Geoff Johns is now in a very select club: Alongside the “Batman” creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, he’s the only creator that’s remained constant on a series — in his case, “Justice League” — since the dawn of The New 52 in September 2011, into the forthcoming June 2015 facelift that discards the prior branding, and launches 24 tonally distinct new series alongside 25 continuing books. And though the writer and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer now has only one monthly series on his docket — a small number by his standards — wants to make it clear that he’s got a lot of story left to tell in DC’s flagship team book.
June sees the first chapter of “Darkseid War” in June’s “Justice League” #41, with the titular conflict erupting between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, likely the two most formidable forces in the DC Universe. Though it’s big-time action on a widescreen scale, Johns is quick to make clear that it’s also a very personal story, especially for one League member in particular — though he’s not sharing the identity of that character quite yet. “Justice League” #40, scheduled for release in April, is set to serve as a prologue to “Darkseid War,” with DC’s Free Comic Book Day offering featuring a subsequent eight-page prelude.
CBR News spoke with Johns and series artist Jason Fabok last month during a press event at DC’s Burbank headquarters, discussing how while the publisher may be avoiding line-wide crossovers for a while, “Justice League” scratches a similar itch — within the confines of a single series. Additionally, Johns gives his thoughts on DC’s attention-getting new launches from his perspective as Chief Creative Officer — and addresses why he’s down to one ongoing series a month.
CBR News: The “Darkseid War” storyline has been building for a while — are things starting right in June with all the new stuff happening at DC?
Geoff Johns: Yeah. “Darkseid War” is a huge story, so it takes up a lot of time. Our first issue is 40 pages long, in June. We really want to kick it off with a bang. We’re putting everything we have into it, but it starts in Free Comic Book Day, I’d say. Issue #40 sets some of it up, and then Free Comic Book Day is kind of the revelation of what it’s really about.
Jason Fabok: I think both books are going to have people really talking and speculating, then we’re going to give them a nice, long wait, as “Convergence” goes on. There will be lots of questioning of where we’re going with this, but there’s going to be some pretty cool payoffs ahead with this whole thing.
Johns: I’m really excited about it, because I think everything’s lined up. The fact that, on the surface, it looks like it’s just a war between the two biggest villains ever — it’s about much more than that. It’s a much more personal story to the League, and one of the members in particular, that we’re going to reveal. It should be a lot of fun.
I’m curious to hear more about the scale of it. It sounds like, at least for the time being, readers are not going to see a big, line-wide event at DC. But this sounds like that kind of story, but based within the pages of “Justice League.” Is that fair to say?
Johns: I think that’s definitely fair to say. Our goal is to make this the biggest possible story. But again, it’s got to resonate personally with the characters. If we just do big explosions, it’s hollow to me. It’s going to affect the status quo of the team, affect many of the characters on the team, there will be some big changes on the team, and hopefully the adventure will be really intriguing and revelatory. We’re introducing a lot of new characters and a lot of new ideas.
Fabok: We want it to feel like that huge event that you pick up and you’re just swallowed up by.
Johns: A universe-spanning event in one book.
Jason, you’ve been on “Justice League” for a few months now. What’s it been like getting involved on a book like this? There are a lot of characters, and it sounds like more are coming in — though you’re used to high-profile work at DC, given your time on the Batman books.
Fabok: I was kind of thrown into it, the deadlines were tight. We slowly ramped things up with “Amazo Virus.” Because it was kind of smaller, and more contained to a few characters, it allowed me to ease my way into this whole thing of a team book. Funny story — working on Batman, I always felt like that was the character and the universe I should always work on. At that time, I felt like, “It’s never really going to get better than this.” This is the character I’ve loved, this is the kind of drawing I like to do. I like to draw the dark, shadowy kind of stuff. But working on “Justice League” has opened my eyes to the universe of all of these different characters, and drawing different things, this big, colorful universe, instead of a dark greys and rainy universe. Now, it’s colors and brightness and superpowers, and over-the-top action. At the same time, we’re getting all this nice personal stuff in there, too, which is moving all these characters forward. I now believe that this is the kind of book I was always meant to draw — not the Batman stuff. This is the book that I was meant to work on.
When I realized that, it totally changed my mind; even the way I see comics, and the way that I want to work on comics from now on. It’s been really a fascinating change. Working on a team book is hard. It’s hard work. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s a lot of hours. A lot of dedication to a page that you know someone is going to take 15 seconds per panel on. But I want to put that time and effort into the book so that in 20 years, the book holds up, and some kid is reading it, and going, “Wow, look at this great storyline. Look at the artwork.”
The hard work and the effort that it takes to make a book like this is so worth it in the end. That feeling that you have at the end of the day when you’re exhausted, and you sit down with your wife, but you’re able to say to her, “Wow, I really accomplished a lot today.” It’s so rewarding. It’s a rewarding feeling. When you’re growing up you think, “Hard work, ugh. Who wants to work hard?” But it’s the most rewarding thing ever when you finish an issue that took you an entire month, and all you did was focus on that — when you finish that, there’s a sense of pride to that. It’s an amazing feeling. And I get to do that with the greatest writer in comics today. It’s just a mind-blowing dream. I feel so blessed beyond imagination to work on this.
So many of these new DC titles are reaching out to new audiences, reflecting shifts in the comic book readership. On one hand, “Justice League” is the book maybe most representative of classic DC. But on the other hand, it’s also one that could be very appealing to new readers, because it’s such a famous name, and stars characters everyone knows. Are you hoping to get some of those newer readers on this series?
Johns: The cool thing is that everybody knows these characters, but we like to shake it up. Everyone knows who Lex Luthor is, too. He’s on the team! Immediately, it becomes not just, “Oh, it’s an adventure about characters I already know,” it’s, “an adventure about characters I know, but Lex Luthor’s there. How’s that going to work?” Just like we introduced Mera in “Blackest Night,” and people are like, “Who is this?” and we made her into a character that people really responded to, we’re hoping to do that with other characters. Both old, classic characters like Mister Miracle, and new characters that we’re introducing, and new mythology.
Our Free Comic Book Day story is very accessible, you don’t have to know anything, because it’s all new stuff, it’s all new mythology, it’s all new characters. Same with issue #41. Although we use characters that exist, we’re moving forward. We’re introducing them in a very, hopefully, ground-level way. The book’s a lot of fun. Not only do we have high stakes, it’s a superhero book, Captain Cold’s funny, Lex Luthor’s funny — there’s certain humor in there. Batman’s funny. Shazam and Cyborg are a lot of fun. We don’t want to underestimate that as high as the stakes go, and as dark as it can get, and as threatening as everything is, it’s still a fun book to read.
“Justice League,” our goal right now in this new era, is nothing short of an event every month — but a very character-focused event. We don’t want just spectacle for spectacle’s sake, we want stories that will affect and change and evolve the characters and the team. I think it’ll be extremely clear when Free Comic Book Day hits exactly who we’re going to be focusing on.
Geoff, from your position as DC’s Chief Creative Officer, what has you most excited about the infusion of new talent and new series debuting in June?
Johns: I think just the fact that everything kind of has its place. Every book that I’ve ever loved growing up had its own niche, its own role, its own tone, its own state of being. That’s what I think is great — the freedom for everybody, and just speaking selfishly, for Jay and myself, the freedom for us to do our book the exact way we want to do it. The freedom for us to tell a story like “Darkseid War,” but make it a very personal story. Our story in Free Comic Book Day is a short story, but it’s probably one of the most personal stories that will affect a League member since I’ve started the book.
And that’s our goal, really. To be able to tell stories that are going to take some risks. One of the things we’re doing is revealing some mythology that hopefully feels very organic, that it’s always been there, but you’ve never known about. And that’s going to kick off our war between the two most powerful evil forces in the DCU.
I just think the creative freedom and the variety of tones and voices, and everyone gets to do what they believe in — as a creator, you can’t ask for anything better. You’re going to get the best books out of that.
As we discussed, you’re remaining on “Justice League,” but that’s only one Geoff Johns-written DC comic monthly — I think that might be the first time that’s happened since maybe the first “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.” issue came out in 1999?
Johns: I’ve got another project coming out — “Batman: Earth One” is coming out in May. I’ve got some other things lined up, they just haven’t been announced yet.
Time has to be an issue, with so much going in DC’s TV and movie slate.
Johns: We’ve got all these TV shows going; I’m shooting a couple new pilots this year, doing some more writing on the shows, obviously. Now our film slate’s kicking off in a very, very big way. We’re prepping “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Batman v Superman” is in post. It’s been incredibly, incredibly busy. That all being said, I love my job, I love what I do, I was put on this Earth, I think, to work with DC characters in some fashion, because I love them in every way. The idea that I can get them out there in as many forms as possible is my only goal. If people love the Suicide Squad or Flash as much as I do, or they find a new love for them, and it inspires future creators, that’s all I really want. I think spreading the gospel of DC is incredibly rewarding.
All that said, I love comics. I think it’s still one of the most pure forms of creation. You’ve got a writer, an artist, an editor and a book. There’s very few people involved in the creation of a comic book. It’s a very pure form of creative expression, and I love it. But I’ll be continuing “Justice League,” and I’ve got a new project coming up, that we just have not announced yet.
“Justice League” #41, the first chapter of “Darkseid War,” is scheduled for release on June 17.