CCI: Spotlight on Geoff Johns

Sometimes, what a person doesn't say reveals more than what he does say. That may well have been the case at the Geoff Johns Spotlight panel on Saturday at Comic-Con International in San Diego. A slew of questions regarding Johns's plans for various DC Comics characters - dead, alive, and otherwise - were greeted with "no comments" that seemingly spoke volumes. However, Johns (and special guest Ethan Van Sciver) also offered straightforward and equally fascinating answers about his newly-announced "The Flash: Rebirth" project, his upcoming work with Green Lantern, Superman, and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and much more.

Waiting for the panel's gargantuan line of attendees to completely make its way into room 5AB, Johns kicked things off with a series of questions that each garnered applause: "Did anybody read 'Teen Titans' when I was on? Does anybody like Bart Allen?" After handing a free Flash comic to a fan wearing a Flash T-shirt, he added, "Does anybody miss Bart Allen?" When the subsequent ovation died down, he cryptically replied, "Good."

Once everyone was seated, DC Senior Editor Ian Sattler started the panel proper by introducing Johns as "One of the best comics writers of all time, and one of the best people that I know." He then walked the writer through his current and upcoming projects. First up was "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds," Johns's five-issue collaboration with artist George Pèrez in which every Legion incarnation ever battles Superboy-Prime, who in Johns's words "needs a big ass-kicking." Slated to begin in August, the series "is a lot more DCU-centric than people realize," Johns noted, promising that fans of Green Lantern, the Flash, the Teen Titans and other 21st century heroes would not be disappointed.

Next, Sattler brought up "Action Comics" with artist Gary Frank. Johns said that starting after the end of the "Brainiac" storyline, the book would crossover with sister titles "Superman" and "Supergirl" in an arc called "New Krypton" beginning in October. That month will also see the release of "Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns," Johns's latest Green Lantern opus.

Big things are also happening in Johns's "Justice Society of America," which will go weekly in November thanks to an Alex Ross-illustrated special starring the Kingdom Come Superman, another special centered on Magog, and a final special called "The Kingdom," which follows all the JSAers who have received their greatest wish from Gog. "It doesn't turn out so well for most of them."

Of course, Johns's most recently announced project is "The Flash: Rebirth," his latest collaboration with Ethan Van Sciver. Johns said that anyone who liked the similar "Green Lantern: Rebirth," or any of the DCU's speedsters, would hopefully have a lot to enjoy in the series.

After this quick introduction, Sattler turned the panel over to audience questions, the answer to the first of which nearly brought down the house. When asked how long he intended to stay on "Green Lantern," Johns replied simply, "I'll be done on 'Green Lantern' when I'm dead."

Johns demurred when fans asked how it felt to run the DC Universe or if "fixing" the DCU was his "plan," saying he simply tries to put out the best quality books that he can, though he does love DC and hopes to be there a long time. "If I can work on Flash and Green Lantern and Legion and Batman and JSA and Teen Titans, I'd be a happy man." He said his primary focus when writing is to focus on the character.

Responding to a question about the divisions between fans of Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan, Johns summed up how he finds the balance by noting "If Hal and Kyle were in this room and anyone started to argue about who's better, they'd beat them up." No fan, he said, has reason to hate Kyle, Hal, John Stewart, or Guy Gardner simply because they prefer one over the others.

Speaking of well-populated franchises, Johns said that while "The Flash: Rebirth" is different than his current, mostly Hal Jordan-centric "GL" run in that every speedster is in it, just like all the Earth Green Lanterns were in "GL: Rebirth." Meanwhile, XS will play "a very prominent role" in "Legion of Three Worlds."

In terms of juggling "Justice Society of America's" huge cast, Johns chalked his handle on the crew up to "not doing anything except write comic books. I live in the DCU all the time." "JSA," he added, is nothing compared to "Legion of Three Worlds" and its cast of thousands.

One fan asked about a "JSA" cover upon which one of the team's many members ended up on a lawn chair for the group portrait. Johns said the idea, which Dale Eaglesham executed, stemmed from Thanksgiving at his grandmother's house, where his large family scrambled to use every chair available just to sit at the table and he'd always end up in a lawn chair. "I thought Mr. America should get it because he's the weakest member," he joked.

Regarding his writing process, Johns said it all comes down to character. "With 'Flash: Rebirth,' I look at Barry and Wally and focuses on what am I going to say and how can I challenge them the most." As an example, he cited the current "Brainiac" storyline in "Action Comics," the inspiration for which was imagining young Clark Kent's worst nightmares about what being an alien might entail.

While the character with whom he connects the most changes with every book - every week, given how he rotates his projects �" Johns said he's currently connecting to Hal Jordan. An unemotional character by nature, Hal now has to get in touch with those emotions to effectively deal with all the new Lantern Corps emerging along the emotional spectrum. "He's got to understand himself as he understands the new corps."

When a fan brought up the possibility of an "Ace the Bat-Hound: Rebirth" given Grant Morrison's contention that Ace the Bat-Hound is dead, Johns joked "Maybe Grant and I could co-write that."

"Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge" was the topic of the next question. Were the Rogues' statements that they didn't mean to kill Bart Allen a retcon on Johns's part, or a self-justification on the part of the Rogues themselves? Johns said it was a bit of both, and that more will be revealed regarding their motivations in the next two issues of the series. Arguing that the Rogues had gone in an "out of character" direction after his departure from "The Flash," Johns said he thought they'd be smart enough to know that killing a Flash would bring down a lot of heat, which it did. "They got sent to a planet - which was bizarre," he quipped, referring to "Salvation Run." However, Johns expressed doubt that the Rogues truly feel remorse for the death of Bart as opposed to a hero with whom they had a more lasting relationship, like Barry Allen - here, they mostly feel bad about being caught. Johns teased that we would soon discover that one of the Rogues actually **was** trying to kill Bart.

Would Superman be as relevant if our technology improved to the point of flying cars, as Johns once said he worried about? "If I'm around when flying cars are around, I'll be very happy," Johns laughed. He then noted that powers and technology reflect one another - "The Green Lantern rings are like super iPhones." He then quoted from his "Flash: Rebirth" script: "One of Barry's good friends says, 'Has the world gotten too fast for you?' Barry smiles and says, 'The world's finally catching up.'" He admitted hating scenes from movies and TV shows that involve characters solving crimes by typing into a computer, however.

What about Hal's new potential to use lethal force? "You'll see him consider it in 'Rage of the Red Lanterns,'" Johns teased.

Will Johns be involved in an Aquaman revival, as one fan had heard rumors about? "Ian and I are talking a lot about Aquaman. I love Aquaman," Johns said. "I like that he's the king of Atlantis. I think he's a much bigger badass than anyone gives him credit for," he added to applause. "I would give him a trident and have him throw it around and stuff."

Speaking of revivals, might Golden Glider ever return? "I actually really like that Golden Glider is dead, for a couple reasons, not just because her costume is really bad," he joked. In all seriousness, Johns explained that her brother, Captain Cold, is more interesting without his sister. He said that their relationship, and "more of why he's such a dick," will be explored in "Rogues' Revenge" #2.

Next up was the first of Johns's cryptic non-answers. Are there any villains he'd like to "Rebirth"? "I can't tell you that," he said, smiling. He added that nearly every other villain aside from the one he couldn't tell us about is fair game for "Blackest Night," the upcoming culmination of the ongoing Lantern Corps saga.

Non-answer number two: Who would win in a foot race, Superman or the Flash? "You'll find out very soon."

Back to the Flash Rogues, Johns said he thinks of them as "Superthugs. They don't want to rule the world." He decided to build up their depth and clout because their incompetence in old Flash comics - like Captain Cold tripping on his way out the door after a bank robbery - "felt like a Hostess Pie ad" and made the Flash look weak by comparison. "Heroes are only as strong as their villains - it really is true," he said, so with that in mind he amped up the Rogues, including some of their most potentially powerful members. "Weather Wizard could fix global warming, and the jerk doesn't! He's probably out making it worse, making ozone holes." Johns noted that he also tried to raise the stakes with Black Adam and the Green Lantern villains. "I like making villains strong characters. I could write a Rogues ongoing, I like those guys so much."

Will we be seeing more of John Stewart and Kyle Rayner given their place in the Green Lantern Honor Guard? Johns's answer was that Stewart has a very big role in "Blackest Night," including a rematch with the Sinestro Corps sniper he took out in "The Sinestro Corps War."

Johns's loyalty was tested when a fan asked if there were any non-DC characters he'd like to write for. "Um...no," he said, glancing in Sattler's direction. He whispered that there were a lot of Marvel guys he likes, but that "I'd rather write the Outsiders than the X-Men." He played off his reputation as a continuity master by joking that he'd like to write an issue of "Archie" to explain where Jughead got his crown and where Reggie got his money. "Riverdale: Rebirth!" added Sattler.

A John Stewart fan asked Johns about the moment when Stewart's ring gave out following the GL's attempt to rebuild the planet Xanshi, whose destruction weighs on his conscious. "His willpower is so strong the ring can't even process it. He's that badass. But - " Before he could continue, Sattler cut him off, adding another provocative non-answer to the list.

Proving that no DCU character is too obscure for revival, Johns responded to a fan's question about old-school GL Charlie Vicker by saying that while he had no plans for the character, someone else does.

Who was the character in the epilogue to Johns's "Booster Gold" run? "I thought it was obvious, myself, when he laughed."

What's special about each bearer of the Flash mantle? Another no comment: "Read the book."

Johns teased that he had an announcement planned for Sunday about something he's doing outside of comics. "If you're a fan of what I'm working on now you'll probably be pretty happy." We've since learned this referred to Johns' writing the introduction of the Legion of Super-Heroes in TV's "Smallville."

The next question concerned Johns's attention to his heroes' hometowns, like Keystone City and Coast City. Johns said that while Coast City is basically just San Francisco, in the comics it had a great history of having been destroyed, rebuilt, and then remaining largely unoccupied - a city of millions with a population of 100,000. Johns said his approach was to "take our time to build up a city that would reflect who Hal is as a person." Coast City's people refuse to evacuate when the Sinestro Corps attacks, and their bravery gives the town the reputation of "The City Without Fear," leading to a boom - reflecting Hal Jordan's willingness to stand for something. "Everything is reflective of character, who they are, what they're going for," Johns said, noting that the same hold true for villains - characters like the Shark and Black Hand reflecting the primal fears of being eaten and death itself. Meanwhile, Keystone City is a blue-collar town where people just want to get things done, much like the Flash himself.

What did Johns, who worked on "Justice League Unlimited" himself, think of that series' Rogues episode? "I thought it was cool. Not what I would have written, but cool."

One wondered why it was the right time for Barry Allen to come back, since his death was such a tremendous moment - and a tremendous boon to his successor, Wally West, a favorite of many Flash fans. "Barry agrees," Johns said, explaining that "The Flash: Rebirth" is truly about Allen wondering why he deserves to be back.

Given the number of comics creators crossing over into other media, as well as Johns's roots in the film industry, a fan asked if he had further plans along those lines. Johns said "I'm writing a feature with the 'Robot Chicken' guys," for whom he also wrote some sketches - including the origin of Faker - for the next season. "I'm also working on something else. But comics are my first passion, the DCU is my first passion. I hope I'm always with DC Comics." He noted that he doesn't talk a lot about his outside work since some of it, like a pilot he wrote for Fox, never gets made.

We'll see Carl Ferris, Carol Ferris's dad, in the "Green Lantern" arc "Secret Origin."

Since Johns recently introduced a more traditional General Zod to Superman's world, what does he think of the armored version from a couple years ago? "Do not care," he said to laughter from the audience, who also enjoyed Johns's statement that bringing in Beppo the Super-Monkey is a line he would not cross.

In terms of creating his own characters, Johns noted that he created several new Rogues and a lot of new Lanterns, but that he generally works within the existing mythologies in adding new people to established franchises. "I do have some creator-owned stuff I'd like to do, but it's too early to talk about it," he teased.

Are there any DC characters you don't want to touch? Johns's answer was Rampage from the Superman titles, "an eight-foot orange lady with a Mohawk."

Will "Legion of Three Worlds" also include alternate continuities like the Giffen era? "George wants to draw every single Legionnaire ever," Johns said, so the answer seems to be yes.

A surprise guest then stepped to the audience mic - artist Ethan Van Sciver, who was greeted with an ovation from the rest of the crowd. Van Sciver said he really loved "The Flash: Iron Heights" - fitting, given that he drew it - and asked "Will we see more Murmur?" "In 2009," Johns answered, prompting a jubilant "Yes!" from the artist, who then joined Johns and Sattler on stage.

A pair of questions about the "The Flash: Rebirth" followed, prompting Johns to say that the series would explore the Speed Force, but that he could not reveal anything about Bart Allen's involvement in the series - including whether it would delve into the years he spent trapped in the Speed Force during his battle with Superboy-Prime - at this time.

When a fan said how much he liked Superboy-Prime, Johns said he did too. "I like Prime because I hate him." Johns said while working on "Legion of Three Worlds," he wrote a scene in which Prime walks through a 31st century neighborhood where a dog-walking robot greets the villain while his dog barks at him. After seeing Pèrez's art for the scene, Johns decided to add a line and have Prime say "Shut up, dog!"

Will we see specific stories for each other color of Lanterns beyond Yellow and Red? "Ethan just designed Agent Orange," Johns said, explaining that after "Rage of the Red Lanterns" an arc called "Agent Orange" would explore the power of the Light of Avarice. When Van Sciver expressed awe over that term, Johns explained that he says "Avarice" instead of "Greed" because "Orange Greed" sounds weird, but "Avarice" is a cool word. "It makes you smarter." Van Sciver then wondered aloud if the pair could make like Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and do a series of "Rebirth: Red/Rebirth: Green" books.

Speaking of names, Johns said that Ethan came up with the name Atrocitus for the leader of the Red Lanterns, thanks to a conversation the pair had about how Sinestro is just a tweak on the word "sinister" - hence Atrocitus from "atrocity." "It's so Silver Age DC," Van Sciver said, laughing that you just stick an "O" on any negative adjective and you've got your villain's name. "There actually is a Prince Evilo in 'Legion,'" Johns pointed out. "What was the matter with his parents?" Van Sciver exclaimed.

Will "The Flash: Rebirth" tie into the larger DCU, in titles like "Final Crisis" and "Justice League of America"? Johns said it will be out after "Final Crisis," with a likely January launch date. "We're hoping 'Final Crisis' is done by then!"

Will G'nort be coming back? "G'nort is MIA," Johns said to regretful "awwws" from the audience. "Oh, no comic relief for 'Blackest Night'? Awwwww!" Van Sciver joked.

Will we see Wally and Kyle's friendship being touched on in "The Flash: Rebirth"? "You might. I don't want to give it away." Johns said we'll see GL/Flash stuff in the future.

Will Hal's brother be a Blue Lantern of hope? "No, Hal's Brother sells insurance."

Will Bizarro Flash be in "The Flash: Rebirth"? Johns said no, but this time it was Van Sciver's turn to be cryptic: "Not as such." Then looking at Sattler, he asked, "Can we say that?"

Will we see Wally's kids in the series? Again, Johns said he couldn't answer, but that he's seen what Van Sciver has done with the kids and the results will make us "freak out." "Our goal is to make you like them - if that's possible," he added. Van Sciver replied that if we don't, they could be made into Black Lanterns. "It's like a waste disposal unit comics!" he said of the all-dead Lantern Corps.

Will Johns write a "Legion: Rebirth"? "'Legion of Three Worlds' kind of is one," Johns said, while Sattler noted that the series has a lot of surprises left.

With Barry back from the dead, will Wally get kicked off the Justice League and stay with the Titans? Again, Johns said we'd have to read "Rebirth."

Pointing out the seemingly "projected" Flash emblem on the Van Sciver "Flash: Rebirth" art that was on the panel's slide screen, a fan noted its similarity to the projected emblems of the revived Green Lantern Corps. Johns said that it isn't really projected here, but that we'd find out what's really going on with it - and that the image itself is full of clues about the story. "Everything you need to know about what we're doing is in that image. Every single thing is hidden in that image." "I hid cursewords in that lightning, too," Van Sciver jokingly added. Regarding the projected look of the logo, Johns said they'd been referring to it as a siren, because he's a cop. "There will be a lot of new visual additions to the Flash," Van Sciver said.

Yet another provocative non-answer followed a question about whether Johns will be working with the Legion on an ongoing basis. "I can't say anything. Not right now."

Will Bruce Wayne's parents show up in "Blackest Night"? "Anyone who's dead is up for election to the Black Lantern Corps," Johns said, while revealing that they don't just have one Lantern per sector. "They don't discriminate." There are a lot of black rings out there, Johns said, and "I'm gonna give it my all." Johns explained that Van Sciver would serve as a production designer for the story, designing all the characters and Black Lanterns. We'll also see some "Blackest Night"-related material in "Legion of Three Worlds," along with 31st century GL oath that's different from the current one.

Johns ended the panel by thanking the attendees - "I love my job and I wouldn't have it if it weren't for you guys." Sattler gave everyone in attendance a parting gift of promotional Flash rings, leaving Johns with one final quip: "There's no costumes in them, though."

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