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Brian Michael Bendis has a lot of experience writing superhero teams. In his days at Marvel Comics he tackled extended runs with The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the X-Men, and in his time at DC Comics so far he's delivered work with the Legion of Super-Heroes and Young Justice alongside major work with Superman and his own new superhero co-creation, Naomi.
With all that in mind, handing him the keys to Justice League, DC's biggest team franchise, feels like a natural evolution of his work with the publisher so far, but even after all his experience on team books, Bendis is still capable of being surprised by new combinations.
As he began work on his run with the League alongside artist David Marquez, which kicks off next week in the pages of Justice League #59, Bendis says he encountered one such surprise when DC editorial suggested an unorthodox addition to the lineup.
"The one DC came to me [with] early was Black Adam," Bendis told a group of journalists, including SYFY WIRE, during a roundtable event ahead of his Justice League launch. "They were like 'Hey, is that someone you think you've got a feeling for?' Because that's a character that obviously is going to be grabbing headlines for the next year or two, and I did. I really liked that idea. It immediately challenged me and made me think back to what we were doing with Doctor Doom in Iron Man. He's a very different character than Victor von Doom and I wanted to see what we could do in that regard, and how his appearance really challenges the idea of the Justice League and these teammates that have known each other for a very long time, some of which, they are ride or die teammates. And then here comes this person that does really challenge everything around them. So that got very exciting."
Working Black Adam into the fold for this new era of Justice League, which serves as a jumping-on point for new readers as DC enters its Infinite Frontier era of stories, was an exciting prospect for Bendis, who was eager to see how the presence of the legendary antihero opposite of Shazam would change the team dynamic. As you can see in the preview pages above, it set up the idea that a portion of the League would believe in Adam, and a portion would not. As if to reinforce that idea, Bendis' own collaborator wasn't necessarily on-board at first.
"Getting to be the first reader of the book, I took some convincing to really get behind the idea of Black Adam being on the team," Marquez said. "At this point [after working on it for a while], I don't know how else we would be doing this book. It feels natural, him... and also the contrast between him and Naomi on the team is something that is very, very... it's new and it's fresh and it's different to what I've seen on the book in the past. And for me what they bring to the team is the heart of the book."
Naomi, co-created by Bendis with writer David F. Walker and artist Jamal Campbell in 2019, marks the other major shake-up to the Justice League lineup present in the upcoming run, which will also include mainstays Batman, Superman, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Aquaman and other major players including Queen Hippolyta and Black Canary.
A native of an alternate Earth who was sent away from her homeworld to protect her from dark forces, Naomi's already been a major player in Bendis' Superman and Young Justice runs, as well as her own self-titled series. In the pages of Justice League, she'll get to both play the role of up-and-comer alongside other seasoned heroes and learn more about the world she came from, as the very first issue introduces a frightening new antagonist from her home Earth. That introduction, and the threat it poses, forms the catalyst for this new Justice League story, which Bendis emphasized is both an expansion of Naomi's mythology and a very new reader-friendly introduction to both Naomi and the League as a team.
"I tend to get a little parentally shy about Naomi but we're bringing a lot here because, you know, I was one of her co-creators. And with that came this world that we co-created for her that really is, even in some ways, a bigger deal to us than just Naomi herself, this universe that came with her," Bendis said. "From our very first issue here we're opening up a very big door into what that universe is so people who read the original Naomi miniseries will be like, 'Oh, okay, we're going right in!'
"And for people who haven't read the Naomi series, we're about to introduce something to you that no one's seen before and that's very daunting [for the creative team]. It is, it's very daunting. It's a new Earth that's been established to have been devastated by a superhero battle that no one recovered from and that killed Naomi's parents, that devastated this land. And we know, just as comic creators, that that opens up all kinds of possibilities for us. There's designing [the world], and also [the chance] to surprise and delight people who think they've seen every kind of apocalyptic scenario. This is a very different one. So to design and write into that is hugely challenging. It is, it's a big, big challenge, but I think that's why people read comics, so that's our job."
But even the drama surrounding Black Adam and the expansion of Naomi's backstory isn't enough for this new Justice League era. Each issue will also feature a Justice League Dark backup story from writer Ram V and artist Xermanico, and because those teams share a common headquarters and occasionally even share members, a crossover isn't far off. In fact, Bendis teased it's coming soon, and the format of the book means it'll be very easy to interweave the two sides of the Justice League as they face a new magical threat.
"I can tease about that story that it also will hearken to something that we set up on my last year of Superman. There's a new Lord of Chaos that had been buried away for many, many years that Superman and Doctor Fate were just able to defeat by the skin of their teeth. And she's going to come back huge as an enormous challenge to both the Justice League and the Justice League Dark," Bendis said. "We're very early goings in the collaboration with the Justice League Dark team, but I will tell you that I threw this nonsense at Ram and he could have easily said, 'Hey dude, leave me alone,' and instead was like, 'Yes! That sounds awesome.' And when people come back to you with that kind of positive energy of just always seeing the story potential, always seeing the format potential, I just get very excited. So we're going to have fun with it."
All of these elements combine to create a Justice League story that is, according to Marquez, an "optimistic" book about the different approaches each member of the team takes to achieve a common goal. Their dynamic will shift, and they won't always agree, but each member of the League is ultimately after the same thing, and that sense of working toward optimism is at the core of the book.
"This is a book about earnest belief in the possibility of a better world," Marquez said. "And this is the way that the Justice League is grappling with how to accomplish that. And it has to include everybody, because the Justice League is not an American team. I guess maybe you could say it's an Earth team, but it's not really, you know? I mean, look at how many non-Earthers are on the team. And so, when you're solving problems, at which point is the problem solved? Do you draw the line here, do you draw the line there? Or is this a mission that ultimately will never be ended but is always requiring effort at every minute every step of the way for everybody? And I don't think you can be cynical when you look at the world that way."
Justice League #59 arrives Tuesday.