“…if you’re going to do another Justice League title you need to make sure there is a reason for it. It can’t be numbers-driven or publisher-driven, it needs to be story-driven, and if it’s story-driven, I can get excited about that.”
Geoff Johns is a passionate guy. This is a fact that becomes apparent within minutes of talking to the main architect (to borrow a term from Marvel) of DC’s universe. He loves DC’s superheroes, and feels many of its characters – no matter how far down on the B list – deserve a shot at the big time. Such is one of the reasons behind the upcoming “Justice League of America,” written by Johns with art by David Finch. The book will serve as a kind of counterpoint to DC’s superstar packed “Justice League” which is also witten by Johns. Exactly what type of counterpoint is yet to be seen, but from chatting with Johns about the story and reasons for choosing the roster of “JLA,” each and every character in the book is special in his or her own way. It’s quite evident that Johns is – especially if you take into account his recent stellar run on the perpetually lambasted Aquaman – the Quentin Tarantino of DC Comics. He takes the beaten down, disregarded, some may say washed-up fallen stars and injects them with a new lives and careers. He’s their savior because he truly cares. Is Vibe going to be the next John Travolta or Robert Forester? If you ask Geoff Johns, he already is.
MTV Geek: Back when you announced this you said you were going to delve into what it was like for these characters to not be part of the main league. Can you elaborate on how you plan to approach this?
Geoff Johns: Sure. When I was thinking about whether or not a second Justice League title would work, essentially, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to write another team book it was had it’s own point of view, its own purpose both creatively and in the bigger DC Universe. So the Justice League has been positioned as like the A-list, the big iconic superheroes, and the Justice League of America is a very different team. As evident by the initial lineup, it’s not a team of A-listers. I think the biggest A-lister on there is probably Green Arrow, who knows it and flaunts it a little on the team. But the team is built with potential and that’s really what I wanted to dive into because I’ve always loved the big heroes, I love the big seven. Batman’s great, Superman’s great, but there is something that I’ve always really enjoyed about getting into characters that you might not have looked twice at. Green Lantern, before we relaunched it with our rebirth, I think we obviously expanded the fan base of the character. Working on Justice League of America I like delving into characters like Mr. Terrific and Doctor Midnight that people might not know very well, they might have heard of, but their judgment is a little quick. It’s the same thing as Aquaman and so I wanted to create a team of characters that people would look at and wonder what the hell we are doing. In a good way hopefully. I wanted to create a group of characters that had potential and it’s all about unlocking potential for me. The characters that I really enjoy writing and I gravitate towards are characters that might at first glance feel less than other superheroes and that’s the whole point of the Justice League of America. It’s all about finding characters who you have low expectations for and hopefully they surprise you both in story and in the universe. Designing this book to be all about finding the potential in you no matter who you are is what, for me, makes the book a lot of fun to work on.
Geek: Why specifically these members? How do you go about choosing members that you want to try and bring out of the B-list and get more attention?
GJ: I went through a huge laundry list of characters, and some of the characters right away, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, I knew they would be in there right away. And then I started to look at all of these other characters that would make sense. I wanted to find some characters that have history with the league, some don’t. There are characters like obviously Katana and Vibe that are maybe a little less known. Catwoman – I think a lot of people are like why would Catwoman ever join JLA and that’s one of the first things I asked myself. I absolutely love Catwoman, I think she’s an amazing character and really a character that can stand on her own in the Batman Universe and for me Catwoman, she’s an A-list character. The potential in her, she can get anywhere and out without anyone knowing and that’s a skill that this Justice League of America really wants. As soon as I started to ask the question, why the hell would a character like this ever accept membership to the JLA and then exploring the options suddenly became very, very interesting. So that character was chosen, with Vibe it was like I was looking at every member of the Justice League that has ever been a member and I wanted to find someone that maybe was a little bit rough, you know a diamond in the rough. Or in this case I don’t know if it’s a diamond so much, but it’s rough. So a character like Vibe came out and I started to explore, well if we were going to take a look a this character and reexamine who they are conceptually, who this character is and what they represent. I started to think about his powers and his powers are fairly commonplace in the original one with vibrations and stuff, but I tied that into more of the fabric of the DC Universe and the idea of someone who is out of sync with the rest of the world. His vibrational frequencies is off just a little bit so that any picture you take of him or any video is just a little bit blurry. The whole idea is that he feels a little bit out of step with everyone else because is literally is out of step with everyone else and then how that ties into not only him as a hero but also to find the confidence and the control to stand up and stand alongside everyone, but also how he can tie into the very fabric of what the DC Universe is on a big cosmic scale. Make him a guy who isn’t only a guy who creates sonic vibrations anymore but is a guy with a really strong character arc and an interesting emotional connection for me as a writer to write about and then big part of what the DC Universe is all about, suddenly he became a character that I was really excited to work on. Essentially I started to feel an unlocking and I hope I was able to achieve that in the book. When David Finch draws these characters they look fantastic, he legitimizes them almost right away here, but you know I want people to see this lineup and have a lot of questions because when this finally came together, all those questions, I went through all those questions and hopefully the answers are really exciting for people.
Geek: It sounds like you are really interested in Vibe, is that what led to the decision to spin him off into his own book?
GJ: Yeah, you know we actually talked a lot about Vibe and then the concept just grew and grew and grew. I was talking about him with Andrew Kreisberg one day and we just like came up with all of these stories and it was like god this character could have his, and we thought this was ridiculous, this character could have his own book because there’s a real story here and it tied into JLA and everything else going on. We talked about it with everyone and then decided lets give it a show. Lets try something new.
Geek: Going back to the Justice League, what would you say their M.O. is? What is there goal in this series?
GJ: It’s revealed in issue #1, but I would say that their goal is to be a Justice League of America that Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor think they can actually control. Which obviously is a terrible idea for them. It’s a Justice League that hopefully can act and behave and represent their interests in the best possible way. That’s the initial, starting with the JLA, is formed together to do. Both to monitor and combat superhuman threats for the whim of Amanda Waller and that’s going to change very quickly and there is a whole another layer to the issue, I just don’t want to totally give it away.
Geek: Narratively speaking, how does this fit in to your other Justice League title. Is this like a companion piece?
GJ: I really wanted to make sure that if I was going to do a Justice League of America book that it has a specific purpose and it connected to the Justice League in a way that drive story more than just another book on the shelf…if you’re going to do another Justice League title you need to make sure there is a reason for it. It can’t be numbers-driven or publisher-driven, it needs to be story-driven and if it’s story-driven I can get excited about that because I’m at a point where I only want to do stuff…working on all these characters that I think do have potential and I talk a lot about Vibe not because… and I think like Vibe… or yes I guess he just really loves Vibe, but like I don’t like Vibe until now. Like I never really liked the character, never really thought about him until now. Until I really sat down and started to go, well jeez this could be this and this is interesting.
Geek: So Martian Manhunter, you’re doing the backups with Matt Kindt. Is that because you’re pushing him as sort of the front and center of the team? You want to establish him as the individual?
GJ: Yeah, he’s such a massive character and the stuff, what his role is on the team, I talked with Matt about that a lot and Brian Cunningham, the editor of the book. The reason that their story’s the backup in JGL is just like Shazam is going to play a big role in Justice League, Martian Manhunter is a central character to Justice League of America and the stories the delve into it reveal even more about the main story through Martian Manhunter and reveal more about Martian Manhunter because he is the character that has the most mysteries of anyone in the book. Through the JLA main story he might seem a little bit removed, you get glimpses of it here or there. What he’s really up to, what he’s really doing and how it ties into the real story?
Geek: Tell us about David Finch.
GJ: The thing that, just like you and I talked about the characters at length, we talked about the characters and we talk about them like they are new characters. We go through Green Arrow and what he’s like, Hawkman and what his motivations are and why he’s on this team, what his demeanor is between the teammates and the criminals he fights and Waller and Steve Trevor and we talk about character first so he has all the body language and the … he’s a great emotional artist. You think about David Finch and you think of gritty, strong, powerful, but he’s also a really great emotional artist. He does these fantastic images of these characters in battle, I think, and the things I really gravitate towards in his work is when it’s personal and when are interacting with each other and so he always legitimized characters immediately like I said and you see him drawing Hawkman and he looks great, but working with David the thing that I have enjoyed the most is that he’s as interested in character as much I am. And to me that’s the biggest most important thing in this comic book or any comic book is the character.