Growing up, my all time favorite superhero was always Green Lantern. And whenever I told anyone about this, the response was always the same: “Who? The black guy with the magic ring?”
Thanks, Justice League Animated Series.
But that was years ago, and now Green Lantern is a household name — all thanks to one amazing, humble, and down-to-Earth-2 guy: Geoff Johns.
Johns has been writing Green Lantern for DC Comics since 2004, adding nearly a decade of amazing stories to my collection. GL’s 9-years have been highlighted by such events as Blackest Night, The Sinestro Corps War, and most recently, Wrath of the First Lantern. These story arcs changed pretty much everything about the Green Lantern Universe, adding hundreds of characters, bringing Hal Jordan back, creating the emotional spectrum, and turning Guy Gardner back into a normal human being and not that weird, body-morphing DNA, henna tattoo-looking alien.
Anyway, just last week, Green Lantern #20 hit comic book shops everywhere (you can read our review here – “Plugging” Trav Moody), and geeks clearly took that issue harder than Batman losing another darn Robin. All because it was the end of Mr. Johns’ run on the series.
Thankfully, it wasn’t quite “The End” for myself and the lucky few who were able to attend The Greenest Night, an exclusive Q&A with Johns himself. And, despite the event practically taking place in some sinful Hollywood theater back alley, I could not pass up the opportunity! Tickets were $100 a person, and the VIP tickets were $250 a person, with all proceeds going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
The regular tix came with a small grab-bag of signed merchandise, including a signed copy of Green Lantern #20, a GL pin, some pamphlets about the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, some stickers, and a light-up rubber GL ring. VIP tickets came with a bunch of exclusive stuff from Graffiti Designs including a GL shirt, more signed stuff, and an entire hour with Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Jeff Loeb walking around the room making small talk with their fans.
When the VIP portion of the event ended, they let everyone else in, and Jeff Loeb made a long, emotional speech about his personal history with Geoff Johns. He walked us through a typical day at the office, and shared several stories about their time together, and his opinion on what made Geoff stand out from other writers; his gift as Loeb put it, to take minor, obscure characters, and expand their worlds.
Sounds about right.
Once Jeff Loeb finished his speech, it was time for the man of the hour to take his place on the stage. One of the first questions was about Johns being dubbed “Dr. Superhero”, because he takes obscure, B-list and C-list characters, and somehow makes them extremely popular. Johns replied simply: “I like skepticism. I really like when they’re like ‘Why are they gonna launch a Booster Gold book? Or a Teen Titans book, or Aquaman? Why the hell are you gonna waste your time on Aquaman?’” Johns would retort, “‘Because he’s cool’.”
It’s because of Johns, that some time in the future I’m going to have to explain to my kids that there was a time that Aquaman wasn’t the most badass superhero in the Justice League.
Geoff also gave us a peek into his process for writing his final issue of Green Lantern: “I was real emotional writing it, especially the last, probably, ten or twelve pages. I actually wrote those first, and they were the hardest to write. All the stuff with Sinestro and Hal, and the subsequent characters in the future. It was sad, but that’s why it was so happy at the end.”
Johns continued about Hal Jordan’s journey, the character’s inevitable revelation, and — literally — coming face to face with his younger self (uh, SPOILERS): “In the final issue, [Hal Jordan] finally confronts himself as a boy, and understands ‘oh, that’s what I was, and that’s what I needed at that moment. No one was there for me when my father died. The plane crashed and I was scared and alone, and I’ve been that lonely boy ever since’… And the moment Hal sees himself and [approaches] him, the kid looks up to [older Hal], frightened and crying, and he says, ‘I know it’s scary but it’s gonna be okay.’ [The boy] looks up to him and says ‘Dad, is that you?’ and then POOF, they disappear, and he’s back. That was the journey that he needed to accomplish. For me, that was the most important scene in the book.”
As any Green Lantern reader knows, Geoff Johns has made Sinestro as important a character to the saga as Hal Jordan. None of us could have even imagined relating, nevertheless sympathizing, with this villain back when he was re-introduced in Rebirth. Johns elaborated on writing this complex character, more so how Sinestro’s journey is what made him realize he was nearing the end. Geoff says he had always known where he wanted Hal Jordan and Sinestro to end up, and once they got there, he didn’t want to write another big confrontation. “I just felt like this whole run has been about Hal and Sinestro and that bizarre friendship. My favorite line is where Sinestro calls Jordan ‘Hal’. It’s the first time he’s ever called him by his first name, and I felt like that moment, that’s it, that’s the end. It’s over for me.”
Geoff also explained the difficulty he had breaking the news to his colleagues at DC. “It was hard for me to say it. I probably called like three or four times and said ‘I think I’m d- d- d- uh, I’ll call you back.’ I remember Doug [Mahnke] going ‘Why?’ and I explained the story, he goes, ‘okay, I understand why.’ And as soon as Doug said that, I just said ‘this is it.’ That’s when I knew it was the right time.”
Towards the end of the interview, things became a little more personal. Johns was asked about his latest major contribution to the Green Lantern universe, (and perhaps the most controversial) the new Arab-American Green Lantern, Simon Baz: “I really wanted to talk about cultural fear. The best thing about Green Lantern, and this is for anyone who ever writes the character: Fear is never going to be out of date. Rebirth, really grew out of 9/11. 9/11 happened, and two years later, I’m writing about fear, and it’s obviously connected… I’m half lebanese, and a lot of my family on my dad’s side are full Arabic, and they’ve had to deal with a lot of different things in the wake of 9/11. I mean, just getting on a plane is a pain in the ass. It was a very personal character for me to develop somebody like Simon and develop the cultural fear. That was just a different kind of fear, and by that point I was ready to delve into it.”
Johns was then asked about his own fears, as a writer and in his own life. “I think every writer doubts themselves every day. You know, you procrastinate because you’re afraid to do it. You’re always afraid it’s not gonna be as good as you want it to be. But they key is — I know it’s so cheesy, but– overcoming fear.” He went on to mention the death of his sister, and how much of an impact it had on him. “I wasn’t scared to die so much as I was scared to not have her in my life. And it took a long time for me to reconcile that.”
Obviously, someone as big as Geoff Johns affects people all over the world, and writing about things as powerful, and relatable as overcoming fear is going to influence people in very significant ways. But the Green Lantern writer wasn’t expecting the last thing mentioned in the interview. Apparently, CBR asked the public for questions to ask Geoff in an open forum on their webpage, and one response stuck out. It wasn’t a question, but a story from a Green Lantern fan from Brazil named Andrew Matt, that Geoff definitely needed to hear:
“Hal Jordan is always my favorite hero. I had a rough growing up, and the willpower and imagination can bend reality and nature of the green lantern power has always pushed me to face head on whatever life has sent my way. Hal Jordan was always a role-model for me. I was super stoked when I heard Geoff Johns was bringing Hal back. Rebirth #4 will always be my favorite comic book. This mini-series hit me like a truck at a time when I was going through some difficulties and it didn’t let me drop the ball. A few years later I discovered that I had cancer. A tumor manifested next to my liver and because of the size my doctor said I only had a 15% chance of getting out alive from treatment. That day I remember going home, and picking up the hard cover of Rebirth from my bookshelf and automatically ended up on the ‘Parallax chose the wrong soul to corrupt’ page. I faced the cancer, I faced the treatment, and got out of it alive. No cancer would take me down without a fight, and I fought with every sliver of my soul; and even if I didn’t make it, well, it would be a hell of a fight. To this day, I have faith in this idea that saved me; the idea of a hero who is just like you and me that will face any threat no matter how big or overwhelming. A hero who can save the world with a box of matches. This is what Green Lantern means to me. Thanks for the nine years keeping this idea alive, Geoff. Thanks for being a part of that.”
This made the whole room, including Geoff Johns, a little teary-eyed, and we all erupted with applause.
The interview ended as we had all hoped, with the host asking Johns to recite the Green Lantern Oath.
Afterwards, the comic book superstars walked around the room again, answering questions and taking pictures with us mere mortals. (And yes, I had a casual conversation with Jim Lee, and shook the hand that drew all of those amazing Batman covers.) So I couldn’t help but ask Geoff one last question: “Do you plan on ever coming back to Green Lantern?”
His (exclusive) response to me: “I have one more story to tell, but probably not for a long time. Probably when I retire or something…”
Looking forward to it, Mr. Johns.
In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night…