DC Comics Writer and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns Explains the Comic Books That Inspired Him

Geoff Johns and his dog hang out at Golden Apple on Free Comic Book Day
Geoff Johns and his dog hang out at Golden Apple on Free Comic Book Day
Liz Ohanesian

Have you walked around a comic book store or convention and wondered why so many people are wearing Green Lantern t-shirts? Geoff Johns might have something to do with that. The comic book writer helmed the series for nine years. He reintroduced Hal Jordan as the famed superhero with Green Lantern: Rebirth. The story was successful, so much so that he and artist Ethan Van Sciver continued to build this universe with the story Sinestro Corps Wars.

"A couple years into our run, we introduced the concept of an emotional spectrum," Johns says while sitting in a meeting room at Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood.

The premise of the "emotional spectrum" is simple, as Johns explains it. You have Green Lanterns. They're identified by a color and are the embodiment of "power and courage." So, why not have other Lanterns who were also identified by colors and emotions? John gives a brief breakdown. There are the Red Lanterns, "people and beings who lost somebody, who were driven by revenge." There are Blue Lanterns. They are motivated by "faith and hope" and live by the motto "All could be well."

"It wasn't the colors that made them different," says Johns, "but the emotions that they were driven by."

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Green Lantern certainly wasn't Johns' only DC claim to fame. The writer has been working for the comic book publisher for well over a decade. In fact, he's DC's Chief Creative Officer. He works with the teams behind DC video games, television shows, products, i.e. "everything that's not publishing." On Saturday, he was at Golden Apple to sign DC's Free Comic Book Day title, Superman: Last Son of Krypton. It's the first chapter of a story that and he wrote with Richard Donner (director of the 1978 film Superman) ages ago. Naturally, Johns has spent time working on Superman as well. He spent half-a-decade writing The Flash. Right now, he's been working on Justice League and Aquaman.

"I like world building," Johns says. Particularly, he likes taking characters who may have fallen by the wayside in the DC Universe and injecting new life into them. He's done that with characters like Hawkman, Shazam, Booster Gold and Aquaman.

"There's a reason the character connected with an audience before," Johns says. "I like trying to find out what was that then and what's the version of that today. If the character resonated with people before, that means that they can do it again."

Johns mentions the character Doctor Fate, whose gold helmet has appeared in numerous comic books and related media over the years. "Doctor Fate has been around for 60-70 years. He keeps getting reintroduced," he explains. "There's something in him beyond the gold helmet. "

For Johns, there's always something more to a character than a cool costume or super power. Take Aquaman as an example. "Yes he talks to fish, but it's more interesting to find out what drives him and motivates him," says Johns. "How are those powers a metaphor that we can relate to?"

He continues, "The best characters are relatable. They don't have to be relatable in a literal sense where they have a problem with a job. The things that they experience and the things that they go up against have to reflect upon us emotionally. It doesn't have to be timely. It's nice when it's timely, but it has to be emotional."

It helps that Johns has an encyclopedic knowledge of comic books. As we talk, he rattles off the titles and authors of various series so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with him. Of course, he's been embedded in the DC Universe for a long time now, since 1999 to be precise. On top of that, he also owns two comic book stores, called Earth II. One is in Sherman Oaks. The other is in Northridge, in the same space that was once Golden Apple's San Fernando Valley outpost.

Johns doesn't simply work for DC. He's a longtime fan of their characters as well. "Since I was a kid, I preferred DC," he says. "I fell in love with DC characters, probably from Super Friends." When asked about the comic books that influenced him during his formative years, Johns rattles off a list of titles primarily from the late 20th century DC and Vertigo catalog. Check out the list on the following page. The titles are listed in the order that Johns mentioned them.

 

1. John Byrne's run on Superman

2. Suicide Squad, John Ostrander

3. Animal Man, Grant Morrison

4. Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison

5. Hellblazer

"I loved Hellblazer when I was a kid. I read it in chemistry class when I wasn't supposed to."

6. Keith Giffen's work with Justice League

7. Mike Baron's run on The Flash

8. The Death and Return of Superman

"The Death was cool, but the Return of Superman is what I really enjoyed," says Johns. "Suddenly it was an event. For me, it was the first solo hero event. It was a Superman event. before that, all the events had been every character."

9. Mike Grell's run on Green Arrow

10. Batman, multiple titles including The Cult, Gotham by Gaslight and The Dark Knight Returns

"If you wanted a really special Batman book, it was the Prestige format book," says Johns.

11. Preacher

"Right when I got to college, I was reading Preacher. That was a great book. I love [artist] Steve Dillon."

12. Shade, the Changing Man

"It was interesting to see. Suicide Squad was about all of these villains that had to work for the government. Shade the Changing Man was introduced in that, kind of the old version that Steve Ditko created. A little while later, Peter Miligan launched through Vertigo a totally different version of Changing Man. I followed the character from Suicide Squad to that book. Shade was probably my favorite book for quite some time."

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