Exclusive: Geoff Johns on Trinity War, Green Lantern, Shazam & More
Free Comic Book Day was last weekend, as you should've known, and one of the many comic creators who were out at local shops to support the publicity effort was DC's Geoff Johns, writer of Justice League, Justice League of America, Aquaman and co-writer of the upcoming Trinity War event, which will be six issues running through his JL books and Jeff Lemire's Justice League Dark. He's also finished an epic nine-year run on Green Lantern, the last issue of which comes out soon. So there was quite a bit of ground to cover when I met with him and his adorable bulldog Buddy before his signing at Golden Apple Comics in LA.
In our conversation below, Johns gave us some information on the set-up of Trinity War, as well as some hope for the future of The Question, who seems incredibly far afield a this point. There's also a lot of talk about Shazam and his reinvention in back-up stories for Justice League – one that seemed really off-putting at first, but has started to come around to a more traditional take on who Billy Batson is at his core – which is definitely not the insufferable brat we were presented with at the outset. We also get some reflections on his time with GL, and a great summation of Black Manta which will defy anyone who can't get past the helmet. That helmet which is awesome, by the way.
CRAVE ONLINE: Does the huge line out there intimidate you at all?
GEOFF JOHNS: I drove in the back, so I haven't seen anything yet, but my hand's ready to sign, so I'm ready to go. I think it's really important just to come out and support Free Comic Book Day, and try to give away comics to as many people who don't read comics as possible.
So, let's start with Trinity War. Was it ever planned as a stand-alone event book, or was it always designed to run it through the Justice League books?
Everything's always organic. Blackest Night was originally just going to be in the Green Lantern books. Certain storylines grow out of the books, certain storylines you want to keep in the books. It's a six issue story, and it's really a Justice League story – we wanted to bring all the Justice League books together. The ending, and what happens post-Trinity War, it will become a little clearer why we did that. I know that's super vague and annoying, but Jeff and I really wanted to keep this story contained to these groups, and redefine the Justice Leagues, explore who they are, their relationships – see them all work together and work against each other, because we haven't seen that yet – so we can really bring the DC Universe together.
So it's not going to be a wall-to-wall smackdown all the time.
There are obviously conflicts, but they're hopefully very organic to the story. On first blush, you see that big beautiful shot that Ivan Reis did, and you're like 'oh, it's another one of those stories where the heroes fight the heroes for tertiary reasons.' We do have conflict, because that's always fun to see. Can Shazam knock down Superman? Are the JLA really ready for the Justice League? We'll play all that out because it's really fun to see, but it's in service of the bigger story. The bigger story takes those three teams, pushes them together, shakes them all up, and then different teams emerge within the story.
Oddly enough, with the New 52 setting, it might actually make a little more sense for the heroes to knock heads, given their relative inexperience. Usually, you're constantly thinking that the heroes should know better, but in this case, there's no history of trust built up.
Yeah, a lot of this story is the heroes getting to know one another. Who is Shazam? Who is Green Arrow? Who's Hawkman? Who's the new Atom? All these different characters, many of them are meeting for the first time.
How exactly does Shazam get mixed up in this? He's been in Justice League, but he's magical enough to hook up with the Justice League Dark.
He gets mixed up in Justice League #22, the very first part of Trinity War, completely separate from the Leagues. There's actually a point in the story where he's like "Look, I'm not with these guys! Leave me out of this!"
Yeah, that does sound like his angle right now – "I don't want this."
I'm really proud of what Gary Frank and I have been doing with Shazam. Even though it's a backup, we had a lot of fun with it. We've gone for a tone that has a touch of The Goonies in there, there's classic Shazam in there, a touch of Harry Potter. We're trying to really push Shazam to the next level, and that means Billy Batson, specifically. With Billy, we wanted to push the magic angle and the kid angle more than it usually is, because if Billy already knows exactly what to do and has all the morals of Superman, he's the smartest kid I've ever met, and the nicest kid I've ever met.
I get that. I was one of those guys who was initially really turned off by Billy being a total jerk at the outset. I really didn't like that, but the more he's grown out of that, the more I've been able to settle in and kind of manage my instant fanboy outrage.
The whole first ten pages – it was eight pages of Billy and a little bit of Sivana, setting up that people had been brought to the Rock of Eternity, like magical alien abductions. People have these similar experiences where they move through a door, in an elevator or walk in their bathroom, and suddenly, they're in an underground cavern with this old man yelling at them about how they're not worthy, and then, just as suddenly, they're back home and they don't really know what happened. My thought was that this wizard has been looking over and over and over and over for the perfect one. He's so scared about what happened last time that he's like 'as soon as I find someone that's 100% pure good, then they'll be worthy of that power.' He doesn't even know how long he's been doing it. He just knows it's a long, long time. So, the whole thing that Gary and I went for was that we wanted to introduce that concept first.
So when we meet Billy Batson and he's pretending to be the Billy Batson from 1950 – ultimately, when we revealed he's completely playing those people to get out of that home, and he just wants to turn 18 and get out of that system and get on with his life – we knew that people would be like 'oh my god, he's a jerk, I can't believe this.' But the story's been plotted out A to Z forever. The whole point of this story is to pull back the layers. For this kid, he's built up a wall around him because of everything he's gone through – the different foster homes he's been in, all the bullies he's gone up against. He's built this protective shell around him, like I think a lot of us do. He's a porcupine – he wants people to stay away. "Don't hurt me, just stay away, I've been hurt too many times." The whole point of putting him in the Vasquez family home, with Mary and Eugene and Darla and Freddy and Pedro and everybody, was to put him in a situation where he'd have to eventually bring those walls down. In the very next chapter, when Darla says "the family rule is we all look out for each other," and he says "you don't get it, we're not family," and she starts crying – then in the last bit, you see Billy in his room, and he says to himself "I didn't mean to make her cry." You can see there's a heart in there. It's slowly unfolding. We knew issue #1 would have that big 'what's going on?!' and then the second issue would reveal that there's more to him than meets the eye.
Yeah. At this point, he's feeling more like the Billy Batson we knew, especially when he runs right out to try and talk Black Adam down once he finds out that he's a kid just like him.
To me, right there, that encapsulates and kind of bookends the kid who was angry and shut down – my dog was shut down. We got him from a shelter, and he was completely shut down when I got him, because he'd been in dog fights. We just kind of regress, as living beings, and shut down emotionally, but now he's kind of screwing around. But it took him a while to trust people again, and it's taken Billy a while to finally trust people again – and himself.