By Edward Gross
The impression one would get is that the Justice League has become a way of life for Dwayne McDuffie, bearing in mind the fact that he was a producer on the animated version of the team, wrote the video game Justice League Heroes and is taking over the monthly comic from the departing Brad Meltzer. Interestingly, though, that’s not entirely the case, as there is much more to his background and current projects than the League (see links at the end of this interview). For the moment, though, the subject is the Justice League and this is an exclusive opportunity to get McDuffie’s views on the team and his vision for the comic.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: Given your involvement with the animated Justice League, writing the video game and now taking on the comic, is there something about the group that appeals to you?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I like it fine, but I think it’s more happenstance. It’s the show I got a job on and I really enjoyed working on it, but I was never a Justice League reader before that. I think since I got the job I’ve read almost everything, but it’s all catch-up. I’m a giant fan now, but I was offered the game because I did the show and I got offered the comic because I did the show. I’ve been writing comics for almost 20 years before I’d ever been offered it.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: Is your experience on the show influencing the comic at all?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: The characters between the two are not similar beyond powers. It’s a different world. On the TV show, we pretty much controlled the universe; what we said happened, happened. In the comic, I may want to use a character, but he’s on the moon in another book or something, so it’s constantly adjusting to the flow. You’re part of a much bigger tapestry. The thing about the Justice League comic is that in a way you’re at the center of that tapestry, because it’s where everybody meets. In many ways that makes it more difficult.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: In other words, you have to maintain the continuity of the different characters in their own books.
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: When I came on the book, a character named Black Canary is the chairman of the team, and my first pitch was a big story for her and they were, like, “Uh, no, she’s getting married.” So I had to turn around and say, “Okay, something else happens.”
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: When you’re taking over a title, especially from someone like Brad Meltzer, how do you jump on board in terms of what you try to retain from the past team? Or do you just jettison everything?
BRAD MELTZER: If I were doing a number one, I would jettison everything. But this is a book that people have been reading and enjoying for a year. So you can’t just come in and say, “Now the Justice League are these three guys you never heard of and Aquaman.” You have to pick up the continuity as it is, and that’s fine. When I started working on the Justice League TV show, there was a team in place, so I couldn’t just come in and start shoving things around. You sort of take the material that’s there and try and make it yours. Stylistically I don’t want to imitate Brad, because then I’d just be second-rate Brad. I’m not going to do Brad as well as Brad does it. He was doing a lot of nostalgia, a lot of stuff about his feelings about the characters and their relationships. I thought that stuff was all really good, but I’m going to do stuff about the most powerful characters in the DC universe hitting each other over the head with very large things.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: So what do you think you’re bringing to the title that’s different from Brad Meltzer – beyond hitting people over the head with various large objects?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: He likes to use internal monologues and getting into the characters’ heads, and he does it really well. I like to reveal character through action; I like you to figure out who somebody is by what they do. The example I would use is Casablanca, where Rick would just say, “I stick my neck out for nobody,” but that’s not who he is and you see that by what he does. And that’s why you like him, not because of what he says but because of what he does. I think that these characters are best expressed – or at least I’m best at expressing them – through the actions that they take than how they take those actions. We’re going to put them in a little more jeopardy, put them in a position of protecting the world a little bit more, and find out who they are by what they do and not go in their heads that much. I’m not going to do a lot of Wonder Woman thinking about a character, you’ll find out what Wonder Woman thinks about that character by what she does to that character.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: I assume you’re looking for the big action moments as well.
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: That’s the great thing about doing a book about a bunch of superheroes on a team. If go to see Beckham, I want to see him play soccer. It may be interesting to find out what he thinks, but I actually really want to see him kick a soccer ball.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: Do you subscribe to the notion that since these are the most powerful characters in the DC universe, the things they have to go up against have to be really big?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: They have to be a threat to them. Sometimes they’re going to be huge – I came in with something pretty huge – and I’ve got a couple of stories coming up in the next year or so where they go up against very large threats. If you plan it correctly, they don’t always have to fight Darkseid. If I’m clever enough, I can make the Penguin a threat. I’m not sure if I’m quite that clever [both laugh], but you want to shake things up and have them go up against different kinds of things. I’m also not going to always send all 14 of them on a mission; I’m going to break them into subgroups. Sometimes I’ll bring in other heroes who team up with them briefly. A lot of it is designed to keep it fresh, to see how one character bounces off of another.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: Is there anyone among the core group that you really enjoy writing?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: There are a lot of characters I wasn’t that familiar with when I first started, and that’s always fun, kind of finding the voice for people. I think I’m doing some adjustment on Vixen; she’s probably the one I’m changing the most, because I find her to be a little too weak. She’s too girly-girl and I can’t see her doing her job being that way. So I’m going to do a story that sort of forces her to face up against that. I like all of the characters, and I’m kind of approaching this the way Steve Englehart used to approach Marvel’s Avengers when I was a kid. Justice League has the big characters in Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but they all have their own books. They’re there and they get to do cool stuff, but in terms of character stuff, it’s really the guys who don’t have books that you can move. It’s something I did a lot on the show, because with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman there’s not a lot you can do because they’re brands, but with Hawkgirl and Green Lantern, you can do something with them.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: But I like Superman, Dwayne.
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I like Superman, too. A lot. In fact, in the first story arc, Luthor is the big problem and Superman is the target. So it’s not like he won’t be there, but I’m not going to be dealing with his relationship with Lois Lane. He’s got four books for that.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: Are you on the book for a certain amount of time?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: No, just till one of us gets sick of the other. The great thing about Justice League is that it’s a big cast and you can shuffle it around if you ever think things are getting stale. Probably the most difficult thing about it is constantly coming up with threats that’s worthy of them. If it was exactly the same seven, you’d get to the point where you’d be, like, “Man, we’ve kind of done that.” But this is a big group and they’ve barely scratched the surface on this.
JUSTICE LEAGUE ON FILM: With all the different versions, comic and filmed, of the Justice League over the years, why do you think the concept is still so appealing to people?
DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: It’s a really simple chord that it strikes with people: wouldn’t it be cool if Superman and Batman went on an adventure together? That’s it. It really does come down to seeing your favorite characters working together on a team. It’s a great idea and not a complicated one.