Jason Hall on Writing "Justice League Unlimited" #33
Jason Hall is no stranger to writing comics for the animated DC universe. His Mr. Freeze story from Gotham Adventures and the continuation in Batman Adventures were loved by fans and his works in the Justice League Adventures series were some of the best the series has to offer. Now, with his upcoming issue of Justice League Unlimited, #33 arriving in comic shops everywhere on May 2nd, Hall tackles the relationship between Crimson Avenger and Stargirl. The World’s Finest and Toon Zone News sat down with Jason Hall via email to discuss his ideas and thoughts on Justice League Unlimited, character relationships and more.
Note: This interview contains spoilers for Justice League Unlimited #33!
WORLD’S FINEST/TOON ZONE NEWS: Justice League Unlimited has a constant rotation of new writers. How did you get your name in the hat?
JASON HALL: I had two very well received issues of Justice League Adventures under my belt (thanks, readers!). Those were #20 (“Emotional Baggage” featuring the Psycho Pirate) and #28 (“Future Imperfect” featuring the Legion and myself as the bad guy Kilg&re!). The JLU book went to a new editor though, and I was talking with that new editor about pitches for other projects (a pitch for the Batgirl monthly “One Year Later” and a Dr. Occult miniseries). Unfortunately, due to other plans for those characters popping up, neither of those things happened. But I was offered an issue of JLU by the editor after that (which I had also been asking about, as I was eager to do more DCAU Justice League stories, of course). So I immediately sent in a list of ideas and went to work!
WF/TZN: How does the story process go? Are you given a story to work with or are you allowed to come up with your own?
HALL: I came up with story ideas totally on my own, which is usually how it’s worked for all my comic work so far (except for the back-up story I did for Detective Comics awhile back — the editor had the spark of an idea for that and asked me to develop something for it).
How this particular story involving Crimson Avenger and Stargirl was chosen is kind of funny. I sent in a list of seven ideas. The basic idea for the Crimson Avenger and Stargirl story was actually the seventh idea that I just threw on there as a lark to fatten the list up (it was just a couple sentences), thinking he’d never pick that one. So, of course, that’s the one he picked! But I ended up being happy for that, because it challenged me to come up with a cool, solid story for my premise. It also afforded me the opportunity to write a story that could focus even more so on character development and to include a lot of humor. Both Stargirl and Crimson Avenger change (well, literally, sure, but also figuratively) by the end of the story. So it’s like their physical change parallels (and results in) their eventual emotional change, giving them a better understanding of each other, as well as letting them grow as individuals. How’s that for some high-falutin’ story analysis! I also think it’s the funniest of the Justice League stories I’ve done. Hopefully readers will get some emotion and some laughs out of it!
WF/TZN: Many fans remain upset over the end of the JLU show. What’s it like to be part of continuing the JLU in print?
HALL: As with B:TAS, S:TAS, Batman Beyond, and Justice League, I was a huge fan of the JLU show and the whole “universe” those shows embody. For me personally, I take it as having the opportunity to continue the show, at least to some small degree. I felt the same way when I wrote my two Mr. Freeze stories for Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures, and even though Justice League was on when my two issues of Justice League Adventures came out, I felt the same way about those as well. I try my best to make my stories feel like episodes of the show as much as possible, while keeping in mind the age of the average reader of the comics. The Johnny DC line seems to be geared towards a younger audience than the actual shows were (and it’s great that there’s a whole line of comics for younger readers!), but I always try to write stories that work on multiple levels, so they’re still appropriate for the younger readers, but also enjoyed by the older fans of the shows themselves.
Also, as with my other DCAU stories, I always try to have cool tie-ins with the continuity of the show. So, in my mind when writing this story, it takes place prior to the episode “Patriot Act”. Remember at the end of that episode when Crimson Avenger and Stargirl share a moment and smile at each other? What was that about? Well, now you’ll know!
WF/TZN: While Stargirl got a fair amount of screen time on the show, Crimson Avenger had only one line and two appearances—was it hard to come up with the demeanor and stylings of him?
HALL: I am a HUGE Golden Age fan. The Golden Age Justice Society is my favorite group of superheroes of all time (you’ll notice that after the first page, the story really only features JSA’ers or golden age related characters — and there’s an appearance by the elder Wesley Dodds and a cool nod to the golden age Sandman, one of my two favorite comic book character of all time, Martian Manhunter is the other). And I just love that time period in general.
So I kept in mind that Crimson Avenger is a hero from another era (we’ll keep that era vague though, since if it was the 40’s he’d be over 80 now, but maybe he’s been de-aged a bit like the JSA’ers were in the comics at some point), and here he is surrounded not only by a bunch of heroes in their absolute prime, many with extraordinary powers and/or high-tech weapons, but also this young girl upstart whose presence would be kind of foreign to him. How could he not feel a bit threatened or obsolete? Sure, he’s a superhero, but he’s also human, you know? He’s an old guy with a couple of guns (sure Nemesis just has a gun, but he’s a young guy in his prime, at least — and I realize Wildcat is an older hero too, but he’s physically a lot tougher than Crimson Avenger, being the former heavyweight champion, and I don’t see him being quite as old as the Crimson Avenger), and here’s this young girl who seems to not have much respect for her elders and has all this power at her fingertips and could use a good dose of responsibility. The two of them are almost like the Odd Couple of the JLU! At its most basic level, it’s a look at the generational gap — and the characters have the unique opportunity to see what things are like on the other side.
Stargirl definitely has had more “screen time” — even in the comics (I believe she’s even featured in the issue prior to mine — though creators don’t have anything to do with the scheduling of the issues). So I stayed true to her character as portrayed on the show and built from there. In my story, she’s kind of a punk at first! But I like to think she’s a different person by the end of the story — and a better hero for it.
WF/TZN: Morgaine le Fay’s situation in this issue picks right up where it left off in “Kid Stuff.” Did you have an idea of immediately how to bring her and Mordred back after seeing “Kid Stuff” or did that happen during the course of writing the issue?
HALL: With my first Mr. Freeze story, I had the basic idea for that as soon as I finished watching “Heart of Ice” after it first aired. But with this one, the idea didn’t come to me when watching the episode. But I did have it in mind even in that first brief pitch for the story. When I knew I was proposing the idea of Crimson Avenger and Stargirl switching bodies, I took a look at the list of villains from the show, and it only seemed natural to use Morgaine le Fay and Mordred, since his predicament semi-mirrored the situation. And his and his mother’s ultimate fates in my story were a perfect fit. Plus, it was another way to tie in with continuity from the show, which, as you know, I love to do!
WF/TZN: What gave you the idea of taking these two characters that haven’t interacted much and switching their bodies?
HALL: That was an easy one. When looking at the JLU cast of characters, they were the oldest and the youngest (at least, that’s how I was seeing it), and the idea just presented itself. Sure, it’s a plot device we’ve seen before in fiction, but I like to think I did something original in how I presented it.
WF/TZN: Were there any elements of the story that were changed or left out during the course of writing the issue?
HALL: There was only one thing that changed. On the first page, there are three panels showing some past adventures. Originally, in the first panel, it featured an appearance of the Legion of Superheroes that tied in subtly with my story from Justice League Adventures #28 and the Legion’s appearance on JLU. But with the new Legion cartoon (and comic based on it) coming out, the editor at the time wanted to refrain from using the Legion in JLU. So then I came up with the Titano panel instead (with some more cool little visual nods to S:TAS continuity!). But, hey, as a little bonus, I present to you the original script for that panel:
On panel-left, more in the foreground, we see CRIMSON AVENGER and STARGIRL coming towards the reader, arguing with each other. Behind then, following, is WAVERIDER and B’WANA BEAST. They are all walking out of a TIME TRAVEL VORTEX (so it’s all swirly colors around them). On panel-right, we see standing in the center of the time travel vortex the following members of the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES: BRAINIAC-5, SUPERGIRL, ANDROMEDA, ULTRA BOY, and PHANTOM GIRL (cut Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl if there isn’t room). Please see reference for all LSH characters further below — Supergirl should be in her new costume as depicted, and the blonde girl in orange is Andromeda, who should be taller than the rest. Behind the Legion characters, we can see METROPOLIS OF THE FUTURE. Brainiac-5 is holding a CONTROL DEVICE in his hands, operating the Vortex. He looks all business as Supergirl has her arms around him, smiling and waving at the departing JL’ers. To the side of Supergirl and Brainiac-5, Andromeda is looking at the two of them with jealousy in her eyes (she used to be Brainy’s girlfriend!). To the other side of Brainy and Supergirl (if room) we see Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl holding hands and smiling at the departing JL’ers.
Crimson Avenger: MORDRU ALMOST GOT AWAY, THANKS TO YOUR LOLLYGAGGING…
Stargirl: HEY, I FIGURED AFTER BEING IMPRISONED FOR ALMOST A THOUSAND YEARS, THE GUY’D BE A LITTLE GROGGY…
WF/TZN: The page number of the Johnny DC comics were cut by two (from 22 to 20 pages) a year or so ago. Did you find this difficult to work with, considering it cuts out two pages that could have added things to the plot?
HALL: I actually didn’t realize that until I started writing it. But, I think, for the first time when writing a script, I didn’t actually feel like I would have liked more pages at the end. It’s always nice to have more room to play with, but I think this story worked just fine in the 20 pages allotted. The biggest disappointment was that it meant getting paid for two less pages than usual!
WF/TZN: Both Carlo Barberi and Bob Petrecca penciled JLU #33. Were you excited to hear they would be the ones drawing the issue? They’ve given some of the consistently best artwork of the book so far, sometimes making the art look like it jumped right off the TV show.
HALL: I was very excited to hear it. And I think this issue is their best one yet. Just look at the posing on Stargirl as she flies around on her cosmic staff! He really captured both hers and Crimsons Avenger’s personalities as written in the script in their “acting” in the artwork. Great job, fellas! Visually, it really does feel like an episode of the show. And I hope readers feel the story does as well.
WF/TZN: Any future issues in the Johnny DC Universe (Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans Go!, The Batman Strikes! and the newly announced Legion of Superheroes) we can expect to see you in soon?
HALL: Unfortunately, not in the foreseeable future. Since writing the story, the book has changed editorial hands again. And due to an email server issue, my emails expressing my interest in doing more never reached the new editor. When I finally called to check in, I discovered that the editor loved my issue and wished she knew I was interested, as their plans for the book were already set, including any fill-in spots. So it was definitely a missed opportunity. Curse you, modern technology! (See, I really AM Kilg%re from my story in Justice League Adventures #28!)
WF/TZN: What are you currently working on? I know there’s some Hellboy stuff you got coming out…
HALL: I’ve got a bunch of stuff from Dark Horse, actually. This past January saw the release of my graphic novel adaptation of the Sam Raimi produced horror film The Messengers. In June, I’ll have a story in Clone Wars Adventures Volume 8 called “One of a Kind”, which features the return of a character I created for one of my past Star Wars Tales stories. I’m also one of the co-writers of the Hellboy Companion, having written the extensive official timeline for the book (with tons of input from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and editor Scott Allie). Also, I recently finished writing what will be the third volume of the Hellboy Animated graphic novels, which I’m super-excited about. That should be out hopefully sometime later this year.
Thanks, everyone, for your continued support! I’ll be sure to check in on the Toon Zone DC Animation Forum to catch your coins or duck your tomatoes!
Toon Zone News would like to thank Jason Hall for his participation in this Q & A. Be sure to check out Jason Hall’s official website!