Geoff Johns Talks Waging "Darkseid War" in "Justice League," Falling in Love with Mister Miracle

The "The Darkseid War" has been looming in the pages of DC Comics' "Justice League" for months, and as of the book's recently released issue #41, it has officially arrived, with plenty of surprises along the way. It's not just Darkseid vs. the Justice League, it's Darkseid vs. the Anti-Monitor, with old characters -- like the New Gods, who have been relatively under the radar in the past few years -- and new characters like Grail, Darkseid's daughter, and her mother, the Amazonian Myrina Black, thrown into the mix.

While DC Comics as a whole looks to be avoiding line-wide events for the time being -- with the refreshed "DC You" publishing line focusing on individual titles standing on their own -- the "Justice League" creative team of writer/DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Jason Fabok aims to make their series "an event book every month." Yet that doesn't just mean big fights and explosions -- as Johns told CBR News in an in-person interview last week before a signing at Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, his top priority is to ensure the story remains character-driven, no matter how "big" things get.

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Johns also talked with CBR about how the character-driven focus helped shape past event stories he's written like "Sinestro Corps War" and "Blackest Night," introducing new characters like Grail and Myrina Black and how he fell in love with the Jack Kirby-created New Gods -- especially Mister Miracle -- while planning "Darkseid War."

CBR News: Geoff, since "Justice League" is currently your only monthly title, is the goal basically, "put everything into this that I can"? It seems like a book that lends itself naturally to that -- you can have a huge cast of characters and big stakes each month.

Geoff Johns: Jay and I, we really put everything we had into ["Justice League #41], and we had the time to do it because of the two-month break. We didn't stop working.

When I first talked to Jay and he came on the book, we knew we were going to get to "Darkseid War." We knew we wanted to make it the very best thing we could. It's a big story, and it's taken a lot of time. It took us a long time to get this issue done, and the storyline's a lot more complicated than some other storylines. It's nice to have the time to do it, with 40 pages and two to three months of work for us to be able to do that.

We're just trying to make it an event book every month, in a monthly book. We want it to feel character-driven -- character-driven is the No. 1 thing. For us, this storyline is very character-driven -- there are a lot of characters in this. Obviously, Diana is far and away the main character. Mister Miracle's a very big character in it. The rest of the Justice League will have a lot to do, and a lot of things happen. They have their own stories in this.

I'm really proud of the issue, and Jay's really proud of the issue. We hope people like it. We've gotten a lot of great feedback so far, and we're glad for that. We did try and pull out all the stops for it.

Let's hear a little bit more about what you just said -- making it an event every month and also making it character-driven. That can be a tricky thing to pull off, for anyone. For you, does it come pretty naturally to marry those goals together, or is it always a challenge?

Writing, period, is a challenge. But to do something on a very big scale and with stakes that are very big in scope and a lot of characters, I always try and keep it character-based. It's very important for me to do that. "Sinestro Corps War" is all about Hal Jordan overcoming his own fear. "Blackest Night" focused on a core group of DC characters. It was a very personal story for them -- Hal, Flash, Mera and the Atom were the central characters in that, and some of the other Lanterns and Sinestro. But ultimately, it was a Hal Jordan and Barry Allen story about life and death, and that experience, losing loved ones, and facing loved ones, and having regrets and fears and pain and loss -- how do you move forward from that? That became very character-driven.

The thing that worked really well about "Blackest Night" is that even with the Black Lanterns, they all access those characters' memories. They face their loved ones that they lost, or villains that they had fought, or rivals, whatever. So when I approach "Darkseid War," I do want to make it personal and character-driven. And you've got to slow down and take the time for those character moments. One of my favorite moments is when Shazam just quietly says, "I've never seen a dead body before." You've got to take the time for those moments, and you've got to let what's happening to the characters land on them. So it is a balancing act. I was really happy we got 40 pages for this issue, but when you only have 20 pages, you can't get a lot done -- real estate is the most valuable thing in comic book writing.

Every time I tell an event, I want to make it very personal. "Forever Evil" was a Lex Luthor story. You could have called that "Lex Luthor" #1-#7, because it was a Lex Luthor story. There were other characters with arcs in it. I thought Bizarro and Lex had a really great arc. Sinestro had great moments. Black Adam had some good moments. Captain Cold had some good moments. But it was a Lex Luthor story. With "Darkseid War," it's a very conscious choice to make sure that every time we're doing anything, the characters are all behaving like people, and having an experience and a journey, and that ultimately this event -- as big and loud as it will be -- is still about the characters.

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Let's talk about some of those characters -- you've introduced Grail, Darkseid's daughter, which is a major component of the story. What can you share about the conception of that character, and what it was like to add such a big element to a revered part of DC history, the Fourth World mythology?

One of the things Jay and I wanted to do is, even though we're revisiting characters like Mister Miracle, Kanto and Darkseid, make sure that we create new characters alongside with that. Grail being chief among them, though you'll see a lot of other new characters -- Myrina Black and her Griffin, who I love. There's a backstory to that, where she fought him in battle, this Griffin -- he actually lost one of his eyes from that battle, and now is loyal to her. There's a whole character and story behind her. We'll learn more about Myrina next issue, and what her background is, and what she's been doing since we left the island.

We'll learn more about Grail, but Grail is the physical embodiment of the link between the old gods and the New Gods, and has been raised and trained with a very specific purpose. She is a weapon to destroy Darkseid. And Myrina has, as she says, a plan to destroy Darkseid, and she's been building this quite some time. Grail is that weapon. You'll learn more about Grail's upbringing and what she wants and who she is, but she's got that darkness in her. You clearly see she enjoys it. I think she smiles more than any other character in that issue, ironically. And she's a really fun character to write. She's extremely dangerous. She reminds me of a viper -- really slick, beautiful, but you can't get to close. And she is fast. And deadly. And scary. You've got to keep your distance from her.

But there's a lot more to come from these new characters. And from the New Gods. I had never written the New Gods before.

Which is surprising.

I just never really had the opportunity to write them. Much like Wonder Woman, who I've had an epiphany about over the last year or so, the same thing happened with the New Gods when I went back and reread all these New Gods comics, and Mister Miracle comics -- I knew I wanted to bring the New Gods into this, with Darkseid and Grail and Anti-Monitor, but when I was reading them all, I said, "Which one is going to be a thorn in Darkseid's side the most?" Originally I thought it was Orion. But actually, it's not Orion -- it's Scott. The reason it's Scott is because if you look at what Darkseid wants, he wants his will imposed over everything. If there's one thing that keeps slipping through his fingers -- one soul, one person that keeps escaping his grasp -- he's going to notice that, and it's going to ultimately become an annoyance to him. And if that one thing starts to affect other things, it's going to be a problem. So if Scott is someone who embodies free will -- he's all about escape, that's his whole thing. He is the ultimate protagonist against the antagonist of Darkseid. "Oh, it's not Orion at all, it's Mister Miracle -- let me get more into Mister Miracle." As I got more into that character, I fell in love with that character.

Kanto, who is the guy holding the wine in the beginning -- the reason that I picked him for that scene, and why it works so well, I think -- his backstory is, he was actually on Earth during the Renaissance period. He almost got married to somebody, and then Darkseid sent an assassin to bring him home, and Kanto fought and killed that assassin. Then Darkseid said, "OK, you're my new assassin." So when he came back to Earth, my perspective was, this guy is going to enjoy this time here. He's going to get to that house, and he's going to see that bottle of Italian wine, and say, "Is it like I remember?" He pours a glass, and he's enjoying it. He certainly isn't threatened or upset or even moved emotionally by this woman who comes in that he's about to kill. He knows this isn't her, but just to make sure, he gets his Mother Box, which is his knife, and he tests it, and he just finishes his glass of wine. That character has an appreciation for Earth culture, even though it's about to be incinerated -- "let's finish this bottle."

There are all these characters, that have massive backstories behind them. It actually makes me want to write a New Gods book. It's a giant universe of characters that I suddenly am gravitating towards. We have this whole story with Kalibak coming up -- I love Kalibak. He is the untrainable, brute of a son, and he's a really fun character to write, because he doesn't strategize. Steppenwolf will say, "We're going to talk about this battle plan," and Kalibak just smashes it aside, and says, "Throw me in, coach." He's just such a great character, and such a fun character to play with.

Darkseid, too. We've got some scenes in issue #41 I think were really effective. Darkseid doesn't run, he doesn't shout. He doesn't need to do that. He makes observations that he's curious about. The first thing he asks Mister Miracle -- "What's up with the costume?" "Why are you wearing yellow and green and red?" While we're introducing new characters, it's also taking a new look at some of these older characters. We haven't really spent a lot of time [recently] with Mister Miracle or Kanto. There are going to be some major New Gods, like Desaad and Darkseid, but then there are some obscure Fourth World characters that are coming in. It's a great world to be in, and I'm really having a lot of fun with it.

Since you have worked on so many DC characters, did you have your eyes on the Fourth World characters for some point in the future, or was it not necessarily on your radar?

It wasn't totally on my radar until I got to this storyline and started exploring. As I delved into them more, I just saw some potential to have a lot of fun with them, and to reintroduce a few of them in our own way. They're wonderful characters, and have a wonderful history to them. There's nothing I love more than dusting characters off. That's my favorite thing to do. If there's one person who didn't like Mister Miracle before, or didn't know who he was, and walks away from #41 going, "he's cool," then we've done our job. That's really my goal for all of this, that hopefully people grow to love these characters even more through this story.

"Justice League" #41 is on sale now. "Justice League" #42, the next chapter in "Darkseid War," is scheduled for release from DC Comics on July 15.

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