AQUAMAN In-Depth: GEOFF JOHNS Says He Already IS Cool



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Geoff Johns has already written two of the best-selling titles in DC's relaunch, with Justice League and Green Lantern.

But now he's got a much bigger challenge: getting people to care enough about Aquaman to give his third title a shot this week.

Even Johns admits that writing a solo Aquaman series is a challenge, because the character has been relaunched without success before. But as the writer told Newsarama when the series was first announced, he's drawn to Aquaman nonetheless because of the "untapped potential" in the character.


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But if selling an Aquaman title is a challenge, it's made much easier by the team-up of Johns with Ivan Reis, with whom he's collaborated on multiple successful titles, from Green Lantern to Blackest Night. And the two have already won fans for Aquaman with their portrayal of the character and his wife, Mera, in the 2010-2011 maxi series Brightest Day.

It also won't hurt that Johns has spent the last few years as one of the comic industry's most bankable commodities, even rising to the position of chief creative officer for DC Entertainment.


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As we spoke to the writer about Aquaman and the other relaunched books, he was clearly supportive of DC's initiative. But he's reluctant to talk about editorial questions because, he says, his focus is his own books and his day-to-day job in L.A.

But the writer admitted the "hooded woman" who's showing up in all the DC books is something he's helping to orchestrate.


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With Aquaman #1 due in stores this week, Newsarama talked to Johns about Aquaman and more.

Newsarama: Geoff, you seem to have tweaked your writing style a bit in the two New 52 comics we've seen from you so far. Is Aquaman going to be similar to what we've seen?

Geoff Johns: If you mean accessible and fun, then yes! One of my goals for the New 52 is to re-approach books and make them much more accessible than normal, because we were hoping we'd have a lot of new people checking out these stories. And it looks like we are, which is great. And also, I wanted to add a little bit of humor to the characters. Really make it character-driven, but have humor come out of character interactions with each other, whether it's with the rest of the Justice League members in Justice League or with the rest of the world, like in Green Lantern.


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Nrama: Why is humor such a focus for you right now, both as writer and as one of the people trying to drive the company creatively?

Johns: The humor comes from character, so I actually want it to be more character-driven in the approaches and make it more about our characters, especially when we're re-introducing these books to everybody. And out of that, as I was writing, humor just started to come. I tried to push myself as a writer and really challenge myself to write these books in a character-driven way that was accessible and fun, and the humor was just a by-product of that.

Nrama: You've mentioned that you take advantage of the fact that a lot of people laugh at Aquaman. Some people have reacted to that thinking it might be too much of a joke, yet you wrote him much more seriously in Brightest Day. As you approach his solo series, how do you balance those two ideas of Aquaman?

Johns: I think that he's the ultimate underdog to me. I think that's a good thing. He's underestimated by everybody, except Mera. Balancing the perception of what Aquaman is, and trying to break that perception, is what the book's all about.


We certainly don't get goofy, but we do have fun with it.

The stakes are real. The Trench are nasty. And the things he faces are really tough, and what he deals with is serious stuff. But at the same time, I didn't want to run away from the perception of him.

I've read a lot of comics with Aquaman in them, and they really go for the throat when trying to make him cool, sometimes. And I think Aquaman is cool. I don't think you have to work that hard to make him cool.


But what you do need to do is address why people don't think he's cool. And just accept that -- hey, you're writing an Aquaman comic book.

I think that's what I'm trying to do on Ivan and Joe (Prado].

And Ivan and Joe on art -- you know how great they are. They bring a big, regal, epic, powerful feel to these characters. And I think that also legitimizes the character.

The goal is to find a good balance, and not run away from everything that people think about Aquaman.

Nrama: You know, looking at your books so far in the New 52, it looks like you're using less narration?

Johns: Yeah, there is less narration here and there. I think that depends on the book, though, and the comics I'm writing now depend on characters interacting with one another. And I'd rather have the characters tell the story than the narration. But that all depends on the book.


Nrama: When you were first deciding what books you wanted to tackle in the New 52, I'm assuming you could have tackled just about anything as a new #1. Why did a relaunch of Aquaman attract you the most?

Johns: I've always really been fascinated with the character. I think there's a great world to explore with that character, with the ocean and the mythology that comes with that. And creating new things for that world, and expanding it, was compelling to me as a writer. I thought it was a great challenge.

Ivan Reis and Joe Prado were really fun to work with on Aquaman in Brightest Day, so we kind of wanted to carry that over. And people seemed to really respond to Aquaman.


And everyone's heard of Aquaman. So the people who are looking at the 52 relaunched books, whether they bought comics a month ago, or they're coming back to the store after awhile, or they've never bought before, they at least have a passing knowledge of who Aquaman is. And I thought it was a really great challenge to take on the underdog of the superheroes.

Aquaman's a very different book to write than every other book.

Nrama: Fans are obviously familiar with how you and Ivan work together. But is he bringing anything in particular to the Aquaman title that's a little different?


Johns: The one thing he's told me, and I think it's really cool, is that he sees the water as poetry. So the way he's drawing water is amazing. There's a great scene in issue #2 where Mera uses her powers for the first time, and it's just breathtaking, the way he's drawing. And our colorist Rob Reis is just doing an amazing job on lighting up the book. It just looks spectacular. The art is really the best Aquaman could possibly get.

Nrama: What do you think he means, "water is poetry."

Johns: We talked about it, and he means the way it moves. It has a rhythm. And it's very organic and very beautiful. And even when it's harsh and hard and there's violence in the water, it still has a very interesting way of moving. So it's alive in its own way to Ivan, which I love.


Nrama: If you were trying to get someone to read this comic, concentrating more on the character than its accessibility, what would you say about what makes Aquaman unique?

Johns: Aquaman's a guy who has a lot on his shoulders. It's a lot about responsibility. We all have obligations that we deal with, and Aquaman's the same way. How responsible do you have to be for yourself, people around you, and the world? It can be a little daunting. So that's one of the themes of the series.

Aquaman is this guy who, on land, he's kind of laughed at. But in the ocean, he's supposed to be the king of this huge underwater society, so there's a weird juxtaposition between those two roles. And he prefers to be on land, and his job is to protect the land from sea and the sea from land. So he's literally caught in the middle of all these things.


I think everyone will be able to relate to Aquaman. I think he's very, very human, because of all that. But he's also admirable because he does step up and take care of business, and he doesn't let what anyone says stop him. He lets it roll right off his back like water.

So I think the character himself, of Arthur Curry, is a very compelling character. It's a very grounded, relatable take on Aquaman. But it will all take place within a struggle against The Trench and other epic backdrop stories as we go forward.

Nrama: After The Trench storyline, what can readers expect during the next Aquaman story?

Johns: After this first arc, Mera and Aquaman head on a quest to find out who sunk Atlantis and find out why they did it.

Nrama: You mention Mera quite a bit. Is she the main supporting cast? Will we see any other characters surrounding her and Arthur, and even some familiar villains?


Johns: You'll see Aquaman in issue #1, and then Mera really comes on board in issue #2. Mera will have a focus issue with issue #6. So the book's really focused on those two characters more than anybody else. There is a new supporting cast member introduced in issue #3 that I think is very different than anyone Aquaman's ever interacted with before. And they'll play a role in the book. And then we eventually will see other characters, like Aqualad and Aquagirl.

You'll also be introduced to a kind of strange member of the supporting cast in issue #4.

And then as far as villains, there are a lot of new characters, like The Trench. But you'll also see some familiar faces like Black Manta, Ocean Master and another obscure Aquaman villain, but his character will echo how we made Black Hand into a central figure in the Green Lantern mythos.

Nrama: Does Aquaman interact with the larger DC Universe? Or is this more about his realm separate from the rest of the DCU?


Johns: You'll see him interacting with the DCU in Justice League. But right now, there are no plans for guest start within Aquaman. This is an Aquaman book.

Nrama: I've talked to creators in the past about what makes Aquaman so unique, and many people have talked about how it sometimes minimizes Aquaman's unique abilities when he's put up next to characters like Superman and Batman. Is it tough to highlight Aquaman's abilities when he's next to the other Justice League characters?

Johns: No, it's easy, because Aquaman is so powerful and competent and smart. He's tough. Other people might look at the Justice League and say, "look at Superman and Batman go," or "What the hell's Aquaman doing there? We're in downtown Philadelphia." But he's going to be able to hold his own alongside them.

Nrama: We talked earlier about how you've tweaked your writing style a bit, with this new character-driven approach and the injection of humor. Was it tough to re-approach these characters and your writing style?

Johns: I think it's a challenge for everybody. It's a challenge to try and write in a different style or a different way. But I really enjoy it.

And Aquaman specifically is a massive challenge, just because it's Aquaman.

Nrama: I'm not sure I follow.

Johns: Well, all my career, I've had people say, "You can't do that." Like when I relaunching Teen Titans with Mike McKone, people told Mike and me, "Why are you doing Teen Titans? It's never going to work." But it worked really well.

Or when we brought Hal Jordan back, they said, "You can't do that. It's never going to work."

And Aquaman is like that. Or like when I did Booster Gold, after 52, people said, "Why are you going to waste your time on Booster Gold?" And I said, "because I think he's a really fantastic character." And I think Booster Gold has solidified himself as one of DC's key characters. He's a B-lister, that's for sure, but a great B-lister, and that's what his role is.

Nrama: And you certainly had a lot of humor in that book.

Johns: Yeah, and that was a lot of fun. And I had a lot of humor in that Superboy book I did with Francis. Even Flash had some.

But I just want the books to be a different experience. If it's just another relaunch of Justice League or just another Aquaman where he's beating up Black Manta... it's not interesting to me. I want to be challenged and I want to do something different.

And Aquaman is very different from anything else I'm doing right now, and I think anything else DC is doing.

Nrama: Clearly, you've often done the unexpected, and most people had expected you would stay on The Flash.

Johns: Yeah, but I've written over 75 issues of The Flash. And Francis [Manapul] is going to do a great job on the book. So I just felt like Aquaman was an interesting choice. For me creatively, it's really fun to do. I like that it's not Batman or Superman or one of the other major characters.

Nrama: You've pointed toward a history where you were creating unexpected comics, but even within that, Geoff, you've become one of the most successful writers at DC. There was no hesitation as you started to change your style for these books?

Johns: It just happened naturally. It's not like there was some big decision to change this or to change that. I just challenged myself to grow as a writer, and DC challenged everyone to make the books more accessible and more fun, and this just happened naturally. And I think it's working.

I'm certainly having a lot of fun writing the books. I hope people are enjoying it.


Nrama: Will we see the hooded woman from Flashpoint #5 show up in Aquaman?

Johns: In #1, you will.

Nrama: Were you the one that came up with her?

Johns: Jim [Lee] and I are working on that together.

Nrama: Then I assume that's something you're creatively overseeing in the other books? Or is that mainly going to be something we'll see in Justice League?


Johns: I cannot talk about anything concerning that, except that you'll learn more about her in Justice League in a few months.

Nrama: When the idea was first considered to relaunch all the titles, how involved were you in the decision? And what did you think of it? And what was your role?

Johns: We were in the writers meeting.... wow, that's been awhile ago now... but I was all for the relaunch. I think the relaunch is a terrific idea for a starting point for everything, and for same-day digital, and all that.

I remember when we were in the office, and people were saying, "Well, you can't renumber Action." And then we just started asking, "Well, why not? It's just a number on a cover!"

Everyone was debating about it. There was a lot of talking about it.

The thing I was probably the most vocal about was changing continuity to such an extent. It was such a creative challenge, so I just knew it would be really important that everyone takes it really seriously. I just thought that if they're going to change something, they have to make sure they're not just changing it for change's sake, but they're changing it because they think it's going to be a better emotional story, or something's a little out of date. But that was my biggest concern.

And that's certainly the way I'm approaching everything on Justice League, Aquaman and Green Lantern.

Nrama: It didn't upset you that the JSA was going away?

Johns: But it's not going away. I worked on the JSA a long time, and just because the new things we're publishing doesn't include those characters right now doesn't mean those stories can't be read and enjoyed in a trade.

Nrama: It didn't give you pause?

Johns: Well, sure. But so many other people were involved in it, that I think it gave everybody pause.

Nrama: I assume you know what James is doing in the upcoming JSA title?

Johns: I do. He's back on the Justice Society, which is terrific. He's the one who got me to love those characters in the first place, with Golden Age, so I'm excited to read the book again.

Nrama: The relaunch has worked well for September. You've seen the sales, and I assume you feel pretty good about it?

Johns: It's exciting! It means people are trying the books.

Nrama: Let's talk about the changes with digital. You guys have to stay further ahead because of same-day digital now, right?

Johns: Yeah, I'm the furthest ahead I've been in awhile.

Nrama: And I know you like to do long-form storytelling. On Aquaman, do you have a long run planned out, and can we expect the type of long-form storytelling we've seen from you before? Or are you pulling away from that since you're dealing with new readers?

Johns: No, I am doing long-form storytelling, because that's what I like doing. I may have tried to approach things a little differently than I have before. But there are other things I do approach the same. And that's long-form plotting.

So I still have the major arcs worked out for Aquaman, and ultimately what his arc is for my entire run.

Nrama: Do you have any idea how long that will be?

Johns: It's going to be awhile. I don't have any end point set right now.

But I tend to stay on books. Most of the time, I'm on books for awhile. I think as long as Ivan, Joe and I are having fun, and the book's working, and people are liking it, we're going to be there. I'm committed to Aquaman 100 percent.

Nrama: Then to finish up, Geoff, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Aquaman?

Johns: Just give it a chance. If you have an extra few bucks, grab that first issue. Whether you love Aquaman or hate Aquaman or don't know anything about Aquaman, this book's for you.

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