"Smallville: Absolute Justice" airs tonight (February 5), featuring the live-action debut of several members of the Justice Society of America. Written by comics veteran Geoff Johns, the two-hour special introduces Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and Star Girl (among others) to the long-running series' cast of flesh-and-blood DC heroes.
MTV News caught up with Johns for an extended chat about "Absolute Justice," including the characters making the jump from comics to screen, the decisions that went into the show's lineup and costumes, and the fan-friendly nods you'll find to the greater DC Universe.
MTV NEWS: You're certainly familiar with the process of taking existing characters and freshening them up for a new audience, but I have to ask: why the Justice Society of America? Whose idea was it to bring the JSA into Smallville?
GEOFF JOHNS: I did episodes for them last season with Legion and they went over really well and they were happy with it, so I had lunch with the showrunners, and they said, "Hey, do you want to do another episode? Do you have any ideas?"
I thought the Justice Society of America would be really interesting to play against the characters. I did the team from the future, so how about a team from the past? They really liked the idea, and liked the idea of Hawkman quite a bit, so we chatted about what the story would be and they signed on pretty quick.
MTV: From what we've seen thus far, it looks like the regular cast of "Smallville" end in both an adversarial relationship with the Justice Society, but are also helped out in some fashion. How do you characterize the relationship between the "Smallville" crew and the Justice Society?
JOHNS: Well, it’s tenuous at first. They don’t know who these guys are, and because of the circumstances of the story, they’re led to believe a few things that aren’t exactly true about them. So, it starts off tense. And it remains tense with Hawkman and some of the other characters for most of the show.
MTV: Hawkman tends to have that effect on people.
JOHNS: [Laughs] He does. He has that effect on just about everybody, though Clark’s not intimidated by him.
MTV: Hawkman can fly, but for the most part, he’s a guy in a costume. With Dr. Fate, however, there’s also this entirely different aspect of the character that's relatively new to "Smallville." The series has been touching on the whole nature of magic in that universe, but with Dr. Fate there’s suddenly a big magic user in the mix. How did you approach bringing him and his magic-based abilities into the "Smallville" universe?
JOHNS: He was actually the most fun, because in the comic books Kent Nelson hasn’t had a whole lot of stories — modern day stories — told about him. So he’s more of a blank slate than the other two. They did the Zatanna episode last season, so magic had already been introduced in the show. But with Dr. Fate, bringing him in and working with the magic was actually... It was fairly straightforward, really. He’s a guy with a helmet that’s inhabited by a mystical spirit that guides him to protect the world from supernatural evil or whatever he’s going to run across.
MTV: When you were deciding which JSA characters to bring into the episode, what were some of requirements? What went into the decision? Please tell me you stood around a table filled with photographs of each character and discussed them one by one...
JOHNS: [Laughs] It was pretty easy, because I knew right away it was going to be Hawkman as the leader and the guy who once led this great team. He'd since retired and gotten out of the superhero business, so to speak, but he was always front and center. He was going to have a very kind of gruff attitude, as he does in the comics.
Having Green Arrow there with his attitude and what he’s gone through in the show, which is a similar attitude in the comics, that was very easy. Right away I knew that and I wanted to have a legacy character to represent where the JSA was going to go next. There was no question it was going to be Star Girl.
I wanted one other character that was going to be an example of how far some of these heroes had fallen. It won’t be very clear until you see what’s happened to Kent Nelson and Dr. Fate. There was discussion about Wildcat, but it felt like Wildcat was a little too gruff, like Hawkman, to be one of the main characters. So we just kind of went through it and Dr. Fate has that great visual — that gold helmet with the eyes glowing behind it— I love it. So he was up there pretty fast.
It really wasn’t that difficult. It didn’t take days to figure out who were going to be the members we were going to use. It fell into place pretty quick.
MTV: In the "Absolute Justice" trailer, I saw some callouts to Sandman and a few other characters — Jay Garrick’s silver Flash helmet, etc. In terms of other little Easter Eggs, who and what can we look forward to seeing? Are we going to see anything from one of my favorite characters, Hourman?
MTV: Excellent. Are there any other Easter Eggs that you want fans to keep an eye out for?
JOHNS: There’s about four dozen. Honestly, it’s that extensive. I went to great lengths in the script to enrich the universe and the concept of the Justice Society. It’s a society, so it’s got to mean something big. It can’t just be a couple guys who used to hang out. And the production people up there went crazy on this thing. They created more props and they research more comic book lore than they ever had before by quite a big margin. So, it’s a lot of fun.
Literally, there’s more Easter Eggs than I could list right now. And a lot of them aren’t just Easter Eggs, they’re just pieces of the story.
MTV: So now you have to tell me how many of these props you took home with you...
JOHNS: [Laughs] None right now... although actually, I do have the painting.
MTV: The painting of the JSA that we see in the trailer? Very nice.
JOHNS: Yeah, I have to figure out where to hang that now.
MTV: You’re going to end up with Jay Garrick’s helmet too, aren’t you?
JOHNS: [Laughs] I’d like that. That would be cool. Actually, I want [Star Girl's] cosmic rod — but I’d give it to my parents. I think they would really like that. But the painting, I think I’m probably going to hang that up in my comic shop.
MTV: You mentioned Star Girl, so I have to ask: what was it liek to see this character that you've nurtured since its infancy brought to life on the screen? I know that's a character you're particularly close to, so it must have been a huge thrill.
JOHNS: It was great. ["Smallville" showrunners] Brian [Peterson] and Kelly [Souders] were so inclusive on this, so I was involved in the casting and the costumes — particularly with Star Girl. The initial pass was a little more "Smallville" ... they initially wanted her in high heels and so on, and it just didn’t quite fit for the character. So we had a big discussion about the character. She’s a fun character. She’s cute. She’s not really sexy — she’s a little young for that.
But she’s just a fun character, so we went through the costume and at the end of the day they made her a costume directly from the comics, and it translates pretty well — especially in action. When you see it, it’s just terrific. The feeling of seeing that and watching her come to life, it’s pretty great. It’s terrific.
MTV: You're in a great place to really understand the difference between the universe of "Smallville" and the comics side of the DC Universe. Does it require a different approach to wrap your head around the characters in "Smallville" and their motivations and those of their comic book counterparts? How do you shift gears when you’re going back and forth between them?
JOHNS: Ironically, in this case, Hawkman is Hawkman, and Star Girl is Star Girl... and Dr. Fate’s slightly different, but you’ll see what I mean by that when you see it. He's slightly different from the Dr. Fate you know in the comics, but they’re the same characters.
Writing Green Arrow [in "Smallville"] to me was just like writing Green Arrow in the comic books, though I haven’t done it much. He’s just a little younger, and more inexperienced. And the same goes for Clark Kent and Lois Lane. It wasn’t that different. Although "Smallvill" has strayed from the mythology and kind of done its own completely new spin in the past, throughout the last two seasons it’s gotten more and more in line with the comic book mythology and the characters. To be honest, the only difference for me was budget and time.
MTV: Still, the parallel seems especially unique for you, since you’re also writing the "Secret Origins: Superman" comics. You’re basically working on two origin stories for Superman simultaneously.
JOHNS: Yeah, I guess so. I look at this two-hour "Smallville" TV movie as the origin of the modern day Justice Society of America. That’s really what it is. It definitely puts Clark in a different mindset, as well as Green Arrow, and Martian Manhunter. Quite frankly, the whole Justice League is in a different mindset from where they started, but essentially it’s more of an origin of them and of what the JSA will mean today... and going forward.
Again, much like the comic books. I wanted to introduce the characters. If we’re trying to introduce our characters from off the comic book page into a bigger audience, there’s a reason Hawkman’s appealed to people for 50-60 years. You want to keep that alive. You want to keep who he is alive. And you want to translate that out to the audience, because otherwise what’s the point of adapting it? You might as well create something new. The same goes for Star Girl and Dr. Fate and everybody else.
"Smallville: Absolute Justice" airs tonight (February 5) at 8 PM EST on The CW. Keep it locked to Splash Page for a full review of "Absolute Justice" after it airs.