“The world can be one happy family” – How Geoff Johns still struggles to court new readers

When Geoff Johns became the premier writer for DC, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what they were getting into. Johns has always had a unique vision for the universe, one focused on larger than life threats, updating the silver age threats to become dangerous for the heroes of today and focusing on some of the more forgotten heroes of the universe. In his exceptional history of super heroes and his role in defining them, Supergods,  Grant Morrison describes Johns as the ultimate writer for the fanboys, one that’s interested in exploring really cool shit bumping up against each other with obscure references that can make his work feel like a history text-book.

Pre-New 52, Johns was a writer that I respected but didn’t necessarily find his work that appealing to me. If you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve always been a big fan of the more realistic heroes of the DC universe and his focus on characters such as the Flash, the Green Lanterns and Aquaman wasn’t something that appealed to me, even as he attempted over and over again to redefine these icons, making them appealing and interesting again for an audience that might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU.

Johns has had plenty of experience with the biggest titles of the DC universe and he’s been able to condense decades of mythology into flashy memorable moments. The first issue of Infinite Crisis allows for one of the best moments of Superman and Batman’s relationship when Bruce tersely criticizes the Clark saying, “The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead.” Johns ability to fuse these tense character moments with great nods to the past, namely the return of Superboy-Prime and his battle with the Teen Titans, made the crossover one of the most readable and exciting of the Crisis trilogy.

Mostly on the strength of “Infinite Crisis,” Johns was given control of much of the future of DC, giving him the go ahead for “Blackest Night,” “Brightest Day” and “Flashpoint.” While each of them has their own merits and lack thereof, Johns increasingly focused on the characters he was most familiar with. Both “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day” depend heavily on the actions of Aquaman and the Green Lanterns and “Flashpoint” is almost exclusively a Flash storyline. Its not that this is a bad thing but it did vastly focus the DC universe. Where earlier crossover stories drew much of the universe together into massive catastrophes, rarely letting a single hero drive the story.

With DC relaunching the universe with the New 52, there was a conscious decision to make many of the titles more accessible to new readers. However, noticeably, the Green Lantern universe was not reset in anyway. The labyrinthine storylines, massive cast and constantly shifting alliances were all left for new readers to jump into without a safety harness. No attempt was made to have new readers get into the 4 different series, an especially critical mistake after the failure of the Green Lantern film.

That being said, I have picked up Johns’ most recent Green Lantern title and it is certainly his most accessible work. The first five issues were a taut, suspenseful and violent secret agent/buddy cop story between the hot-headed Lantern reject Hal Jordan and his archnemesis, the delusional and narcissistic Sinestro. The characters’ intense relationship, combined with the lack of trust and intergalactic intrigue made for an exciting, inventive and very fun series.

Yes, there were still problems. Much of the hostile dynamic between the book’s two leads were based on events from Johns’ “War of the Green Lanterns” arc which led to Sinestro gaining control of Jordan’s ring and the book made no attempt to explain how this had happened but it was all readable and interesting.

The problem came when the series expanded past the fifth issue. After the initial run had helped to establish what the series was about, Johns immediately went back to his interests: galaxy spanning epics drawing off decades of continuity. Suddenly, we’re dealing with the Indigo Tribe, a suicidal Starstorm, the return of Black Hand, Sinestro’s dead wife and the constant betrayals of the Guardians. I’m pretty well versed in the DC universe, even in the books I don’t read, but the last 2 issues of Green Lantern had me searching the net to have any idea what the hell was going on.

I think Johns has a real talent for giving readers what they want. His books are consistently exciting, packed with twists, turns and intense action sequences. Somehow, he’s able to make moments such as Hal losing his ability to fly into an awesome and incredibly fun sequence of the Lantern creating motorcycles and ramps to traverse a hostile environment. Black Hand’s attempted suicide goes from a pathetic character moment into a great reminder of the most fun aspects of “Blackest Night.” Knowing the power of his characters lets Johns effortlessly show off these moments but I just worry that his landmark titles could collapse without innovating or even attempting to grab a hold of new readers.


2 thoughts on ““The world can be one happy family” – How Geoff Johns still struggles to court new readers

    • DC has already announced a Green Lantern Universe spanning story arc called “The Third Army,” focused on the Guardians’ attempt to destroy their creations. Should be a lot of fun.

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