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Geoff Johns’ post-promotion charm offensive

by  in Comic News Comment

It’s tough reading the tea leaves when it comes to the actions of DC’s new management team. Aside from the customary reassuring department meetings, high-level powwows (with the likes of writer Grant Morrison and WildStorm Vice President-General Manager Hank Kanalz) and renewed sense of energy reported in the hallways of 1700 Broadway, the immediate impact of the advancement of Co-Publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has been difficult to gauge.

But this being 2010 and all, there’s always Twitter to consult. And in Johns’ feed, at least, we can see some evidence of fence-mending with a couple of creators who’ve left DC and its imprints for presumably greener pastures.

On Monday, Johns wished The Losers and Green Arrow: Year One writer Andy Diggle a happy birthday, tweeting “Still miss your writing at DC… :)” (Yes, complete with smiley-face emoticon.) Diggle, currently a Marvel-exclusive creator, has described leaving DC after coming to feel he was an uncomfortable fit in both its superhero and Vertigo lines. He also took to his own Twitter account a few months back to express his frustration with the unavailability of DC/Vertigo’s Losers collections. Obviously it’s in everyone’s best interests to get along, what with the high-profile movie adaptation of Diggle and Jock’s The Losers on the way — Jim Lee promoted a recent signing by the team on his own Twitter, for example — but still, that’s a fairly explicit overture.

Yesterday, Johns tweeted this in advance of a meeting with WildStorm: “They’ve done some of the best comics in the last decade — many by @WarrenEllis. Have much to discuss! :)” (What can I say, the man likes his emoticons.) Ellis has long had a stormy relationship with DC; in recent years he decamped almost entirely for Marvel (with whom he signed an exclusive work-for-hire contract) and Avatar (home of most of his creator-owned projects), while his WildStorm stragglers Planetary and Desolation Jones experienced a famously long delay and indefinite hiatus, respectively. Lately he’s been characteristically blunt about the current state of the company, referring to Johns’ writing style as “wall-to-wall evisceration corpseoramavision … Yelling, shrieking, squirting hysteria” (in all fairness, that could be what a Warren Ellis compliment looks like — it was his way of linking Johns’ work to Stan Lee’s, for what it’s worth), comparing the new management team to the unfavorably remembered “group editor-in-chief” power-sharing regime at Marvel in the mid-’90s, and noting “Jim Lee hasn’t created a new property since 1997, [and] I think Geoff Johns has only one created property in his oeuvre” by way of predicting DC’s future as one of management of existing characters and concepts rather than creation of new ones. That said, he did speak well of Lee and Johns personally and wish the new team well.

Ellis and Diggle are just two from a long list of major DC creators who’ve taken their corporate-superhero business to Marvel during the past few years of the Levitz/DiDio and Buckley/Quesada reigns, including Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, Jason Aaron, Jeph Loeb, Mike Carey, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Pacheco, Phil Jimenez, Abnett & Lanning, Simone Bianchi, Daniel Acuña and most likely a few others I’m forgetting. The reverse commute has been comparatively rare. Its highest-profile example is J. Michael Straczynski, whose initial DC projects, The Brave & the Bold and the Red Circle books, haven’t exactly set the world on fire, though Superman: Earth One looks promising. Longtime Marvel artist David Finch, meanwhile, kicked off his DC-exclusive tenure with a much-talked-about Brightest Day cover, so that’s a step in the right direction.

It’s with all that in mind that I’ve been viewing Johns’ and Lee’s promotions. Both are creators first and foremost, not unlike Marvel’s Joe Quesada; in speaking with Marvel talent over the years, I’ve lost track of the number who’ve pointed to Quesada’s background as a writer and artist as a primary ingredient of the creative environment they find appealing at the House of Ideas. What’s more, both are serious Nicest Guy in Comics contenders, as their ever-chipper Twitter feeds can attest. It wouldn’t surprise me if wooing talent — both those who’ve left the fold, like Diggle and Ellis, and brand newbies — was a major part of their new gigs’ respective remits.