that’s how the franchise was supposed to work. If the main League never sent them anywhere, our guys would be like firefighters waiting for an alarm that never came.

And that was, literally, the premise of that Justice League book: superhero firefighters waiting for an alarm that never came. Virtually all of their adventures happened quite by accident while they were watching Wheel of Fortune and reading dogeared copies of Road & Track.

Justice League 2018 is similar in the sense of it being largely character-driven and their missions being more circumstantial than structured.

MS: This iteration of the Justice League is much more of the classic line-up, of course. How is working with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. by comparison to a more morally flexible team like Defiance over in Deathstroke or a more hero-in-training scenario like Justice League Task Force?

CP: Oh, well, it’s a big difference. I mean, Bruce Wayne strolls onto the Watchtower command deck, goes, “Give me the ball,” and starts managing multiple crisis over his morning coffee. That’s the Justice League. If these people were real, and if the world at large and governments thereof actually had access to them, there would be a literally endless list of requests for their help. I can’t imagine this team in any literal sense where it wouldn’t be facing multiple crisis at all times. Right off the bat, in issue #34, we’re juggling chainsaws.

And these are the grown-ups. These men and women are experienced professionals (with the exception of the Lanterns). They all have their own separate grown-up lives which we need to respect. So, tonally, it’s different from any other team book I have handled. The Adventures of The Grown-Ups.

Interior art by Pete Woods

MS: One of the ideas you’ve expressed early on about your run is treating Justice League like a “workplace drama.” What kinds of relationships between characters have begun to stand out for you in the process of writing?

CP: And, see, that’s the problem with this biz: once upon a time a writer could take a six-issue honeymoon with the characters to learn them and develop their voices. Now the market is so cutthroat that you have to nail it on page one. I don’t have six issues to discover who these people are, and the continuity has been shagged so many times these characters are not the same people they were when I wrote them x-years before.

So I simply had to make some creative choices, run those choices through my editors, and hope the fans don’t lynch me. Boom. Go. This Is Who Batman Is. I hope.

Interior art by Pete Woods

At the same time, I also get to channel my voice through these relationships: here’s the problem with Batman leading all of these teams at the same time. Here are the stress points between these relationships. Any group of people, be it a sports team, a rock band, or your office co-workers, is a political group. Here’s the business you bring to the group, and here’s the business you keep private. Here’s what happens when your private business spills into the office place.

Here’s the business that grows like bacteria because somebody misinterpreted somebody’s words or intentions. I’m a guy who could wish someone a happy birthday and offend them.

Drama is about finding stress points within the political group and applying pressure. Welcome to JUSTICE LEAGUE.

MS: Solicitations have also highlighted a conflict over civil rights and methodologies. What is your take on the Justice League’s role in the world, and how do you feel like that intersects with social injustice as we see it in 2017 America?

CP: As with any workplace, the Justice League is comprised of individual worldviews. These various perspectives rarely come into conflict when these folks band together to, say, battle Darkseid or somebody. So I’m more curious about what happens when we dump them into a place like Darfur and ten thousand refugees seek asylum from the League. Will the League leave, knowing if they do the roving warlords will annihilate the refugees? Do they stay–and, if so, for how long? Do they disarm the fighters, depose the political leadership, mind-wipe everybody so all parties join hands singing Kumbaya?

In this scenario, the stress points flare because real decisions about human lives–about what “Justice” actually means–have to be made, and there are no good choices. Welcome to JUSTICE LEAGUE.

Interior art by Pete Woods

MS: You’re being joined right away by artist Pete Woods. How has your collaboration been progressing and what does Pete bring to the table that you think is unique or different for the run?

CP: I’m not sure the Justice League, of any iteration, has ever had quite this look before. Pete is a master storyteller who is totally invested in graphic storytelling, the way a filmmaker is. I’ve had experiences in this business where I was constantly at odds with my artist because the dynamic was a ridiculous rivalry between story and art. In comics, art is story–visual storytelling. It’s not supposed to be an artists’ showcase, nor is it supposed to be a novel.

So far, this has been one of the more amazing collaborations of my career, working with a guy whose storytelling is so energetic and so clear the pages really don’t need words (but, never fear, I’ll be cluttering them up with my blather anyway). Pete is also a monster colorist; he does simply amazing things with color, adding (along with his inks) a third layer of rendering that brings these pages vividly to life.

Pete’s work is a bit unconventional in that he lends an almost anime style to his approach, which sets it apart from traditional house-style art, but is beyond cool and is so unique I believe his run is bound to become an instant classic.

Interior art by Pete Woods

MS: You’ve mentioned Deathstroke will be showing up, but what other threats do you and Pete have in store for the League?

CP: I’d initially wanted to have Deathstroke join the League but, alas, his turn toward heroism expires with the upcoming Deathstroke Annual (Yeah. Like that’s a spoiler. Buy it anyway).

We’re not doing supervillains, alien menaces, galactic wars, sea monsters or other classic threats so much as focusing on as realistic a day-to-day reality of what this team would actually do in between fighting parademons and global threats. This is mainly because everything that ever could be done with the Justice League has been done over the course of their 60+ year history. What I don’t want to do is recycle or compete with writers who’ve gone before or with my friend Steve Orlando, whose brilliant Justice League of America routinely engages The Big Threat.

Our Big Threat is the team itself: the stress points mentioned above. This is a path less traveled and, therefore, more fertile ground for storytelling mischief.

Interior art by Pete Woods

The team’s main adversary – I hesitate to call him a villain although, in practice, that’s the function he performs – is an entirely new character who will become known simply as The Fan. He is, literally, the Justice League’s biggest fan, someone who knows absolutely everything there is to know about them. This includes their secret identities and private lives, their headquarters and equipment, and, of course, their continuity and history.

Events in Justice League #34 begin turning public opinion against the League, to which The Fan takes umbrage and begins killing the League’s perceived enemies – be they supervillains or bloggers. An obsessive if not rabid follower, The Fan is determined to “help” the Justice League out–whether they like it or not. Stay tuned.

MS: I’d be remiss if I didn’t also ask about roster. It looks like Aquaman is back in the fold with your first issue. Can we expect Mera or any other heroes to show up along the line, over and above the core 8 members?

CP: *Counts* Yeah, I guess there are eight. Okay. Hardest part about team books is trying to remember everybody on the team! Okay, I’m punting on the question.

Cover art by JG Jones

MS: Alright then. Speaking of members, not many writers have had the opportunity to work with two Green Lanterns on the League at a time, much less relatively newer characters like Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. How are you finding their place on the team and your voice for them?

CP: *Puts hand over the microphone to confer with counsel*

Fine, Senator.

The two Green Lanterns present a big challenge, first and foremost because they are two Green Lanterns. I mean, two Green Lanterns: game over. Now, they had this interesting business of being forced to share a single lantern, but that’s going away (spoiler alert?), so–and no offense intended to my fellow writers and editors – but this, for me, becomes a steep hill to climb because either writers, editors, or both seem to love to take away the boulder the hero must push up the hill.

What makes a hero a hero is overcoming adversity and choosing to place themselves at risk in order to achieve some greater good. I don’t even get Iron Man anymore because, over time, various creative choices have been made to systematically remove most any challenge he might have to overcome. Cyborg similarly overclocked, wearing thin my suspension of disbelief because – for whatever reason – writers and editors have chosen to pile on an unfathomable amount of capabilities to the point where, like Iron Man, the character is, to me, just a bit silly. Felix The Cat (I’m sure you’re way too young to even know who that was) pulling things out of magic spots.

Cover art by Pete Woods

The biggest flaw to Star Trek was they made outer space un-scary. Dude: outer space is SCARY. But we’ve got these characters–the Lanterns are just one example–who romp around out there like it’s nothing. One of our storylines will deal with just how scary outer space actually is and question the wisdom of the team building their clubhouse out there.

Simon and Jess are interesting and fun, but I find myself spending a lot of energy trying to think of reasons why the two of them don’t solve every problem the League faces by page two. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember seeing Mike Tyson fight, but Tyson used to get in the ring, clobber the guy, collect his check and go home. I mean it–no socks, this guy just BAM. And we’d be angry because we doled out twenty-five bucks pay-per-view, so Tyson was actually starting to hurt the gate.

Totally invincible heroes hurt the gate. So I had to find ways to kneecap the Wonder Twins, here, in order to have any dramatic consequences to these stories.

What’s more interesting, for me as a writer, is the innate dichotomy of this new generation of heroes (Simon and Jess) getting lost in the long shadows cast by the classic team, so we get some mileage out of that. But, yeah, TWO Green Lanterns?! Don’t try this at home, kids.

Cover art by Pete Woods

MS: Any final thoughts or special teases for the Comicosity audience?

CP: Well, this is certainly the first DC comic ever to show Aquaman driving a bus. Does that count?

 

Priest’s first issue of Justice League with artist Pete Woods hits stores tomorrow!

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