The first full year of the New 52 has seen a lot of changes for DC Comics’ iconic characters, especially those regularly spotlighted in the publisher’s flagship series, “Justice League.” Under the guiding hand of writer and DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns, the newly-relaunched DCU has seen the formation of the “Justice League” (with artist and DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee) the de-ringing of Hal Jordan/re-Greening of Sinestro and creation of a brand-new Lantern in “Green Lantern” (with artist Doug Mahnke) and the transformation of Aquaman from DCU punchline to Justice League star.
Speaking with CBR News at NYCC, Johns confessed that while “Green Lantern” is currently at the start of the “Rise Of The Third Army” story arc and “Aquaman” will soon begin a crossover with “Justice League” that will shed light on the lost city of Atlantis in December, the recent bit of news that set fans buzzing the loudest was the reveal that Wonder Woman and Superman have begun dating, as famously revealed through Jim Lee’s a mid-air lip-lock. Though DC has “flirted” with pairing the two superheroes before, Johns said he took the plunge in “Justice League” for one reason: story.
“We have a story for it. As you saw in ‘Justice League’ #12, right now it’s just a kiss. Issue #13 follows up on that, and #14 goes further. We’re trying to let it really play out, and build to a storyline that kind of illustrates, if these two are together, how people view them. How does Batman view it, how does the team view it, what does it mean to them, their private lives, the villains, the world?” Johns said. “There’s a lot of ramifications to it, and whether they are compatible or not in the long run is the story.”
The relationship also tied into what Johns saw as the mission of the second year of “Justice League.”
“The first year was all about the mistakes and the egos, and the second year is all about becoming the Justice League and what that really means,” Johns said. “By the end of the second year, there will be some new members that come on board.”
The writer/CCO also said this shift was part of the rationale behind his upcoming “Aquaman”/”Justice League” crossover. “They really start to learn about each other through things like ‘Throne of Atlantis.’ They learn more about Aquaman and what he’s really about, and there’s a big Wonder Woman storyline focus coming up, and a Shazam one. We’ll see all the layers and the secrets about each other they don’t know. The second year is really testing the team in a way they haven’t been tested yet; each character will go through a pretty big personal revelation.”
While “Justice League” saw the departure of Lee as permanent artist with issue #12, issue #15 “Aquaman” sees the arrival of Ivan Reis as penciler. Reis is no stranger to the Justice League characters, as he is in the midst of drawing them for the upcoming “Aquaman” and “Justice League” crossover, a move that transitioned nicely into him taking on the team book.
“It just made sense,” Johns said. “Organically, I wanted to story to cross over with ‘Justice League,’ so this is as much a story about the ‘Justice League’ as it is about Aquaman. That’ll be evident in the issue.”
For his part, Reis laughed and told CBR that while fans shouldn’t expect to see him radically redesigning the costumes or changing Superman back to his red shorts, he does plan to put his own stylistic spin on the team.
“I’ll respect Jim Lee’s style, but I’ll try to make it work in my style. I’ll try to find a perfect way to make the costume work with what I do,” said with a laugh. “Of course, some things change a little, but I’ll try to follow the design by fixing some things to work with my style.”
Labeling his aesthetic as a very “traditional” superhero look, Reis pointed to his previous experience translating Lee’s designs into his pencil work as part of the New 52 launch. However, taking over on the interiors of “Justice League” has provided a different sort of challenge for the artist.
“I just started my first five pages, so what I did in the covers will be different from when I start the book,” Reis admitted. “As you know, I have a classical style. I have an old school style, and Jim [Lee] is very modern and dynamic. When you are doing a comic, you spend some pages, some books to understand the character and his customs, so I think I’ve discovered what I need to do to make it work with my style.
“I don’t know yet what to do but I’ll discover it!” Reis added with another chuckle.
The artist likened his turn on “Justice League” to the current “Aquaman” storyline “The Others,” wherein he drew a different super-powered team linked to both Atlantis and Aquaman’s past.
“‘The Others’ was a good opportunity to learn how to grow the Aquaman team before doing the Justice League. I don’t know if I’ll do Aquaman in the Justice League the same way, because the relationship he had with The Others was different than he had with the Justice League,” Reis said. “Normally, I find with arcs I don’t prepare things before I start to do them, I let things happen, I discover while drawing, so my Aquaman in ‘Justice League’ will be different than the Aquaman in his own book.”
Reis also feels the “Aquaman” and “Justice League” crossover provides a great transition point, saying he feels the strength of his work on “Aquaman” helped put him on the shortlist for filling Lee’s shoes.
“The crossover will be a great opportunity because the Aquaman story is not exactly Aquaman but part of the Aquaman universe — this crossover is the perfect point to start with this book. It’s more than a crossover…the number one is in ‘Justice League,’ the second part on ‘Aquaman,’ the third in ‘Justice League,'” Reis said. “[Geoff] thought, ‘OK, if Ivan is going to work with ‘Justice League,’ this crossover would be the perfect point to make the transition.'”
Speaking more in-depth about the crossover, which begins in issues #15 of “Aquaman” and “Justice League,” Johns revealed there is more than meets the eye with regard to both Atlantis and Ocean Master, a major player in the upcoming arc.
“Atlantis and what they are is nothing like anything anyone expects — it’s not just an army underwater . They have a particular viewpoint, and they don’t just want to attack. It’s much more complex than that,” Johns said. “Ocean Master, [Arthur’s] brother, who’s leading Atlantis right now, who’s king of Atlantis, has a very different view. He doesn’t want to come up here. He has no interest in the surface world, he just feel like it’s forced his hand…the storyline really explores a lot of different themes going on in ‘Justice League,’ too.”
Connecting all the dots, from the first issue to now, Johns stated that the Trench is also involved in the ongoing struggle. “They actually come back and play a role as well. You learn about where they’re from, what they are. We started to lay the groundwork for this in ‘Aquaman’ #1, so everything we talked about is coming into play in this story.”
While “Justice League” and “Aquaman” continue to take up a good portion of Johns’ writing time, he is also still penning “Green Lantern,” which, as of the #0 issue, has transferred its focus from Hal Jordan to brand new human Lantern Simon Baz.
“It’s like, when a new Green Lantern is introduced, it’s at the worst possible time. Right? It’s at the worst time!” Johns laughed. “This guy, Simon, he doesn’t know anything about the Green Lantern Corps. He doesn’t know anything beyond what the public really knows, that there’s a couple of them and they have rings and they fly around. So while the other books are going to tackle this epic space drama, ‘Green Lantern’ is focused on this new character and him exploring why there needs to be a Green Lantern and redefining what that is, what overcoming fear is.”
For Johns, Baz represents new eyes on the Green Lantern world. “He’s facing a very different kind of fear and a very different kind of world than Kyle Rayner or Hal Jordan or anybody’s faced. His story is very personal and it leads him into this epic space battle that he’s unprepared for,” Johns said, pointing to Baz’s inclusion in the “Third Army” storyline that sees the Guardians of Oa attempt to wipe out all of the Lantern Corps and start over.
Of Lebanese descent himself, Johns also pointed out that Baz was not only an outsider as a rookie Lantern but as an Arabic man living in the modern world, his branding as a terrorist and issues he works through mirroring issues and attitudes in the real world.
“I think it’s been pretty clearly coming from my heritage. In a weird way, ‘Green Lantern’ #0 came out before it became a bigger issue again, and there was a few people saying, ‘This feels like an old issue.’ It’s not an old issue, it’s an issue of reality. It’s been an issue for centuries, hundreds and hundreds of years, it was just not at the top of the news cycle. It’s something worth exploring.
“Whether he’s Arabic or Muslim or whatever there’s over a billion and a half Muslims in the world. That’s a lot of people,” Johns said. “I met a kid today who said, ‘Thank you for this character; it’s nice to have somebody that I can see myself in.’ That’s what diversifying is about, really exploring that. I just think Simon and the theme of overcoming fear, what that means, what that is in our society, it just fits perfectly for [‘Green Lantern’]. I’m really proud of the character.”
Of course, one of the biggest news items to hit in late 2012 is Johns helming a second “Justice League” title: “Justice League Of America” with artist David Finch. Announced in August, the team is comprised of Catwoman, Martian Manhunter, Katana, Green Arrow, Stargirl, Hawkman and, Johns enthusiastically told CBR, a character he spoke about revitalizing earlier this year.
“You’ll see Vibe in ‘Justice League Of America’ issue #1!” Johns said with a grin. “I love taking the characters that nobody likes, like Aquaman, or nobody expects anything from and polishing them up and saying, ‘There’s something here.'”
While he remained quiet on details about the comic, Johns did tell readers to prepare for Vibe and his fellow team members to be big deals in the DCU in 2013. “[Vibe’s] a member of that team. He doesn’t know why the hell they picked him, but Vibe is a pretty big player in 2013 and beyond, actually. We have a lot of plans for Vibe. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Simon Baz’s role in “Third Army” continues with “Green Lantern” #14 out November 7; “Aquaman” wraps “The Others” storyline in issue #14 out November 28; Wonder Woman and Superman explore their relationship further with “Justice League” #14 out November 21; and “Justice League Of America” begins early 2013.