Ever since the new creative teams began in June, the DC Comics Green Lantern group books have been slowly leading to “Lights Out,” the October crossover event where the various Corps must deal with Relic, a giant destructive being from another dimension, and the fact that their source of power is disappearing. Spearheaded by “Green Lantern” writer Robert Venditti, “Lights Out” spreads across every #24 issue as well as the “Green Lantern Annual.” Additionally, new “Green Lantern Corps” scribe Van Jensen will collaborate with Venditti in November as the two take a look at Lantern John Stewart’s past for a special “Zero Year” tie-in issue.
One of the new faces in the DC creative roster, Venditti began his career in indie comics with Top Shelf, most notably writing “The Surrogates,” a sci-fi miniseries adapted into a movie of the same name starring Bruce Willis in 2009. After launching Valiant’s “X-O Manowar” series in 2012, Venditti took over as the permanent writer for “Green Lantern” in June after DC CCO Geoff Johns brought his decade-long run to a close.
Jensen is a writer who also hails from the independent comics world and the author of SLG’s “Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer” graphic novels. An avid comics fan, Jensen previously worked as a journalist, and was part of the four new creative teams brought onto the Green Lantern corner of the DCU this summer, helming “Green Lantern Corps” with artist Bernard Chang.
With the main “Lights Out” story quickly approaching, CBR News spoke with both Jensen and Venditti about the October event and their collaboration on “Green Lantern Corps” for “Zero Year,” their first meeting and Jensen’s background in both cops and crime.
CBR News: Van, Robert — both of you are working on the “Lights Out” crossover and the “Green Lantern Corps: Zero Year” story, but you guys have been friends long before working at DC. How did you two first meet?
Van Jensen: Rob was a writer and I was a journalist at the time, this is when I was working at a paper in Little Rock, Arkansas at the time — I guess it would have been 2006?
Robert Venditti: Yeah, 2006 I believe.
Jensen: I was a crime reporter, but on the side I wrote a column for the newspaper about comics. I wrote about mainstream stuff but also more indie stuff and got connected to Top Shelf. Rob was the guy who’d send me review copies of books, and one I reviewed and wanted to write about was “The Surrogates” which just really blew me away. It was such a high-quality sci-fi book. Then it was, I think, fall of 2007 when my wife and I moved to Atlanta, Rob and I had kept in touch over email, so Free Comic Book Day 2008 was the first time we got together in person just to have lunch.
Venditti: He had actually called me to talk about “Surrogates,” and that’s when we talked for the first time!
Jensen: Yeah, we had a really long interview!
What were the circumstances of the two of you getting hired by DC? Did they know you guys had wanted to work together and brought you jointly into the Green Lantern corner of the DCU?
Venditti: Van and I got to be really good buddies over the years; I was working at Top Shelf’s warehouse and Van would come and help out once in a while. We started going to conventions on the road together for Top Shelf and driving in the car to Chicago. We both obviously wanted to be in comics; I was doing creator-owned stuff with Top Shelf, Van was doing the “Pinocchio Vampire” stuff for SLG. When it came around for me working at DC, I had already been hired to write the “Green Lantern” book, and when the opening happened on “Green Lantern Corps” DC asked if I knew people I thought would be a good fit for the title. I immediately thought of Van, not just because we’re good friends and I know he’s a quality writer and a professional, but he has a really interesting background that can apply to “Green Lantern Corps.” As he was saying, he was a crime reporter, he listened to police scanners and went out in the middle of the night covering all kinds of stuff in Little Rock, and I think that gives him a unique perspective on a book that is essentially about policemen in space. For all those reasons I thought he’d be a good fit and DC agreed.
You guys both started on your books a few months ago and are currently establishing yourselves on your first “Green Lantern” and “Green Lantern Corps” arcs. Why did you want to kick off your inaugural stories and roles with a large group-wide crossover like “Lights Out?”
Venditti: When I was pitching for the job to write the main “Green Lantern” title, DC had mentioned wanting to bring the books together relatively soon after the creative change, and part of what they wanted me to do in my pitch was concept out ways I thought the books would link together. “Lights Out” was a large part of the pitch that, I guess you could say, actually helped me win the job. It was always something that was part of the plan. I wouldn’t pitch for a job like “Green Lantern” and automatically come in with some crossover spanning the books, I wouldn’t presume to think that they wanted me to do something like that so early in my run! [Laughter]
The “Relic” DC Villains Month one-shot set the stage for the event’s villain, detailing why he’s in this Universe and why he’s fighting the Lanterns. One of the biggest points that rose out of that was the idea that the light/emotional spectrum is finite and can — and will — run out. What was the inspiration for treating the spectrum as a limited resource?
Venditti: I was researching and reading up on the history of the Green Lanterns when I was going into my pitch for the series. As I was reading Geoff Johns’ entire run and getting to know the mythology of the Lanterns and the great stuff he built up, a thought that kept occurring to me was, “Where does this energy come from?” Obviously, there’s correlation to what’s going on in real-world scenarios where resources are being consumed and treated as infinite, but obviously they aren’t, so it seemed thematically it could tie in. The whole story really came out of that idea: what if there is this reservoir that could run out? What kind of villain would you have in that scenario? It came together in an organic way.
Jensen: I think it’s just a great concept and it’s so character and story-driven. The whole thing, what was so fun about writing it is there are just these almost indescribably huge things that happen in the scope of the series; I just love how Rob described it as something that impacts every Lantern of every Corps ever. It’s totally true, but it’s not like Rob started out saying, “I’m going to do something that totally changes everything,” he was just exploring these really neat ideas and this is where it lead. It opened up so many opportunities for good character development and really intriguing plot. Relic, I think, is one of the most interesting and compelling villains to be created in a really long time.
“Lights Out” crosses over through every Lantern book in October, and the fallout of the event will be dealt with in select books afterwards. How far does “Lights Out” extend after the October? Will readers still see repercussions playing out through the rest of the year?
Venditti: Yeah, hopefully there will be a legacy to the event. We all worked very hard — myself, Van, Charles Soule on “Red Lanterns” and Justin [Jordan] on “New Guardians” — to put this crossover together. It’ll take one month to go through all the #24s and then end with “Green Lantern Annual” #2 at the end of October. But we worked hard to come up with ideas that would connect each of the characters to the crossover so they would each have a very significant role to play that only that character could play, and have a legacy that comes out of the event for each of the individual books that go beyond the realization that the resource where they get their light from is finite. There are other things that happen in each issue that, as you’ll see, will have big impacts not just on the following months but for a very long time to come. Some of that may be obvious and some, I hope, will surprise people. It won’t be immediately apparent, but when you go and read an issue a couple months from now and realize they’re things we’ve been setting up for quite a long time.
Looking at the very next month, in November you two are both writing the “Green Lantern Corps: Zero Year” tie-in issue. How does that collaboration work?
Jensen: I think Rob really gets credit for the initial idea. The Batman group editors talked to all the other group editors at DC and basically let them know this was going on. There wasn’t any trying to force a book in where it may not fit, it was more, “Hey, we have this event going on, if there’s an opportunity to do a cool story within the books we can plug it in.” Our group editors were talking to Rob and he had the idea of John Stewart essentially getting a zero issue, which he didn’t get last fall when those happened. Since he is the current central character of “Green Lantern Corps,” it was a really cool opportunity for more on his background. From there, as we do with all the issues, we talk out story points together and I handle the scripting, but then Rob helps a lot with giving notes. I’m still pretty new to monthly comics, I lean on Rob a lot just for the ins and outs of superhero comics. But I didn’t necessarily realize until I got into writing it how ambitious of an issue it is! It was kind of a bear to write, honestly! [Laughs] I think it came out well, but it was a tough one.
Venditti: Again, it’s a perfect example of Van’s skill sets and the unique things he brings to the table. Being a journalist in Little Rock, Arkansas allowed him to cover events and circumstances during his time at the newspaper that I won’t give away for reasons that would be spoiler-y, but I think when readers see the issue they’re going to see exactly how his particular background and what he reported on is key to how he could write this issue in a way nobody else could.
Sounds like you’re almost ready to be the star of your own comic series, Van! [Laughter]
Jensen: Yeah, I guess it was good experience — I mean I love journalism, I still work in journalism and its something I car a lot about, but I can say I was happy leaving crime reporting behind me because starting the day calling the coroner to ask who got murdered last night is not the most uplifting lifestyle! [Laughter]
Outside of wanting to do a zero issue for John, why did you feel he was the one you wanted to explore in the “Zero Year” setting versus any of the other Lanterns?
Venditti: It just made the most sense based on John’s background and where he could have been in the timeframe “Zero Year” takes place. Also, thematically we were able to tie in the ideas of the story a lot better than with Guy or with Hal.
Jensen: I don’t want to spoil anything; I think its safe to say it’s John as a Marine, he’s in Gotham City. Really the idea, and why I think its so important to tell John’s story specifically, is that what we’ve been building up in “Corps” with John is he’s been a little bit maligned in that the Guardians betrayed the Corps and then the New Guardians came in and picked Hal without even consulting him to lead the Corps. John’s feeling a little bit overlooked and underappreciated and even questioning whether he wants to continue in the Green Lantern Corps. So he’s at that point in the present and we’re reflecting back at a time in his life when he was in the Marine Corps and he was totally dedicated to it in the same way he is dedicated to the Green Lantern Corps, and we’re seeing how he became disillusioned with the Marine Corps. It’s something that, in a sub textual way, adds to an understanding of why he is mentally where he is right now and will help frame the decisions he makes going forward.
Van has been living in John’s head and world with “Green Lantern Corps” and Rob’s been living in Hal’s mind and world in “Green Lantern.” As the writers inhabiting their headspace, how do you compare and contrast the two?
Venditti: [Laughs] Well, obviously they’re similar in the sense that they both have this seemingly inexhaustible willpower within themselves that drive their rings and make them such effective Lanterns, and they are very heroic. But I think they’re different in the sense that Hal’s a much more insatiable, go-by-his-gut test pilot Green Lantern whereas John is much more of a methodical thinker and planner in the way an architect would be. Would you agree with that, Van?
Jensen: Yeah, I mean one of the ways we talked about it is they’re both leaders but they’re very different kinds of leaders. Hal is the kind of guy — I guess the way to put it is this analogy used in sports from time to time, that if there was a group of guys together, who is the one who is going to be driving the car if they’re going somewhere? Everyone knows that Hal’s the guy who’s going to be driving because that’s his personality. Everyone naturally becomes a follower because he has that level of leadership and charisma, whereas John’s a little safer and more sensible and it might make more sense for him to drive the car — but Hal’s driving that car.
Looking not just at the crossover and the “Zero Year” issue but everything you guys have set up in the past few months, what has been the biggest challenge for both of you as the new Green Lantern writers?
Venditti: For me it’s just been a lot of planning. I’m a very detail-oriented writer, I’m not a stream of consciousness guy; a lot of times I wish that I was, but I tend to take a lot of notes and write a lot of outlines. So to do something like a crossover where you’re going across four books — and five issues if you count the annual then you add in Relic — it’s a lot of planning and it takes a lot of time. It’s not like writing a single issue of a comic that stands alone on the shelf. It’s part of a larger group of a larger universe. There are a lot of things and a lot of wheels in motion at the same time. But that was part of why I wanted to take the job. I’m always trying to do things differently in everything and challenge myself in new ways. The Relic issue is a good example of that; DC asked if I wanted to write the issue as twenty splash pages that they could run on variant covers and I said sure. I’d never written a twenty-page splash comic before but let’s try that! The challenge of writing “Green Lantern” and working within the Green Lantern group, and then beyond that the whole DCU is one I wanted and I hope those challenges will help me grow and make me a better writer.
Jensen: Yeah, I would really echo that. One of the most rewarding things to hear from fans, and we’ve heard it a lot, is people saying, “Wow, it’s amazing how these books sync up together so well.” That only happens because we’re constantly calling or texting or emailing each other and saying, “This happens in my #23, what happens in your #22?” Just tiny little details that we have to iron out so the continuity is straight and the character development is straight — you can read them independently but each book is enriching the other. For me, I had literally never written a single-issue comic or superhero comic before taking on “Green Lantern Corps” #21, so there was a steep learning curve for that. It’s something you never really know until you do it, so I quickly built up a huge appreciation for how much work goes into it, both in terms of writing it and the work that the artists do, the work that the editors do, every link in the chain. I knew Rob was a great writer, but it gave me even more of an appreciation for just how good he is.
Venditti: Man, Van, laying it on thick over there! [Laughter]
Jensen: I’ve got to give him some props, he got me in the door!
Venditti: Aw, you’re just trying to make me feel useful. [Laughter]
“Lights Out” begins in “Green Lantern” #24 out October 2; “Green Lantern Corps: Zero Year” is out November 13.