Geoff Johns is a busy man these days. This week is the big launch of the DCnU, 52 new No. 1 titles that shake up the DC universe. And this time they mean it. (Well, they always say they mean it, so longtime fans are used to taking these things with a grain of salt.)
But no matter how cynical a fanboy you are, DC Comics’ chief creative officer comes off as totally sincere in his desire for this relaunch to succeed and to make all the books as good as possible.
I had the chance to speak to the Detroit native (he was born in Detroit, grew up in Grosse Pointe and Clarkston, and graduated from Michigan State University) a few days prior to tomorrow’s publication of “Justice League” No. 1, which he’s writing with DC co-publisher Jim Lee, who spearheaded a team that redesigned a number of costumes, on art.
Here’s what he had to say:
Geek Watch: One of the reasons for doing this launch is to find new fans. What can they expect that’s different that will make them want to pick up what’s perhaps their first comic, or at least their first in a long time?
Geoff Johns: “I think there’s two parts. One is the comic book stores. Comics are a great world, but there’s so much more out there. So many more things occupy people’s time. Part of it is to get those readers who read comics to give them an open door.”
“The other half: The day and date digital. Every Wednesday, comics come out, and now they’ll be out the same day on your iPad or your smartphone. I think it’s a huge thing. It’s hard to find comic shops in many parts of the country, not to mention globally.”
“In the physical sense, it’s reminding people of comic shops. “You take those two together and you create a starting point.”
With “Justice League”: “it’s when these characters first met. They’re not the Super Friends any more. This arc really explores the dynamic of these characters. Their personalities are a lot more combative and different.
“We see the creation of modern myth-making in that first act. That kind of sets the stage for the other books.”
GW: Before the DCnU announcement, I’d read that DC was moving away from being so dark, but DCnU seems pretty heavy on the grim and gritty. What titles are appropriate for younger audiences who don’t want to read “kids comics”?
GJ: “I’d say most books are,” “Flash,” “Batgirl,” “Green Lantern,” for example.
“I don’t think anyone wants to paint an entire tone across all the DC books because that limits the stories you can tell. The tone of ‘Justice League’ is much different than ‘Justice League Dark,’ which is much different than ‘Justice League International.’ ”
GW: Longtime fans have been through a lot of these — what’s in it for them?
GJ: “I completely understand it. As a longtime fan myself, there are certain books I’m nervous about or skeptical about. I get nervous because I have my own version of the character, but I can’t go in and mandate what they do. I think passion really delivers a good story. It’s all about the execution.
“If it’s good, it will stick and will be a part of canon.
“At the same time, I want to see what Grant Morrison is going to do with Superman. Hopefully these bigger books will be a doorway to the DC universe and these other books,” like “Animal Man” and “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., which he plugged a couple times. “All my trepidation is balanced by what others are doing.
“To be able to read ‘Flash’ No. 1. It’s grounded, it’s an entry-level book to ‘Flash.’ I don’t’ know what’s going to happen next. It’s exciting to me.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know who Barry Allen was, but I liked the Flash. … I was younger and open to change.”
Before Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight,” one writer told him, “We should kill the Joker. Every story has been done.”
But “this generation wants their Joker stories.
“One of the tricks to this is really checking yourself at the door and telling yourself, ‘Not everyone has been reading comics as long as I have.’ It gives you a bit of freedom to really think about it.”
When writing a new character, he says he makes notes: what’s special, what’s connecting the character to so many fans. “You’ve got to keep those primal elements.” But you also have to make them modern.
“As a new reader or even a more casual reader, you’re more apt to give things a try.
“I think with the right creator and a great comic book, it washes away all your fears.”
GW: What’s going to make this one stick, or will it?
GJ: “The whole company is committed to this direction,” says Johns, who was born in Detroit and raised in Grosse Pointe and Clarkston. “Everyone is about moving forward and not going backward. It’s more about seeing what stories and what characters pop.”
GW: How tied into other media are these books? (For instance, now that the Wonder Woman pilot wasn’t picked up, she has shorts again in the comic.)
GJ: “The comics really drive everything.” The pants weren’t about the TV series, he says. “(Co-publisher) Jim (Lee) and everyone looked at Wonder Woman and decided more of a classic look was visually interesting than the pants.”
GW: The costumes seem to be raising as much ruckus as the character changes.
GJ: “Jim redesigned most of them with a crew of other artists. Some of them are really different, and some of them are close to the same.
“I think everyone has their version of who the characters are. I go by what’s an emotionally interesting concept. Everyone has their own version of what they want. Some want Aquaman to have a beard and a hook. Some want Aquaman to ride a seahorse.
“One of the hardest things with comics, … as a creator, you need to really hold on to what your vision is. If you put your passion into your vision, it’s going to turn out great comics and a confident take. You want to respect and be conscious of what’s gone on before, but at the same time you want to make sure you’re doing it.”
He says Lee told him if he listened to all the fans, “it’d be a blank piece of paper.”
“I hope we’re creating fans now who are saying, ‘That’s my version of Aquaman.’
“I’m doing everything I can to make these the best books I’ve ever done. The tones are a lot different than anything I’ve tried before. Everybody has to put in their best. That’s what makes canon.”
GW: I’m a big Aquaman fan, so I’m thrilled to see his new book. What made you pick him for your next project?
GJ: “I’ve always loved Aquaman,” he says, pointing to Green Lantern, Flash and Aquaman. “Those are my three favorite characters.”
“I have a special take on Aquaman . Everyone who knows who Aquaman is. They may smirk when they say it.
“It’s a very entry-level book. All you need to know is there’s a char named Aquaman. The rest of the book takes you on a ride of who Aquaman is.
“Aquaman to me is one of DC’s most recognizable and greatest heroes, and to tackle that with all the preconceived notions is a great challenge.
“It’s a serious, straight-on superhero book, but it does have a lot of humor to it. In the water he’s a king, but on land he’s a bit of a joke.”
“When I went back and read all these Aquaman comics, I read the stuff from the ’80s and ’90s. He’s always been a character that’s been around and popular, but every issue I read, they went above and beyond in making him a bad-ass Aquaman, but at the same time you have to temper that.”
GW: How has being from Michigan affected your writing?
GJ: “When I wrote ‘The Flash,’ I turned Keystone City into Detroit, made it a car town. I make a lot of my characters from Detroit. I think self-made, blue-collar heroes represent Detroit. Wally West flash was like that. I took the inspiration of the city and the people there and used it in the books.
“There are certain things about Michigan. When you meet some from Michigan outside of Michigan, they’re a bit more laidback and real.” New York and L.A. are extremes. “But in Michigan, there’s a nice balance of being a person. It’s just a great place.”
GW: One of my friends greatly misses “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.” Any chance for a revival in the DCnU?
GJ: “100 percent chance of revival for ‘Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.’ It will happen.”