At “Greenest Night,” a celebration of the career of “Green Lantern” writer Geoff Johns co-hosted by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Comic Book Resources, with proceeds from the evening going to the CBLDF, fans and industry professionals gathered at the Avalon Bardot Theater in Hollywood, CA to look back on Johns’ epic run on the DC Comics series. The evening saw Johns and others reminisce on the past nine-years, a stretch that began with the re-introduction of a ring-wielding Hal Jordan, offered up a new take on classic GL villain Sinestro and introduced the world to the concept of different-hued Lantern Corps.
The night began with keynote speaker Jeph Loeb taking to the stage to speak briefly about his friendship with Johns and their time working together in their studio, Empathic Magic Treehouse.
“He would come in and say, ‘I’m going to write fourteen pages of “Green Lantern” and eleven pages of Hawkman,” and I’d say, ‘Where do you want to eat for breakfast?'” Loeb recalled to laughter and audience applause.
Introducing the man of the hour, Loeb ceded the stage to Johns and Comic Book Resources Executive Producer Jonah Weiland. The two settled in quickly to talk about the last decade, starting with Johns’ recollection of the announcement that he would be raising Hal Jordan from the dead.
“Back then, bringing back Hal Jordan was considered a risky move. It sounds pretty weird now, but people were like, ‘Why are you going to do that?'” Johns said, repeating a refrain he said he heard time and again. “I heard the same thing when I did ‘Teen Titans,’ people saying, ‘This is going to get cancelled in six months. Why are you going to waste your time on Teen Titans? Why are you going to waste your time on ‘JSA?'”
“I think I’ve heard that all my career!” Johns continued with a laugh. “I love Batman, Superman — but people love Batman and Superman already. I really like taking [on]characters people underestimate, and Green Lantern is, or was, top of the list for me.”
Labeling Johns “Doctor Superhero,” Weiland asked for the writer’s thoughts on how, despite the amount of skepticism his choices have inspired, he’s managed to succeed in popularizing characters people felt were unsalvageable over and over again.
“I love every character in DC — except for Rampage,” Johns admitted, surprising the audience into laughter. “For those of you who know Rampage, she’s a She-Hulk rip-off — and I like She-Hulk!
“I’ve always been attracted to the characters I didn’t know anything about,” Johns continued. “I don’t know — I think if you do anything in life with passion and care and love, you’re going to do well. We don’t hit homeruns every time, but there’s no character at DC I wouldn’t [take on] — if they said Metamorpho? Sure. Metal Men? Sure.”
Shifting from “what if” scenarios to his very real final “Green Lantern” issue, Johns joked that the number one thing on his mind while crafting his coda was the thought, “This better be good!”
“I had lots of mixed emotions. I was just really emotional writing it,” Johns confessed. “Especially the last ten or twelve pages, I actually wrote those first, and those were the hardest to write.
“I wanted to send these characters off in a positive way. ‘All will be well’ is something I actually live by, now. All will be well at the end of the day, so I wanted people to read that issue and walk away from it fulfilled and excited. It is a little sad, but also happy they were on this journey with us for nine years.”
He then added with a laugh, “Whereas the last issue of ‘Booster Gold’ I was like, I am done! Godspeed, Booster Gold!”
Difficult decisions are rarely made at the last minute, and Johns’ departure from the Corps was no different. According to the writer, the decision to end his run actually began around issue #3 or #4 of the New 52-relaunched “Green Lantern.”
“It was probably that first arc where I knew where Hal and Sinestro were going to end up. I felt like once they were on opposite sides again, that was time to go. I didn’t want to write another confrontation with them; he brings the Sinestro Corps back again, they fight again, the Guardians are still assholes,” Johns said, the audience laughing loudly.
“This whole run has been about Hal and Sinestro and that bizarre friendship, and once I knew it was going to get to a point where it broke again, but there was an acknowledgement of it, which we had never done before. My favorite line is when Sinestro calls Jordan ‘Hal.’ It’s the first time he’s ever called him by his first name. In that moment, that’s the end.”
As for how DC Comics took the news, Johns said there were two basic reactions. “The first was, ‘No! Oh, my God!’ The second one was, ‘Dude, you’re late.”
Touching on an a recent CBR interview where he cited Hal’s journey for self-awareness as what interested him in the book initially, Johns joked that the number one thing he learned about himself through his near-decade writing the character was, “I’m very screwed up!”
“It might sound goofy, but I prescribe to the idea that emotions have power because we’re all driven by something,” Johns continued, saying that the idea of emotions and the emotional Corps remains dear to him. “I think we project positive [or] negative emotion on people and situations. For me, it was about recognizing your self-awareness a little bit more — the more we self-analyze ourselves, the nicer we are to others and ourselves and the more we understand each other.”
At one point, the conversation between shifted temporarily to Johns’ time working for “Superman” director Richard Donner, a man Johns labeled as one of the “most important” people in his life. Speaking to the director’s generosity, Johns recalled when, as Donner’s assistant, he had to take a Monday off in order to move into a new apartment.
After some initial grumbling, Donner told him, “‘We got to go to Best Buy, I got to get a present for my nephew. He’s graduating and I want to give him the best stereo system there is.’ We went to Best Buy and I said, this is probably too expensive, and he said, it’s fine. We bought it and as we’re checking out he said, ‘Happy birthday. Congratulations on your new apartment.
“It stuck with me how generous he was, with both his personal time and professional time. , I couldn’t ask for a better mentor in my life and it made me want to pass that on to other people.”
This recollection immediately brought up Johns’ most embarrassing moment which, thanks to Donner’s message to Johns in “Green Lantern” #20, is also his best documented — the time when Johns’ totaled Donner’s car. While he was still Donner’s assistant, Johns was driving into Gate 4 of the Warner Brothers lot. A semi hooked the bumper of Donner’s car, throwing Johns through an electrical box, a wall and into the WB parking lot, completely destroying the car.
“I remember lifting my big, giant mobile phone up and calling Dick and saying, ‘Hey, uh — I think I’m fired,'” Johns recalled as the audience roared. “He goes, ‘What car?’ I say, ‘The Suburban.’ ‘Oh — I got that for free.'”
“So, a couple of things are going through my head. One is, I’m alive and I still have a job; the other is, how the hell did he get a car for free?” Johns laughed.
Turning back to comics, Johns expounded on the idea that “Green Lantern’s” defining theme is about how we deal with fear.
“The best thing about Green Lantern — and this is for anyone who ever writes the character — fear is never going to be out of date. Dan DiDio said something really smart: Batman’s parents could die today or tomorrow, and he’s still relevant, Superman could land here 70 years ago or today, and he’s still relevant. Green Lantern, as long as he’s dealing with fear, is always going to be relevant.”
To that end, Johns pointed to the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers as a major influence on the book, both when it came to writing Hal and in the creation of new Arab-American Lantern, Simon Baz.
“‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ really grew out of 9/11. 9/11 happened, and two years later I’m writing about fear,” Johns explained. “It’s obviously connected. It affected everyone, in so many ways, and Simon was the next step to that. A lot of my family on my dad’s side are full-Arabic, and they’ve had to deal with a lot of things in the wake of 9/11. Just getting on a plane is a pain in the ass. I wanted to write something about cultural fear, so Simon grew out of that. I knew I was going to get some flak for it from certain groups. Some, personally, I think, racist reactions.”
Baz isn’t the first time Johns has dug deep into his personal life in the creation of a character. The death of his sister, who was killed when TWA Flight 800 crashed, inspired the creation of Courtney Whitmore, better known as Star Girl, a member of the new Justice League of America and, pre-New 52, a junior member of the JSA.
“In life, there’s a lot I’m afraid of. Death is always scary. My sister passed away, and I wasn’t scared to die so much as I was scared to not have her in my life. It took a long time for me to reconcile that.”
Lightening the mood, Weiland good-naturedly ribbed Johns about the writer’s late-night Tweets concerning his purchases of milk and cereal. Johns said that what he loved most about Twitter was how mundane things, like cereal, connects vast swaths of people.
“When 9/11 hit, everyone was feeling like we’re all together. I think comic book fans have the potential to feel like that too. In the wild…when you see someone else who likes comics, you connect with them on a very primal level.”
The on-stage portion of the evening ended with Weiland relaying a heartfelt story from the CBR forums detailing how Johns’ “Green Lantern” helped a Brazilian fan with cancer make it through treatment. The audience cheered and applauded as Weiland asked an emotional Johns to recite the Green Lantern oath.
“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power — Green Lantern’s light!” Johns recited to thunderous applause before exiting the stage to mingle with the crowd, shake hands and offer encouragement the fans who lined up to meet with him well into the night.