I couldn't let this blog wrap-up without a talk from the man who, after 261 issues and 27 years of continuous publication, wrote the final chapters in the story of the original Justice League of America, J.M. DeMatteis:
JLA Satellite: How did you end up writing JLA?
J.M. DeMatteis: DC editor Andy Helfer, one of the best editors I've ever worked with, said, "Hey, Gerry Conway just left Justice League and I need a writer. Want to help me out?" As I recall, I'd just left Marvel after being under contract there for a number of years and was happy to have the work.
JLA Satellite: When you took over the book, did DC already have its cancellation scheduled, and it was just a matter of getting to that point?
JMD: I believe the cancellation was already in the works. My job was to finish up the Conway story that was in progress, then go in and write the final storyline.
JLA Satellite: To me, one of the hallmarks of your writing is an inherent gentleness, even when there's lots of super hero fisticuffs going on (there have been some exceptions of course, like the "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline). Was it difficult writing stories that were so grim and violent, like when Vibe and Steel were murdered?
JMD: Violence in super hero comics has always been a problem for me. I love the characters, I love the genre, I love the metaphorical power of the super hero; but there are times I've been incredibly uncomfortable with the "smash and punch and kill" aspects of the genre. (In fact I've got a new series coming out next year from IDW, The Life and Times of Savior 28, that faces the Super Hero Violence issue head on. It's a piece of work I'm very proud of.)
As for JLA: I suspect, although, honestly, I don't remember, that the discomfort was a little less so with that final storyline because I had very little connection to those characters. I never quite made an emotional link with Vibe and Steel. As I recall, the characters I was emotionally hooked into were J'onn (this was my first time writing him and he immediately became an all-time favorite) and Gypsy (primarily because of J'onn's emotional connection to her). Happily, they both came out alive.
JLA Satellite: Was it your choice as to which of the new characters got bumped off, or did DC say "Save Vixen and Gypsy, kill off the other two"?
JMD: My memory is that I was told which characters had to go and which would stay.
JLA Satellite: Was it difficult writing a book that featured mostly new characters, none that you created, that didn't have a lot of history behind them?
JMD: I suspect that, if I'd had more time to get to know the characters, I could have found the emotional hooks I was talking about earlier; but jumping in just to wrap things up made it much harder for me. So, yes, it was difficult.
That story was much more about my technical skill than emotional investment. Not my favorite way to write. That said, I tried my best to put as much genuine emotion into the story as I could.
JLA Satellite: As a writer, did writing the final issue of JLA have any impact on you (in terms of making comic book history--"Wow, I'm writing the very last issue of Justice League!") or were you mostly concerned with just getting to the end so the new book could be started?
JMD: I never thought of it as the "final issue" because, by then, I knew the relaunch was in the pipeline. What I didn't know was that I'd be an integral part of that relaunch and that it would be the beginning of a partnership with the great Keith Giffen that would still be going strong more than twenty years later. If there's one great thing that came out of the JLA assignment for me, it's that.
As a teenager, buying the final issues of my all-time favorite comic, I wondered just what the behind-the-scenes stuff was, so I'm jazzed that I got to finally find out from the man who was at the helm for the final case of the Justice League of America.
Of course, J.M. DeMatteis would go on to make an even greater contribution to the history of the team, but that's for another day and another blog. Thanks J.M.!