A little while ago, I interviewed DC writer Geoff Johns to coincide with the collected edition releases of Blackest Night and The Flash: Rebirth. Here’s a slightly edited down version of that interview:
When you were writing Green Lantern: Rebirth, did you envision it becoming the big franchise it is now?
No, I just tried to do the best I possibly could, and the fact that it’s grown so much and now, I just got back from New Orleans, from the set where we’re filming [the movie]. We’re getting ready for an animated series, and direct-to-DVD animation. It’s really cool to see how big it’s getting, and I think it’s only going to get bigger with the general population. But again, the thing I love is it’s got that inspirational aspect of overcoming fear and talking about what that means, and maybe getting people to think a little bit about their own life, their own challenges.
Generally, how do you feel about bringing characters back from the dead?
It’s all up to the writer to explore what emotional hook they can get the reader onto. With characters that come back…Peter [J Tomasi] and I are working on this series called Brightest Day. We’re halfway through it now, but we each have our own characters we gravitate towards. I think you just have to love the character and find whatever you want to say about that character. With Green Lantern, for me, it was about fear. I think fear is such a prevalent emotion. It doesn’t really exist, but it controls a lot of us and it’s something we all have to deal with, and as that progressed, I was like, there’s also rage, there’s also love, there’s also…and the reason I got into that was because I thought, this is something I can explore. Hal can conquer fear very, very easily because it’s in his nature to conquer fear. He misinterpreted early on where he really thought it was about being a daredevil and not being afraid, proving he was without fear instead of overcoming fear. Sinestro says this to him in one issue: “Green Lanterns can deal with fear, but love and hate and loss and sorrow…everything else, you have to deal with like everyone else.” And, for me, writing these stories is more of a process looking inward, really dealing with emotions – and I like hyping them up and making them superhero-y and over-the-top, you know. There’s literally a corps based on avarice.
So it’s about humanising the characters, for you.
Yeah, and also having fun with it. Letting the artist have fun with it, making the characters – like with The Flash. With Francis Manapul, letting him do what he does best, show off The Flash. In an issue that came out a little while ago, [The Flash] rebuilt an apartment building, and because it collapsed he got everybody out, he asks, “is everybody okay?” and someone says, “Where am I going to live now?” He says, “be right back”, looks at all these books about construction, rebuilds the apartment building and says, “How’s that?” Most superheroes wouldn’t do that. They’d have a fight, then they’d keep moving on. The Flash is different. He stops and helps everybody.
The Flash has always been about that… even in Kingdom Come, when he’s living between moments.
Everywhere at once, yeah, taking it to the next level. Obviously, that’s what Alex and Mark were going for in taking it to the next level.
When you’re reviving a character, like Barry or Hal, do you think it helps if those characters haven’t been around for a long time?
In terms of freedom to reintroduce them?
Yes, I do. There’s gonna be a second Flash book that’ll have Wally starring in it soon. We’ve got Kyle Rayner on Green Lantern Corps. I think there’s a place for all these characters and they all represent something different. When you’re able to open the mythology of a character, and this is something I try and do when I approach characters like Firestorm, Hawkman or Green Lantern is I use everybody. Let’s use everybody, and every piece. Grant [Morrison]’s doing it on Batman, right now. Let’s use every piece of this long, great lineage to tell these stories.
When you reflect back on your early work on Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E and JSA, how do you feel about it?
I really like it, because I loved the characters. Stargirl I based on my sister who passed away a long time ago, and that characters was for her, and the fact that that character has lived on, been in cartoons, put her in Smallville and stuff is really exciting. It’s great fun to see that character grow. The fact that JSA is a staple of DC, now, and it wasn’t for a long, long time. There are characters like Hourman and Mr Terrific and several of the other JSA characters have made the leap to animation and action figures.
Do you feel like you’ve made your mark on the DC Universe and you’re stepping back, a little bit?
I’m still writing my books. I’m not writing quite as many books – I need to be a little bit more judicious on what I do, because I don’t have the time any more. At one point, I think I was doing five books a month, and I was always going to scale back after Blackest Night. So yeah, I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m always going to write comics as long as I possibly can, and as long as I have stories to tell. On JSA, I had stories left, but I felt like I told almost every story I wanted to. With Teen Titans, my enthusiasm for the book dropped when Superboy was taken away, so you know, it all depends on the project. But I hope to keep writing. I love working with everybody. I don’t plan on new characters.
Do you feel there are any characters in the DCU you haven’t made your mark on?
You know, one of the things I really enjoy about Green Lantern and Flash is introducing new characters. I feel like I’ve played around in the DC Universe. I think the next thing I’d love to do is – I’d love to do Justice League at some point, obviously, but I also want to continue to try and do new stuff. I’m doing a Larfleeze Christmas special this year just for fun, but I think I’ve worked on every one I wanted to work on. I’d love to do more Batman stuff. I’m doing that with Gary Frank [with Batman: Earth One].
What are your favourite ongoing titles right now in comic books?
I love what Grant’s doing with Batman. I love what Paul Cornell’s doing – his first Action Comics issue is really good. I really loved Stracyznski’s Thor run, I thought it was great. Northlanders, American Vampire, Supergirl, New Avengers… there’s a ton of books out there, I guess.
What are your all-time favourites?
My all-time favourites would probably be Suicide Squad by John Ostrander, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, Mark Waid’s Flash. Preacher is great. Golden Age by James Robinson, that’s a fantastic book.
When it comes to the comic book craft, what do you feel you’ve got better at since you started?
I think I’ve gotten better at working with artists, and I learned a lot of that from Jeph Loeb. It’s really important to know your artist’s strengths. That’s something I learned – you kind of look at what you’ve been doing and want to shake it up.
Do you prefer big event comics, or self-contained storylines?
It’s easier not to do events. I enjoy doing them, because I work with so many people on them, but smaller stories… Flash right now is very self-contained and character-driven, not a big event book. It’s quieter to work on, you can focus on the character.
Much in the same way Green Lantern was, post-Rebirth…
Yes, exactly. Green Lantern was, for the first year and a half, a story that was quiet up until Sinestro Corps War. Then we did Secret Origins, which was a quieter story. I like doing both of them. My event books, Blackest Night and 52, are more known than my run on Action Comics or my run on Superboy because they just sell more – they get more eyeballs on them, but Action Comics, Secret Origins… I could write Superman with Gary Frank forever.