Justin Jordan once described his breakout series, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, as being a story “about a geek who thinks he’s becoming a superhero when he’s really becoming a slasher.” Perhaps its fitting that ever since he’s been playing with the conventions of superhero comics, introducing elements of science fiction, dark fantasy, and horror to series like Team 7, Shadowman, and Green Lantern: New Guardians.
Despite a nasty cough, Mr. Jordan made some time to speak to us on the tail end of C2E2 and gave some fascinating insights to a couple of his most notable projects. Enjoy the interview and join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery.
WCBR: So I admit, I had heard of your work, but the investigation didn’t really begin until Green Lantern: New Guardians. And that was a pretty solid wake-up, especially once you got through “Lights Out”, when you kind of got to do something that was a little less tied in.
Justin Jordan: Yeah, I’ve been really proud of what we’re doing on New Guardians. I mean, it’s been a good run. I thought “Lights Out” was a good cross-over, but it was nice to be able to branch out and kind of do our own thing.
One thing that I think that I-, during the Geoff Johns era, I didn’t like as much how interconnected the books were, which some people really liked that, but I felt like there was a whole universe out there, but we were focusing solely on Lantern vs. Lantern business. Y’know, the war between the Corps and that kind of stuff. So it was good to be able to get out and kind of build the DC Universe up a little more and explore and all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, I feel like there’s definitely kind of a, I don’t know, it doesn’t sound right to say, but it’s definitely kind of an older vibe-
I mean, it’s meant to be a cosmic story and it’s meant to be basically my version of Star Trek-
Okay, it is.
I mean, as much as they’re- yeah, they’re going to different worlds and, y’know, learning about new cultures and then fixing things. Or not, as the case may be. So, yeah, I explicitly think of it as a Star Trek model. I’ve also got the Doctor Who model of a thing, so either one of those I’m happy with. So yeah, it’s a fairly old school approach, I think.
That makes me really happy to hear because I definitely was like “This is like Star Trek!”
Are there any writers from that era that are particular influences on you? I guess, obviously, Stark Trek and Roddenberry…
I mean there’s Gene Roddenberry and the guys who did Star Trek and that kind of stuff. And then I did read a good bit of the old older Sci-Fi, so you have guys like Heinlein, and Jordan, and Frank Herbert and that kind of stuff. Y’know you get your classics. And I think that all probably goes into the melting pot of the brain, you know what I mean, over the years. So, yeah, I don’t think that I could pinpoint one specific person and say, “Yeah, I was trying to do that,” but it’s definitely that kind of deal.
So, now that we know what goes in, I’m curious what’s your writing process like?
Basically, I outline a couple issues at a time with the arc, usually a couple arcs at a time, actually. I usually have plans for about six months to a year. And then I take those and bust them down to- do like kind of a prose version of a story. It’s like a page long.
And then I [do] that into a page by page outline of it and then I go into writing. And, of course, editorial’s involved in these various steps, so there’s rewriting and stuff involved, but- Yeah, I’m a fairly meticulous outliner as things go.
I have a sense that we’re going to start hearing a little more about this, but when we first met the concept of White Lanterns, I mean everyone kind of knew it was coming, but it was really at the end of Blackest Night we kind of got that and then Brightest Day started to expand on it, but we haven’t really had a true White Lantern until Kyle.
And, y’know, particularly in the fact that we were dealing with Nekron and all that, it kind of had this big bombastic “here it is” moment. But now we’re really starting to get into the nitty-gritty of it. What does it kind of mean to you to be a White Lantern?
Well, I will tell you there’s a limited amount I can say because that is the big focus of what we’re doing over the next couple months-
I know the annual is this week-
Yeah. Yeah, and that- that will go a looong way to telling you what exactly it means to be a White Lantern and what has happened to Kyle in particular. That is something we’re going to be exploring further. It’s been kind of a sub-plot until now, but that is going to go more to the forefront for the rest of the year, because he’s getting into the idea that Kyle doesn’t know what he’s capable of and neither do the New Guardians. So he’s still learning what it means to actually be a White Lantern and it isn’t what people have thought it meant, so that answer, that mystery will be answered here fairly shortly. And astute readers will be able to figure it out from the annual.
Alright, so especially since the New 52 happened, I feel like DC has been very clear that it is not interested in redundancy. Y’know, a lot of legacy characters got taken away, other characters were moved other places to make sure that they weren’t replicating anything. But we still – actually not even still – we now have, gonna go with five and a half Earth Lanterns, if you count the new Power Ring.
Yeah. And that’s one of those deals where one of the tricks is getting the- the different books in the Green Lantern Corps thing have different purposes. Y’know, ideally, Green Lantern should focus on a Green Lantern and it’s almost certainly going to be Hal Jordan, y’know, now. Green Lantern Corps should just be what the name says it is, which is focused on the Corps as more of a team book. Red Lanterns is- Y’know, Red Lanterns. They have their own deal. And New Guardians is more about Kyle and because Kyle is the White Lantern his power set is different. So, I think we did a decent job of differentiating. And then Simon Baz kind of does his thing on Earth, so I think there’s a good way to separate that stuff all out and, as yet, DC seems willing to keep it going.
Well, that’s good to hear.
So, in your mind, what makes Kyle- I guess it’s just, why is he the White Lantern?
Well, he’s got some unique qualities in terms of his emotional make-up and what he is. Y’know, he’s not as willful as Hal is, but he is much more in touch with his emotions in a way that he is able to tap and control them better than others. That’s the mechanical answer. In the general sense of the person as a character, I think Kyle’s artistic bent has a way of empathizing with the world. That’s probably the heart of his character and his power, so it goes a lot into that. But, again, just to tease, why he is the White Lantern and what that means is both parts that are going to be coming up soon.
So, turning a little bit away from the DC work, for the moment, you started out with Luther Strode. In the trade there’s a forward that kind of talks a little bit about some of the major themes, and one thing that I kind of noticed as I was reading it and re-reading it is that, clearly with that and Dead Body Road and all this, you’re no stranger to ultra-violence, but without- without at all bashing anybody, there’s plenty of ultra-violence around now but, one thing I definitely noticed in some of your stuff, is that there’s something of a joy in [it], particularly in Luther Strode that- where there’s still happiness. Like the obvious example would be like Kickass where it’s kind of a little, even if you win, it’s kind of about learning that the the girl already has a boyfriend-
– and he’s gonna kick you in the crotch. Literally.
Well, the thing with Luther Strode– one of the things, I mean, especially as it relates to Luther and Petra, the love interest in that, is that Luther didn’t need to do what he did to get Petra. That’s kind of the second thing, like Luther would not be interested in a girl who would only be interested in him because he sprouted a bunch of big muscles.
Yeah, I don’t know, it’s one of those things that I am continually fascinated by violence, but, at the same time, the books are not and are not meant to be kind of ‘ra-ra violence’ sort of things. Like, you notice the violence just makes Luther’s life worse and worse and it just spirals further down the hole so it’s worrisome.
And it’s the same way with Dead Body Road, eventually. It’s kind of a meditation on revenge and what that means and what it costs you. And so it’s one of those yin-yang and my own personality things I’m fascinated by, yet something I don’t really support, y’know?
Yeah. And, I mean, the other side of that coin is that both Luther and Petra come from very broken homes and, to some degree, get their power from it, in the sense that Luther rejects [temptation] and is a hero only because of that. And, I mean, Petra, in the one scene where she’s tied up, actually holds her own almost based on the fact that’s had to deal with that, unfortunately. So, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that and how those kind of relationships play into your work?
Well, I mean, in the case of Luther and Petra, like that kind of background is both their strong point and their weakness at the same time. It gives them the strength in some regards – and that’s not the case for everybody who’s experienced this kind of shitty upbringing – but in their case, they got stronger. At the same time, they make a lot of shitty decisions because they’ve had those kinds of bad backgrounds.
Y’know Luther, for instance, you look all throughout both books – Luther loses his shit when anything happens to women or he thinks something’s going to happen to women. It’s tends to be his spark to violence and that’s not a good thing. I mean, that’s some poor decision-making on Luther’s part. Same way with Petra, so it’s one of those kind of things, I try to keep as real of a version of that as I think I can. I mean, try to put myself in that place and see what the good and bad of it is. And it affects people differently.
It was his idea?
Well, I had said that I wanted a mask that was white that would put you in the mind of like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.
But I also wanted something that looked like a teenager could have done it. Which Tradd had actually constructed a mask much like that as an art project in high school so that was kind of the basis of that.
It was one of those things where I looked at like Sam Raimi’s Spider-man and- and Peter Parker’s all poor but he produces the costume, it’s like a 50,000 costume. Like, you could just do that for money, Peter Parker, y’know? So, I wanted a certain amount of naturalism in regards to that, so his outfit is meant to look like a teenager could just dig it up.
Yeah, ’cause when I picked up the book I had always seen the covers and been very interested and I was like, “Oh, these aren’t bandages.”
A lot of people think that but no, they’re basically tape.
(SPOILERS FOR IN THE DARK: A HORROR ANTHOLOGY)
I just got In the Dark and I kind of wanted to ask a little bit about your story in that, “The Unseen”. Which was just that- for those of you who haven’t read it yet, basically the premise is that there’s a belief among certain characters that we are not experiencing the world completely, and what is out there may not be what they were hoping to find.
Yes. They basically crack the veil between worlds and become- they believe that they have been targeted by predators that will devour them for eternity because of that And devour them and their families, which leads to a very tragic ending.
Yes. Without spoiling too much of it, that ending is-
Not just bleak but very real, in kind of the same way that those moments with Luther and Petra are. I was curious, what brought you to that thought of that start of “I am not a monster”?
It was one of those things, and honestly I just- there’s probably no way to talk about it without spoiling it, so anybody that really doesn’t want to be spoiled should stop now.
Are you all gone? Alright.
Basically, the main character ends up committing suicide and killing her children — painlessly — rather than let them be consumed by these monsters. And, actually, the basic premise of the story when I started with was the idea of could somebody who killed their own children be sympathetic? Could you make somebody understand why they would do that? And admittedly there’s- there’s an element of the fantastic there. There’s supposed to be some ambiguity about whether or not that stuff’s actually happening to her.
I was definitely wondering that.
But I was also, at the same time, like “Well, people are disappearing.”
Yeah. I lean towards the actually happening part of it, but it’s mean to have some ambiguity about whether or not she’s lost her mind. But I wanted to try to have her do something utterly horrific and make her sympathetic at the same time.
That’s very cool.
(END IN THE DARK SPOILERS)
So this is kind of a two-part question, but the first bit of it is just do you have a moment where you feel like you kind of entered onto the path to being a comic creator?
I don’t know that I could define a particular moment, but I had always liked to write and I had been into comics, but it wasn’t until I got on the Warren Ellis Forum, I don’t know, probably 15 years ago or close to it, that I realized it was a thing I could do ’cause I can’t draw, but I realized the internet would connect me to people who could and I kind of went from there. So, I wouldn’t say there was a particular, like, aha moment, but that was definitely the arrow which I realized was a thing that I could do.
So, is there something that, if you had a time machine- is there one particular piece of advice you would give yourself then that you know now?
Go to school some place bigger? Yeah, I don’t know. It’s one of those hard kind of deals, like, I do wish I’d had more experience with a bigger world earlier. I went to a fairly- I’m from an extremely rural area in Pennsylvania and I ended up going to a school that I loved. It was a good school and I had a good time there and made a lot of great friends, but it was still a fairly small school. I’d’ve been better off to have gone somewhere out of my comfort zone then. On the other hand, I am really happy with my life now and everything I’ve done is where it got me here, so it’s hard to, like, pinpoint, y’know, you don’t want the butterfly effect to fuck everything up, so it’s hard to say.
Truly the answer of a Sci-Fi writer.
And so just, last thing is, obviously, we’re going to see more Green Lantern: New Guardians and, Dead Body Road is –
Dead Body Road will be finished next month.
I’ve got a new book from Image called Spread that starts in July that’s an ongoing series. My elevator pitch for that is a lone wolf cub in a world where John Carpenter’s The Thing ate North America. So, if you like badasses, babies, and monsters, it’s probably the book for you. And then I’ve got a Crossed arc starting at Avatar starting in July as well. Or August. One of those two. And then I’ve got some more creator-owned stuff coming down the pipe, so I’m busy.
Well, congratulations on all of that.
And thanks for talking to us.
Yeah, no problem. Thanks, dude.