Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. doing “Superman” together is a pretty big deal. It’s not hard to figure out why: It’s the artist that helped define Marvel Comics for the past 35 years moving to DC Comics for the first time, and teaming with one of DC’s most high-profile writers (and their Chief Creative Officer) on one of the most recognizable fictional characters in pop culture history.
So Johns and Romita’s stint on the main “Superman” series, starting this summer, is a newsworthy thing just by virtue of existing. Yet the pair (joined on the book by the legendary Klaus Janson on inks) sound determined not to coast on the book’s novelty: Both make it very clear that they’re looking to explore what’s “fresh and new” with the Man of Steel, and live up to the lofty expectations their teaming on the series brings.
CBR News spoke with both creators about their “Superman” plans, which include introducing a “damn exciting” new aspect to the 75-year-old character.
CBR News: Geoff, John, obviously this if the first time you’re working together, but had your paths crossed much before? Had you ever talked about the possibility before, or did you come to “Superman” pretty new to each other as collaborators?
Geoff Johns: I’ve been, obviously, a massive fan of John’s forever. I never thought the possibility would ever exist just because of the circumstances, but I always wanted to. John and I have said hello in the past, but I don’t there’s really been any serious conversations about us working together until now. I feel incredibly honored and privileged — it’s like a dream come true. It’s just a possibility I never thought would happen, so it’s really pretty amazing.
John Romita, Jr.: I can echo that with the same feelings — because I never thought this was going to happen, this makes this so much more fun.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ve always looked at the pictures, excuse the expression. I’ve always been a fan of artists, and I don’t read the dialogue as often as I should. I’m a fan of storytellers, and when the storytelling is good, it’s almost unnecessary to look at the dialogue. However, when I was told there was a chance I could work with Geoff, that’s when I started digging through his dialogue. I’ve said this once before — to me, the ultimate in writing, and the ultimate in dialogue, is when you can apply a casual conversation or an everyday conversation which is meaty, to a fantasy situation. I’ve read Geoff’s script for the first issue again — that’s what we have here. It’s that normalcy in the middle of fantasy. This goes back to when I first worked with Stan Lee, believe it or not. He said, the trick is to have a little bit of fantasy and a large amount of reality, in a balance. If you apply the reality to the fantasy and they merge beautifully, that’s when you have a great story, and that’s what Geoff’s scripts are.
So I’m excited about this. When you have casual conversations in the middle of these amazing goings-on, that’s the best thing about the comics industry, right there.
Johns: I’m really excited about this story because John and I talked about it quite a bit; we really know every beat of the story already, it’s just the execution and the re-establishing of all of the characters, and the scope of the power, both physically and emotionally. I couldn’t be more excited to be kicking this off, it’s awesome.
Romita: I’ll give you an example of why I’m a fan of Geoff’s, even more so after reading this script: As a writer, he asks for wide panels, interestingly enough. That’s not the first time it’s done, it’s just the frequency of it. I come from an era where movies play a major part in storytelling for me, so I like widescreen. Geoff asks for a lot of those images when he’s asking for a specific vignette. That to me, right there, I’m all in — I would prefer to do a whole book that way.
My storytelling bonafides go when I apply tall panels for shooting things up and down, so on, but the majority of time should be the peripheral vision shape of a panel. When you look, everything’s in widescreen. To me, that’s the way it should be in panel — the majority of it should be, even though you can’t always do that. When Geoff asks for a good amount of these panels, normally I’d say, “I’m an artist, don’t tell me how to draw panels.” But I appreciate that, because they apply to it. I’m going to give him more wide panels then he’s even asked for. I just got very happy about that, because sometimes writers will ask for specifics of images of scenes where the panel shapes that they ask for don’t make any sense.
Johns: You’re directing it, I’m screenwriting it. I so very, very rarely ever call out different shapes of panels.
Romita: But when you did, it was wide panels! I loved that. That, to me, means that we have a combination going on here that I’m enjoying.
Johns: The other thing that I love about widescreen panels is that it takes over your eye. It forces your eye to just focus on that panel in its entirety, and not look at panels to the side or next to it. You’re sucked into that panel right away, which is why I think they’re so important.
Romita: You get a great shot of something being large when you have the widescreen, and give you the opportunity to show the expansive background. For a character that’s all about power — the whole book should be done that way.
Johns: If they gave us 50 pages we could do it that way.
Given all of that, it sounds like there’s a real collaboration at work between the two of you, and you have been discussing and planning together quite a bit — would you say this is even more communication than typical based on your prior individual experience?
Romita: I can’t shut up, so I tend to talk too much with my writers in the first place. [Laughs] If you don’t talk this much, then you probably have a problem, unless the writer is dominating a young artist, and the writer will say, “Listen, I need you to follow me.” Interestingly enough, that happened when I was very young.
But when two guys are experienced and know exactly what they want, then it’s not so much the amount of conversation as much as getting to a little specific point of what makes it that much better. So I think we’re above level on that to start with.
Johns: I’m surprised when I hear that writers and artists don’t communicate. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, because it’s such a collaborative effort. I feel like there’s so much nuance and themes and ideas that get thrown around when you’re just kind of talking. I actually find it very strange when I hear that people don’t discuss what they’re working on, and they just send in a script or draw a script, and there’s no back and forth.
I tend to work with the same artists over and over. I’ve worked with Gary Frank for, I think, seven years, Ivan Reis for like eight. I tend to really stick with a couple of core artists because of that relationship. I find it incredibly important to be engaged in that, because that’s where the story really develops, and that’s when the comic book becomes a comic book. Until then it’s just a script and art. You need everyone on the same page, and there are ideas that organically grow out of conversation.
John and I have just begun this, but even in the short conversations we’ve had, new ideas pop up. When questions are raised, they add to the story. For me, it really expands it. If we both are on the same path, then we’re both going to create the best possible combination of our talents.
Romita: We’ll find things out about each other — he’ll find things out about me once the pencil is put to paper, and I think that’s wonderful. He’ll change on the fly, so to speak, because I’m changing on the fly depending on what I just read. He plays the visuals so beautifully in this script, it’s just wonderful. I hope you didn’t go out of your way here, but this is great. Once you see what I do, then you can go from there, and go in your direction. So this is a nice combination here.
Johns: I’m really happy you’re excited about the visuals and how it’s laying out. It’s actually really nice to hear about the widescreen stuff.
This is all stuff that we’re just learning about each other, this is early on. Writing a script like this — I know, John, as soon as you give me all those pencils, it’s going to affect how I approach the next one, and the next one, and the next one. I’m very familiar with your work, but only as a reader. As soon as you see what I’m doing, and I see what you’re doing, it’s just going to hopefully feed each other and create something really special.
There’s nothing less John and I want to create than a great, awesome Superman story. So the bar for both of us is incredibly high. We’re both pretty established, but we want to push it to the next level. We really want to create something big here.
John, you grew up in a Marvel Comics household, that’s not a secret, but given that, has Superman always meant something to you? Or at least been intriguing to you as an artist for a while?
Romita: Actually, the first things I saw as a kid were DC books, because my father worked for DC when I was very young. He brought home DC publications. When I would go to get my haircut at the local barbershop, there were DC comic books on the tables, so the first thing I experienced was the Metal Men. Believe it or not, I was a fan of Ross Andru’s Metal Men back in the day. Then it became a Marvel thing.
Doing Superman, in all brutal honesty? Never expected it. Everybody preferred, and I say everybody as “artists,” to do Batman, because of the moodiness and the drama and the visuals of Batman — the darkness. That’s what you consider. I think the decision, when I first met with [DC Comics co-publisher] Dan [DiDio] and when Geoff came over at breakfast that day in San Diego, I still hadn’t considered what character I wanted to do, until I realized I could apply an old storyline I liked with Superman. When Dan said, “There’s a possibility, that if Geoff could find some time” — and Geoff hadn’t gotten to the table just then. And then Geoff came over. And all of a sudden, it coalesced within a few minutes.
Until that moment, it was a storyline I had considered doing with Silver Surfer, and believe it or not, Harlan Ellison. This was about 10 years ago. And then the possibility with Doctor Strange. So until that moment, when I said to Dan DiDio, “I have an idea, I wouldn’t mind trying this on Superman…” and then Geoff walked over — until that moment, I hadn’t considered Superman. And then all of a sudden it blossomed from there. So it’s really a spur of the moment thing that grew, and now it’s really exciting.
Johns: The story’s dramatically evolved and altered. I don’t think any other character could tell this story now.
Romita: The idea that I had at that breakfast was quashed because you guys wanted to stay in continuity. But the point is, I still had a chance to work with Geoff, which was a nice additive.
This is in continuity, and it’s where I wanted to go with the character, although not the specific story. This is brilliant.
Johns: One thing I really love that we’re able to do is introduce new stuff. There are new characters and new concepts to this that we’re creating together, which is great.
Romita: In my head, as I’m reading it, I’m saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to try and design this, this is going to be cool.” I haven’t done the sketches for the new character, but I can’t wait. I have to do a cover sketch, and then I’m going to do that character design. Also, the other alien character that you asked for.
Geoff, you’ve written a lot of Superman in the past — you’ve very recently written Superman in the “Justice League,” and had a couple of stints on the solo books, pre-New 52. How different is this story for you, and what kinds of things are you getting to do that weren’t possible before?
Johns: I did some Superman stories obviously with “Action Comics” with Gary Frank which I really enjoyed quite a bit, but I never have gotten a chance to write [long term] on “Superman.” It’s all about — in a previous interview, John brought up the word — “unknown.” It’s become a thematic for all of this. This is unknown. We’re going into unknown territory, and that really, for me, is kind of thematic of what we’re exploring with Superman now.
John hit it on the head when he said, “This is all new to us.” We’re working together for the first time, John’s at DC monthly — which is a massive deal — so the story really reflects a lot of going into the unknown, and learning things about Superman that previously were undiscovered. There’s a lot of mystery to our story, there’s a lot of revelations to our story about our main character. Everything points back to Superman — it’s all about Superman. And that’s the key in any Superman story. Too often it takes Superman for granted and [doesn’t] make it about him emotionally, and where he is and what he’s after, and how he fits into the world. The fact that our story clearly is all about that, and is Superman’s story, and is tackling him on every conceivable level known and unknown — it’s fresh and new, and it’s unknown territory. We’re really not reintroducing classic villains, so to speak. We have a lot of classic elements in ours, and we have a lot of things that we’re going to polish up, but at the same time, we’re marching forward and new.
Romita: There’s a new aspect to the character that hasn’t been seen before, which is damn exciting.
Johns: When we get there, it’s going to be pretty crazy. We actually know that entire scene very specifically.
It definitely sounds like you have the first arc planned, but are you just doing one story together, or is the door open to keep it going past that?
Johns: You’ll see a couple stories set up in the first issue, actually. It’s a monthly book — we’re on it until we’re not on it. The goal is to commit to Superman right now, and really chart a new course for him — add things to him and his world, and explore him in ways that are both familiar and brand new. We’re talking about our first story, but there are a lot of specific things set up that could be explored.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more of what Johns and Romita have planned for DC Comics’ “Superman.”