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DC: Kurt Busiek Talks JLA
Posted 14/07/2004
Source Newsarama

[Image: JLACSA.jpg]Dreamt of by fans as the heir apparent to the writer’s chair of JLA for years thanks to his stint on Marvel’s Avengers, DC’s solicitations for October made dreams come true – Kurt Busiek would be writing an eight part arc on the book, featuring the return of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. But would that be all? Patience, grasshopper.

First off, as solicits revealed, Busiek’s storyline would be spun from threads from JLA/Avengers, specifically, the Space Egg that showed up at the end of the miniseries. Was this some devious plan all long, planned by Busiek to guarantee him work at a later date? Or, more simply, what came first, the gig or the space egg?

“The offer to write the book came first,” Busiek told Newsarama. “The plan to springboard off of some of the developments in JLA/Avengers was a natural, but it came after I started working stuff out. In fact, there are two big developments happening at once -- the whole question of Krona and the Cosmic Egg, and the CSA [Crime Syndicate of Amerika] storyline. The Krona part was something I came up with early on, but the CSA epic was pitched later, as a separate mini-series, and it got folded back into the main book along the way.”

While Busiek readily cops to leaving elements behind in JLA/Avengers that could be readily exploited, he had no idea that he’d be the one to do the follow-up, and be doing it so relatively shortly after the original story ended. “I like it when things can unfold -- when you can see what happens next, as a result of whatever major events the characters have been through,” Busiek said. “So I wrote it with the idea that there could be follow-ups, but no idea whether I'd be doing those follow-ups or not. Had I been doing a regular Marvel book, there are things that could be done on that side, too, but I guess that'll be up to them at this point.”

Inter-company crossovers, fairly rare creatures now, used to be much more plentiful, but nearly without exception, they occurred “somewhere else,” in a dimension where both the Teen Titans and X-Men operate, for example, following up on plot threads from JLA/Avengers in JLA is a rarity – an event in itself in that it continues in one of DC’s flagship titles.

Given that the ongoing JLA series won’t be changing it’s name to JLA/Avengers, some careful storytelling will be necessary for Busiek. “You won't be seeing any flashback panel with the Avengers in 'em, that's for sure,” the writer began. “Beyond that, you'll get to see how it works in October. Or, well, September, actually, since Ron and I have a CSA story in the JLA Secret Files that serves as a prologue to this story, and to a number of other things.”

Setting up the story a little – if you’re one of the seven regular readers of JLA who passed on JLA/Avengers, Busiek offered a quick rundown of how things ended up the way they are at the beginning of “Crime Syndicate of Amerika”:

“A short JLA/Avengers finale synopsis: Krona wound up with enormous power over both the Marvel and DC universes, and tried to collapse them both, which would have resulted in a new Big Bang and Krona's chance to witness the mysteries of universal birth. He's got an itch to know how that happens. The heroes managed to stop his machinations, though, and in the end, Krona ended up trapped in a collapsing whirlpool of n-space and energy, resulting in a Cosmic Egg, one which will eventually hatch into a new universe. It's infused with the essence of Krona, making him a part of the process. So he'll get to know his answers from inside. Trouble is, nobody knows when the Egg will hatch, or what sort of universe will be born from it.”

Since the climax of the miniseries, the Egg has been under the microscope, and what it’s revealing is…troubling to say the least. “All of reality may be ... different from what it used to be,” Busiek said. “Beyond that, you'll have to wait and see.”

Although, Busiek did hint that there is a connection between the Egg and the invasion of the Crime Syndicate from another earth.

Which earth?

“These are the CSA from the Earth 2 graphic album [by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely], and from the opening on JLA/Avengers. Grant Morrison very generously sent me lots of notes and background on his vision for the characters, their backgrounds, the world -- and we'll be seeing a whole lot of what he had in mind, but there's a lot more, too.”

Said Syndicate, for those new-ish to the JLA, first appeared in Justice League of America #29 in 1964 (written by Gardner Fox), and were originally portrayed as simply the opposites of the heroes of the JLA. They (and the “hero” of their earth Alexander Luthor) would appear now and again pre-Crisis, and eventually bought it in Crisis on Infinite Earths when their earth (Earth-3) was destroyed.

The CSA’s post-Crisis glory moment came with the aforementioned Earth-2 graphic novel in 2000. As Morrison described it, he built on the foundation Fox had laid, creating a believable world where Benedict Arnold was the first US President, George Washington was a traitor, and England fought to resist American colonization.

As Morrison explained it, crime was the founding principle of the CSA’s society – a society upon whose neck the CSA had its boot.

As for why the CSA – made up of Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring target the DCU’s earth, well… “Let me put it this way,” Busiek said. “Those opening scenes of JLA/Avengers - in which the CSA's entire universe was destroyed - are pretty important.”

And – it’s not just going to be a story where the “good Superman” fights the “bad Superman” and so on down the line. “We have a much bigger story in mind -- ways to explore the CSA beyond characters with similar powers hitting each other in the face -- and we'll see some unsettling role reversals as we go,” Busiek said. “Plus, the CSA aren't the only problem. They might not even be the major problem.

“There are dangerous things unleashed, and they're all headed our way...”

As announced in DC’s solicitations for October, the “Crime Syndicate of Amerika” storyline (with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green) runs eight issues, but that’s not quite it for Busiek and Garney.

“The different-creators/different-arcs era for JLA is ending -- sort of -- and Ron and I will be the new ongoing team,” Busiek announced. “After the CSA arc, there's one more, by the Dan-namic Duo of Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, and then Ron and I are back for the foreseeable future. The CSA arc is only the beginning -- and there'll be plenty of stuff established there that'll be trouble for the JLA - and others - for some time to come.”

According to JLA editor Mike Carlin, the rotating arc worked for its allotted time. “The changing creative teams was never meant to be a forever deal in the regular JLA book... just a change of pitch for a year or so,” Carlin said. “By the time Kurt's run starts we will have had five arcs and a one shot from when Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke stopped their run... hell, that's almost two years-- even with double-ships! And with the creation of an all new JLA title as a companion series, we haven't abandoned the idea at all - more on that title later.

“The pros of the rotating creative teams are mostly based on the fact that we're using almost all ‘borrowed’ characters,” Carlin continued. “There's very little room for real plot/character development... since most of the real players have their own titles where that happens - and rightly so – and, as I’ve said before, I think every writer or artist has one great JLA story in 'em! So why not let everyone have a shot? The cons to the approach? Only that not every team will be everyone's favorite. Otherwise-- especially as far as scheduling goes... there are no cons.”

So – back to Busiek. While current readers of Busiek’s work probably know of his Stan Lee-like knowledge of the Marvel universe in minute detail, the writer’s DC fandom is also a matter of the historical record. “I've been reading Marvel since 1974 -- and DC since 1976,” Busiek said. “So at this point, that's not all that much of a head start for Marvel. I probably know the Marvel Universe better, but I'm reasonably well-versed in the DCU, too, and I've got backup when I need help. So I wouldn't be worried on that score.”

Taking the reins as the regular writer of the JLA places Busiek in somewhat rarified air, among a small fraternity of creators who’ve handled both the Avengers for Marvel and the JLA for DC.

Busiek ran down some of the more familiar faces who’ve handled both universes premier teams: “Roy Thomas only wrote the JLA for an issue or two here and there. Gerry Conway’s a longtimer on JLA but a short-timer on Avengers, Steve Englehart was on Avengers for years and JLA for only about a year ... there's a number of guys who've done both, but I can't think of anyone who had long runs on both series.

“I plan to change that, though.”

As for the obligatory compare and contrast?

“As to the differences between the two teams, that's a question I answered a lot when I was in the Avengers chair, and it'll be fun to explore it from the other side,” Busiek said. “Short answer -- the Avengers are a tightly-knit team, they train together, live together, identify as the team. The League, on the other hand, is a league -- they're all primarily solo heroes who come together when necessary, working as a unit when needed. But when Superman goes up against a bad guy, his first thought isn't, ‘Call in the League.’ When Hawkeye or the Wasp does, though... it's a different approach, a different mindset.

”The JLA are like the Olympics - the best of the best, all come together in fellowship. The Avengers are like the team that wins the World Series - they're a unit, a squad. A team, to the JLA's alliance.

”I hear that's changing for the Avengers, and I'm sure it'll be huge, at least for a while, considering the talent involved. But I've always thought that the best thing to do for each book is to figure out what it's best at and then do that, better than any other book can. Whenever a book tries to imitate whatever works best for some other book, whether it's the Avengers trying to be more like the X-Men in the ‘jackets’ era or the Detroit League trying to recapture the success of the Titans, I think you're losing your way. But maybe they'll find a different road -- and if we wind up with two teams built around the JLA concept, I think the original has the edge.”

Coming on under the rotating arc umbrella, Busiek and Garney are inheriting the JLA that’s fairly basic (and un-accidentally reminiscent of the Justice League animated series): Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (Jon Stewart), and the Martian Manhunter, with others added here and there as story demands dictated. As for once he’s going as regular writer…add a few more chairs to the table.

“I've made no secret of the fact that I want a larger League,” Busiek said. “I think that's the nature of a league -- you want a larger pool of heroes to draw from, even if they don't all turn up every mission. That way, you get an interesting mix, different combinations, and unexpected moments. I do think the core characters are pretty essential, but there's no reason to see only seven. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Atom ... I'm already up to ten, and have I really named anyone who shouldn't be a Leaguer?

”As for how we're going to bring it all about, well, we've got an eight-issue adventure to tell first, so let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. It's all coming...”

Asked if he’s found any particular character to be his voice more than others, Busiek gave a hint of the upcoming CSA story. “At this point, the JLA aren't even in my second issue, and only have a small-but-significant role in the third, so give me a little time. Right now, I've written more of the CSA than the JLA by a fair margin, but I am finding Wally West a natural for me, and I'm having fun with J'onn. Big plans afoot for John Stewart, and plans to take a different look at the others...”

Finally, while not fully ruling out a return of Starro, The Key, and other classic villains, Busiek said he’s not necessarily looking towards the past for challenges to the team. “Mostly, I'm planning around new threats -- though there'll be several classic DC villains along the way. And I'll leave it at that, for now.”

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That was alot to take in, and all I can say is WOW! I am very excited to see this new creative team. It is a comic book fan's prerequisite to love Kurt Busiek, and Ron Garney is an extremely talented man. So far, the Joe Kelly/Doug Mahnke issues of JLA have been my favorites by far, but I have a hunch that I am about to trade up. The Crime Syndicate arc can't get here fast enough, and after that I am already sure that I will be chomping at the bit for their return as my new favorite JLA creative team. Oh happy day!
Gee, Kurt Busiek, a man who knows and respects comic book continuity more than I do, writing JLA and bringing the Crime Syndicate along with him? Guess who's over here grinning from ear to ear? Hello? :-D

Glenn Walker

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