DC Comics Legend Jerry Ordway On America Vs. the Justice Society, Atom-Smasher on The Flash and More

This week sees the re-release of America Versus the Justice Society, a four-issue miniseries [...]

This week sees the re-release of America Versus the Justice Society, a four-issue miniseries from the 1980s that featured work from Roy Thomas, Jerry Ordway and a number of artists.

The tale, which took place on the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-2, would have reverberations throughout DC continuity, with its fallout having an impact even in a post-Crisis continuity that shunned the multiverse as a concept.

The story revolves around the discovery, after his death, of a diary ostensibly written by Batman which implicates his former teammates in the Justice Society of treason. The team has to answer to the U.S. government, and try to clear their names, all while figuring out why their friend and ally would have framed them for something they didn't do.

Ordway, who worked on a number of Justice Society-related projects then and recently revisited that world during DC's Convergence event, is arguably the most recognizable name with art chores on the project, even if his contribution wasn't huge in terms of page count.

We asked Ordway to share some of his memories of the project -- he worked only on the covers, but was originally intended to be the main series artist before scheduling conflicts changed that -- and touched on some of his other recent work, the use of characters he created in other media, his thoughts on the ever-darkening superhero landscape, and more.

This is obviously a story that resonates with an audience, since it's being reissued now in spite of the fact that the comics don't really include these characters anymore. You've been a part of a lot of big stories, but is it always gratifying when you find out something like this is being introduced to a new generation of readers?

Well, I think Roy crafted a good story, influenced to a degree by the "Hitler's lost diary" news story from the 1980's.Of course, that was determined to be a fake.

I was originally set to draw the whole story, as part of a one shot graphic novel, to fit into DC's line at the time. The plan at the time was for Mike Machlan to pencil Infinity Inc, with me inking, and then drawing America vs the JSA in my off-time.

When DC decided I had to pencil Infinity, that plan went out the window, and I only had time to draw the covers, and one page inside the book, which reverted to standard comic format. Rafael Kayanan took over as penciller, with Mike Hernandez and I believe Howard Bender finishing it up. All inked/finished by the great Alfredo Alcala, who himself was a big Golden Age fan.

This story took place in the pre-Crisis era, but you worked on the JSA, Infinity Inc. and All-Stars for years on and off. Do you prefer the "Earth-2" JSA or the "Old-Timers" style like we got after the Crisis?

I always liked the idea of Earth 2. It was a great way to honor the material that was published by companies that became DC, starting at the dawn of the super-hero age.

I have no real opinion of the New 52's Earth 2, as I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

I do like the concept of the original E-2 as a link to World War 2, and the original published versions of Superman, Batman and the rest. That's comic book history! I think the "old timer" approach worked really well in the Goyer/Robinson, and later Geoff Johns era, though.

With Jay Garrick and Atom-Smasher appearing on The Flash, do you figure this particular book is likely timed to coincide with that?

I have no idea if this edition is timed to the Flash TV show, but I hope it brings a second volume of Infinity Inc to print! Fans ask where the second half of the "Generations Saga: is, and I have no info to pass on.

As his co-creator, what do you think of Atom-Smasher being brought in -- but as a villain?

I think the Flash show has been terrific, so I am curious how the Atom Smasher plays out there. Geoff Johns had Atom Smasher cross some lines in his JSA stories, so there's a precedent for it, I guess.

No character I created or co-created for DC is in my control, so I am powerless. I still feel a connection to them all, and it has been frustrating over the years to see some of the things done to them by others, but then, there is some pride in seeing that they still matter, and are still being used in comics and media.

America vs. the JSA was one of the most influential stories of the '80s, having resonated after the Crisis, through stories like The Golden Age and James Robinson's Starman, and even into Smallville. Looking back, is there anything you'd have tweaked a bit if you realized it would still be in print 35 years on?

Not my part. I made a visual choice in drawing the covers, to use a cross-hatching style that was considered too detailed for the printing process at that time, but those images are still some of the favorites of stuff I've done. I wish they had kept my coloring design on the cover of the collection. The sepia-toned Batman just worked to me.

Years later, we would get an obsessed, paranoid Batman in stories like Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. Do you think that the depiction of Batman here -- even if it turns out to be a misdirection -- helped set the stage for some of that version of the character?

Not really. I think that guys my age have been trying to darken Batman since the 1970's. I recall arguing with guys at comic shops back then, who argued that Batman should carry a gun and kill, something I never agreed with.

Denny O'Neill had the greatest motivation, I believe, to explain Batman's aversion to guns and gun violence, and that has been chipped away at methodically since the later 1970's, culminating in the paranoid zealot Batman we have now. :)

Similarly, the post-Flashpoint DCU is full of superheroes whom the public does not trust. This is a relatively new concept to DC, where Superman and the JLA were celebrated and beloved in most stories prior to 2005 or so. Was it jarring as this story rolled in to see the world turn on the JSA in this story?

Again, I didn't much of anything to do with the story, or drawing it, but in the context of Roy's story, it makes sense. That every hero now is not trusted, is a sad reflection on our times, and the betrayals of people in power, starting with Richard Nixon's resignation in the 70's, down to seemingly every elected official. This saddens me, but I understand it.

What I don't understand is why we put up with corruption. We need to celebrate the good that people do, and turn the tide of pessimism. A hero is someone who does the right thing, no matter the personal cost. So, for my generation of comic reader, that was Spider-Man, who did the right thing, but was smeared by J Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle, and pursued by the police.

I always felt that Superman was a goody two-shoes for a reason — a being that powerful had to be squeaky clean, or the public would always fear him. Not every hero has to be the same, but they should enjoy the public's trust.

Speaking of a world where heroes are hated and feared, what do you think of the Batman V Superman trailer? I enjoyed your Man of Steel prequel comic and kind of hoped that you would get one for this movie, too, but I don't know. DC doesn't seem so into tie-in comics.

I realize these versions of the characters owe more to the versions in the video games, where everything is dark and gritty. Also, clearly a lot of Frank Miller's Dark Knight is in there.

Henry Cavill hits the right chord as Superman to me, so I have hopes for the film. It's weird, but I was not a big fan of Dark Knight at all, though it has been influential on the movie folks. Frank's Daredevil is one of my top three comic runs ever. And his Batman origin story, drawn by David Mazzuchelli, is terrific. Batman as "Dirty Harry" never appealed to me.

As to the Man of Steel prequel comic, thanks. It was commissioned for Wal-Mart, as a promotional tie-in, and I really wish there was a print version of it.

What else have you got coming up now?

Working on a second arc [of Semiautomagic with Alex DeCampi] for Dark Horse Presents, and then maybe will be able to finish my Batman '66 story before that book ends!

America Vs. The Justice Society of America is available for preorder now through the bookstore market. You can get it Wednesday at your local comic shop or via ComiXology.