GEOFF JOHNS Redux: 'Big Changes' in FOREVER EVIL Leads to a 'Very Different DCU'

Forever Evil #5
Credit: DC Comics

[editor's note: DC Comics has released a flurry of news regarding April 2014 on-sale titles, including a second ongoing series for Aquaman , a Sinestro ongoing series , and the long-awaited New 52 debut of Wally West . But (so far) conspicuously absent in all the announcements has been much mention of Forever Evil. The current Geoff Johns-written event series concludes in March, which makes it a near certain bet some fallout will be felt in April. Johns has in fact has pledged major fallout to DC readers, promising "come April, the DC Universe will be a very different place."

DC still has a few days before their full April 2014 solicitations hit (we understand they will be released early next week), so enough time to reveal or begin to reveal whatever changes Johns may have been referring to. And with that in mind, this afternoon we're revisiting this Newsarama-exclusive Geoff Johns interview originally published on November 13, 2013  in which he strongly hinted at some of the "changes" to come.]

Credit: DC Comics

As DC's first line-wide crossover since the New 52 began, Forever Evil is shaking up the DCU right when readers were starting to recover from the last shake-up.

Barely two years after the 2011 reboot of the entire comic book line, Forever Evil #1 kicked off the seven-issue mini-series by introducing characters from an alternate earth, who declared that DC heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman were dead.

Then it further shocked readers by allowing villains to publicly "out" the secret identity of former Robin Dick Grayson (DC's current Nightwing).

According to Johns, the shake-ups will continue until the comic ends in March — and he makes the bold statement in this interview that, after the rest of the DC titles reflect what happens at the end of Forever Evil:

"Come April, the DC Universe will be a very different place."

That's a bold statement coming from the guy who wrote Flashpoint, the mini-series that had an ending which made the DCU a very, very different place.

Forever Evil, which features art by superstar penciller David Finch, kicked off in September with a month's worth of tie-ins during "Villains Month." At the core of the story is the question of how "bad" DC's villains really are — and what they'd do if there were no heroes around to fight against evil. As Forever Evil #3 was released last week, a team of "bad" guys (including Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Bizarro and Black Adam) have banded together to fight against the really, even more bad guys (the evil Crime Syndicate from Earth 3).

Credit: DC Comics

Over the next few months, readers will see Batman and Catwoman become part of Lex's team, and in February, we'll get to see the New 52 version of the robotic heroes The Metal Men (characters that Johns already teased during his run on Justice League).

In describing the Metal Men of the New 52, Johns compared his approach to the way he and Gary Frank approached Shazam. And just like he told Newsarama last year that there are still big screen hopes for Shazam, he said the Metal Men movie he was connected to at Warner Bros. a few years back is also still alive.

It's worth listening when Johns talks about multi-media projects that are in the pipeline for Warner Bros. — he's the chief creative officer at DC Entertainment, meaning it's his job to consult with filmmakers and TV networks who use DC characters.

Despite that busy "day job," he's also DC's go-to writer when the company needs some excitement for their comic line-up. Ever since he wrote two high profile, "event-style" comics back in 2005 (the year of both Green Lantern Rebirth and Infinite Crisis), Johns has been frequently attached to big stories that get fans talking.

Like many of those "big" stories, Forever Evil actually started as a plot idea that Johns had for his Justice League ongoing series. But just as DC turned one of his Flash ideas into the event series Flashpoint, and one of his Green Lantern stories into Blackest Night, the basic idea behind Johns' villain-centric story for Forever Evil is playing a central role in the DCU.

As Forever Evil nears its halfway point, Newsarama talked to Johns about the series, the themes he's exploring, and what we can expect as the series ends in March.

Newsarama: Geoff, I know you often have an overarching theme in mind when you do these big mini-series, like I remember you telling me Blackest Night was really about the fear of death. What theme do you see yourself exploring with Forever Evil? Or is it more about having fun with a bunch of villains?

Scene from Forever Evil #3
Scene from Forever Evil #3
Credit: DC Comics

Geoff Johns: When the series started to develop it grew organically out of a Justice League story and the re-introduction of the Crime Syndicate. The idea was – if the Justice League was taken out and the heroes were down and out who would replace them? And that started to grow into a bigger story, focusing on Lex Luthor.

The line I've got in my head, that the whole series grew out of, is "evil is relative." The whole idea is, I think a lot of DC’s villains — I love supervillains, obviously – it’s a place I’m extremely comfortable — but a lot of our villains are popular characters in their own right. They have redeeming qualities. They're really complex characters. Whether I'm writing Sinestro or Catwoman or Black Adam, I like to explore their characters from a point-of-view that’s not necessarily “evil” – the cliché is that the villains are the heroes in their own stories, but I subscribe to the fact that the most interesting villains are the ones that you understand. There is a small part of them you actually root for, because in a twisted way – their motives are almost right. Or at the very least, as a human being, we can understand why they do what they do. And what they’ve had to overcome themselves to do it.

With Forever Evil, what I wanted to do was contrast these villains with a greater evil — an evil that is a little alien to us. And with a group of characters that are devoid of the redeemable qualities I think a lot of DC villains inherently have. By removing the superheroes from the equation, having an evil force like the Crime Syndicate come in — which is essentially a twisted, dark Justice League — having them come in and try to take over the world, it leaves a vacuum for someone to save us…and what if that ends up being filled by the world’s greatest villains? Who are they? Why would they do that? Which ones would?

And the Crime Syndicate are extremely dark. They come from a universe where sympathy, empathy and sacrifice don’t exist. A place where love isn’t shown or expressed, and rarely truly felt. It’s a horrible place – a bizarre culture – that’s created these men and women. We’ll see their origins within Justice League and Forever Evil.

So if the Crime Syndicate attacks — how would the villains react if they actually won? If the villains won, and they won in this way, would everyone go along with it? I don't think they would, because everyone wants something different. At first glance, Lex wants to be as beloved and respected as Superman, though there is a far greater secret in his life that pushes him to strive for success in everything he does, which we’ll learn more about as the series progresses.

Scene from Forever Evil #3
Scene from Forever Evil #3
Credit: DC Comics

Lex Luthor is the main character of the whole thing, and that becomes more and more clear as we move forward. In particular with issue #4.

So, like Lex, we're exploring these villains and contrasting them against one another and asking — what would it take to put them in the role of good guy?

Nrama: It occurred to me before this interview that the words in the title, "forever evil," don't really apply to the villains within the story. Yes, the Crime Syndicate brings a type of evil from Earth 3, but the story is less about someone being evil "forever," and more about that gray area where evil can change to heroism.

Johns: Exactly.

But then, with the Crime Syndicate, I think that the best thing about writing them, for me, is that they're almost a different breed of villainy. They're very grim characters, and they're very twisted. Again, they come from a place where things are valued differently. And David Finch captures them perfectly in Forever Evil – and Ivan Reis and Joe Prado in Justice League.

Ultraman is not an evil Superman. He's a Superman who believes in power and strength.

Strength is the most important attribute, above everything else. If you're strong, and you're the strongest there is, that's all that matters. And that's how Ultraman views everything.

The fact that there was a being that destroyed Krypton and then ravaged his Earth and could possibly come to ours — he actually is worried in the back of his head that there's something out there that's stronger than him.

His motivation is to shore this world up and prepare for war.

And Ultraman’s a perfect example of the absence of empathy. Complete absence of empathy. He comes to our world and he sees things like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and he sees us taking care of the sick, and he does not understand it. Why do we waste our time? In his mind, we're keeping our gene pool weak. And that all points back to his paranoia about our world not being ready to fight, or strong enough to survive an attack.

Nrama: Talk to me about this prison they're in. Is it really something they can't resist?

Scene from Forever Evil #3
Scene from Forever Evil #3
Credit: DC Comics

Johns: Well, the prison the Justice League is in, we established in Forever Evil #3 that they've all been trapped within the Firestorm Matrix, so their psyches are essentially melding together. They're merged into one. So they might not even be aware of what's happened.

And we'll learn more about the Firestorm Matrix in Forever Evil, and also, it's explored in Justice League of America and the A.R.G.U.S. series. You’ll see Professor Stein and Killer Frost take a central role in A.R.G.U.S.

Nrama: How did you approach the idea of "outing" Nightwing's identity? The CSA is enough of a threat without doing this, aren't they? Why was that an important component of the story, to reveal Dick's identity?

Johns: It's really important, because Nightwing's such a central figure to this. And he's central in Owlman’s story — that relationship (and there is a relationship there) — with those two is explored more in Justice League #25. And then Nightwing factors more and more in Forever Evil as we move toward the finish line.

Scene from Forever Evil #3
Scene from Forever Evil #3
Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: It seems particularly disastrous to Bruce, not only because it could expose his secret identity, but also because he obviously has a close relationship with Dick.

Johns: Yes. That's going to obviously be a huge motivating factor for Bruce and what he does going forward.

But again, this is a Lex Luthor story, when it comes right down to it. We'll get to see and learn more about him as the series progresses, and he and Nightwing will cross paths…

Nrama: What is Lex Luthor going to call his team? Legion of Doom? Injustice League?

Johns: Well, he called them the Justice League, but I call them the Injustice League, of course.

Nrama: The Black Adam fight with Ultraman is being billed as "what would happen if Superman fought Shazam." But would that fight be different?

Johns: Ultraman doesn't have any weakness to magic.

Nrama: It seems like he doesn't hold back, either.

Credit: DC Comics

Johns: No, he doesn't. And we're going to learn more about Ultraman and his powers, and his limitations. We've seen a little bit of it, like obviously sunlight takes his powers away, and Kryptonite enhances them. So we're going to be playing with that some more.

But Ultraman is definitely the leader of the Syndicate, and he's a character that Luthor is going to go up against at some point, and we'll see that fight — a Superman who wouldn't hold back against a Lex Luthor who's fighting for everything.

Nrama: We just found out that the Metal Men will be showing up in February. Can you tell us anything about that?

Johns: If people like what Gary Frank and I did with Shazam, they'll probably like this take on the Metal Men. Essentially, they are a group of androids that were designed to be a new generation of soldiers – but something went wrong – and they aren’t the cold, killing machines the U.S. Army hoped they would be. So they were shut down. And now it’s time for the program to start back up. But whether their inventor Will Magnus, an introvert and social outcast, will support that is the real question.

There's a lot of heavy stuff going on in Forever Evil, but the Metal Men are going to still have the heart and charm and magic that I’ve always associated with the Metal Men. Again, it's akin to what we did with Shazam in Justice League.

Nrama: Weren't you part of a group that was trying to get a Metal Men movie off the ground a few years ago? Is that still alive?

Johns: Yes, but I can't talk about any of that, sorry.

Nrama: Does the film treatment inform this story at all? Is it in the back of your mind?

Johns: What I can say is that the Metal Men, I think, are among all the great, unsung groups of characters in the DC Universe. And having Ivan Reis and Joe Prado draw them and introducing them in this way will hopefully get them some of the attention they deserve. They deserve A-list talent. They deserve a huge spotlight, much like Shazam. And hopefully this will introduce the Metal Men to a lot of people that have never heard of them.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: Then I guess we'll finish up by asking if there's anything else you want people to know about what's coming up in Forever Evil? What will we see for the rest of the series, and how does it influence what's coming in the DCU in 2014?

Johns: Lex has his team – Captain Cold, Black Adam, Bizarro and Black Manta – and he’s formulating his next move while Batman takes Catwoman to a place she’s never been and reveals secrets to her about the Justice League – all while the Crime Syndicate continue to lay claim to Earth, and Superwoman reveals a secret of her own to Ultraman.

But in this series we have a lot of big surprises, big changes, and come April the DC Universe will be a very different place leading into and throughout 2014. The first phase of the New 52 is drawing to a close and as Forever Evil wraps up a new phase begins — one that will see the introduction, and re-introduction, of a lot of characters, concepts and a decidedly new center to the DC universe. Keep your eyes on Lex. He’s the one to watch.

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