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Monday, May 11, 2020 

Geoff Johns sugarcoats his writing for DC

Polygon wrote a sugarcoated interview with the overrated Johns about his work for DC comics over the past 2 decades, on subjects like his Stargirl creation, and what else he'd like to adapt to live action. The beginning insults the intellect:
In Hollywood, writer-producer Geoff Johns has brought Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League to the screen. But in comics, he’s best known for something very different: Taking characters you always thought were kind of dumb and rocketing them to prominence.
They really think the whole audience is made up of peabrains, right? Which could sum up quite a few of their other articles, come to think of it. No mention of the negative influence he's had on projects that otherwise failed, like the League movie. What matters is the merit of writing/art/editing in the finished product, not the characters. That's why past Aquaman stories before Johns came aboard have entertainment value, if you know where to look, and Johns' stories don't.
Take Warner Bros.’ Aquaman, for which Johns shared story and producer credits. The James Wan feature drew significantly on Johns’ 2011 run on the character with artist Ivan Reis. Over the course of its 2018 release, Aquaman outsold The Dark Knight Rises at the box office.
Whether about movies or comics, they're certainly sugarcoating the gratuitous violence Johns injected into his stories, including the time when he brought back Black Manta, making him act more like the Joker than a really crafty villain.

Since they've referenced the Aquaman movie though, some interesting news came up regarding its co-star, Amber Heard, and all the trouble it turned out she caused for Johnny Depp, for which she may end up being booted from the planned sequel, and could face 3 years in prison if convicted for faking evidence against him. Why, who knows if they'll even make the sequel? Heard's almost singlehandedly put a whole cloud over it. But now, let's go on to the interview segments themselves:
Polygon: Let’s start with a big one: Why the Justice Society of America?

Geoff Johns: That’s a great question. I think it’s a question you should ask about every character people care about, but to the Justice Society of America ... I’ve always loved those characters. I fell in love with them after reading some wonderful stories, like James Robinson’s The Golden Age and Starman. I’d known the characters prior, I always enjoyed them, and other stories too. But those were the books that really got me excited about them as as people, behind the masks.

The thing that always appealed to me about the Justice Society was the history behind them; that they were the first wave of superheroes in the DC Universe, and that they felt more grounded and a little more low tech and [from] an era of certainty of who the bad guys were. It’s just had a kind of a nostalgic feel to it that made everything seem a little simpler, and you knew who the good guys were and the bad guys. I liked that there was some kind of anchor to the whole DC Universe, from the Justice Society. I’d always been drawn to them.

And also there hadn’t been a lot of stories in the Modern Era with those characters. So I always found them fascinating to explore and dive into. And I wrote [the Justice Society] myself for about nine years and enjoyed every issue of that because of that. There are so many cards to turn over and different sides of the personalities and interactions and history that you could go through.

I’ve always been drawn to the characters because they were the first superheroes ever, and so they had to figure it out. That was always fun, to read the original stories, and the stories about their beginnings that were retold, where they had to figure it out, and the next generation was the same way. So when the original guys, Jay Garrick, Ted Grant, and Alan Scott formed another Justice Society when we worked on the book, it was all about doing that again and ushering in a new era a new, a new generation, seeing characters try and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed and grow and change.

And it felt like you could actually have growth and change; Alan Scott had kids and they were heroes in their own right, and these characters aged and some died. I don’t know, the whole history of it just felt both iconic, but also ever evolving.
So, he was influenced by one of the most overrated writers of the 90s, was he? Ugh. I have long since reevaluated the writings of James Robinson, and seeing how his Starman run has been mostly out of print for a decade now, it's clear I'm not the only one who didn't think it aged well. No mention here of how Robinson's Starman began its storyline with the death of David Knight, the son of the original hero, Ted Knight, who made his debut in 1990. And David went down without a fight, killed by an assassin in the beginnings of Robinson's run. While Ted himself was killed around the end of the run in 2001. If that's all they could concoct this type of series for, it's not worth any weight in gold.

And look who's talking about certainty of who the baddies were: the writer who made Sinestro into a "hero" almost a decade ago, and took a similar path with the Ocean Master. Johns is such a hypocrite. It goes without saying that at the time Johns was co-writing JSA, there was a storyline where Obsidian was turned into a crazed villain seemingly controlled by a criminal named Ian Karkull, originally seen in All-Star Squadron, and Todd Rice basically murdered both his stepfather. It was another story of its sort that I find embarrassing, and who knows, it might've undergone X-Men's Phoenix influence.

Also notice how Johns speaks of characters "aging and dying". Well when JSA first began in 1999, following as it was on the heels of the JLA series first written by Grant Morrison, there were at least a few characters who died there, like the original Sandman, and in hindsight, I found scenes like those extraordinarily forced. If there supposedly weren't many stories in the "modern" age starring the JSA's cast, that's because of Zero Hour's architects, but does he criticize them? Nope. And when he was writing the series solo, he threw Hector and Lyta Hall under the bus around 2005, pretty soon after reviving the latter from a sorcery-induced coma. As a result, I'm honestly wondering if Johns really believes what he's saying.
It’s almost like you were adapting the Justice Society to a new era, just like adapting any comic for the screen.

Yeah, I mean, I’m more interested in in stories about — like, I love the original characters, but myself I’m more interested about the mix of generations. That’s to me what the Justice Society is about now — about the next generation. It’s not about a story set in 1942. Although those are great, my favorite version of the JSA is when we have the original members alongside the new generation.

One more thing about the JSA that appeals to me is that it had versions of the Flash and Green Lantern that were strange and different than the ones I knew. And they also had characters that I thought were incredible, that they’d never done new versions of. [With] Hourman, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Wildcat, there were never Silver Age reboots, like there were with the Flash and Green Lantern.

I was fascinated by that. Why didn’t we do any new Hourman way back? Why didn’t we do new Doctor Mid-Nite when they were really relaunching everything in the Silver Age? Those characters got a little more locked in the past than the Flash and Green Lantern.
I think Johns is far too stuck in the past and doesn't realize it. Exactly why some people say Johns' take on the JSA relies far too much on self-referential nostalgia, and on too much violent shock value at the same time, as evidenced in his Flash run. Why, even the Hawkman series he co-wrote with Robinson suffered some of this problem, and the way they depicted the Shadow Thief sexually harassing a co-star was irritating, another example of allusions to sexual abuse in their writings that was uncalled for. Also notice how, in the panel I posted here from the series, the Shadow Thief makes a subtle allusion to liking capitalism. As I mentioned at least once before, I've noticed examples here and there of crooks in fiction touting the virtues of capitalism (while socialism almost never seems to be brought up), and when you see a villain depicted doing that, something is certainly wrong.

I also want to take a moment to note that in retrospect, Rags Morales, who drew that story, is decidedly one of the most overrated artists in history, and the facial expressions he uses on the characters he draws can sometimes really be irritating. Maybe that could partly explain why he hasn't done much work in nearly a decade; he really is one of the most pretentious artists around.

And as for Hourman and Wildcat supposedly getting stuck in the past, as it so happens, some of those characters did start to reappear soon after the Flash and Justice League featured guest stories. I've read a story or two from the Silver Age where the Golden Age Robin showed up again, more grown up than his Silver/Bronze Age counterpart, and as the 70s came about, their appearances became more frequent. Johns is just exaggerating.
You’ve been bringing superheroes to the screen for a long time, do you think it’s gotten easier to stay true to the comics over time? Has it gotten easier to pitch things like “He gets his powers from a wizard in a subway cave?”

It certainly has. There are a lot of reasons for that. People who grew up with this stuff love it and want to see it on the screen, and technology. I always say that one of the reasons superhero stories are so wonderful and resonate so much is that if you can tell a real story with relatability and emotion, the superhero sheen over it, the superhero action and color, it just enhances that story. It reflects what is true and what we can relate to, but it makes it a lot of fun to watch.

I remember when we were first doing Stars and STRIPE, and someone had called me about a TV show. And one of the conversations was Well, we can’t do [Pat Dugan’s robot, STRIPE]. So will it just be Courtney? What would the show look like? Because making a robot would be impossible. Building one or doing CGI was just not feasible. But now with technology, and with people having a lot of familiarity with superhero stories, you can do everything. You can adapt anything. If Doom Patrol can get adapted as well as it [was], I think you can do anything.
Sorry, but not everyone's desperate to see these comics adapted to live action. Because that's all they exist for these days. It's gotten to the point where I'm discouraged, because the comics were marginalized as a result of the movies. It led to a form of dumbing down through poor commercialization. But the real problem is that sci-fi movies today seem far more about the special effects, which overcrowd everything else. So who's he to talk about relatability and emotion, especially when in his writing it all came off as phony? Besides, without serious quality of writing and directing, you can't do everything, and despite what he says, "familiarity" with superheroes is superficial at best today. Let's remember the downfall of comics stores, where adapted-to-screen comics hasn't brought them any wider success than they've already had.
You’ve worked on a lot of comic book film projects that have really different varying tones, shading from realism to classic comic book ideas. Is there a project that had an especially challenging process of figuring out where it would exist on that spectrum?

It’s a good question. There are always challenges across the board in everything you work on, anything from a comic to a film to a television show. You try and learn from them or stay true to the character. It’s always a challenge. It’s a challenge on every level.

You mentioned the wizard’s in cave in Shazam!. I think David Sandberg captured the tone of who Shazam is really wonderfully, because that movie captures the spirit of who Shazam is in the comics, a fun character about family. In a similar way, like I mentioned Doom Patrol, it’s all about tone and capturing tone, I think for people it can be really hard.
My my, how interesting he should get into a discussion of Shazam, because if the film draws from his comics, he sure did loathsome job at it nearly a decade ago. Some family-quality storytelling and keeping true to the character there alright. If there's a challenge to be found, he sure didn't take it. After discussing the Stargirl show, he reveals one of his next comic projects is Batman-related:
So the show’s coming out. What are you working on right now?

Well, in front of me, I’m actually just going through the dialogue on Three Jokers, which is a comic project that I’m doing with Jason Fabok. He’s finishing the last pages of that up right now. And that’s what literally is in front of me as we speak. It looks beautiful, too, Jay did a wonderful job on it.

And that’s your series that’s about three different eras of Joker through, I think three different characters? Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, and?

It’s Bruce [Wayne], Barbara, and Jason. And it really is about their respective different perspectives on the Joker and how the Joker has damaged each one of these people. And how they’ve reacted in turn, very differently.

When Jay and I were talking about this; if we were going to do a Batman/Joker story, we wanted to examine something different, because there have been so many that are brilliant, wonderful stories that have been done in comic books and outside of comic books, and we wanted to look at it from a slightly different angle and have a slightly different focus. Bringing in characters; focusing on Bruce and Barbara and Jason and the scars that they carry with them, both internally and externally, from their encounters with the Joker.

There’s no other entity or villain or antagonist out there that has affected characters in Batman’s world like the Joker, and [we wanted] to contrast them and see how Barbara Gordon learned and healed and got stronger and was so driven because of it, and to see how Jason Todd was broken and still broken and driven in a very different way because of it, to contrast all of that together. And to do story about healing and scars.

Ultimately that’s what these characters are doing as they combat crime, they’re trying to heal their own wounds [and] at the same time prevent others from happening to other people. It just became a very fertile ground for us to do a story and it was a lot of fun. It was a very emotional and tricky story, I hope people dig it when it comes out.
I'm sure there's writers of yesteryear whose work on Bat-related material I'd appreciate. But not when Johns is the assigned scribe. I'm honestly wondering why a villain whose prime emphasis is murder makes such a great wellspring, and not one whose specialty is robbery, chemistry, or world conquest? Johns is proving he's little different from other Hollywood types who're obsessed with all that is Batman, at the expense of Superman and other such heroes. Of course, let's not forget people like Johns forced darkness onto the world of heroes like the Flash, because the premise it was built on in the Golden/Silver Age just isn't good enough for their narrow viewpoint. And that, if memory serves, Johns was one of the writers who engineered Jason Todd's resurrection circa Infinite Crisis, after Superboy-Prime rammed the walls of reality. Or something like that. Not that resurrection in itself is a bad thing, even in Batman's world. But the way they've handled all this to date is pointless. Especially if they're sticking with the kind of surly personality that damaged Jason as a character back in the late 80s.
Is there a comic or a character that you still dream of writing you haven’t gotten to yet?

I really enjoyed writing Barbara Gordon. She’s been a lot of fun to write. I’d love to write a solo story with her, I think she’s a great character. I don’t know. I’ve written so many characters that ...

I love Hulk, I’ve always loved the Hulk. I have a Hulk story I’d like to tell someday. But I’m really happy with the characters I’m working on right now. I don’t know if ... to do a Stargirl show with the JSA is kind of a brass ring for me. That to me, is everything. It’s just fun to work on, it’s full circle for me. It means a lot to my family, personally. It’s been a dream. There’s a bunch of characters out there that I would love a crack at, but beyond the ones I mentioned there’s no one that is on the top of my list.

Actually, there’s one character, and group of characters, that I’d like to do a story with: Sergeant Rock [and Easy Company]. I never really got into the war comics of DC. They were before my time; there’s a huge library of them, and they’re incredible characters, and Joe Kubert’s art in that was phenomenal. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the characters at all, but they’re really rich and and I’ve got a story idea for them that I’d like to try sometime.
Seeing he brought up the Hulk, there's another great creation I wouldn't want to see him write, and for now, it's terrible he's writing anything with Babs Gordon. When he cites the Hulk, though, that's another sign of how influenced he is by darkness. I wouldn't want to see him writing Sgt. Rock either, because, what if he came up with ideas similar to what he put in Green Lantern?
That feels very much the same considerations that you make when you’re adapting something for a new audience. You’re taking a character people kind of know, but they don’t actually know, and figuring out how to present them in a new way. Sometimes I think superhero comics themselves are just a process of constant adaptation.

Yeah, yeah, it is. And the thing — again, it’s super complicated. When you’re working on a comic as a writer, you’re writing it and you’re working with an artist and your editors and you’re collaborating and it’s a really tight group. As you get on bigger productions, there’s a lot of people involved, and I always find that the the fun thing to do, like with Stargirl, is when you’re cracking into ‘OK, for fans and non-fans, how do we introduce the concept of the Justice Society to people.

Because you’re right, when you see Wildcat — A lot of people have never heard of Wildcat or seen Wildcat — he’ll feel derivative even though he’s not. Even though he’s been around since 1940, he just will, because there’s so many cat characters. And look, we could have made a choice to go a different way and been, like Let’s make Wildcat different, but again we wanted to stay true to the roots.

Because people will see Wildcat [...] and people who don’t know him will be like Is that Batman? or they’ll have a different reaction to that. Because like you said it feels familiar, but it’s not what you’ve seen before. But the key really is if you connect with Courtney and Pat and these other characters.

I’m excited for you to see Yolanda Montez [the second Wildcat], and be introduced to Beth Chapel [the second Doctor Mid-Nite] because we took our time — [we had] an amazing, amazing team in the writers room — we took our time introducing these characters, and really focused on the emotion of them.
Spoken by the same writer who made Flash's title different, and almost the same as Batman's, in a manner of speaking. As always, he won't admit his ideas aren't the classics he thinks they are, and he won't admit he set the tone for ruining more than a few of the characters whose stories he wrote.

And isn't that something: this TV show he worked on is going to guest star 2 members of Infinity Inc. who were mishandled in the early 90s, wiped out as they were in a short-lived Eclipso series from 1993. What are the odds this won't lead to their resurrection in the comics proper, and without adding political correctness in the process? Probably pretty low, and if there's no revival of these Roy Thomas-created characters, it's mysterious they'd want to use them in a TV show.

Johns has only once again confirmed why I came to view him as one of the worst omens for comicdom, and predictably, the interviewer won't mention the harm he's done behind the scenes at the film studios. And, there's also their failure to cite how Stargirl is a female variation on Jerry Siegel's Star-Spangled Kid to consider. Why are we supposed to connect Courtney Whitmore to the JSA, but not Sylvester Pemberton? It would seem Johns has just dropped a hint of how lacking gratitude he really is for classic creations, when he fails to give Superman's co-creator the credit he deserves for conceiving the superhero who inspired Johns' character. That's certainly not showing much respect for the Golden Age.

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"I have long since reevaluated the writings of James Robinson, and seeing how his Starman run has been mostly out of print for a decade now, it's clear I'm not the only one who didn't think it aged well."

DC was scheduled to publish the first volume of a hardcover reprinting of Robinson's Starman in April of this year, Starman: The Cosmic Omnibus Vol. 1, but it was delayed for the same reasons as the rest of their books.

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