Good People Trying Hard – Michael Northrop Talks ‘Dear Justice League’
by James Ferguson
It’s hard to put into words how popular Dear Justice League from DC Kids is in my house. Both of my children love it, particularly my 4 year old. We’ve read it dozens of times so far, so when I got a chance to speak with writer Michael Northrop about the book, I jumped at the opportunity.
Does Superman ever make mistakes? What was Wonder Woman’s eleventh birthday like? Does Aquaman smell like fish? In this new middle-grade graphic novel, iconic heroes are asked questions both big and small, and when they are not busy saving the world, the Justice League even finds time to respond. Their honest and humorous answers will surprise and delight readers of any age, as it turns out that being a superhero is not too different from being a kid.
James Ferguson: How did you decide which characters to feature from the Justice League? There’s a pretty varied cast to choose from.
Michael Northrop: It is and it isn’t. If you’re going to do a Justice League story, some of it is non-negotiable. If you hand in a Justice League book without Superman, they’ll tell you to get out. We knew we had the core trinity and then we nibbled at the edges a little. For example, a really hard call was Martian Manhunter, who I love and would be really fun for [artist] Gustavo Duarte because he has such an elastic style. A shape shifter would be so perfect. I wanted that younger teen Hawkgirl energy. She’s so key to the book with her interactions, decisions, mistakes, and her willingness to own up to it. She’s probably the least known character in there, but one of the most important in terms of the team dynamic.
Green Lantern is the fourth unofficial member of the trinity. With Simon, we wanted more of a youthful, free-spirited energy. While the characters are there separately, it’s also a team book, so what does each one bring to the team? There’s a lot of serious adults with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They’re very responsible and upright. Hal Jordan would have been very similar. It was a team-building exercise. [Laughs]
In addition to the different versions of the characters, their design was so important. For example, there are a lot of ways you can go with Aquaman. Gustavo was central to this in the character sketch phase. He came up with an Aquaman who is essentially a sailor on shore leave. He needs a shave and maybe some shampoo.
JF: Dear Justice League features a mix between super hero adventures and elements seemingly pulled from every day life, like throwing up at a kid’s birthday party. How did you decide on the balance between them?
MN: First of all, no comment on the vomiting at a party. [Laughs] Antics is a good word for it. One idea I had with this book was to make these larger than life characters more human and relatable. A great way to do that is to show they’re fallible in some way. These are fairly gentle flaws. I’m not trying to tear these characters down. They’re maybe a little over confident or vain. These are things kids will recognize either in themselves or in their friends. At the same time, they’re essentially just good people trying hard. You can’t do that without the possibility of failure. Otherwise, why try? Something like eating too much cake is easy to relate to. If you can’t, I don’t trust you.
JF: There are plans for a follow up with Dear Super Villains. I know that’s still a ways off, but can you tease anything going into that?
MN: It’s a similar idea with kids writing to villains in this case, but it’s a very different book in a lot of ways. Instead of fallible good people trying hard, these are not necessarily the greatest people. You can still have them messing up, making bad decisions, and showing the consequences. They give horrible advice that even the kids realize is bad.
The energy has to be different. There are less bright blues and yellows and more purples and greens. A small example is the kids in Dear Justice League give their full names when they’re writing, but the kids in Dear Super Villains might use just their first name and last initial. They’re keeping these characters at a distance. Instead of earnest sharing, it’s more of a curiosity. It’s a kind of walk on the wild side.
Dear Justice League is currently available at your local comic shop, book store, and Amazon. Dear Super Villains is scheduled for release in 2020. Comicon would like to thank Michael Northrop for taking the time to speak with us.