Why has Shazam’s mortal enemy thrown his lot in with the Justice League, and how does this reflect the new direction for the series in 2021? To learn more, IGN participated in a press call with Bendis and Marquez. Read on to learn what the creators had to say about this new era for DC’s biggest super-team.
Note – this article contains a few spoilers for Infinite Frontier #0!
Rebuilding the Justice League
As we mentioned, Bendis and Marquez’s Justice League run starts in the aftermath of Dark Nights: Death Metal. Thanks to that crossover, the DC multiverse has been restored to its original, infinite size and Earth-0 is no longer the center of everything. The recent standalone comic Infinite Frontier #0 gives us an idea of the new opportunities and new threats emerging in this era, including Wonder Woman transcending to a higher plane of reality and contemplating taking her place alongside the the godlike members of the Quintessence (spoiler alert – she refuses, right before Darkseid comes along to murder the whole group).
Wonder Woman’s disappearance alone leaves a big void to fill in the League, as do other recent developments like Barry Allen joining the multiverse-patrolling team Justice Incarnate. That’s why the revamped League has gained a few unusual new members. Superman, Batman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkgirl carry over from the previous version of the team, while Green Arrow and Black Canary are rejoining the core Justice League for the first time since before the advent of the New 52. And then there are the three newcomers – Black Adam, Queen Hippolyta and Naomi. All in all, a pretty eclectic lineup.
Justice League #59 Preview
“I think one of the challenges with coming with a Justice League lineup is making sure that it feels like it’s all the heavy hitters and A-listers, but not necessarily repeating what’s come before,” said Marquez. “There’s a balancing act between making sure it’s recognizable as the Justice League. You’re making sure that you have characters that are representative of what we all recognize as being the Justice League while also keeping it like new and fresh. And that’s where a lot of the new characters come in.”
“When I was given the Avengers or Guardians, part of the excitement is I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said Bendis. “But once you’ve accomplished that, you now know what you didn’t know. So going into the Justice League, I can’t claim ignorance. You basically learn, well, what’s the most interesting lineup for this moment in time in the DC Universe? It really isn’t one of the most epic, the biggest, most powerful; it really is – who are the most interesting, not only separately, but together?”
“When Brian first pitched Justice League to me as a book for us to go into the DCU together with, I think the way he phrased it was, ‘We want this to be like… who are the coolest characters today?'” added Marquez. “And part of that is not just who are they individually? But like Brian was saying, especially with the team book, how they bounce off each other is everything. And so having that contrast between character with different points of view and that represent different parts of the DCU are all important considerations that we talked a lot about from the very beginning.”
Black Adam or Shazadam?
Black Adam is certainly the most attention-grabbing new addition to the team, given both his traditional status quo as an antagonist to Shazam and the Justice League and the fact that actor Dwayne Johnson will soon make his DCEU debut in the role. But as fans of comics like JSA, 52 and Black Adam: The Dark Age will know, Adam has tended to blur the line between hero and villain more and more in recent years. If anything, Justice League is just the latest evolution for a character still struggling to find his place in the modern world.
“We’re very excited about the Black Adam storyline here because it is unique,” said Bendis. “It is unique to the characters, unique to the story and celebrates it in a very surprising way. I must say, we will be forever grateful to The Rock for stepping out with this before us, because we didn’t know that was coming. We actually didn’t realize that, but it certainly makes people look at what we’re doing with the curious eyebrow and like, ‘All right, let’s see what you can do.’ And I will say that, his character has been around for a very long. Superman actually says this in script, ‘He’s been around for a very long time.’ And with that comes, shifting perspectives and things change. And even, even in our short lifetime, David and I have changed. You live long enough to see things differently than you did a few years ago.”Bendis continued, “the world has changed a lot. Black Adam is responding to that and already has been. So, we’re going to see exactly what that means and if there’s a place for him on the Justice League at this time after all that has been said and done in the past.”
“Just as someone who gets to read this comic before anyone else does, it’s interesting seeing the ways in which it sometimes preempts conversations that we’re having in the world,” said Marquez. “Generally – we’re not necessarily making any concrete or authorial statements about the world and what should or shouldn’t be. But it’s interesting considering the perspective of somebody who has done so much bad stuff and then questioning whether or not that should be the only thing they’re judged for. It’s a very relevant thing right now, and is worth thinking about.”
Bendis also addressed the rumor about DC renaming Black Adam as “Shazadam,” which IGN previously debunked back in February. While the Shazadam name briefly crops up in Infinite Frontier #0 in the form of a humorous language barrier between Superman and a group of people recently rescued by Adam, Bendis was very clear that scene isn’t meant to be taken as anything more.
“Just so we’re very, very clear, at no time ever in the history of the planning of this book in any format, in any stage, in any way has the production ever been about Black Adam changing his name, his legacy, his anything. His name is Black Adam and someone else calls him something in the book. It’s, to me, like someone putting out a headline saying that Marvel changed Spider-Man’s name to ‘Web-Headed Menace’ because somebody called him that.”
Superman’s Identity Crisis
Bendis’ first major DC project after leaving Marvel in 2018 involved a dramatic revamp of the Superman line. Among the various changes introduced in the pages of Superman and Action Comics, Superman has now revealed his secret identity to the world in the hope of fostering more trust in humanity. While Bendis ended his run at both titles in preparation for taking on Justice League, he made it clear this series will directly continue and build upon his previous work with the Man of Steel. Bendis also revealed he’s working with incoming Superman/Action Comics writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson to ensure all three books remain in sync where Superman is concerned.
“I involved the Justice League very quickly into the dynamic of [Superman’s] life change,” said Bendis. The third page [of Superman #18] was them reacting to what happened there, an enormous part of it… The gift that I get is that I get to take what we did to the Superman mythos and immediately apply it to the group dynamic as it evolves. So, Phillip is doing amazing things in Superman, in concert with us, following along with the choices we had made. And now we get to see Green Arrow and everybody react to him differently than they have in the past. They have to deal with this.”
Bendis continued, “It changed the dynamic of everything in his life, mostly for the good, some for the awkward, some for the bad, and they’re still dealing with it. Literally, the first couple of sentences in the book is how by Superman doing what he did, everything has changed for the Justice League and everything around us. It just has. So let’s not pretend it hasn’t; let’s deal with it. And that’s part of the theme going into the book.”
Marquez already has some experience drawing Superman, having drawn the first arc of the monthly Batman/Superman comic in 2019. Marquez discussed how Clark’s relationships with his fellow Leaguers play a big part in how he renders the Man of Steel on the page.
“He’s the friendly neighbor everyone feels comfortable with and safe with,” said Marquez. “He’s like a teacher, perhaps. A role model that people look up to, but also identify with to some degree. But when I feel like I nail him best when I’m drawing on the page, he’s looking upon who the world and the characters that he’s with, with affection and with love and with caring. And everything else is secondary to that. Yeah, I mean no one can hold a candle up to in terms of power level. He could destroy everybody, but it’s nothing that would even cross his mind. All he wants to do is take care of people. And that’s always what’s foremost in my mind when I’m drawing him.”
Naomi and the Promise of Infinite Frontier
Naomi McDuffie is easily the youngest member of the revamped Justice League, both in terms of the character’s physical age and her shelf life. Naomi made her first appearance in her self-titled 2019 limited series, part of Bendis’ Wonder Comics imprint. Over the course of the series, readers learned that she’s a refugee from another universe, sent away to escape the wrath of a villain named Zumbado not unlike how Superman was spared from Krypton’s destruction. The character has clearly struck a chord with DC readers, as evidenced by the fact that a live-action Naomi series is currently in development at The CW.
Bendis made it clear Justice League will chronicle the next major chapter in Naomi’s journey. In fact, the revelations about her origin will play a big part in Justice League’s first major story arc in Infinite Frontier. Bendis has been working with Naomi co-creator/co-writer David F. Walker to ensure the series properly builds on that foundation and also works in concert with the upcoming Naomi Vol. 2 (which is currently on the back-burner while artist Jamal Campbell wraps up work on Far Sector).
“All of the responsibility that’s been thrust upon her in a way that I think is very different and unique to what we’ve seen before,” said Bendis. “That’s what got me and David very excited about. So it’s still coming, but… Jamal’s delay because he’s working on Far Sector, it’s just opened up these possibilities for us. And it’s just been cool that all the pieces have been in play in a way that allows us to play around with the hero’s journey a little bit in a way that we may not have. And it excites us really as well as the storytellers.”
Marquez also teased that the series will be introducing a number of brand new characters as well as fleshing out these Justice League newcomers.
“For this book, one thing that Brian and I have talked about is not only creating some characters to play with, like we did with the villain, but also there’s a vault of sketches I’m working on. One thing Brian likes doing is asking artists, ‘Open up your sketchbook and give me stuff to play with.’ So we’ve already played with that idea a little bit and perhaps down the line we’ll work some of them in. But also there’s the idea that the cast for Justice League can be a rotating task to some degree.”
Marquez continued, “Maybe there’s a core where you take in, take out, people are on the periphery, or maybe in some cases you take out the core and it’s just the characters that you would think of being just peripheral. But because of the needs of the story, they ended becoming the centerpiece of the plot. We’ve talked about how down the line we want to play with who the lineup is and maybe bring in characters that aren’t currently in the lineup as we’ve seen it. So there, I’m hoping there’s some opportunities for redesign, even with some of the current cast members, there’s some characters that we’re talking about, ‘Well, would I want to redesign them from the outset, or, down the line?’ I’m not going to mess with Superman and the trunks. I’m not going to take Batman’s ears off or am I?”All of this seems to dovetail with the larger “it all matters” theme fueling Infinite Frontier. As Bendis sees it, the lesson from Dark Knights: Death Metal isn’t really about continuity and which stories “happened” in the current DCU timeline, but honoring the core of the characters.
“It’s just about the truth of the character in the moment,” said Bendis. “I mean, that really is what they were saying, is that all those moments matter to somebody, when they read them. And by putting that back, it just all matters. Like anything you felt about those characters, that feeling is legitimate. That’s what it meant to me. So we’re writing the characters in a moment, hopefully in a very powerful, significant moment in their lives. And so it’s all about how the past got them to this moment.”
Bendis continued, “I think we’re reflecting that, across the board. It’s one of my favorite things to do really is like, who is this character? Why now? Or what’s standing in their way? And that’s how we write Batman. That’s how we write Superman. Even with this enormous legacy, it’s really about the moment that they’re in and making sure that their character is reflected well in that.”
Justice League #59 is available now in comic shops and digital platforms.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.