In celebration of the launch of our new site, CBR News dialed up superstar writer Geoff Johns for a lengthy interview to discuss his four ongoing titles for DC Comics.
We spoke earlier with Johns about the developments in “Green Lantern,” and in the coming days we’ll spotlight “Justice Society of America” and “Booster Gold.” Right now, we follow up with “Action Comics.”
But first things first. If you haven’t yet read “Action Comics” #863 , you may want to hold off with reading this installment of INFINITE GEOFF JOHNS, for spoilers do follow.
REPEAT - SPOILER WARNINGS IN FULL EFFECT!
On sale today is “Action Comics” #863, the grand finale to the six-part “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” arc. The issue concludes with a two-page teaser “trailer” of sorts for “Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds,” a five-issue miniseries by Johns and legendary artist George Perez (“Crisis on Infinite Earths,” “New Teen Titans”), shipping in August.
“It’s very much like the 'Blackest Night’ trailer,” Geoff Johns told CBR News, referring to a similar device used in the conclusion of his hugely popular “Sinestro Corps War” storyline in “Green Lantern. “It’s Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Superboy-Prime and Legion of Super-Villains battling it out in the 31st century. Once you see the images, you will probably want to check it. They are big pages and really freaking cool.
“It’s a dream to work with George, especially on Legion of Super-Heroes,” Johns continued. “And I think the title, 'Legion of Three Worlds,’ says it all. We are going to have a ton of characters in this, so only someone as insane as George is going to tackle this. George has had a lifelong dream to work on the Legion. And I have had a lifelong dream to work with George. And I love the Legion of Super-Heroes, obviously.
“After [the Legion arc in] 'Action Comics,’ I wanted to work with them some more. I was already wondering where can I work with them some more and this kind of grew organically out of what I wanted to do. This was the next step, as was bringing in Superboy-Prime.”
Superboy-Prime, the only survivor of an alternate universe completely destroyed in “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” was of course a major player in Johns’ epic “Infinite Crisis” and “Sinestro Corps War.” Prime believes the heroes of Earth -- especially Superman -- don’t live up to his dubious standards of heroism, and has waged a notably violent war against them ever since he returned from limbo in “Infinite Crisis.”
“Superboy-Prime is the most wicked, vile, terrible, funny, horrible villain there is. And he’s so easy to write,” laughed Johns. “I just really enjoy writing him because he’s just this sadistic kid who just doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it, no matter what. He’s almost delusional. He’s so self-important. And he’s Ã¼ber-powerful. And he also has a very tragic background. If things had gone another way, maybe he wouldn’t have gone this way. Maybe if he had been coached a little bit differently by somebody else, it would have worked out for him but it just hasn’t so far.”
The fan favorite writer summed up “Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds” as a big '”DCU story,” which has already earned itself the nickname “Crisis of the 31st Century” amongst DC’s editorial staff. Explained Johns, “It’s really focused on the Legion of Super-Heroes and Superman and where the Legion is going after the 'Action Comics’ arc; where the universe is and how difficult it is for the Legion to do their job. And just as the Legion is facing this really big question of 'Do they need us anymore? Are we doing any good? And people are like, 'no,’ things go from bad to worse and Superboy-Prime shows up.”
As Johns is wont to do, he likes to keep his characters all in the family, in this case, his books. And while he says “Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds” grew out of his 'Action Comics’ organically, he admits he has known Superboy-Prime would be front and center in the new series ever since he was cast in 'Sinestro Corps War.’
“This really grows out of DC Comics in general, and it grows out of everything else,“ said Johns. “You’ve got Superboy-Prime in it. You’ve got Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes characters in it. And 'Legion of Three Worlds’ obviously suggests that there is Legions from three worlds in it. Like you said, it’s a little universe of books. Well this is just a natural extension of what I have been working on. And what I have been building towards. What have I been writing? I have been writing with Green Lantern and Superboy-Prime and Legion of Super-Heroes, it all just kind of keeps going.”
There is definitely a Geoff Johns corner in DCU, and it’s something the writer is very aware of. “If you read the books I write, you can definitely see a continuity in the DC Universe, a mini-continuity or a mini-storyline or a mini-evolving universe, just because of the characters that I weave in and out and that I really gravitate towards. If I am writing comics at DC long enough, there is probably a chance that you are going to see Black Adam. That’s just a wild guess. There are just certain characters and groups that I really like. I still really love the Teen Titans. I would love to do them again some day.”
Asked if, aside from “Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds,” any of his other titles would tie into Grant Morrison and JG Jones’ “Final Crisis,” Johns simply said, “Yes.”
And would he share which ones?
With a laugh, he said, “No, not yet.”
Returning to “Action Comics,” next month’s issue #864 is an epilogue to the Legion arc and it deals with Batman, Superman and Lightning Lad. “It acknowledges everything that is going on right now with the Legion and pushes it forward and then wraps everything up so we can start ramping up to 'Brainiac.’”
Johns also confirmed that in October, “Action Comics” and James Robinson’s “Superman” would hook up and start crossing over more fluidly on a regular basis, making the two books -- for all intents and purposes -- a bi-weekly series.
“The 'Brainiac’ arc and his storyline 'Atlas’ both end around the same time and then we are going to be joining forces for good starting in October,” explained Johns. “We are working together and having some real fun with it. There is some major stuff that happens in the 'Brainiac arc’ and stuff that happens in 'Atlas’ that both play into where we are going, so everything is on the same track.
“Beyond that, I don’t want to get into it too much, because it’s a bit early. But I can say our goal is to make 'Superman’ and 'Action’ books that you HAVE to read, that you WANT to read; books that are high-quality and delivering some really big stories that all are about Superman. Instead of about everybody else, they are about Superman and hopefully we’ll succeed.”
But before four issues of “Brainiac” and long before he and Robinson form a united front against injustice, Geoff Johns has Supes facing off against one of his oldest foes -- Winslow Schott, the original Toyman -- in “Action Comics” #865 with guest art by Jesus Merino and a cover by Kevin Maguire.
Toyman was originally introduced 801 issues prior to his upcoming appearance, in “Action Comics” #64 in September 1943. “I love villains,” declared Johns. “I loved doing the Rogues’ issues when I was on 'The Flash’, with Captain Cold and everybody. I’ve always had a huge affinity for Toyman and better yet, I had a story for him. I always looked at him and asked, 'Why in the world is he fighting Superman?’ It makes no sense. He is guy who makes toy gadgets. He’s got a gimmick, like some of these other guys, but I had an angle that I wanted to explore.
“There are two types of people in the world -- Superman people and Batman people. Toyman prefers Superman. And that’s just he way he is. He likes bright colors. He likes the sunny city. He likes Metropolis. He doesn’t like Gotham. He thinks he belongs in the bright, shiny place even though, deep down, he’s really psychologically mixed up. And so he keeps getting dragged back to Arkham when he wants to be just in the light. I had a story for him and what I wanted to do with him is going to play out in 'Superman’ and 'Action Comics’ later on and so I really just wanted to tell a cool, one-issue Toyman story. I wanted to re-introduce him. But I am also fleshing out his background. He really doesn’t have much of a background, so I have gone in and really fleshed it out and hopefully made him into somebody people want to see and follow.
“James really loved the script and we came up with the storyline that comes out of it, which in turn, plays itself in what we have planned for later in the books.”
Toyman also presents Johns with an interesting test for his writing chops: “I like telling the story of the Superman villain with no powers,” the writer said. “It’s really fun working with a villain, who thinks he can beat Superman and he can’t. How in the world does Toyman think he’s going to stop Superman? Well, he has one thing he can do and it’s focused on heavily in the book. There is one thing he can do, one talent that he has that makes him able to take on Superman.”
If you think this is beginning to sounds very much like David and Goliath, Johns agrees. “Yes, and Toyman has a pretty good slingshot.”
The writer also warned, as was previously teased, that readers should not treat #864 as a fill-in or one-shot.“Towards the end, there will actually be a character returning to the books to the Superman mythos,” said Johns. “So it actually DOES roll into our first part of the 'Brainiac’ arc.”
And for those scoring at home, Johns’ Brainiac is no David. Of the villain first introduced fifty years ago in “Action Comics” #242, Johns said, “Brainiac is as physical as he is mental in the way we are going to portray him. There is a reason that Brainiac became such an important villain to Superman. He’s the alien that Superman isn’t. And I think that’s an important thing to keep reminding people. Superman is an alien but look how human he is. Even though he thinks he’s an alien. And he is alien. He is much more human than sometimes he gives himself credit for.
“Brainiac, on the other hand, is going to be re-introduced in a very different way. We’re taking everything into account that’s happened before but we’re really trying to push the creepy angle, a little bit of horror in there because Brainiac is really scary.
“I want to explore the dichotomy between Brainiac and Superman, like I wanted to explore the dichotomy of General Zod and Superman and the dichotomy of Bizarro and Superman and the dichotomy of Polar Boy and Superman in the 'Legion’ arc. Polar Boy probably shares more with Superman than any other Legionnaire, even though they don’t connect as much as some others. But looking at Superman and Brainiac, and trying to find a new angle to a character that has been around for so long.
“And while we are remembering what makes him a classic villain, there are also a lot of new facets to Brainiac. And what’s Brainiac’s M.O. and what his ultimate goal? Where he’s going? We need to find these things out because he will be a big player in the Superman books from here on out as long, as I am on the book.”
Johns said he loves re-imaging and re-introducing Superman’s earliest and in most cases, fiercest foes in the pages of “Action Comics,” but his greatest personal reward is working on the title with the ultra-talented Gary Frank (“Midnight Nation,” “Supreme Power”). “I have wanted to work with Gary on a consistent basis on something for years and years,” said Johns. “And the fact that we are happy with the collaboration and how well it’s going and that people have liked it is a thrill. Not to mention that people who maybe didn’t know the Legion of Super-Heroes or haven’t given them a chance are getting into these characters is also extremely satisfying.
“I hope we can do the same thing to every character that we touch on with Superman. It’s hard but working with a guy like Gary is what, for me, makes it a success. And if he and I are proud of it, I think people will like it. Gary is the absolute perfect guy on Superman for me. There is both a Curt Swan and a Christopher Reeve to his work. And he also brings his own A-game and you can just see a very clean, classic, realistic Superman and I really respond to his art. His figure drawing is amazing. His action is amazing. His humor and emotions are amazing.
“There is a Daily Planet scene coming up, that he and I have been dying to get to, and it’s just a bunch of characters but when we go to the Daily Planet, suddenly it becomes a little more fun. The book is a little more fun because these characters are interacting and you see the fun that Clark has and Lois and Jimmy and some of the other guys that we’ll be bringing in.
“When I get the pages, it just brightens my day.”
Giving one last tease of things to come, Johns said, “Gary’s details are crazy. Brainiac’s ship is amazing. Gary said, 'It’s so complex, I don’t know how many times I have to draw this but I shouldn’t have made it this complex.’ If they do a movie with Brainiac in it, they would just steal his design because it’s perfect.”
Don’t forget to return tomorrow for INFINITE GEOFF JOHNS III: “Justice Society of America.”
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