Geoff Johns Thinking Big in the DCU, Part 2

As you no doubt gleaned from Part 1 of our in-depth interview, conversing with superstar superhero writer Geoff Johns about the DC Universe is like chatting with your best grade-school pal about "Super Friends" on Monday morning during recess. He flat out loves the characters and the universe they inhabit.

Scratch that. The Multiverse they inhabit.

In fact, talking DCU is what Johns loves best about his job. "You don't want to just sit in a room and type all the time. That's boring," Geoff Johns told CBR News. "But to be able to talk to [artists] Ethan [Van Scriver] and Ivan [Reis] about the different Green Lanterns, about the new Oaths and m.o.'s of the Corps and the Alpha-Lanterns, and to talk to Gary Frank about what Superman means, what our goals are for Brainiac; that's what's great. We've spent hours discussing Jimmy Olsen and even Gary's redesign on Lois Lane's hair (it's too short!). That's fun stuff. I don't know if I ever had as much fun in comics as I am having right now, simply because of the characters and the people I am working with."

Since making his debut at DC Comics in 1999 with "Star Spangled Comics" #1, the 34-year-old Detroit native has produced a lengthy list of critically acclaimed runs on solo hero books like "The Flash" and "Hawkman" and team books like "JSA" and "Teen Titans."

The storylines developed in Johns' books led directly into the top-selling mega crossover "Infinite Crisis," and he followed that up with one-year stint as the co-writer of DC's groundbreaking and hugely popular weekly series "52."

Currently, Johns' three solo-writing DC projects – "Justice Society of America," "Green Lantern" and "Action Comics" – are top-40 sellers for the publisher and more importantly, all play a vital role in the future developments of the DC Universe."I like big picture stuff. That's what I like to do," explained Johns. "I know 'Green Lantern' through issue #55. And I know "Action Comics' through issue #890-something. And that's barring that things don't change.

"These things are organic but I know the big points and the smaller stories that I want to tell, and working with [Executive Editor] Dan Didio and [Senior Story Editor] Ian Sattler on laying those out, along with my series editors, Eddie Berganza, Adam Schlagman, Mike Siglain, and the super-duo of Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro, it's all a rewarding process.

"I know the direction I am going to take the characters. I build up these storylines because I want to build to 'Sinestro Corps.' I want to build to 'Blackest Night.' I want to build through 'Kingdom Come' Superman's arrival to the next storyline. I want to build 'Action Comics' to a bigger storyline at the end of 2008. I want to able to take all of those components and work with them in different scenarios. And also, I like these characters. I want to spend time with them."

"There are a lot different types of writers," Johns continued. "I've seen people equate myself to [Brian Michael] Bendis for a lot of reasons, and I've done it myself too, even though we're different writers. Besides the fact that we both write a lot of books, and besides the fact that we have both been doing it for about the same time now, Brian really commits to characters. Brian doesn't come on and do three issues of someone and then bolt. And Brian's books are better for it. 'Ultimate Spider-Man' is one of the most amazing books on the stands now and ever. His work on 'Avengers,' he's built this huge tapestry and you can see that he is building to something bigger with 'Secret Invasion' and the Skrull stuff. Also, he does it with characters like Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, who were lost in obscurity until Brian got a hold of them. I really respect what Brian has been able to accomplish up to this point and what he does now. One of my goals in this business is to work with Brian on something, either in tandem or on a book together. That would be an absolute thrill.

"And the same thing goes for Grant Morrison, as far as writers go. You can see on 'Batman,' he has a massive plan laying out for Batman, and 'Seven Soldiers' plays into 'Final Crisis.' You can see him lay all the seeds here and, bam, pay them off. Grant's an unparalleled visionary who has eyesight that goes not only into the future but sideways and up and down and into different dimensions. Like Brian, he is somebody that I really respect as a writer, somebody that I think the comic world would be worse off without. I like what those guys do. And maybe it's because it's what I want to achieve in my books; stories that make people feel, that people get excited about and, more than anything else, crafting characters and heroes that we all fall in love with. I could go on about other writers I like, but I'd be here all day."

Since bringing Hal Jordan back to grace as Earth's Green Lantern with his highly praised "Green Lantern: Rebirth" miniseries, Geoff Johns has given DC another bankable star to rival Superman and Batman in terms of both sales and popularity. "I laid out the 'trailer' for 'Green Lantern: The Blackest Night' because I want readers to know that I am committed to 'Green Lantern' and know that I'll be there," said Johns. "It's a win-win situation for me because I want to be there. I want to work with Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner and John Stewart. I want to work on the Green Lantern Universe. I have the stories to tell and I think it's a ride worth jumping on to.

"And if I had come on and done six issues; if I had come on and done 'Rebirth' and left and never done another Green Lantern book, I would have never had the chance to build up to 'Sinestro Corps War.' And if I had not done that, I wouldn't have had a chance to do the stories that I am doing now.

"I like to be there. I like to learn about the characters and evolve them and try to explore them. But you have to have the time to do it. I could do the Superman and Legion story and do the story I want to tell and know that I'll get a chance to do Braniac next."

Indeed, up next for Superman in the pages of "Action Comics" is a Braniac storyline.

"The Braniac story I have coming is simply called, 'Braniac,'" revealed Johns. It starts in June. It's fresh and clean. Just like the Legion of Super-Heroes arc, you can pick up that first issue and you are in the story. It doesn't matter if you have read the book before or not. Gary and I are working hard to make them classic Superman stories, building the mythology out from the core.

"Gary's design on Braniac, and what we've talked about, is something we really wanted to bring to the forefront. We really wanted to get inside that character," continued Johns. "What happens next will change how Superman perceives his home forever. The idea, again, like the Legion of Superheroes arc, is to take this concept, that is a classic Superman concept and look at it just a little bit differently. With Braniac, there has been so many little takes on him through the years and I think we have come up with something that is going to be really challenging."

"Braniac is everything that Superman is not. He's the alien that Superman could have been. And that's what we are really playing off is that cold, calculating alien in an alien world and recognizing that he is alien. He accepts that fact that he is an alien while Superman relates to humans. And that's where everything goes from. Our Braniac is very different than the Braniacs that we have seen before."

When asked if it was an outright re-imagining of the supervillain, Johns responded, "It will take everything else into account but, yes, this is a re-imagning."

In his current arc within the pages of"Action Comics," Johns has returned the original members of the Legion of Super-Heroes – Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy – to the forefront of DCU, and readers are loving it. So is Johns.

"When Superman was growing up, he had no friends and finally he got some friends that he could relate too. That's the coolest thing about the original Legion. But once our Legion arc run is up, it's not the end of the Legion," said Johns.

"The entire purpose of this arc is really to introduce the Legion to someone who has never heard of it. And show why they are so important to Superman. That's why this Legion story works because of their connection to Superman and Superman's connection to them. There is a really special connection that makes Superman, Superman. He wasn't Bruce Wayne when he was a kid. Even though he was an outsider, he had friends, friends who were beyond anything that he ever could have imagined. They were just like him. They were aliens, who looked like him, who came to Earth."

Johns' enthusiasm and endless supply of story ideas for his books set him apart from other superhero writers, and, as fans have no doubt caught on, the difference is rooted in his genuine affection for the characters. "I love writing Superman; he's really easy to write. Sorry, let me re-phrase that, the stories are hard but the character is easy, if that makes sense," laughed Johns. "He is such a pure character. Everything that you imagine a superhero to be is in Superman. He's the ideal superhero. At the same time, he's got this tragedy in his past; his home world is gone. He never knew it. And he's an outsider. He's an alien. Even though the famous line from the film is, 'You are like them but you are not one of them. You were sent here because you look like them.' And I like playing that up. That idea that he is very human -- very, very human, and he feels everything we feel. It makes him even more human because he feels like an outsider all of the time because a lot of us feel like outsider all of the time.

"I have to say, with Gary Frank on board, I couldn't ask for a better partner," continued Johns. "He's got this great kind of modern Curt Swan kind of look to his Superman and Curt Swan is my favorite Superman artist ever. So to have Gary on the book with me and getting those pages and discussing the character with him and bouncing ideas off of him, it's really a great partner to have on the very first superhero title.

"The greatest thing about it is that, and both Gary and I both talk about this, is how it's an honor to be on 'Action Comics.' It's an honor to work on Superman. We really take it seriously that we are working on the first comic Superman ever appeared in at issue #860 or whatever issue we happen to be working on. We are incredibly lucky to be able to tell the stories we want to tell. With the plans we have coming up, which will be announced pretty soon, I hope we have a great year."

Johns' plans are well timed, as the Man of the Steel is enjoying his 70th anniversary this year. "The idea is that we are going to link the two books the up," said Johns, in regards to his "Action Comics" and upcoming issues of "Superman." "I don't want to get into specifics yet because we are still a little way off from the announcement but we are going to link the books up, later on this year for a storyline and we are also going to be, again it's too early to talk about but the Superman books are going to be more in line with each other and we are going to work on building them as one of the major cornerstones of the DCU.

"The stories will stand alone and be connected just like 'Green Lantern' and 'Green Lantern Corps.' That's what we need to do. Really build 'Action Comics' and 'Superman' as two books set firmly in the same world. Moving forward in some big storylines, we'll involve both the books and then they'll break apart and delve into aspects of that storyline and other aspects and circle in back again."

Perhaps most auspiciously, "The Last Son" arc Johns wrote with his mentor, "Superman: The Movie" director Richard Donner, finaly wraps up next month in "Action Comics Annual" #11. It's a huge relief for Johns, who noted that since October 2007, DC has shipped five issues of "Action Comics" with no delays. "I am extremely happy with how that story turned out. It felt like it all came together really, really well." said Johns.

While easily one of the most popular superhero writers working today, Johns credits the artists he collaborates with for much of his success. "I am working with the best guys in the business," said Johns. "They're not on 'Wolverine.' They are on 'Green Lantern.' We are really lucky to have art talent this good. The fact Gary Frank is committed to 'Action Comics' is awesome and it's amazing that Dale Eaglesham is that committed to 'Justice Society of America.' Ivan Reis and Ethan Van Scriver are devoting all of their talents to 'Green Lantern' instead of going off to do 'Batman' or wherever. It's awesome to have that kind of stellar talent working on these books. They choose to work on these characters and titles and that passion is what drives me."

And while he has no plans to head over to Marvel right now, Johns says there are lots of characters he'd love to write for the House of Ideas. "I have a couple of years of Iron Man stories already; I have notebooks full," Johns confirmed. "Tony Stark is a fascinating character and with everything he's gone through, I just had a story rush into my head one day and over a weekend I wrote it all up.

"I have a Hulk story that I want to tell and a Fantastic Four story. There are a lot of characters over at Marvel that I'd love the opportunity to work on. And I'd kill to work with [editor] Steve Wacker on Spider-Man. I'd love to go on 'Avengers' again with everything I know now. I'd love to write an 'Avengers' book side-by-side with Brian. I think that would be a blast," said Johns, who wrote 20 issues of "Avengers" from 2002 to 2004.

"I love DC and where I am and working with everyone there, but a lot of my friends are at Marvel," said Johns. "It'd be fun to work with Ed Brubaker or Matt Fraction on something. I'd love to do 'Iron Man' alongside Brubaker as he is doing 'Captain America.' That would be a lot of fun because those are my X-Box Live compadres, and they are writers that I really respect."

X-Boxing aside, DC's roster of heroes continue to inspire Johns. "There are still tons of characters to write… Aquaman is a big one. I have very specific ideas for him. Very specific. Justice League of America, Batman, and more Flash. And Firestorm."

In the meantime, there is plenty of work to be done on Geoff Johns' existing gigs. Writing the prologue to the highly anticipated "Final Crisis" Event with Grant Morrison will bring the writer back to the center of DCU for the first time in a while. "When we were all on '52,' we were moved off from the center of DCU because we were so busy with the book," Johns explained. "Greg [Rucka], Grant [Morrison], Mark [Waid] and myself were off doing our thing and trying to keep up our other books going. It was a lot of work. Grant and I have been out of the center of the DCU for a year-and-a-half, but with the 'Final Crisis' #0 issue that I am doing with Grant, we're leaping back in. And I am anxious to be back in there. It's fun to pow-wow with all of the guys and talk about different directions DCU is heading. We are the luckiest people in the world."


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