By Scott Tipton
Another insanely busy week here at COMICS 101 HQ, with quite a few new projects in the works that I can't quite reveal yet. So while I downshift into nonstop scripting mode, I hope you'll indulge me by looking at another chapter from the upcoming Ryall/Tipton book COMIC BOOKS 101 that we unfortunately had to leave on the cutting-room floor, this time focusing on a favorite creative talent around these parts. Enjoy.
CHAPTER 16: GEOFF JOHNS
Much of what DC has done right in recent years has come from the mind of writer Geoff Johns, who has demonstrated a strong respect and fondness for DC's history and past, without being hidebound by it, taking those characterizations and aspects that work best and refining them for a modern sensibility.
Johns came to the company from the entertainment biz, taking on his first writing gigs while still working for producer Richard Donner. Johns' first work for DC was the new series STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E., a modernization of the company's 1940s "Star-Spangled Kid" character. (In a poignant biographical note, Johns based the series' lead character, spunky teen Courtney Whitmore, on his own sister Courtney, a casualty of the explosion of TWA Flight 800.)
While STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. failed to really catch on (unfortunately, as it was a tremendously fun series), Courtney Whitmore made the transition to Johns' next job, co-writing DC's Justice Society revival JSA with writer David S. Goyer. Before long, Johns had taken over the writing duties entirely, smoothly balancing a strong knowledge and respect for the team's history with heavy doses of fresh, young characters. In so doing, Johns gave the JSA a focus and purpose in the larger DC Universe it had long lacked: The JSA, more than anything, was now about the idea of legacy, of the original heroes of yesterday working with and training their children and apprentices.
At the same time Johns was ably handling yesterday's heroes in JSA, he was shepherding tomorrow's heroes in TEEN TITANS. A mix of characters from the '80s Wolfman/Perez NEW TEEN TITANS series and the then-current top teen heroes in the company -- Superboy, Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash -- Johns' TITANS was a most satisfying series in its own right, often referring to past TITANS series both in plotline and in tone, while not taking the spotlight off the stars of the book, the young heroes of today.
Probably Geoff Johns' most notable accomplishment was pulling off what many thought to be an impossible task: salvaging the Hal Jordan character from the hopeless morass of bad decisions foisted on him by DC over the past decade, and doing so in a compelling thriller that doesn't just gloss over or ignore those decisions, but actually crafts them into a first-rate story, in GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. Best of all, it wasn't just Hal Jordan getting the star treatment, but all the remaining Green Lanterns, including Kilowog and Guy Gardner, who was finally relieved of the well-intentioned but visually awful "Warrior" identity and returned to the way most people best remember and most like the character, as the ass-kicking take-no-prisoners Green Lantern from the JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL days.
Johns has a knack for finding a new conceptual spin on old ideas and characters, such as the concept that Batman's dislike of Hal Jordan comes from insecurity, since, as Jordan was "without fear," he was the one man Batman couldn't intimidate or frighten, which is where much of Batman's advantage come from. Similarly, while the other GLs fall victim to some force that's turning them evil, Kyle Rayner is able to resist using his ring and falling victim to it. Why? Because unlike every other Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner knows fear. Good stuff. Johns was ably abetted here by artist Ethan Van Sciver's work -- delicate and detailed with strong acting and storytelling.
Quite frankly, the only downside to Johns at this stage of his career is that fact that there's only so many books he can write per month. Johns would be well suited to spending a couple of years revitalizing some of DC's trademark characters that have fallen by the wayside, like Aquaman or Shazam!. DC would be wise to hand him the keys to the castle and tell him to have at it.