I don’t envy Dwayne McDuffie.
A long-time comics writer and a fairly successful presence in the animation world, he seemed to hit the jackpot with his latest assignment for DC Comics: Writing Justice League of America, which, at the time he took over in late 2007, was the company’s biggest hit, thanks in large part to the previous writer Brad Meltzer’s short run.
So not only was McDuffie getting the opportunity to write DC’s number one team made up of some of the biggest and most popular superheroes in the world, it was already a massive hit. It sure seems like it would have been a dream job, at least from where I sit.
Well, as it turns out, it looks like it may have been one of those blessing-is-actually-a-curse, your-son-comes-home-from-war-but-is-a-zombie, monkey’s paw type situations. The book seems to have come with a lot of strings attached.
During the twenty issues and one special that constituted McDuffie’s run, it has been used to launch, set-up or tie-in to miniseries Tangent: Superman’s Reign, Salvation Run (itself a Countdown tie-in), Final Crisis and Justice League: A Cry For Justice, as well as introducing the Milestone characters into the DCU and, in the latest few issues, reflecting the changes in various other books (Wonder Woman, the Superman and Batman books, etc). That’s a lot of writing about what other people are writing about to cram into 22 pages a month, while still maybe trying to tell your own story around the edges (made more difficult by how much the previous writer left unresolved, for whoever followed him to either completely ignore or clean up for him).
By Chris Eckert’s count, there have been sixteen pencillers and twenty-three inkers so far, leaving McDuffie without a real partner to help establish a look, feel or tone for the book (as well as furthering the image of a book lurching in a different direction month after month).
Back in February, a commenter on McDuffie’s message board asked him if he even enjoyed writing JLoA since “it just seems to be constant editorial rewrites and bad art,” and McDuffie responded rather simply, “No, I don’t.”
McDuffie speaks plainly (and, it should be pointed out, quite politely) about some of the difficulties of writing DC’s flagship title, since most of the cast is on loan from other writers and editorial offices (That is, if the Batman creators are killing of Bruce Wayne for a year and putting someone else in the cape and cowl, obviously Bruce Wayne will be missing some Justice League meetings).
While he doesn’t say so, I imagine this is all the harder given DC’s current publishing strategy of doing big, DCU-shaking events like Final Crisis and Blackest Night, with smaller, character-specific events like “Battle For the Cowl,” and “World Without Superman” and so on occurring in between.
So not only were his long-term plans constantly being changed to reflect the rest of the DC line’s stories, he increasingly found it hard just to fill the chairs around the meeting table:
Beyond that, The Hawks, Green Arrow, both Atoms, Captain Marvel and almost everyone I think of as either a big gun, or a traditional JLA favorite are likewise not available. So as we wait for things to settle down in the other titles, I’m doing “Cap’s Kooky Quartet.” Of course, in this case Captain America isn’t available, either.
I gave that some thought for much of the week, as Justice League line-ups have been on my mind a lot lately, ever since Dan DiDio asked Newsarama readers, “What would you consider the perfect team for the Justice League of America, and why?”* (Although, honestly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the Justice League anyway).
And you know, as big as the DC Universe is, so much of it does seem off-limits to League membership at the moment. Of the original seven, Batman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter are all (temporarily) dead, Superman’s on vacation and Wonder Woman’s…busy, I think she said.
So this is the current League line-up, according to the roll call in the last issue of the title:
Green Lantern John Stewart
Dr. Light II
and mmmayybe Black Canary.
DC has so many team titles at the moment—Titans, Teen Titans, JSoA, Outsiders—that just about every hero primarily associated with another franchise is already starring in another team book, making promoting most of them to the JLA difficult. In fact, these books have even re-absorbed recent League members (Flash and Red Arrow are in Titans, Black Lightning and Geo-Force are in Outsiders). Even the DC teams that don’t actually have ongoing books or miniseries at the moment seem to still be extant off-panel, with The Freedom Fighters, Doom Patrol, Metal Men and Shadow Pact eating up even more of the DC’s superheroes with League potential. Oh, and the New Gods are all out too, pending the end of their post-Final Crisis fallow period.
If McDuffie wanted to use former Leaguers, and pick ones that aren’t currently on a superhero team or involved in a status quo that would prevent them from joining (like Booster Gold or Fire, for example), well, he’s limited the likes of Huntress, Steel, Plastic Man, um, Blue Jay…Maya…Faith, and, um…is Green Arrow II still alive? How about Tasmanian Devil?
So yeah, despite the thousands of characters, many of them with unrealized potential, McDuffie doesn’t seem to have a lot to choose from at the moment, certainly not any that will make his current kooky quintet seem any less kooky.
He could always create new characters, of course, as he does have a pretty rare opportunity to inject some original creations into the fabric of the DCU, but it’s quite understandable why any writer might be reluctant to do so, given the current realities of the comics industry. (If McDuffie has a great idea for the next Superman, or even the next Booster Gold, why sign it over to DC when he could benefit more from a creator-owned endeavor with the character?)
So what’s left?
Well, McDuffie could just go ahead and do something super-crazy. It’s clear the Justice League book is in something of a temporary holding pattern, waiting for current and near-future storylines to end before moving forward, giving the writer the opportunity to try something really, really unexpected.
Here are some probably extremely unrealistic suggestions:
The Super-Chief route: One of the most exciting things about 52 was the way the book managed to introduce refurbished versions of old, obscure DC characters, most of whom didn’t last through the end of the series. Think Supernova, Isis, Batwoman and, a personal favorite, Super-Chief, who was a member of the title’s makeshift Justice League for all of one issue.
You can flip through The DC Comics Encyclopedia pretty much at random and find someone exciting. Like one-time Superman supporting character Alpha Centurion. Or frequent cameo-er The Odd Man. Or mentioned-more-than-once-by-Jame-Robinson Golden Ager The Red Torpedo. Or former Ultramarines/Global Guardians like Jack O’Lantern, The Olympian, Fleur-De-Lis and 4-D. Or Power Company’s Skyrocket, or Sirocco from Kurt Busiek’s Superman run. Or “Planet DC” character creations like Cachiru, El Lobizon or The Janissary. Or Club of Heroes stand outs Chief Man-of-Bats and Red Raven.
A “name” hero from a different milieu: Adam Strange, for example, has long been a friend and ally of the League, but I don’t think he’s ever been an official, go-to-meetings, have-a-symbol-on-the-back-of-a-chair kind of member. He’s gotta do something while he’s on Earth, waiting for the next Zeta Beam to Rann, why not fight crime with his jetpack and laser pistol alongside the Justice League?
Or what about Travis Morgan, The Warlord of The Warlord, who’s got a new ongoing book out that League membership would help promote? He may not have super-powers, but they let Green Arrow hang around all those years, surely being good with a sidearm and sword makes him just as qualified as Oliver Queen, right?
Or Claw, The Unconquered? The original, the one from Primal Force or the one from the recent-ish Wildstorm reboot attempt?
I always thought it would be cool if Jonah Hex was transported into his future/the League’s present sorta like how he was transported to a post-apocalyptic future in Hex. Or, if not Hex, any of DC’s historical heroes finding their way to a seat at the League’s table for a few months via time travel might be cool. (Time travel, or found frozen in a block of ice, Captain America-style).
Borrowed from a parallel earth: Dan DiDio has indicated that the multiverse is currently closed down until Grant Morrison does his thing with it next, but some of the borders seem a little more permeable than others. Characters from the Tangent universe already appeared in McDuffie’s JLoA, and that universe has versions of all the characters currently off-limits to him in the main DCU universe.
There’s the Wildstorm Universe, which has also interacted with the DCU in various books. There’s probably a handful of good solid characters that would fit in with the Justice League roster. Heck, they even have plenty of analogues to DCU characters, so if Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are off-limits, maybe Apollo, Midnighter and Zealot are availabe.
The Anti-Matter Universe’s Crime Syndicate has appeared rather regularly ever since Morrison and Frank Quitely’s JLA: Earth-2 graphic novel, and they’ve got hero versions of all of this Earth’s villains (many of whom Busiek has created, during his short JLA run and throughout Trinity).
I was going to suggest Icon and Rocket, but it seems like McDuffie is already adding a Milestone character to the league, and Icon seems the most League-worthy. (I hope Icon brings Rocket with him though).
Someone completely insane: Like, say, The Spirit.
Yes, I know, it does sound a little sacrilegious. But, on the other hand, DC already owns the character, he’s already met Batman and Robin (and seen Superman from afar), and it looks like he may be appearing in some sort of crossover with other characters** and it would certainly be such a nutty idea that it would draw attention and interest. And he need not join for long.
Similarly insane, if not quite as taboo-sounding, would be Space Ghost, the old Hanna Barbera superhero. I’m not sure if DC still owns the rights to publish comics featuring him, but DC’s parent company still owns the character, as far as I know. They published a surprisingly quite good miniseries by Joe Kelly and Ariel Olivetti featuring the character in 2005, and the more serious take on the character would fit in easily with the tone of the DCU if he, I don’t know, flew through a wormhole and got stuck in our solar system or whatever comic book science reason they could think to team him up with the Justice League.
If DC does still own all those old Hanna Barbera characters, then man, think of the possibilities! Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt! Mightor! Birdman! Samson & Goliath! Or “the world’s first superhero,” Captain Caveman!
Okay, I’ll stop now.
Public domain characters: Let me just throw some names out here: Frankenstein (who Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke already went ahead and made awesome), Dracula, Bigfoot, Aladdin, Robin Hood, Samson, Hercules, Beowulf, King Arthur, Santa Claus. They’ve all got that “iconic” thing down, and while two of these guys would be one too many, any one of them might work just fine.
Okay, that’s all I got. Any suggestions from any of these categories, or any of your own, you’d like to throw out there?
*The original seven plus Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and Mister Miracle, because C.C. Beck, Jack Cole and Jack Kirby. And also some other heroes, preferably ones that aren’t white men, like, I don’t know, Steel, Black Lightning, Vixen, Hawkgirl, et cetera.
**Speaking of which, I think Rima, The Jungle Girl always has a spot at the JLA table, being grandfathered in through Superfriends appearances, in much the same way that Black Ligthning has always deserved to be on the League by virtue of Black Vulcan being on Superfriends.