If I Ran DC, part four: Justice League through World's Finest
By Michael David Sims
07 November 2007 This is it, the final part of my If I Ran DC series. In this portion of the article I'll tackle some of DC's biggest comic books, including Justice League, Justice Society of America, Superman and Wonder Woman. Who's writing and drawing what, and what two characters have I (sort of) brought back to life? Read on to find out. Oh, but we can't forget the rules:
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Jim Cheung
The team book to end all team books. The Justice League is the biggest, baddest team on Earth. Their only rival in terms of raw power is the Green Lantern Corps, but their agendas are grossly different; whereas the GLC is a very proactive militaristic unit, the Justice League is a reactionary band of superheroes. Peace is ultimately the goal of both groups, how they go about it simply differs. Why bring up the Corps? Because a member of the GLC is on the JL, and the Corps doesn't like the fact that a respected member is splitting his time / duties, causing friction between the two groups. Who is this man? Hal Jordan, leader of the Justice League. The ever-present fear that Hal will have to set aside his League duties to assist the GLC will also cause friction within the League. Should a war breakout on Earth at the same time as on another world, who does the League help? Will Hal lead the team into space or home? Though the JL is a tightly knit group of heroes and friends (some might even call them family), there needs to be some tension. Previously it was in the form of mistrust, but that doesn't work for me. The tension here is about where priorities lie and what the League's agenda is. These themes Judd Winick has tackled before during his run on Outsiders, but I'd like to see him apply them to the premier superhero team. I'd also like to see who he'd cast. Hal would be my only mandate. Well, and that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman couldn't be on the team. (It's too easy to place them on the team. Let someone else have the spotlight.) Another reason Winick is perfect for this job is that he's no stranger to team books; the man knows how to handle a team dynamic. If his skills in this area were to ever be questioned, one only needs to point at his years spent on Marvel's Exiles and DC's Outsiders where he deftly handled action, characterization, interactions and how the heroes were seen by their peers. If nothing else, Winick has earned the right to write the Justice League. Jim Cheung's one of those guys that's going to be huge. Although he already has a following thanks to his sleek, stylized pencils his following could be larger. Much larger. And what better place to showcase such a hot, young talent than on the biggest team comic book of all time? Even if you haven't read Scion or Young Avengers, chances are you've seen and been in awe of Cheung's work. Just this week he finished his five-issue stint on New Avengers: Illuminati, and Marvel has him illustrating the covers of Avengers: The Initiative. There's something different about Cheung's characters something I can't quite put my finger on. All I know is that I've had my eye on him since the CrossGen Primer, and it's about time everyone took notice.
Justice Society of America
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
My take on the Justice Society of America is simple: their heyday was during World War II. That's it. They're not together now or in the future. Their career spanned from the end of the first World War until the McCarthy Era. We've mostly seen their adventures during WWII, but this book would reexamine their history: how they formed out of the wake of the first World War until their demise thanks to Joseph McCarthy's politics. Pages would be filled with Nazis, Communists, corrupt government officials and historically accurate characters. Justice Society of America would chronicle the rise and fall of the superhero long before a lone Kryptonian baby was found by a pair of kindly Kansas farmers; it would be the hidden history of the DC Universe as told by Darwyn Cooke, creator of DC: The New Frontier. Cooke's lush animated style fits the Golden Age like a glove: his characters have a classic appeal, yet they're not played for cheese. Considering the political nature of the era in which Society is set, dark themes are necessary, but they should be tempered with lighthearted fun neither should go too far, giving the book a mature yet retro tone. And though Cooke would have 30-ish years to play with, he wouldn't be forced to adhere to a strict timeline. As long as the characters and world develop naturally and things keep moving forward, a slow but steady pace is fine.
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Phil Hester
Nightwing isn't a complicated character: he's the orphaned son of circus acrobats who was raised by Batman. After extensive training, young Dick Grayson became Batman's partner Robin, the Boy Wonder. Years later, like many fathers and sons, the duo had a falling out. Dick abandoned the Robin persona for that of Nightwing, and now patrols his own city. Deep down, Dick is his (adoptive) father's son, but he's also his own man. For some odd reason, many writers don't get that. They either write him as being too gruff (like Batman) or too happy (like his old Robin days), when in actuality his personality falls somewhere in between; Dick has his darker moments, but he keeps himself grounded with humor. The only writer to ever really get Nightwing (in his solo series, that is) is Chuck Dixon. Though he didn't create the character, Dixon can be seen as the supportive uncle who played a major role in the character's development. For nearly six years Dixon wrote Dick's adventures as Nightwing. He laid the groundwork for future writers, many of whom have dropped the ball. Hence the reason I feel it's time for Dixon to return: he needs to clean up the mess others have made. Yes, bringing Chuck Dixon back could potentially lead to the "you can't go home again" syndrome, but I feel it's worth the risk. Much like Dixon, Phil Hester had a previous stint on Nightwing. Though he only drew seven issues, his pencils very much fit the character. If you were to strip away the colors from any comic book Hester has drawn, you'll notice two styles. The first is very stark; when his superheroes are out fighting crime or must face the darker side of life, Hester allows shadows to tell the story especially when it comes to facial expressions. The second style is the one he uses when illustrating the simpler side of these characters' lives; shadows take a backseat to a lighter, almost cartoony style. But don't let that fool you. What appears cartoony on the surface is actually a very detailed, lush rendering of human life. A quiet kiss, a simple touch beats with life. Dick Grayson's life needs both of these elements. As the adopted son of Batman, Dick walks in the shadows. Yet he never allows the shadows to consume him. He enjoys life outside of the costume, as Dick Grayson. Chuck and Phil respect that about the character, and, together, they'd reestablish him as a major force in the DC Universe.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Who are the Outsiders? What's their agenda? How do they fit into the DCU? Simply put, no one in the DC Universe knows. As I see the team, they're much like Torchwood: they swoop in to investigate, fight the bad guys whilst solving the mystery, all before disappearing into the night. On the surface they may appear calm, cool and collected, but, really, they're a quirky bunch of superheroes and paranormal investigators. On the team are the Crimson Avenger, Zatanna, Oracle, Detective Chimp and the ghosts of Ralph and Sue Dibny. A team like this could get out of hand quickly, so keeping them in check would be writer Warren Ellis' job. Some might suggest he'd let them get out of hand (and he might), but he'd know how to reign them in. Outsiders would be more akin to Global Frequency than Nextwave, with science fiction and the mystic arts playing a major role in the investigations. Considering the nature of the book, dark humor would be a factor, but it would still take itself seriously again, unlike Nextwave. Please forgive me if it seems like cheating to re-team Ellis with his Nextwave cohort Stuart Immonen. It was purely an accident. Long before I decided upon the concept of the book or dreamt of employing Ellis as the writer, I knew two things about Outsiders: it had to be quirky, and Stuart Immonen had to draw it. As I fleshed out the concept, it dawned on me that the only man who could write the book as I saw it was Warren Ellis. Even then it took me a few minutes to realize this was the Nextwave creative team. But never mind that; if the shoe fits and all that. The reason I chose Immonen, the reason I knew he'd be the right man for the job even before I knew what the job was, is because he's so versatile. We've seen his wacky side on, you guessed it, Nextwave. We've seen his superheroic side on Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men. And we've seen his softer side on Ultimate Spider-Man. The man can literally draw anything you ask of him, and you can be sure Warren Ellis will ask him to draw plenty of oddball stuff within the framework of the DC Universe. I see Outsiders as being the "love it or hate it" comic with no room for casual readers: you're either going to get the sci-fi / magical elements and love it, or you're going to be put off by them and hate it. Either way, Outsiders will have people talking.
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Sanford Greene
Poor Tim Drake. He used to be a smart kid who played dress-up as Robin, knowing one day he'd be able to hand the role over to another young boy. Afterwards he'd look fondly upon his time spent as Batman's partner, but he'd keep moving forward with his normal (RE: non-superhero) life. But then his father was murdered. Then his girlfriend. Then his best friend. Then he was framed for the murder of an imposter Batgirl... by Batgirl. Then another one of his best friends was murdered. Now he's fully enveloped by the costumed lifestyle he once believed he could so easily abandon. His is the story of tragedy and loss like no other. Despite this, Robin shouldn't be as dark as Detective Comics or Batman. Tim still has a chance to escape the abyss. Though he'll always be a costumed hero thanks to the deaths that now drive him forward, he need not be as dark as Gotham's knight. If he can find inner peace, Tim will grow into a man more like Nightwing and less like Batman. Leading Tim's cause would be writer Judd Winick. Channeling the pain he felt after Pedro Zamora passed away, Winick would bring a very real sense of loss to Robin while balancing it with his trademarked brand of humor and humanity. As the former writer of Batman and Outsiders, Winick has a firm grasp on both ends of the Bat-spectrum. On one end is the dark, brooding Batman. On the other is the lighter (yet still occasionally dark) Nightwing. Robin / Tim falls somewhere in between. A tug of war rages in Tim's heart: will he fall fully into the dark or will he keep one foot firmly rooted in the light? Winick is great at scripting those with inner demons, and I see a new era for Tim Drake penned by Judd Winick. Sanford Greene is very new to the business, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that you've never heard of him or seen his artwork. Despite the dark nature of Robin, remember, I want there to be a lighter side as well. The book needs to feel young. It needs to connect with teens and adults. Older readers will buy it for Winick's psychological look at Tim Drake. Teens will buy it because Tim will be dealing with the same issues they face daily (e.g. school, girls, dual identities, etc.). They'll also be engrossed by Greene's animated artwork. It's very fluid and attractive to the eyes. With the right colorist one who fully understand how to capture mood Greene's pencils will go from bright and superheroic to dark and brooding in a heartbeat just like Tim's emotions.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Philip Moy
If there's one book in the DC library that should be appropriate for readers of all ages, it's a book starring Captain Marvel and his crazy cast of characters. Like its Golden Age predecessor, SHAZAM! will be filled with good, lighthearted fun. Adventures will take place within single issues, never delving into the dark recesses of life. Good-natured humor and kid-appropriate (RE: cartoony) violence will be the name of the game. And a subtle lesson will be learned by the end of the issue. Dan Slott, who cut his teeth writing cartoon books for Marvel and DC, will return to his comedy roots here much of which will be derived from young Billy Batson's dual identity as the adult superhero Captain Marvel. Philip Moy's work on the Powerpuff Girls comic book earns him the job of SHAZAM! artist. His simple, geometric, cartoon style is exactly how I imagine an all-ages Captain Marvel comic book. In addition to starring the Marvel Family, SHAZAM! will feature Plastic Man back-up stories, written and drawn by Slott and Moy.
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Mike Allred
Set during the same era as the aforementioned Justice Society of America, Starman follows the adventures of Ted Knight as he occasionally teams with the JSA to tackle Communists and Nazi sympathizers post-World War II. As the writer of the critically acclaimed Starman series starring Jack Knight (Ted's son), James Robinson knows these characters better than anyone, so there's no reason to look elsewhere for a writer. He's also not unfamiliar with the Golden Age of comics and how McCarthyism ruined the lives of superheroes, what with having written The Golden Age for DC. Combined with JSA, Starman will tell "the hidden history of the DC Universe." We might call it the Golden Age, but it was less than sparkling and Robinson knows that. Mike Allred brings the retro. There's no other way to describe his unique illustrations. His style isn't an attempt to be retro-hip or old school. Quite the contrary: Allred's pencils are the culmination of years and years of pouring his retro-loving heart into every line he lays down. It's respect for the founding fathers of comic books that fuel his light, sometimes-eccentric pages. Married to James Robinson's script, Allred would make Starman feel like it honestly takes place during the 1940s and 50s.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: JG Jones
In part three of If I Ran DC I wrote, "Four books should serve as the backbone of the DC Universe." Batman was the first vertebrae, with Superman serving as the next. Why Superman and Batman over Action Comics and Detective Comics? Name recognition. The average person knows what to expect from comic books entitled Superman and Batman, but not so much from Action Comics and Detective Comics. Sure, Action and Detective have been around longer and launched their respective superheroes, but the names mean nothing to the general public and one of my goals would be to reach into the mainstream. It's there that the industry must expand if it's to grow beyond a niche market. That said, the best writer to capture the imaginations of a mainstream audience is Grant Morrison. His take on superheroes is so fresh, readers will be blown away. Their expectations of a Superman comic book, whatever they may be, will shatter. For nearly two years now he's captured the heart and soul of Superman over in All Star Superman much to the amazement of longtime superhero followers so one has to believe that the trend would continue with Morrison on the main Superman book. With every issue of All Star Superman he brings a quirky Silver Age quality, yet it's somehow relevant in today's marketplace. Stories range from the bizarre (and Bizarro) to heartfelt, from creepy to action-packed, from superheroic to all-too-human Superman is one of those rare characters that allows for a wide variety of stories, and Morrison understands that. Better yet, his audience will embrace it. JG Jones is a modern genius. He, John Cassaday and Travis Charest are the three artists, more than anyone else, who could bring casual and non-readers into the fold. Their styles are so realistic that one has to wonder if they're looking at an illustration, yet they're dynamic enough to capture comic book action. Speaking specifically of Jones and Superman, I've said before that Superman comic books rarely capture the grand nature of the character. It's as if he was created for the silver screen, but is trapped within these four-color walls we call pages. Jones will destroy those walls, breathing energy and life into every stroke he lays down. Superman, Clark, Lois, Luthor, Jimmy, Perry and everyone else will teem with so much life, I suspect people will forget they're reading a comic book; action will flow so cinematically, everyone will be lost in the pages. With this creative team, Superman will once again be the top comic at DC Comics as it should be.
Writer: J. Torres
Artist: Paco Medina
Unless we're reading stories about alternate futures, I don't like reading a dark Teen Titans comic book. Stories with darker themes are okay from time to time, but I don't want to read stories where every member of the team is brooding about life and death, love and loss, blah and blah. That's not to say every issue of Teen Titans has been that way since the new series launched a few years ago; I'm simply stating that I'd like to read a lighter Titans comic. Here we have a bunch of kids dressing up to punch people in the face. I mean, how cool is that? What's there to whine about? That said, I'd promote J. Torres from Teen Titans Go! to the in-continuity Teen Titans. Having written nearly 50 issues of the TT cartoon spin-off comic, Torres has a firm grasp on the characters. Sure, things would be different characters have taken different paths but they're the same characters at their very core. The roster would be of his choosing; however, Robin couldn't be on the team due to the darker nature of his comic. Paco Medina is the perfect example of a youth-oriented artist. To every comic he brings a fresh, vibrant, some might say flashy style. His characters look young, not like shrunken adults. Action scenes are crisp and well-paced. And there's a slick sex appeal, but it never goes too far. This is the kind of Teen Titans comic book I want to read one with a focus on action and fun. (It wasn't until this very moment that I came to realize that Torres and Medina have worked together before on a Teen Titans story, no less! They were the creative team behind "Who's Your Daddy?" in Teen Titans and Outsiders Secret Files and Origins 2005. Talk about serendipity!)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Jim Lee
The third piece of the DC backbone I keep speaking about is this book right here: Wonder Woman. Often the DC brass will claim the title character is as important as Superman and Batman, but, as they say, actions speak louder than words. She's a goddess, yet portrayed as being less powerful than Superman. She's a warrior, yet pissed on when she kills. She's a cornerstone of the DC Universe, yet remains stagnant in terms of character development. She's deserving of a longstanding monthly comic, yet her book was recently re-launched a re-launch that was bungled, mind you. Where's the love? I'm bringing the love in the form of Brian K. Vaughan and Jim Lee. Due to the fact that a good portion of Wonder Woman will take place on the matriarchal island of Themyscira, Brian K. Vaughan is the obvious choice. Having written the female heavy book Y: The Last Man for the better part of five years, Vaughan has a clear understanding of how to empower female leads without belittling them through the use of T&A. Unlike most writers who would have crafted a utopian society without males, Vaughan brought political strife and anarchy to the world of Y. And though Paradise Island won't have the same turmoil as seen in Y, I personally feel there should be undercurrents of unrest. Vaughan will bring this expertly. He'll also craft Diana as a strong, morally righteous goddess first, an ambassador of goodwill second and as a peacekeeping warrior. Gone will be her days as a superhero; to effect change, she now believes, a warrior's spirit, an open mind and goodwill are needed not capes and tights. This new outlook will forge new relationships within the superhero community, and will recast her as an alien in "man's world." Now why Jim Lee? Too often people look back on his frenetic style from the 1990s, forgetting that he can craft beautiful backgrounds and stunningly lively characters. Lee's rendition of the Batcave will forever be the standard. His Superman possessed a godlike presence, but never appeared hulking. And though we've seen very little of his Wonder Woman, she's always been strong yet graceful which is what's needed here, power and grace. Themyscira will be packed with unimaginable wonders, beautifully strong women and a foreign charm no other land in the DCU will enjoy. Beauty and wonders and grace aside, Lee is also a masterful action storyteller. Considering her roots, Wonder Woman needs to be the best fighter on the battlefield and that should come through in her swordsmanship and hand-to-hand fighting skills. Action should be fast paced, but clear enough to make out the details. More than that, we mustn't forget the quieter, political moments Diana will constantly face. Is Lee up to the challenge? Obviously I think so, especially if his quieter moments in Superman and Batman are any indication.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Travis Charest
Previously World's Finest Comics famously starred Superman and Batman, but that's about to change. This incarnation will star Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman on epic galaxy-spanning adventures. No story will be less than six issues in length, and the adventures contained within these pages will have a huge impact on the DC Universe. Why? This is the final book in the aforementioned DC backbone. While books like Green Lantern Corps, Justice League and Nightwing are important to the very fabric of the DCU, all companywide events will begin and end right here, thus putting an exclamation point on the importance of World's Finest. The writer of such a book must be comfortable with weaving large tales, but he can't lose sight of the end goal or the characters. He must set plans years in advance, dropping subtle clues along the way, so rereading the stories provides a new level of enjoyment. Characters must react to what's going on; they cannot remain passive to the changes in their lives and world. And the stories must feel important, epic even. The first book that comes to mind is Daredevil. Under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis, the life of Matt Murdock was tuned upside down, sideways and inside out. From the start Bendis knew where he was taking Daredevil and even we the readers could see it coming, but the journey was so marvelous that the shocks still shocked and the end result was unforgettable. That level of excitement and interconnected storytelling is exactly what I expect from Bendis on a book as large as World's Finest. As noted earlier, JG Jones, John Cassaday and Travis Charest are the artists I place at the top of a very short list: the list of artists who are able to fully capture the attention of the mainstream audience. All three men know how to tell a story with unadulterated emotion and sweeping action, a skill lost on many comic book professionals. Here Charest would have the opportunity to show why he's a master: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman would never look or feel better. Their faces and body language would resonate with power: alien, human and godly. Whenever the characters needed to crack, each one would do so differently. No one would be rendered with the clichιd screaming mouths or gritted teeth. They'd react like human beings; they'd breakdown with sorrow, tears, righteous anger and pain. Reactions to cataclysmic happenings would be honest and true to each character. Action would be superheroic in scale, yet Charest would ground it in reality reminding us that his characters and worlds might be alien, but there are real people living in them, suffering the consequences of their actions.