On Eve of Break, GEOFF JOHNS Talks BLACKEST NIGHT, pt. 1


Most comic book stores are selling only one new comic this week, but that issue has most fans excited enough to make the trip to pick it up.

In fact, Blackest Night #6, the next chapter in the blockbuster DC event by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, will be the last new comic released in 2009 – an appropriate designation for the story, since it dominated the sales charts this year.

Blackest Night is the culmination of a story that has been building in the Green Lantern title ever since the title's successful relaunch in 2005. Over the last two years since the Sinestro Corps first battled the Green Lanterns, Green Lantern and its partner comic, Green Lantern Corps, have introduced dozens of new concepts and characters while taking readers through an epic tale of different colored corps and their energy ring battles.

In June, Blackest Night began and has been outselling just about everything else since, while readers also flocked to its tie-in issues, action figures and little plastic colored rings.

Yet now that Blackest Night is over halfway finished, the event has ended up being more than just the space opera implied by a slew of flying aliens with power rings. As readers have discovered over the last six months, Blackest Night is less of a straight-forward superhero story about good vs. evil and more of a twisted, dark story of death and emotional upheaval.

To put all the "blackness" of the story in perspective, Newsarama turned to the architect of Blackest Night, Geoff Johns, to discuss the meaning behind its theme of light versus dark. And as we talked for this two-part interview, we found out more about his future plans for Mera, how Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin picks up from this week's issue, and why Larfleeze might be featured in a special issue next Christmas.

Newsarama: Geoff, I've got all five issues of Blackest Night in front of me.

Geoff Johns: Doesn't it look amazing? Ivan Reis is just doing an awesome job on this series. It's kind of sick how good he is. He deserves all the accolades he’s getting for his work on a project this large in scope. Ivan is the new king of widescreen action and emotional epics.

Nrama: After talking to him about the series, I think one of the biggest accomplishments for Ivan as an artist is that he's not only drawing established characters, but all these new characters and new Black Lanterns and new concepts.

Johns: That's the great thing about Blackest Night. So many of these characters that are driving this series are brand new. There are all these brand new characters in a major comic book, and nobody's saying, "Who are these guys?"

Nrama: That true. We'll get to that in a minute, but I wanted to start the interview by talking with you about the theme of this series, which appears to be focusing on the idea of light representing life and blackness representing death. Am I interpreting that correctly?

Johns: Well, the blackness isn't death. The blackness just is. It's existence. It's emptiness. Death isn't really a force.

Nrama: Just an absence of life?

Johns: An absence of life. You see the dark regions of space, and it's just there. It's emptiness, which I think is the frightening part of death. The fear that everyone we love and ourselves just…stop being. Nekron is essentially sentient space, whether he's death or not. People equate him to death because he's the antithesis of life. The universe was here first and, in reality, Nekron is the true Guardian of the Universe.

Nrama: I think it was Indigo-1 that said something about "we are the trespassers here" during this series. Is that what she's talking about?

Johns: We're the invaders. Black Hand says it best: We age because we're not supposed to be here. So we grow old. It's the universe fighting against us. We age and die because we aren’t wanted here.

Nrama: That seems so twisted. This is the reason behind what Black Hand and Nekron are doing?

Johns: Well, Black Hand's a different character from Nekron. Nekron isn't sadistic or malicious. His position is that life is a cancerous growth on the universe. Nekron wants peace. And it hasn't been like that since life first came into being.

Space was here then life came and messed up everything. In truth, life is chaos and death is order.

That's where the war came from. In my mind, that's what I've created. The ultimate war is light versus darkness. And this is what it's rooted in.

Nrama: You had said early in the series that the white light of creation was splintered into these seven separate energies, and now these Lanterns are trying to bring them back together to form that light again. So upon creation, emotions took form? Is that the idea?

Johns: Life is emotion. So emotion didn't take form until life became sentient and felt something. The dark has fought back. But the first time the light was splintered was when a living creature willed itself to move, and it used willpower to voluntarily move. Then boom, the spark of green was created and then the light started to get splintered.

Peter Tomasi Talks Blackest Night
Peter Tomasi Talks Blackest Night
So really, the first War of Light was way back when. It was when the light first came here, and it was waging a war against darkness and creating life. That's when the light splintered, because it had to splinter. It couldn't just stay focused; it had to splinter and make everything.

Nrama: There's also the characters and their story during this series. So many of the stories that you've written have been a hero on a journey. In Infinite Crisis, it was Superboy's journey, and the trinity and Earth-2 Superman. In Sinestro Corps War, the biggest challenge to overcome ended up being Kyle's. Is there a hero we're seeing journey in this series?

Johns: I think it's pretty obvious. It's Hal and Barry.

Nrama: It wasn't that obvious until recently, Geoff. I think we're only right now finding out why.

Johns: No one is front and center randomly.

Nrama: I asked about heroes, but it feels a little like, in this event, we've seen Black Hand's journey as much as anyone's. Blackest Night is the culmination of what he's been wanting his whole life.

Johns: Black Hand is on the verge of finally understanding why he is this way and why he feels this way. Black Hand is very much in his element, so to speak. It is a villain's journey.

Nrama: You told me in the interview we did just before Blackest Night began that Black Hand had ended up becoming one of your favorite characters to write. Why is Black Hand a favorite?

Johns: Because he's not redeeming at all. There are no redeeming qualities to Black Hand. None. This guy's not like us. This guy doesn't think like us. He doesn't have the same value system.

That's why I like writing him. It is hard to get into his head, but as frightening as it is, you get in there and it's a very interesting place to be. You get into his mind and realize you can’t stay there too long. I thought that Black Hand issue, Doug Mahnke did an incredible job.

And of course, Green Lantern should have villains that are dark. Green Lantern is all about the light, literally and metaphorically.

Nrama: In this series, there's also been a focus on Mera. Before this series began, you had told me the character you were enjoying writing at that moment was a female character, and you gave a few hints. And at the time, nobody guessed it would be Mera. There were several other characters that were expected by the masses. How did you land upon her character above all the others as your strong female lead in this story?

Johns: The other journeys, next to Hal and Barry, are the Atom and Mera. They both go through specific journeys. The Atom's culminates in The Atom and Hawkman issue I'm doing, and it continues through Blackest Night. And Mera's goes through Blackest Night, Blackest Night: Wonder Woman and beyond. She’ll be someone I’ll be working with in 2010, 2011 and beyond. The same thing goes for the Atom. His perspective is obviously different from anybody else's. And he's been at the center of the storm of a lot of things that have gone on in the DC Universe. But it’s time for Ray to step up and move on into new emotional territory.

Mera just developed organically, because I've always found that character intriguing. A lot of people recognized that character, but nothing's been done with her in years. I wanted to put her on the stage. You know, Aquaman's not here. It's like the whole beat that Barry says to them: "We're the Justice League now. You're Superman, and you're Wonder Woman. So let's go do this."

I knew I would be introducing all these new characters, and I thought at the same time I'd like to take a couple old characters like Mera and Black Hand alongside Larfleeze and Saint Walker.

Nrama: You said you always found Mera's character "intriguing." Why?

Johns: I just always found her to be powerful and strong and unexplored. She stood apart; she wasn't Aquawoman, which I liked. She was her own character, separate from Aquaman. She had her own history. I always found her appealing and thought she could be an important character, and I believe she's going to be one of the strongest females in the coming years.

Nrama: You also said Ray Palmer has a "unique perspective." Do you mean because he can shrink, or are you talking about his history?

Johns: [laughs] Well, yes, he sees things differently when he's small. But not exactly; I mean he has a different perspective on life. I'm exploring that a little more in Blackest Night and The Atom and Hawkman.

Really, the story we're telling about so many of these characters in this series is all about moving beyond your past. Like John Stewart's face to face with Xanshi. And Sinestro and Hal took on Abin Sur. It's kind of looking at the pasts these characters have gone through, allowing them to confront it head on and then moving on.

The post-Blackest Night world is a very different world. And this series is about confronting the past, then moving on and doing new stories and new adventures and new characters, and a whole new direction for everybody. But the specific characters in Blackest Night will carry on, and they’re all part of a bigger plan.

Nrama: I never really thought of it before you started talking about all the history that is being confronted in this series, but DC characters sure have a lot of emotional baggage.

Johns: Yeah! Well, people have a lot of emotional baggage. I mean, I look at... I've got emotional baggage. You've got emotional baggage. We lose somebody and that's going to stick with you. I've lost somebody close to me in my sister, and that stays with you. And that's why DC characters have baggage; Marvel characters have baggage too. Every human being has baggage. Every living person has baggage, unless you're six months old. And even then, you could have baggage. [laughs]

Nrama: But my emotional baggage doesn't manifest itself and come to confront me head-on quite like we're seeing in this series.

Johns: No, but that's why it's a great look at the characters in the DC Universe. The thing I'm most proud about this crossover is that it's based on character and emotion.

Nrama: There are two levels to it. It's not only literally based on emotion, through the various rings, but each character's story is all about their personal confrontation of emotion.

Johns: Exactly. And people are getting confronted head-on about their emotions, about who they are as people at the very center. For years, John Stewart has been defined by Xanshi. It’s time to close that door and push John Stewart to a new place. 2010 is all about the new. More on that soon.

But that's why I really enjoyed writing The Atom and Hawkman, because it goes to the core of who Ray Palmer really is. He's confronting the demons that are in his world, and having to figure out how he moves on from those, and how he can deal with those on a day-to-day basis.

And the overarching theme of what these heroes are dealing with is death. And that's something we all deal with.

So that's also what this story is. It's an ultimate struggle over meaning and purpose. In a comic book universe, how can death mean anything? If characters are resurrected every other week, and I’m as guilty as anyone for that, what does it matter? What does death mean? What is it? Is it a bad thing? You know? Or do we have to just accept it?

Nrama: So this is not only an exploration of the revolving door of death, but just the meaning of death in general?

Johns: It's both. Death is a real thing, and it's also a theme in comic books that has been used as a reboot tool. But it needs a meaning. How many guys have died and come back between Marvel and DC? A lot. And there are a lot of different reasons for it.

But I wanted to tackle death in comics, but also, more importantly, death in a real world sense. And for me, real world issues are always more interesting to explore under the guise of a “good old superhero story” rather than tackling them head-on. You can enjoy Blackest Night as a big, fun superhero event or you can delve into the symbolism behind the Lanterns and the villains and explore and confront your own issues with the past or with death. It’s up to the reader.

Nrama: The image of bodies rising from the grave is one that just naturally creeps a person out. Do you think that's because of people not wanting to confront death the way you're describing? Is that what makes people so afraid of the rising dead?

Johns: We're all going to be there one day. It's just a scary thought. But it doesn’t have to be. We all have light in us, how brightly it glows depends on us...

Look for Part 2 Wednesday morning.

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