DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns is a busy guy these days. Not only does he spend a good portion of his day fulfilling his executive duties, which involve having a hand in all of DC’s non-comic book media properties, but he also guides three of DC Comics’ highest profile books: Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the flagship title: Justice League.
But he wasn’t too busy to sit down with Ron Richards and I for a brief chat about his current work at DC Comics.
Ron Richards: So Geoff, I want to start with Green Lantern. We’ve been enjoying the Hal Jordan/Sinestro team-up, but I think the thing that we’ve been enjoying the most is the return of sad sack Hal Jordan–
Geoff Johns: Cool.
RR: Is there any future employment for Hal in the insurance business or the toy business?
GJ: No. (Laughs) There’s not.
Geoff: You’ll kind of see where his job is heading in issue seven, actually.
RR: Picking up with Green Lantern after the relaunch, and after all the different colored Lanterns, the focus with Green Lantern itself seems to really just be on Hal and Sinestro. Can you expand on what, to you, the Green Lantern title represents? And whether it’s Sinestro, or Hal, or a balance of the two?
GJ: It’s a balance of the two. When we restarted the book I really wanted to have a cover and a story that wasn’t expected. So when Sinestro’s Green Lantern on the cover, you know, it kind of raises eyebrows. We’d been on Green Lantern for a while and it was time to go to the next level for us as far as the characters go. And Sinestro and Hal, to me, are central to Green Lantern. All the other stuff revolves kind of revolves around that relationship in a lot of ways right now. And so by putting Sinestro back in the green and having this kind of forced team-up between these two―and it gets even crazier and crazier as the Guardians of the Universe start to plan and put into action their decimation of the Green Lantern Corps, and the replacement of the Green Lantern Corps―it was just a pretty big journey of both Hal trying to find responsibility, and Sinestro trying to find redemption, and how these two were going to help one another do that. And I think that responsibility is something Hal has always struggled with. He might embrace it but he doesn’t always push himself to the max and he’s walked away from things far too easily in the past. And Sinestro doesn’t think he needs redemption, doesn’t want redemption, doesn’t want to be a Green Lantern. So what happens when Hal and him start to work together and Hal starts to want to take more responsibility for not just his personal life but also as a Green Lantern? What does that mean beyond just blasting bad guys with a ring? And seeing what Sinestro thought a Green Lantern could do and is that actually a pretty good idea, which Hal finds dangerous when he starts to think that. And when Sinestro starts to think, “maybe I have done things that were crossing the line…” If those two guys start to go there, where Sinestro starts to―and that’s kind of where we’re taking the character―Sinestro starts to look at Hal and see more than he used to, and Hal does the same thing with Sinestro, it’s a bit of a dangerous world, especially when the Guardians of the Universe are doing what they’re doing. And make no mistake, they are the villains of the next year.
Conor Kilpatrick: We’ve talked to you before about Aquaman, and you’ve talked about wanting to write an Aquaman book for a while. When I was a kid, Aquaman was one of my favorite characters, but thinking back on it, I can’t really remember why. And that’s not a knock on him, I just don’t remember why. What is it about Aquaman that you’ve always latched on to?
GJ: I like the world that he comes with: the ocean. I find it a really fascinating place as far as the depths and the secrets and Atlantis and all that stuff and then coupled with the fact that he was raised on land and discovered this secret [about his heritage]. There’s a bit of Superman in there, which I really like. And I just like the regalness that Aquaman has. I like the power he has. And I gravitate towards the character too because–while I love Batman, and Superman, and Wonder Woman–I always was a little bit more interested in Flash and Green Lantern and Aquaman because they were the next tier down that I hadn’t seen a thousand times. And so I just find the character incredibly intriguing. And I love Black Manta and Mera. All of the characters around him I find really interesting too.
CK: You’ve been riding an interesting line in the series where you acknowledge the fact that Aquaman can be the butt of jokes while also kind of embracing it. How did that decision come down to just ignore it and move on versus embracing it?
GJ: When I was relaunching the book I was talking to the editor Pat McCallum and we had been writing Aquaman as a pretty straight ahead superhero story in Brightest Day and people had been responding to it. They liked that. I think that was by far and away the most successful story in that series. But when we got to the monthly book and it was going to focus squarely on Aquaman, I was really pushing to have superheroes interact with normal people. That’s what I really wanted to do with Aquaman, have him interact with normal people as much as other superheroes because I wanted to ground the book. As I was conceptualizing the book it just came up: what’s the reaction to Aquaman? And how do I make it accessible and add some humor to it but also just everyone I talk to says, “Oh, he talks to fish.” Literally every time I say I’m going to write Aquaman, “Oh, the guy who talks to fish?”
GJ: Everyone would say that. And they wouldn’t say it like, (Awestruck) “Oh, the guy who can fly?” They’d say (Dismissive) “Oh, the guy talking to fish.” So it was out there already and I thought, you know let’s just embrace it and address it and take it head on because Aquaman’s such an easy target. It’s too easy to make fun of Aquaman. It’s almost like if you make fun of Aquaman, you’re aiming so low that it doesn’t take a lot of–
CK: It’s lazy.
GJ: Yeah, its very lazy. It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to make fun of Aquaman because it’s right there, it’s all there for you, you know? All that said, I think it’s something that we’ve embraced and tried to use to our advantage, that preconceived notion of what Aquaman is, and the jokes that can be made. It’s a piece of the book but it’s not what the book is about.
CK: What has been the biggest challenge so far with reclaiming Aquaman? You had specific challenges with reclaiming Hal Jordan and then Barry Allen and now you’re doing Aquaman. What’s been the biggest challenge with bringing Aquaman back to the forefront of the DC Universe?
GJ: I remember when [Mike] McKone and I did Teen Titans and everyone said it would not work and it was kind of a good challenge. So I like the challenge of people saying it’s not going to work or it hasn’t worked in the past. I think the hardest thing about doing Aquaman is just trying to raise our craft level up [to the story]. Ivan [Reis] and I and Joe Prado have a really pretty ambitious arc with “The Others”, and we’re trying to up our game and the execution. Trying to elevate our craft is the challenge. But it’s like that on all other books.
RR: What I think is interesting is in Justice League you’re telling a story that is set in the past, and we’ve seen Aquaman with the sideburns and we’ve seen younger versions of Wonder Woman and all these other characters. How much have you worked with the other writers on the other titles in bridging the gap between the Justice League story that you’re telling and what’s going on in the present day in the DCU? Will we ever see how the Aquaman in Justice League becomes the Aquaman of your book? Or did you talk to [Wonder Woman writer Brian] Azzarello and say, “okay this is what Wonder Woman was doing in the Justice League five years ago”? How does the story you’re telling play into the present day?
GJ: Obviously with Batman it’s, you know, pretty straight ahead. With Cyborg it was new. With Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman it’s pretty straight ahead. And in Aquaman you will see a lot about his past, even before Justice League and The Others. What he was like before then and how and why he changed. You’ll see why he changed then, why he’s changed now. With Wonder Woman I did talk to Brian about how she’s going to be portrayed in the Justice League and how she’s going to be portrayed in the monthly book. With Hal, in Justice League #7 when we cut to the present day, Hal still kind of goofs off. He’s a bit of a cocky guy when he’s around his friends. It’s like when you hang out with a group you’ve known for a long time–there’s a short hand, you relax a little bit. You act a little bit differently than you would in another situation. And so with the Justice League it was a matter of figuring out what the relationships were gonna be five years ago and how they would evolve to today and how they evolve to the next thing, because the next arc Jim [Lee] and I are working on, “The Villains’ Journey” is really about―and it will become very clear in Justice League #7―here’s where the Justice League is today in the world, here’s where the characters are in the world in relation to one another, and “The Villain’s Journey” changes all that. The next arc is really: we’ve established the League and then we see what the League has been like and what they’ve been doing, and then we see a whole new level to them in “The Villain’s Journey”. And it sets them off in different ways. The relationships among the team members will be radically different, but we’ll see that happen. I wanted to actually see why and how things changed rather than filling in the five year gap. We will do that, but really once we establish where they are now we really want to try to move forward. Does that make sense?
RR: That makes perfect sense.
GJ: And don’t forget “Shazam!” starts in Justice League #7.
RR: Oh, right―yeah, Shazam is in Justice League #7. How exciting is that?
GJ: Really exciting because Gary Frank is drawing it. And it’s the back-up feature that’s gonna be in Justice League every month but it actually eventually will tie into the main story. It’s essentially the New 52 Shazam, the new story of Billy Batson and his introduction into the world of magic.
RR: I guess the biggest question is: will Tawky Tawny be there as well?
GJ: Never say never.