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COMICS 101

By Scott Tipton
Scott Tiptons Comics 101

2009-01-14 - THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM STRIKES AGAIN: MORE COMIC BOOKS 101 DELETED SCENES

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Johns kept up the momentum from his GREEN LANTERN relaunch into the new monthly GL series, and carried it over into the sleeper comics hit of 2007, THE SINESTRO CORPS WARS. Taking place in the pages of DC's two monthly GREEN LANTERN books, the storyline featured longtime GL enemy Sinestro recruiting his own army of ringbearers to battle the Green Lantern Corps, and brings a whole mess of DC villainous heavyweights to the party. Along the way Kyle Rayner turns evil, Green Lanterns are dropping left and right, and all kinds of bad stuff goes down. It's exactly the right size, too, taking place primarily in the pages of GREEN LANTERN and GREEN LANTERN CORPS, with only a few spinoff books being produced, and those being of fairly high quality as well. In a summer where both DC and Marvel were pumping out tons of crossover books to go along with whatever Big Event they were currently promoting, Johns proved the power of a strong story well told.

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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.

SIDEBAR -- SCOTT SAYS: I think what I like most about Geoff Johns' work is his willingness to go out of his way to rescue a favorite character that may have been ill-served by a previous creative team. This almost seemed to be his specialty in the pages of JSA, where he plucked the Golden Age hero Hourman from a pointless demise, returned Hawkman to the land of the living after years of head-scratchingly confusing misuse, and even gave permanently dead characters like the original Star-Spangled Kid a final, moving moment in the spotlight. And in all of these cases, found a way to do so that didn't invalidate the work that had come before.

RECOMMENDED READING 101:
GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver
GREEN LANTERN: THE SINESTRO CORPS WAR, VOLUMES 1 and 2 by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver
JSA PRESENTS: STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. VOLUMES 1 and 2 by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder
JSA: DARKNESS FALLS by David S. Goyer, Geoff Johns and Stephen Sadowski
52, VOLUMES 1-4 by Morrison, Johns, Rucka, Waid and Giffen

Scott Tipton is getting back into his routine for the new year. If you have questions about JSA, GL or comics in general, send 'em here.

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