Writer Geoff Johns and artist David Finch‘s current DC Comics event miniseries “Forever Evil” is three chapters into its seven-part run, and it’s been an eventful few issues: The Justice League are trapped inside the Firestorm Matrix, and the Crime Syndicate — the League’s evil counterparts from Earth-3 — are running rampant, with misdeeds ranging from publicly revealing Nightwing’s secret identity to Ultraman moving the moon to create an eclipse.
With nearly all of DC’s marquee heroes indisposed, Superman’s perennial archnemesis Lex Luthor — joined by Black Manta, Black Adam, Captain Cold and Bizarro — has taken it upon himself to confront the growing calamity caused by the Crime Syndicate, meaning the fate of the DC Universe appears to be in the hands of the some of the biggest bad guys around.
With “Forever Evil” #4 currently scheduled for release on Dec. 24, CBR News spoke with Johns about the story so far, writing Lex Luthor as an ersatz good guy, Nightwing’s role in the series, the nobility of Captain Cold and what series might be next up in the DC Entertainment chief creative officer’s busy schedule.
CBR News: Geoff, since “Forever Evil” is the first story of this scale in the New 52 era, obviously DC hasn’t done a story this big in a while — tie-in miniseries and all of that — and you haven’t written a story like this in a while. What’s it been like getting back into the big event mindset?
Geoff Johns: It’s been great. It’s really still a story that’s focused on character. It’s focused on Lex Luthor and the various villains that are in there. Although it’s a big, big story, it still has a very clear center for me.
I love writing these villains. I haven’t had the opportunities to explore the relationships between Lex and Black Adam, and Captain Cold, Bizarro, Black Manta. It gives me an opportunity to put a lot of the characters I’ve worked on over the years together, and find out what happens. The whole goal of the series really was to turn everything upside down, and put the focus on the villains. What would have to happen to put them in a role where they were doing the right thing? And can they do the right thing? And how are they going to handle it differently than what the Justice League would do?
It’s a different story by its nature, but at the same time — and maybe it’s just a symptom of the fact DC hasn’t done a story like this in a few years — for me at least, reading it kind of feels similar to past DC events from the ’90s and earlier. Do you get a sense of that at all, that there’s a spiritual connection between “Forever Evil” and past DC events?
When you have all the characters together, you’re always going to get a spiritual echo from the former DC events. The DC events started with the “Crisis on Multiple Earths,” and traditionally an event is when you’d have two pieces of the multiverse collide — and obviously that’s at the center of this, too.
For me, it feels different because our leads are very different. Putting the focus on our villains makes it different than what we’ve seen before. But at the same time, I always like a little bit of an echo in my stories anyway. It’s all rooted in the same wonderful mythology — if there’s an echo, great.
Tonally, three issues into “Forever Evil,” things are looking pretty bleak, which makes sense as it’s a story that features almost all villains in the main roles, and it’s still the first act. But are you conscious of balancing that through the whole of the story, so it doesn’t seem as bleak throughout?
There’s a lot of fun to be had between Lex and Bizarro. There’s fun to be had between Batman and Catwoman, and when those characters collide. Some of the Syndicate members, as twisted as they are, they’ve been fun to write. Power Ring — trying to conceive a character that was everything that Green Lantern usually wasn’t, and amplifying that. There’s a mythology with his ring that we’re going to dive into that explores a very different look at what a Green Lantern could be — if it’s somebody that’s based on a weak will, and a weak sense of self. We see that with Power Ring and how he’s behaving, and we’ll see more of that as we reveal more about him, and the source of the ring.
By the end of #3, Luthor’s team of Bizarro, Captain Cold, Black Manta and Black Adam is together. How did that group take shape? They’re characters you’ve written extensively before, and also some of your personal favorites. Did it come together fairly naturally?
Yeah. They’re some of the very top villains of DC Comics. The goal for the story is, “How do you get us to root for the bad guys?” One of the lines I have that’s carried me through this is, “evil is relative.” I have a very strong belief that the characters are much more complex than the card they’re given, and the villains in particular. I’ve always really particularly enjoyed exploring villains of the DC Universe, because they are understandable. And the best kinds of villains obviously are relatable on a level that sometimes we don’t like to admit, but we enjoy tapping into. Particularly when it comes to Captain Cold, who has a very working class ethic, gets the job done, and is very loyal to the people he’s with. He’s very humble; he doesn’t have an ego like someone like the Joker would have. His aspirations are very grounded, and he has a very different viewpoint on the world.
When you contrast a character like Captain Cold with the Crime Syndicate — they all want something different. Some of them have similarities, but they’re all very, very different, and they’re very unpredictable, which I think makes them interesting to explore, as well — a character like Sinestro or Black Adam or Black Manta, putting them in a position where you’re cheering for them and you want them to win, because I think we all love these villains already. They handle things a lot differently than the Justice League, and that’ll become apparent when they take on the Syndicate directly.
Luthor is the lead character of the story, and though he’s been the lead character and protagonist before, what was he experience of writing that like for you? He’s in a position where you’re rooting for him, but he’s still Luthor. What’s the balance of getting that right?
He’s a villain I’ve written here and there. I love writing the character. He’s up there among the great characters in comic books — not just villains, but characters. This is really thrusting Luthor in the spotlight. Everything in the story is designed to challenge Luthor in a very different way. We’re unpeeling Luthor within the story, and there’s going to be more and more layers to him. We’ll learn some secrets he has in his past, we’ll learn some secrets for what’s going to take him to the future. He is the center of “Forever Evil,” there’s no doubt about that in my mind.
[“Forever Evil” editor] Brian Cunningham and [series artist] David Finch, who’s done an amazing job on the book — he’s built to draw villains — we talk a lot about Luthor. He’s the most important character in the whole series, and the series won’t work without him. I think he’s a very, very complex character; probably one of the more complex villains. He’s been a mad scientist, he’s been an evil businessman, but I think there’s so much more to him. We’ve seen some of that, and we’ll see more of that in “Forever Evil.”
Luthor to me is the ultimate supervillain in DC Comics. He’s the ultimate bad guy. If he’s going to take the center stage of this villain story, if it’s going to be about him and his journey and what he’s going to go through, everything’s designed to revolve around that. All the villains that he’s with are designed to showcase things about him. Although we have our favorites like Sinestro and Black Adam, they actually all reflect some element of Lex Luthor, and Luthor recognizes that. Even Bizarro has an element of Luthor within him.
Wanted to ask about another big character in the story — Nightwing, who hasn’t had a great time of it so far in “Forever Evil.” What motivated giving him such a big role in the series?
If you take the Justice League out, I think Nightwing is the top hero left to lead the others. Targeting him was what the Syndicate would do — in my head, it made sense for them to target him. There’s more coming up with what the emotional connection is between him and Owlman in “Justice League” #25 — Doug Mahnke did a beautiful job on the story. That’s going to reveal what interest Owlman has in Nightwing. And Nightwing will continue to be a center point in “Forever Evil,” too — don’t want to say much more than that, though.
“Forever Evil” has four issues left, and ends in March. Your “Aquaman” run ends in a week. Are we going to hear, maybe sometime in the new year, news of you taking on another series in addition to “Justice League”?
Yes. I have some more stuff coming up. I’m focused on wrapping up “Forever Evil” and I want to make “Justice League” the best it can possibly be, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that’s taking a lot of my time. I’m busy working on “The Flash” pilot, and “Arrow’s” still going strong. There’s obviously a lot of stuff brewing right now. Once we hit the new year, I don’t know when it’ll be talked about, but there’s another book coming.
“Forever Evil” #4 goes on sale December 24 from DC Comics.