I’m going to tell you a story. Stick with it, I think it hits the core of who we’re about to talk about…
When I decided to move from New York to Los Angeles, one of the things I did to save up some cash was quit reading comics. FLASH was my favorite book, but the writer at the time, Mark Waid, was leaving the series, so I figured it was a good time to call it a day. With Waid’s final issue, I too walked away from the adventures of the Fastest Man Alive.
Some eight months later, I’m living in California on the corner of Klump and Cumpston, just across the street from the North Hollywood subway station. I’m poor as hell, have no real income, and am in a generally crap mood, so I decide to go for a walk. I walk for three miles or so and end up at a Popeye’s Chicken in a strip mall. Broke, all I can buy is a drink, but I take my time with it, sitting in the air conditioned Popeye’s, smelling the delicious fried goods and sipping on a Pepsi. From out the window, I can see a comic shop. DJ’s Comics. I make the decision to change locations and loiter in the comic shop for a bit.
Inside the shop are two men. One sits behind the counter, the other leans against the counter. They are talking, but I pay little attention. I don’t drop no eves, if you know what I mean. I look up and down the “new books” shelves at all the comic wonders. Soon enough, my eye reaches FLASH. I pick up a copy and flip through it. As I’m flipping through, the guy who was leaning against the counter comes up.
“You read FLASH?” he asks me.
I don’t look up. Like I said, I’m all grumpy that day and I apparently decided to be rude. I do respond, though, “I used to. I quit when Waid left the book.”
“You don’t like the guy who’s writing it now?”
“I haven’t read any of his issues.”
The guy walks out of the store, which seemed like a weird reaction. I go on looking at the shelves.
About a minute later, he comes back in with a stack of comics. He walks up to me and holds them out. It is roughly seven issues of FLASH.
He smiles and says “I’m Geoff Johns. I wrote these, and I think you may like them. If not, you never have to buy another issue. If you do, I hope you’ll keep reading.”
This is the kind of person Geoff Johns is. This guy, who I would come to see in DJ’s Comics from time to time and he was always very open and very cool. He’s a guy who loves comics. More to it, he loved DC Comics. You could see it in his eyes when you talked to him – he had an affinity for these characters – he understood what made them work.
That is why I feel confidant that the DC movies are now in the right hands.
I’m not interested in telling you things about Geoff Johns that you can find on Wikipedia. Instead, what I’d like to do is focus on a few stories he’s written that I think will give us an idea of how he’ll refocus the DC Cinematic Universe.
GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH
In the 90s, the best known Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, was taken down a path that many fans didn’t like (I loved it personally). Hal’s hometown, Coast City, was destroyed in a battle between Superman and Cyborg Superman while Hal was off planet doing Green Lantern stuff. Upon finding out about the tragedy, Hal snapped. He tried to recreate the city, and the people who died in it, with his ring. When that didn’t work, Hal killed every Green Lantern and took their rings to amp his power. He became the villain known as Parallax.
Then he died saving the world when a sun eater ate the sun. While this was a turn back to the light for Hal, he still had a lot of murder on his hands, so the powers of the universe turned him into the Spectre – the vengeful hand of God. Like I said, a lot of people hated this, but I really loved it. The changes to the character were very interesting in my eyes.
DC Comics decided that they needed Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern, and Geoff Johns figured it out. In GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH, Johns didn’t just bring back Hal Jordan as a Green Lantern, he brought back the Green Lantern Corps. More amazing, he found a way to make Kyle Rayner (the last remaining Green Lantern after Hal’s destruction of the Corps) still fit in.
This was the first test for something Geoff Johns believed – that DC worked best when all the toys were out and being played with. After bringing Hal Jordan back, Geoff Johns wrote the regular GREEN LANTERN series for years and introduced a new aspect to the Green Lantern mythos that seems so obvious yet was never done – Johns introduced the concept of other “Lanterns” showing that each one represented a different aspect of humanity.
White Lanterns – Life
Red Lanterns – Rage
Orange Lanterns – Avarice
Yellow Lanterns – Fear
Green Lanterns – Willpower
Blue Lanterns – Hope
Indigo Lanterns – Compassion
Violet Lanterns – Love
Black Lanterns – Death
What Geoff Johns did with GREEN LANTERN was really explore why the concept of the Lanterns worked, and why Hal Jordan was important to that story. Arguably, Johns did the most important work with Green Lantern since the 70s.
FLASH “BLITZ” and “ROGUE WAR”
Geoff Johns’ first run on FLASH was, in effect, one long story about Wally West, the third Flash, stepping into the next stage of his career. Wally started as the sidekick to the previous Flash, Barry Allen, then took over the role when Barry died. For a long time, Wally struggled with the role of taking over for his mentor and friend, but by the time Johns came onto the book, those problems were taken care of.
So Johns focused on what it means to be a hero and how sometimes, part of being a hero is accepting the past. In this instance, the guy not accepting the past is Hunter Solomon. Hunter, a cop who made some serious mistakes in the past, ends up getting paralyzed by Gorilla Grodd. Knowing that Flash can travel back in time, Hunter asks Wally to go back and fix what went wrong in his life. Wally refuses, knowing that you can’t just mess around with the timestream all willy nilly.
So, being an idiot, Hunter takes it on himself to try and go back in time, which he messes up. Instead of going back, Hunter finds himself empowered by time. Hunter gains superspeed and becomes Zoom. As Zoom, Hunter comes to the rather insane conclusion that Wally will never be as great as he could be because Wally has never suffered a true loss, so he takes it on himself to bring tragedy to Wally. Zoom goes after Wally’s family, killing his unborn children.
This lead to a lot of major changes for Wally. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of these changes, not until Johns’ final storyline with this version of Flash, ROGUE WAR. In ROGUE WAR, as the title of the story suggests, the Rogues (the major enemies of Flash) are duking it out amongst themselves, with Flash trying to keep the city from exploding. Sure enough Zoom shows up and things get real nasty. Without giving things away, Wally saves the day and figures out the important lesson – heroes are not built by tragedy, they are built by hope.
BATMAN: EARTH ONE volumes One and Two
DC has a line of graphic novels called EARTH ONE where they take established characters and put them into “the real world”. Geoff Johns has written two volumes of Batman in this setting, and I really can’t recommend them enough. Not only are they a great take on Batman, I’m pretty sure that reading them will give you an idea of what Ben Affleck’s solo BATMAN movie will be like.
This being Batman, it is dark and it is filled with anger, and murder, and all the things that make Batman not Superman. But it is also an ongoing story of redemption and faith. This is a Batman who believes in his city, and believes that people can change for the better. The version of Jim Gordon in these stories is that of a once crooked cop looking to atone for his sins. Alfred is a hardass who pushes to bring out Bruce’s anger, but Bruce isn’t willing to let that anger consume him. I imagine there are people who are upset with how Johns has reimagined these characters, but I love it.
SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN
I am of the opinion that everything DC starts with Superman. If you have a solid hold on how to do Superman right, you have a foundation to build the rest of the DC books off of. I know it may sound obvious – Superman was the first superhero after all – but I think it is something DC Comics overlooks often. I get why they would – Superman hasn’t been their top seller in a long time. Batman has been DC’s big money maker for the last few decades, and we’ve seen a lot of the DC Universe get darker because of it – even Superman has fallen into the dark, and that straight up breaks my heart.
Which is why Geoff Johns’ SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN is so important. In it, Johns retells the story of how Superman came to be, but more importantly, Johns uses it as a chance to re-introduce aspects of the Superman legend that had been wiped away some thirty years prior. In the 80s, DC cleaned house, and part of that cleaning included getting rid of a lot of Superman’s past. He was never Superboy. He never joined the Legion of Superheroes and had adventures in the future. He didn’t have a superpowered dog. These things were all lost to time, and Geoff Johns saw that as a problem, one he could fix.
Johns brought back the idea that a young Clark Kent was Superboy, and they he had adventures in the future with the Legion. He did this because these stories, this part of Superman’s life, reminded us of what Superman should be – fun. Yes, the world around the Man of Steel can be dark, but Superman never should be. He is the light in the dark, and he works best when we remember this.
These are the stories that I think tell us who Geoff Johns is, and how he looks at the DC Universe. He sees these characters as hopeful. He sees them as friendly faces we look forward to seeing again. He sees them as heroes. I think Johns will bring this to the DC Cinematic Universe, and if he does, I know that the DCCU will be much better for it.
*All Photos: DC Comics