The Eve of Blackest Night: Geoff Johns on...Everything
The Road to The Blackest Night
Anticipated by comic book fans since it was first teased in 2007 within the pages of Green Lantern, Blackest Night kicks off this month with the release of Blackest Night #1 by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis.
The eight-issue mini-series promises to bring back a slew of dead DC heroes, reviving them as zombie-like Black Lanterns as part of an epic battle between the power rings of the Green Lantern universe.
As we follow up on our last conversation with Johns about Blackest Night , we get more details about what just happened in the last issue of Green Lantern and find out more about what's coming in Blackest Night .
Newsarama: Let's start right up front, Geoff, by talking about the issues involved in this event. There are several tie-in mini-series and issues, but can you read the Blackest Night mini-series alone without reading anything else?
Geoff Johns: You can read Blackest Night on its own. But if you're reading Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, you have to read Blackest Night . I figured people reading Green Lantern or Green Lantern Corps are going to be reading Blackest Night anyway, so that’s how it’s structured.
NRAMA: So a new reader could just read Blackest Night and nothing else?
GJ: Yes. But I hope people want to read everything, because it's a really great story, and I think we're turning out some really good comic books here. But I've worked really hard to make sure that if you only want to read Blackest Night, you can read it. I am so proud of the work I’m doing with Ivan and Doug [Mahnke] and what Pete [Tomasi]’s doing with Patrick [Gleason]. I think it’s stellar.
NRAMA: With all the "events" we've had over the last few years, what would you say is different and unique about Blackest Night?
So that's one thing about what's happening with Green Lantern and what we're doing for Blackest Night. There's obviously a lot about the story that is exciting and different, but I think the fact that we've got all these new characters who are becoming a meaningful part of the DCU is what makes it truly unique. I think the story possibilities are endless with the emotional spectrum.
NRAMA: It's almost overwhelming when you look at all the characters you've created since taking over Green Lantern. Is that something you consciously decided to do for this comic and subsequently this event?
GJ: Well, it's something I've been doing in other comics too. If you look at JSA, by the time I left, half of them are new. When I was on Flash, a lot of the villains I introduced, like Tar Pit and Girder and Murmur and Hunter Zolomon, were new too. I'm always trying to introduce new characters that feel organic to the world. I want them to feel like they existed in that world already.
But you know, along with those new characters, I'm a firm believer that you also want to polish up the characters who are here. You want to present the characters that we know and love already in a new light. You have to do both. I don't want to just throw out all new characters. If I'm working in the DC Universe, I don't want to do one or the other. I want to do both, and with the expansion of Blackest Night, there is the space to explore other DC characters that don’t often get a spotlight in an “event.”
And since John Stewart was a central figure in Justice League over the last year, he hasn’t been as prominent in the Green Lantern stories as of late. That changes starting in Blackest Night with a pretty shocking event in Green Lantern #44, which Doug Mahnke illustrated beautifully. And Green Lantern #48 is all John Stewart.
GJ: I have notebooks, and there are documents with notes on them. But a lot of it's in my head. That's just the way I work. The whole story has documents that I've outlined and notes that I've written, but most of it still resides in my head. I guess I'm just used to dealing with a lot of stuff at once. I enjoy it though. I enjoy living in that world.
I mean, right now I'm living Blackest Night. I come up for air to write Adventure Comics and Superman: Secret Origin which is about as 180 degrees from Blackest Night as you can get. It’s actually refreshing to work on books that are so radically different.
NRAMA: Obviously, you're aware of the delays that have happened with past events from publishing companies. Is there an effort at DC to prevent that with Blackest Night?
GJ: Everyone’s kicking ass. Ivan's cruising. And his work is amazing as always. Obviously we're trying to get everything out on time while still being able to make everything the highest quality. With Sinestro Corps, I think 95 percent of the books came out on time. And we still maintained really high quality on those books.
NRAMA: You mention the success of Sinestro Corps, and one of the things that was unique about that story was that it was so Green Lantern-centric. Yet there are expectations of Blackest Night being a DC universe-wide event. Have you tried to balance the two?
GJ: The story encompasses the entire DC Universe, but there's obviously a heavy focus on Green Lantern and the other Lantern corps. It's just the story I'm telling.
GJ: We'll have a few books that tie into it later, but most of it is contained in the mini-series and the Green Lantern books.
NRAMA: There are several three-issue mini-series that tell the stories of characters like Batman and Superman and The Titans. Why that choice?
GJ: These stories are being told because they have a clear reason for being told. Blackest Night: Titans has a clear reason that fits into the bigger DC Universe story of Blackest Night.
And there's so much emotional material to get out of that. I mean, Superman and Superman of Earth 2 – there's a lot that James Robinson is getting out of those two characters. The same with the Titans. You've got Beast Boy and Terra. So there's just story potential and emotional potential to explore these characters, each very differently, by looking at the people that they've loved and lost, or feared and lost. That's the reason for the various mini-series that tie into Blackest Night.
NRAMA: With the emotional resonance of these meetings between the dead and the living, has it been a challenge to make this story new reader accessible since those things depend on a knowledge of the characters' past relationships?
GJ: No. Not at all for me. I think Blackest Night, especially #1, is extremely accessible. But you know, it's as accessible as Return of the Jedi was. You can watch Return of the Jedi as its own film and get into it. And if you want to know more, you can go back and learn more.
Accessibility is a word that people throw around, and mostly it's from people who are well versed in this stuff. And they say, well, I liked it but I don't think it's very accessible. They judge a new comic reader wouldn't get it when they're not a new comic reader. And yet there are so many new comics readers that have come up to me and said they got on board with Sinestro Corps. Or who got on board with Rage of the Red Lanterns. Even Agent Orange. People aren't stupid. People will pick things up. Just like going into season 2 of a television show. I'm making a very big effort to make sure it's accessible and make sure the characters are introduced and the world is organic. I think I accomplished that in Sinestro Corps #1, and Blackest Night #1.
NRAMA: OK, but it just seems to me that there might be some readers who see Terra show up as a Black Lantern and say "Hmm... wonder who that is?" In that case, you've got somewhere they can go to learn more in Blackest Night : Titans. But with these Black Lanterns, isn't the emotional/historical baggage a little more important to the story than it would normally be?
GJ: You’ll see that explored in the mini-series. But I’m being very specific with the Black Lanterns in the main Blackest Night story. There are Black Lanterns in the background, and if you know who they are, that's fun, but it's not always important to this story. It's like, who is Dengar in Empire Strikes Back? He's a bounty hunter in the background, and you don't go, "You know what? I can't figure this movie out because I don't know who that guy is! I’m outta here!”
It was the same way with Sinestro Corps. You didn't need to know the name of every Sinestro Corps member to enjoy that story. And it will be the same way with Blackest Night. You don't need to know every single thing in the background to understand what the story is about. But well-versed readers will get that extra charge.
So in the case of Blackest Night: Titans, which I think is going to be the sleeper of all the mini-series, it's not there so much to explain who Terra is, but it's there to explore Beast Boy and the Titans through Terra and through the other deceased Titans. It's to explore who these characters are now through who they were and where they're going next.
NRAMA: Can we talk about what happened in the last issue of Green Lantern? I know you're not going to be able to say much about Issue #42, since it had a few cliffhangers, but can I at least ask the questions?
NRAMA: First, a clarification. When Larfleeze is holding the orange battery and it gets to over 7,000 percent, how did that happen?
GJ: That's Larfleeze drawing all of his Orange Lanterns into his power battery. It's taking it all back after it was all spread out. That power battery he has in his hands is the central power battery. So compared to a ring, it has a lot more power. It's like his ring is crackling alive there because it's a direct funnel from the central power battery in his hands.
NRAMA: When Hal took that central power battery away from Larfleeze, it started talking to him. Was that the emotion of "avarice" taking over Hal, or was there actually a voice coming from that battery?
GJ: There's a sentient voice inside there. There's something inside there.
NRAMA: Is that "something" the avarice entity?
NRAMA: You've said before that Larfleeze is one of your favorite characters. We found out in issue #42 that with all his greediness, he's actually pretty funny. Was that fun for you to write?
GJ: He's such a weird character. And when you see him interact with Atrocitus, it's bizarrely hilarious. That's not something you'd expect with Atrocitus there. Like when you have Atrocitus interacting with Sinestro, it's not going to be punch and roses. It's just like the rings. Some interact well, and some do not. The fun thing about Larfleeze is that he is so out of touch with everything, he doesn’t understand why someone would be angry all the time. “What does THAT get you?”
NRAMA: What the Guardians did in Green Lantern #42 – pitting two factions against each other – surely this will come back to haunt them. Are we going to see their status quo changed in Blackest Night?
GJ: Yes, it's related to their actions. The Guardians thought they could kill two birds with one stone by keeping Agent Orange occupied and the Blue Lanterns occupied. Or destroyed. So they're hoping that this will eliminate two sides. It's like arming two sides and letting them wipe each other out.
And yes, it's absolutely wrong. And you see the Guardians starting to argue. There's one of them arguing in this issue saying "I don't agree with this." He's pointed out for his insubordination. There's now some dissent among these Guardians, and that will continue to play out. The Guardians don't all agree with what's going on now.
NRAMA: In the scene with Fatality and John, is the point here that love is necessary for forgiveness?
GJ: That’s what she believes.
NRAMA: Will we see more of these two characters and this story within Blackest Night?
GJ: Yes, you'll see more of John and Fatality in Blackest Night. A lot more. But it goes a very different way than how you're probably thinking.
As I said, John Stewart has the entire issue of Green Lantern #48 to himself. Or at least, he’s the only living Green Lantern in it.
NRAMA: Oh, now you're getting technical. On the subject of the dead, at the end of Green Lantern #42, we had a bit of a shock when we saw these black hands reaching up from depths. Is this an entity for the Black Lanterns?
NRAMA: Is this something completely new?
GJ: I'm not going to say anything about it.
NRAMA: Hmmm. Are these two characters in some trouble now from these hands?
GJ: Yeah. I don't think you'll be seeing those two again. At least not in the same shape they're in now.
GJ: He saw something.
NRAMA: OK. Is that scene with Sinestro something we're going to see in Blackest Night?
GJ: You'll see it sometime in the future. That's all I can say.
NRAMA: In the future. So correct me if I'm wrong, but have we ever seen a Green Lantern ring give its wearer a vision of the future?
NRAMA: But visions of the future are something the blue power of hope can do?
GJ: Yes. Blue has the power of precognitive visions.
NRAMA: Is that related to the emotion of hope itself somehow?
GJ: Hope is the hope for something better tomorrow.
NRAMA: And that's what links it to the future?
GJ: Yes. I don't want to get into it too much, because people can figure this out on their own, and that's part of the fun of the whole thing. Some of it will be revealed as the story goes, but that's about as much as I'll get into it right now.
NRAMA: The blue ring that came off Hal: Will we see who gets that blue ring?
GJ: Yep. You'll see who gets that blue ring.
NRAMA: The ring said that Hal was an "invalid" Blue Lantern?
GJ: Yeah. [laughs] He's definitely not Blue Lantern material.
NRAMA: The last time we talked, you said Hal's a target for these various colors of rings, and that we'll find out why. But is it right to assume from this "invalid" line that while he may attract them, Hal's not equipped for them?
GJ: They're power that he has no ability to control. He's interacted with the red ring and blue ring and encountered the orange power battery, and when you see him with this blue ring, he's not a natural to be a hope lantern. Hal does have hope, but it’s not central to who he is. He's all about willpower and getting the job done. It's all about kind of going by the seat of his pants. And hope's a very different mentality than who Hal is.
It's one of the reasons I've enjoyed exploring Saint Walker so much. His story is really about, what does hope really mean? What is hope? It's hard to define hope, and a lot of people have an entirely different idea of what hope is. Larfleeze thinks hope is thinking, "I hope for this. I hope for that." He thinks the orange light and the blue light are the same thing. He doesn't understand the difference. And what is the difference? He hopes for the blue ring. He hopes he gets it. Isn't that hope? What is "want?" And what is "wishing?" There's a fine line between hope and greed. You'll see more about hope and all of these emotions, but I think the Saint Walker story in Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps is something I’ll be proud of for a long, long time. My other favorite tale is Arisia by Pete and Mike Mayhew. It’s beautiful. I love what Pete has done with Arisia.
GJ: Yeah. Like I said, you'll see in the first issue of Tales of the Corps the origin of Saint Walker by me and Jerry Ordway. And it's just gorgeous. But there are short stories on a bunch of the characters -- both major, like Saint Walker, and minor, like the Orange Lantern named Blume.
Pete and I wrote all of them. So you get a taste of all these characters that you'll see in the background. This is what I was talking about when I was saying you don't have to know the characters in the background of Blackest Night. You don't have to read these stories in Tales of the Corps, but if you want to know more about somebody you see, then there are stories here about them. It's like when Bossk was in Empire Strikes Back, people went crazy. Who's Bossk? I had his action figure and wanted to know all about him, but guess what? I didn't. I still don’t. Maybe Wikipedia has a good Bossk entry. So what myself, Eddie and Adam wanted to do is start to explore some of these characters you see in the background and where they come from and what they're all about.
In all honesty, Tales of the Corps could have been running the entire length of Blackest Night and we could have told stories about these characters all along. There are so many stories to tell. But we're being very careful and making sure we do it right. Pete and I want to be very careful on how many we roll out. We want to take our time to make these stories as good as we can possibly make them.
NRAMA: Since you opened the door, is there a possibility we'll have another Green Lantern title after Blackest Night, such as a Tales of the Corps title?
GJ: There's always a possibility. But for now, the focus is Blackest Night.
NRAMA: Looking ahead at Green Lantern #43, you've said before that we'll see two entities in that issue, which concentrates on Black Hand. Anything else you want to tell people about next week's issue?
GJ: Green Lantern #43 is a prologue to Blackest Night. And it's Doug Mahnke's first issue. It's absolutely stunning.
GJ: I really can't answer questions about that image.
NRAMA: But the image spawned a ton of questions from fans.
GJ: Of course there are questions. That's the whole point of putting out that image [laughs], is for people to talk about it and wonder about it. "This guy was turned to dust, so how does this work?" You're supposed to not know, and that's half the fun of this. You're just going to have to read the book!
NRAMA: Fair enough. Back on the subject of your work on Blackest Night, is there a character you're writing that you're liking more than you expected?
GJ: A bunch. The biggest surprise is how easy it is to write when Hal and Barry are together. These two know each other so well, and there’s such a strong tie to them…it’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And something happens to Hal when he’s with Barry. It happens to me when I hang out with my friend, Matt. He’s so organized and punctual that a little part of my brain shuts off. I don’t need to worry about the time or where we’re going. I feel like that happens to Hal when he’s around Barry. Hal goes with the flow a little more, while Barry’s taking up the slack of figuring out where to go. I have more Barry and Hal scenes written down because they just keep writing themselves. Introvert and extrovert. Saint and sinner. Time and space.
And then there’s a character that’s really surprised me. I don’t want to give it away but she’s one of the strongest and most recognizable characters in the DC Universe, and yet she hasn’t been in the spotlight for a very long time. But she will be now. For quite some time to come.
NRAMA: OK, then which character will people get to know better in Blackest Night than they've ever known before?
GJ: Same character. She's been around since the '60s.
NRAMA: One thing you talked about earlier is that John was going to evolve. Will we see that kind of growth for Hal?
GJ: Well, hopefully you'll see it for all the characters. But the real central theme in this series is emotion. This entire series is about emotion. It's about conflicting emotion, and changing emotion, and dealing with emotion. What emotion means, what it is. That's what a lot of this has been about.
NRAMA: Do you think that's why this story has had such an impact with readers, because it's relevant to their experience with emotions?
GJ: And it’s also fun. All these different colored Corps are fun, unless you don’t have a fun-gene. And the emotion…I mean, we've all had experience with rage, whether we want to admit it or not. We all experience all these emotions, and it's hard to deal with.
NRAMA: As a writer, are you pulling from your own experience with emotions as you write this?
GJ: Yeah. You have to. And the hardest character to explore, just because it's such a dark, scary place to go, is Black Hand. He's very disturbing. I've written villains that are anti-heroes or psychopaths, but Black Hand's a whole different beast. Black Hand's scary. He's actually a scary character to me, and living with him is scary.
That’s why I have to do something bright and upbeat afterwards, like go hang out at my comic store and argue what the roster of the New Avengers should be or try and convince people to read Northlanders (it’s good!). Or I go to the Robot Chicken offices and make up sketches, like what if Big Boy went on the Biggest Loser and then lost his job. What does he do then? I feel better already.
NRAMA: With all the talk of characters returning from the dead, I don't think readers have thought about the darker side of this story. Is Blackest Night really that dark?
GJ: Yeah, it's definitely got horror elements in it. It's a horror/superhero epic. You have been warned.
NRAMA: You say the story is all about emotions. Is that mostly explored through the Black Lanterns and those who are living being forced to confront their emotions about the dead?
GJ: That's a huge part of it. But think about how many emotions there are involved with that, with losing someone you love. There's anger. There's sorrow. There's hope. There's fear. There's everything -- all these emotions go with losing somebody. It's not easy. It's not simple. People are complex. Emotions are complex.
Emotions are what makes us human. I firmly believe that it's what makes us different. I don't think emotions just come from an overly complex brain. And that's what this story is all about. Do I think the emotional spectrum exists? I think it probably does, in some form. There's something really powerful about emotions. You can walk into a room and tell when people are upset. You know? A lot of people are very empathic. There's something going on there. It's a higher power. It's something different. And to explore that and deal with that on a superhuman level is just exciting.
More than anything though, this has been an absolute blast. [DC editors] Eddie [Berganza] and Adam [Schlagman] are my beacons of light, my Guardians, as they skillfully coral the mind-bending insanity we’re all working on. Pete is my partner in crime and, as he’s been for years, and incredible friend – one who is invaluable to me on every conceivable level. And we’ve got the greatest team of artists doing brilliant work between Ivan, Doug and Patrick. Not to mention the talent on the mini-series which I think being put together by the well-known and the new talent makes it all the better. This is my Corps. Beware its power!