The writer of indie comics including the “Pinocchio Vampire Slayer” series of graphic novels, Jensen will join co-plotter (and incoming “Green Lantern” writer) Robert Venditti and artist Bernard Chang with June’s issue #21. And the scribe has his eye on building up the military-minded Green Lantern John Stewart in ways that will challenge his place in the space-bound peace keeping organization and test his personal relationships.
CBR News spoke with Jensen about his plans for the book, with the writer describing his personal superhero history, his own take on John Stewart’s struggle against the Guardians, why the return of Stewart’s former foe Fatality will echo his haunted past and the difference between writing indie comics and mainstream capes and tights books.
CBR News: Van, there are likely a lot of readers out there who may not know you and your work. When it comes to writing a superhero title like “Green Lantern Corps,” what are your influences within the genre?
Van Jensen: As far as the stuff I grew up on, I had pretty limited access in small town Nebraska to superhero comics. But the things I read the most were Chris Claremont’s “X-Men” in the mid ’80s through the ’90s, and “G.I. Joe” by Larry Hama was great. There was a little bit of “Batman,” a little bit of “Spider-Man,” but I wasn’t really able to read all of that stuff. I feel like Larry’s “G.I. Joe” was something that really struck a chord with me because it had the action, it had the adventure, and it had a lot of serious elements to it, but it was also a lot of fun.
“Green Lantern Corps” is a book about space cops patrolling the universe, so I want to make sure it’s fun. It should be fun, and there should be a level of high adventure to it. It’s going to be very character focused, but it’s not going to get bogged down with overly serious naval gazing.
Well, those runs by Hama and Claremont also share the idea of a giant world with a cast of thousands with the modern GL franchise. There’s a big emotional metaphor in the various Lanterns, and a lot of background to dig into. What’s the piece of the franchise you’ve enjoyed the most so far?
The very simple concept is awesome, but one little thing that I’ve thought about a lot is that as a Green Lantern with a ring, you’re as powerful as your imagination. That’s a really cool analogy for the position of a writer, because in writing comics, you can do anything. There’s no special effects budget, so the only thing limiting you is your imagination. And since the Green Lanterns as a concept work as a stand-in for the writer, I’ve really been pushing myself on this as I’m working on it. As I’ve familiarized myself with the comics, I’ve challenged myself to go to the next level. “Okay, that construct is fine, but how can we make this bigger and more interesting in a way that speaks to who the character is?”
John is your lead character. How did you approach the task of setting your version of him in issue #21? What was your “in” to him as a character?
He’s a pretty fascinating character just in how much stuff has happened to him. As the central character of this book, the first issue is all about setting a new starting point for him. We’re not changing the status quo or anything. It’s more about figuring out where he is. He’s gone through these things that have affected all of the Corps, but he’s also gone through some changes on an individual level.
One of the most interesting things is that he has this military background, and there is some history in his military experience with him questioning the leadership and what his place is in the Marines. That’s a great analogy for what’s been going on with the Corps and the Guardians. Things there have changed to a significant degree. But John has always been the good solider -Â which is funny because soldiers and Marines are different things -Â but what happens to the good soldier when he realizes that the higher ups are not reputable? John is taking a moment here to be introspective and wonder what he wants out of his future and whether that will include the Corps.
Fatality has come back into John’s life in a big way, and will continue to play a role in this series. Longtime readers know that she was introduced initially as a survivor from Steward destroying a planet in Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola’s classic “Cosmic Odyssey” series. What does her involvement here say about how that event still weighs on him?
Exploring that relationship is definitely going to be a big part of this series. A relationship with a Green Lantern under the best of circumstances is not very ideal in the history of the comic, and John and Fatality come into this with as much baggage as you can possibly have. The way we’re looking at it and why it’s kind of interesting is that she’s now forgiven him. As a Star Sapphire, she has committed her love to him, and he still needs to process al of this stuff that’s in the background. As much as he’s willing to go ahead with this relationship, he’s still very doubtful. It’s a huge amount of stuff to deal with. Destroying an entire planet? It’s takes a while to get over that.
How have you been collaborating with Robert Venditti? He’s writing the main “GL” book and co-plotting here. The immediate assumption in a situation like that is that there’s a bigger scheme going on between the two books and all the books in the line.
Rob and I are great friends. We’ve known each other for five or six years, every since I moved to Atlanta. And he’s been a great friend and a great mentor, so we have that relationship going into this. We’ve actually worked on some writing stuff together before, but just nothing in comics. The way we’ve worked together since I came on the book is that every so often we get together and talk about ideas. It’s almost like a grown-up version of when you sit around with your friends and spitball story ideas. There’s a close collaboration on that front.
And really, we’re talking when we meet about the entire Green Lantern universe. It’s not one of us putting out ideas and then the other writing it. It’s us figuring out how this works together and how everything interacts. As far as the scripting goes, I’m doing 100% of that myself, but I run stuff by Rob and the other guys because we want to make sure these books work together. And he’s helpful because he has a lot more experience with monthly comics, and there are little idiosyncrasies that he’s able to help me with.
As far as this being a smaller story within a larger story, there’s definitely some big, big things coming up in these books. That’s both in the fairly short term as well as the long term. Balancing those things is one of the challenges because 20 pages is really not that much real estate. You have to prioritize story and bring character across very quickly and very effectively. You have to have a plan for every character – not just John and Fatality. We’re introducing some new characters and bringing in a new status quo for some established cast. We’re really trying to focus on the idea that things have change pretty dramatically, establishing the idea of where things are going and what the conflicts are internally and externally, and also being open to the idea that the characters can guide the story in a new direction.
Overall, how much of a learning curve has come with this gig? There were a lot of stories told with “Pinocchio Vampire Slayer” over the years, but those were done in big chunks and on your own as opposed to the monthly task of building story beat upon story beat.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that writing comics is work. Monthly comics is definitely a lot more work, and that’s for the best. I work really closely with our editors -Â Matt Idelson and Chris Conroy -Â and they’re great. I work with Bernard and [colorist] Marcelo [Maiolo] on the art and with Rob on the scripts. You’re right that with a graphic novel, I’d sit down and take a month or two months to write a script, and then a year later, a book would be done. There were some edits on the back end, but pretty much that was it besides a lot of promotional stuff for it. But this job is constant. Every day something comes up whether it’s checking for lettering or finishing outlines for future issues. It’s a very steady level of work, and I unfortunately came in a little behind schedule on things. So I’ve been thrown into the fire a little bit, but the best thing I can say is that I love it so far. I feel very, very lucky to have gotten this chance.
“Green Lantern Corps” #21 ships on June 12 from DC Comics.