Truth, Justice and the World Way: Geoff Johns talks 'Avengers'

If last year was the year the DC Comics began it's comeback and returned as a force to be reckoned with, as many professionals have said, undoubtedly Geoff Johns is a man due great credit for that company's success. With the success of critically-acclaimed hits like "Flash," "JSA," and most recently "Hawkman," Johns has been seen as a DC only writer by many fans and it seems only fitting that his first foray into Marvel Comics monthly writing would revolve around the mightiest characters in that universe. Taking the reins from veteran Kurt Busiek, Johns has begun to turn "Avengers" into something quite unlike any of his books at DC or the other superhero comics at Marvel.

"The Avengers are in many ways the opposite of the X-Men and they're 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes,'" explains Johns to any readers who might be new to Marvel's premier super-team. "They're the heroes that everyone calls when things go wrong, the heroes at the forefront of any disaster or conflict that erupts, threatening the lives of people around the world. Their current status in the comic series is such that after recent events, Avengers Mansion has become a sovereign territory and their U.S liaison has become an U.N liaison. While at first glance this may not seem like it will affect much except politics, it has strained a lot of relationships between the U.S and Avengers, and that'll be an ongoing, in depth element in the upcoming story arc."

At first glance, the Avengers may seem like just another group of spandex clad heroes who've lasted due to dedicated fans buying the series, but Johns explains that these are genuinely unique characters unlike any others Marvel or DC. "They're the best of the best," says Johns of the Avengers compared to other superheroes. "It's kinda like comparing the skills of a group of Green Berets to cops- they've been around that much longer and there is no other team that comes close to the Avengers in sheer power & responsibility. The characters, as I said before, need to fine-tune their working relationships in order to become the team they need to be. As far as the series goes, it's hard to recommend "Avengers" without sounding cliché. There's strong characterization, we're going to tackle some issues and plots that don't necessarily, at first glance, seem to be within the Avengers scope, but after we're well into them, they will."

There's also something deeper to each of the core characters of the Avengers and Johns summarizes each of the characters in his own words. "Captain America is just idealistic, he's the guy that always has the answers and even when he finds out one of his answers is wrong, he's not afraid to admit that. You've got Iron Man, Tony Stark, who seems to be aloof and a little highbrow, a little bit better than the other guys, or at least they think that he thinks he's better, if you know what I mean. But when you look at the amount of heroes he's taken under his wing- he's helped start Hawkeye, he helped Jack of Hearts, Warbird, Ant-Man- Iron Man is giving back more than anyone gives him credit for, including Black Panther. Then there's Black Panther, a guy who's extremely competent and confident, but also has to learn that the Avengers aren't just about being competent and confident. His conflicts with Iron Man will come to the forefront in the next arc. Scarlet Witch is a woman whose life has, ironically, always been in chaos and has finally found some order in her life with the Avengers and the Vision, so she's desperately trying to cling onto that order and appreciates the balance. And Vision, he's just one of the most fascinating characters in all of comic books in my eyes because he's not a robot and he's not quite a man. Imagine if one couldn't perform facial expressions- that's the Vision. He's a human that can't give facial expressions, he can't express himself and can't show the world how he feels, as much as he'd like to, but he's stuck feeling everything that the rest of us feel on the inside. It has to be extremely frustrating and it makes interacting with the world a really hard thing.

"We have all the other characters like Falcon, for whom we have a really strong spotlight issue coming up before 'Red Zone,' that continues to redefine his role with the Avengers, and we've got Henry Gyrich, one of my favorite characters in the Avengers cast and he gets the spotlight in #64. We've got a lot going on with Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts- Ant-Man to me epitomizes the modern day single father but you throw in the Avengers special missions and it just complicates everything ten fold. Jack of Hearts to me is someone who feels like he has no control over his life and no one around him, while also wanting to be one of the guys people come to for help instead of being turned away from; that's something he'll have to either overcome or he'll succumb to it with some bad repercussions.

"As for Hawkeye, a character everyone's asking about, there's a very good chance he'll show up. Oh yeah, a big chance he'll show. And you can quote me on that."

One of the characters mentioned by Johns, namely Henry Gyrich, has developed a long and sordid history in the Marvel Universe, which has led many fans to label him as shady and some to call him an outright villain. His inclusion in the Avengers line-up and as one of Johns' key players plays into the writers' strategy for crafting an interesting and logical story, as well as showing readers another side of a character they thought they knew. "I don't know if it's so much as we're making him heroic, as we're showing another side of him that's always been there," explains Johns. "Peter David nailed it, even Englehart had it there- Gyrich's not a one-note character and nobody should be a one-note character, but Gyrich should definitely not be a one-note character. He's not an evil character; he's a guy who's made a lot of mistakes and at the same time, with the tactics he uses, doesn't have a lot of self confidence and has had a lot of bad things happen to him because he hasn't been as forthright or as stern as he could, and maybe should've, been. That's something we want to explore and it's all about making the right choice or the wrong choice for him, and he's been doing the latter for far too long now. He's not an evil character- Jack of Hearts is as much a jerk as Gyrich is, he just hasn't been around as long as he has."

The group of characters that Johns has assembled in the pages of "Avengers" was of his choosing and not forced upon him, which makes many fans wonder what it is about these characters that makes the perfect team for the writer. When it comes down to it, Johns explains that to make "Avengers" work you need strong characters and bringing in interesting personalities will ultimately create interesting stories. "It's all about personalities. I told Tom [Breevort, editor on 'Avengers'] that I want to have Ant-Man, Yellow Jacket and Wasp on the same team, just because people will say 'you can't have three shrinking people on the same team. You can't do that. Why would you do that?' It's personality, it's to see how different they all are, because it's not about powers. Are we gonna have people shrinking left and right? No, but we are going to have them interact. Black Panther was great to add because of the effect of his personality and his personality itself. I want Captain America surrounded by people he trusts like Iron Man and Falcon. I wanted to use people like Falcon, Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket who hadn't had a lot of spotlight so we could play with characters and change their dynamics. They don't have their own books, so we don't have to worry about it.

"She-Hulk is a character I always loved, but it seems like every time she joined the Avengers, she was kind of the one in background smiling and then punching things, then she'd quit and return to smile, while also punching things again. So we want to do a story that centers on her and shows a different side of her, reminding people where she came from.

"If you look at Scott Lang, Ant Man, the most interesting thing about him is how he became Ant-Man and why he became Ant-man. Everything else has to revolve around the beginning, around the origin and that's why his daughter is such a big part of it. Characters like Jack of Hearts- you gotta go back to where they came from and make sure everything revolves around that. The same goes with every character you work with - I think a character loses focuses when you move away from where they came from."

Adding the political angle to the Avengers team, with their new status a sort of world power, is something that Johns says he feels is a logical extension of the team's concept. "Like I said earlier, it's the reverse of the X-Men: people want to trust these people and they want to rely on the Avengers. The Avengers aren't about political power and they aren't there to stand there for pro-choice or pro-life: they're not about politics. They don't want to get involved in it. What it does give them is more access and more information- that's why they want it. It's not about allegiances- their allegiance is to the world, which is what I want to bring out. It's not about changing policies. They can't go to Iraq and start a war, they just can't do that- and quite frankly I don't want to write about that in 'Avengers.' But you can have a story like 'Red Zone,' and I don't want to give away too much, but that story will epitomize my take on 'Avengers.' Everything that's been happening is a set up for 'Red Zone' and this change in the Avengers' political power is a part of that story, and whether it stays the status quo or not is up in the air."

By now, some of you may be wondering what this "Red Zone" story is and the truth is, not much is known to fans besides the fact it marks the beginning of penciller Olivier Coipel's run on "Avengers." "It's the worst bio-terrorist attack on American soil," explains Johns of the story's spark. "Expect the unexpected. It'll have as much character interaction and growth as it will action. It's probably going to piss a lot of people off- by part 3 of this story, some people will probably get a little irritated and I think that's good. I'm looking to surprise people. I'm looking to tell a story I can't tell anywhere else. This is a story that wouldn't work with any other super team or combination of super heroes, and that's why I think it'll be a decent story. Again, Olivier's brought so much of this to life, it's fantastic."

Those who've read Johns' "Avengers" so far have seen the scope of his storytelling and while his first arc on the series may have met with some mixed reaction online, the scribe feels that it's been a mostly positive experience for all involved. "I probably could have used one more issue but when I got there I didn't want to do a story that would take more than four months to tell. We got pretty aggressive and I'm happy with a lot of the stuff that came out of the story. We had a few bumps here and there because I was learning the ropes, we still had artistic choices up in the air, but a lot of good stuff came out of the book. And the fact that sales are up seven or eight thousand since the book started is really great. Sure, there are detractors, but when aren't there detractors?"

If there's one aspect of the series Johns feels people won't be critiquing, it's the art from rising star Olivier Coipel, who Marvel snagged from DC's cult-hit "Legion." "It's funny, I was a big fan of his stuff on 'Legion' obviously and it was actually Tom who brought his name up," says Johns of how Coipel became associated with the Avengers. "I was like 'God, that guy is fantastic, do you think he'd want to come on?' The next thing I know, he's on 'Avengers' and that's pretty much how it went. I'm happy to have him on the book. His art style is very modern and I think it brings a look to 'Avengers' that it hasn't had in a long time- it brings it up to the modern day. We work with some great artist, but Olivier has a style that'll turn the book on its ear a bit. His 'Legion' stuff was great, but I love seeing him draw modern day stuff- I love seeing him draw the present instead of spaceships and there's something about it that's so perfect."

If there's any comic that one can say is going to draw direct comparisons with Johns' work on "Avengers," it'd be Mark Millar's "Ultimates," an alternate universe version of the Avengers that's currently the second highest selling comic in America. But Johns says that he doesn't mind there being an alternate telling of the Avengers' origins and in fact, welcomes great comics being produced, no matter who's starring in them. "I'm a huge fan. And for those who might think the Avengers are lame and the Ultimates are the only cool versions of those heroes, we tell stories like 'Red Zone.' I think 'Red Zone' is going to surprise people- we've been working hard on setting it up and it's not your typical Avengers story…at first. I think a good story, presenting the characters in a very clean and concise way and showing why this team is interesting is enough to make 'Avengers' a great series. There's no rivalry between Mark and I- I don't feel it at all, probably because I'm such a huge fan of 'Ultimates.' It is a very different book featuring very different characters, but I can't recommend that book more.

"If you haven't checked out 'Avengers,' please check out issue #65. I think it's a hell of an issue and you don't have to know anything to understand the issue. You don't even have to read 'Ultimates.' [laughs]"

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