DC Comics writer and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has spent the past fourteen years of his career revitalizing Silver and Golden Age characters such as Aquaman, Flash, the JSA and Legion Of Superheroes. But of all the heroes the writer has spent time with, there is only one who has defined Johns as much as Johns has defined him: Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern and star of Johns’ nine-year ongoing “Green Lantern” series.
In 2005, Johns brought Jordan back from the dead in the miniseries “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” which led to a new “Green Lantern” series that returned the Silver Age protagonist to comics continuity, while expanding the Green Lantern universe exponentially. In critically and fan-acclaimed storylines like “Sinestro Corps War” and “Blackest Night,” Johns resurrected old villains and created new ones, along the way introducing the idea of an emotional color spectrum of various Lantern Corps.
With Johns’ work remaining largely intact after the New 52 relaunch, the Lantern quadrant of the DCU grew again with the addition of spinoff titles “Red Lanterns” and “Green Lantern: New Guardians” while the main book refocused on the relationship between Hal and Sinestro, the longtime yellow power ring-wielding villain newly reinvested as a Green Lantern.
After almost a decade at the helm of the entire Lantern universe Johns announced he would be leaving “Green Lantern” for good, handing the comic over to writer Robert Venditti.
Speaking with CBR days before his final over-sized issue hits stands, Johns discussed his reasons for leaving the book, Simon Baz’s post-“First Lantern” status and how universal creation myths play into his final chapter of “Green Lantern.”
CBR News: After having spent essentially a decade working on Green Lantern, why is this the time to step away from the character and work on other things?
Geoff Johns: It’s funny — to me it was obvious. The run started with Hal and Sinestro and kind of continued that relationship, which only got stronger when Sinestro became a Green Lantern again and he and Hal were forced to team up. As I was building towards this next confrontation involving the land of the dead, Hal returning from the dead again and Sinestro and him having another change in their relationship, it just felt like the right time to go. Once I got through this next phase of Hal and Sinestro’s relationship and how it went all the way back to “Rebirth” and then to this point, to me, that was the right time to move on. The story decided it. I think the last issue has a lot of stuff in it that puts an exclamation point on everything we did on the run. So yeah, it felt like the right time to go.
From his return in “Rebirth” to seeing Hal die in order to be reborn in “Green Lantern” #19 it does seem like the story comes full circle, for both Hal and you as a writer.
Yes, that’s exactly right. To me, it’s — he’s sacrificed his life, and now he has to find his way back again. It started with a “Rebirth,” it ends with a rebirth. It just felt right. Hal is a character who lives for the day and he’s so full of life, death can’t stop him. It was exactly the right storyline to go out on with him.
Looking at the breadth of your run, I think most fans would say the biggest thing you’ve done is expand the universe. You’ve added the concept of the emotional spectrum, we’ve seen Sinestro grow beyond being just a bad guy, the Sinestro Corps, Blackest Night, etc. How much of the Green Lantern universe did you have planned when you started to write the comic about nine years ago? When you were doing things like “Sinestro Corps War” did you have notes tucked away about introducing the rest of the emotional spectrum?
When I was initially on “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” it really started with the idea that it was more than just green energy; it was willpower. Then, by definition, yellow should be fear — yellow is the color of fear. All of that sparked there, even the mention of Black Hand and having him ultimately representing death. It started there and grew when we launched the series with Carlos Pacheco. When Ivan Reis came on, we started to play with the idea of the Sinestro Corps a little more. We ramped up through there, and the Sinestro Corps really exploded. Sinestro is a character I really was drawn to and really enjoyed peeling his layers apart. Hal Jordan was an established hero, and I think we took him to an even bigger place in the DC pantheon, but Sinestro, I thought, his journey up the ladder of characters was much longer than Hal’s journey.
But the seeds of it all were in “Rebirth,” and then it grew in “Sinestro Corps.” Once we were into thatm I knew “Blackest Night” was coming, I knew we were eventually going to get there, but I didn’t know it would grow other books or that the characters would break out this much. I remember when, between “Sinestro Corps” and “Blackest Night,” when all those shirts were starting to appear at conventions and the characters began exploding. Larfleeze was a minor character who became a bigger character, and now he’s going to get his own book! So some of it was planned, and some of it grew organically.
We know Robert Venditti, who is taking over from you, is using Hal in his “Green Lantern” run, so what’s the future for Baz? Since he’s a character close to your heart, are you keeping him with you on “Justice League Of America” rather than handing him off to the Green Lantern corner of the DCU?
He’s in “JLA,” but he’s available to the new “Green Lantern” guys if they want to use him. It’s up to them.
People have been debating the decision for him to carry a gun, but we saw him use it in this last issue exactly as he said he would: as a backup for his power ring.
Yeah, it’s kind of his symbol of his insecurity of himself and the ring. He doesn’t feel he can rely on that yet. There’s a bit of that in the last issue, where we go into Simon and the kind of Green Lantern he’s going to become a little bit more. He has a very big journey coming up, and there are some hints in “Green Lantern” #20 of what he’s going to be involved in. It will spill out through the rest of this year and into next.
Looking at your very last issue, “Green Lantern” issue #20 brings everything with the First Lantern Volthoom to a head. Talking about things coming around full circle, what was the inspiration for using the First Lantern? Is he the same Earth 3 character who was involved with Power Ring?
The inspiration for Volthoom and the First Lantern — obviously the name has some historic meaning in the DC Universe and I don’t want to spoil things too much! [Laughs] But with the First Lantern, I really wanted to create the embodiment of the Guardians’ thrown away emotions. That’s their greatest sin, divorcing themselves from any sort of emotion, any sort of heart, and the result was this threat that’s come to throw everything back in their face. He’s representative of the Guardians greatest sin. They’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but their biggest one has been their lack of compassion and feeling. They’ve tried to protect themselves and, in a sense, separated themselves — they’re almost more void of joy or drive than anybody else in the universe because they’ve almost removed the will from themselves. They’ve removed everything.
If you asked a Guardian, “Why do you protect the universe?” I don’t think they know. This is just what they do. They don’t have an answer; they can’t remember what triggered their journey in the first place. That’s something we explore in “Green Lantern” #20, that they are very different characters than they once were. For the First Lantern, I wanted to create something where he’s literally powered by the emotions the Guardian’s discarded from themselves, and that plays out in “Green Lantern” #20.
It’s heavily implied that Volthoom has the power to reset reality and the rest the universe. This is an idea you’ve played with before in “Green Lantern” and are currently working with in other books — “Trinity War” is coming up, and Pandora reset the universe in “Flashpoint.” Since he has this power, is this something that’s related to or will have anything to do with “Trinity War?” And as a writer and event maker, what is the appeal of using characters who can literally rewrite history?
Part of it is playing with that search for the first spark of light that entered the universe. Something we’ve always explored, particularly with “Blackest Night,” is that before our universe existed, Nekron existed. He was the darkness, and this is all there was. Ultimately this light — and the source of this light is still unknown and still much debated, and one of the Lanterns, Krona, discovered the source of this light and was cursed for it — this spark of light started creation and life. With life comes emotion and feeling, they’re intertwined, and that all became a big part of the mythos.
Hal Jordan has been a hero for a long time, but this has been a journey for self-awareness. This is why I really got invested in “Green Lantern.” I really loved the idea of recognizing our emotions, because our emotions and our feelings can make us do certain things and it’s absolutely up to us to figure that out. Why do we act certain ways? How can we become better people? How can we look at our anger, our rage, and figure out where it’s coming from; this pain of rejection, is it really from being wrong? Usually we’re angry at things that aren’t the source of what real anger is. A lot of it is projection, I think, people projecting their anger on something or somebody. [I’ve been] exploring anger as something that we all feel and it’s ok to feel, but having the self-awareness to ask why you feel this goes back to the basis of being alive and who we are, our sense of self.
It’s the literal light of creation. There was darkness and then there was light, and this is what the light is — life isn’t just mass and matter but this intangible energy that is comprised of beings who are sentient, emotional, living creatures. The theme of going back to the creation of time and re-writing time and the universe and playing with darkness and light — that there was something before this universe and he became a big threat to what the universe turned into — there’s been a lot of instances where I’ve had villains, whether it be Nekron or the Guardians or the Manhunters, who want order in life, and the only way to have it is to remove emotion. Or they think emotion causes chaos. That’s true, emotion causes chaos, but without emotion there is no life. The two things are intertwined.
A lot of the threats Hal and the Lanterns have faced over the course of nine years, and even before and after that, are things that misinterpret what life is. That gets personified in the balance between Hal Jordan and Sinestro, where Sinestro is all about order — but it’s a different kind of order than the Manhunters. Sinestro is still a very passionate, emotional person. He and Hal are a lot closer to each other than anyone would admit, except maybe those two. They’re starting to sense that and explore that further in “Green Lantern” #20. Those two characters became the central focus for everything: All the emotional journeys, all the ups and downs of life, all the trying times we face through that.
The themes of “Green Lantern,” to me, were never just about science fiction and aliens and robots. It’s always been about what life is all about, and how awareness is a journey that’s goes on for our entire lives. The Guardians, by removing emotions, have stopped on that journey, and that’s something they are going to pay the price for in this storyline. This wraps up my run, and I think “Green Lantern” #20 really says it all!
“Green Lantern” #20 hits stores May 22.
Revisit Johns’ run Friday, May 24 at Greenest Night: A Celebration of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, an evening with the writer co-hosted by the CBLDF and CBR. Tickets are available here, with all proceeds benefiting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.