Exclusive: GEOFF JOHNS Hopes Lightning Strikes SHAZAM!


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When Geoff Johns decides to focus on one of DC's comic book characters, it's a safe bet that it'll make waves.

Not only has the screenwriter and comic book superstar created many of DC's best-selling comics over the last decade, but he's now serving as the chief creative officer for DC Entertainment, working to get DC's characters onto the big and small screen at Warner Bros. Studios.

It's not a coincidence that his revamping of the Green Lantern comic was followed a few years later by a Green Lantern movie that used several of the concepts he introduced. And his focus on Booster Gold (in both comics and a TV screenwriting gig) were recently followed by the announcement that a Booster Gold television show is being developed.

So who's next on Geoff Johns' radar?



As DC announced in October, Johns is writing The Curse of Shazam!, a monthly series of 10-page back-up stories in Johns' top-selling title, Justice League. Although the character was formerly known as "Captain Marvel," in his relaunch, he'll be called "Shazam."

Johns is working on the character's relaunch, which starts in Justice League #7, with his frequent collaborator, artist Gary Frank. The two have just finished working together on Batman: Earth One, a retelling of the Batman origin that's set to be released this summer as a graphic novel.

Shazam has an important history in comic books. In the 1940s, his appearances in Captain Marvel Adventures were so popular that the comic sold an estimated 2 million copies, a record that still stands today.

The character, who got his powers through a wizard, was particularly compelling for young kids because it implied they could be a superhero like Billy Batson, his sister Mary Marvel, and their friend, Freddie Freeman. All it took was the magic word, "Shazam!"

But legal challenges over the "Marvel" name in more recent years have meant the character wasn't utilized as much by DC as some of their other properties. And all Captain Marvel comics were legally required to be titled "Shazam" on their covers.

DC's renumbering and reboot in September already spawned newer, younger versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But what the relaunch means for Shazam is still shrouded in mystery, although Frank told Newsarama the character is getting a new costume.

To find out more about what else readers can expect, Newsarama talked with Johns about The Curse of Shazam! and what's coming up in Justice League — including a brand new "liaison" role for Steve Trevor.

Newsarama: Geoff, out of all the properties you could pick to revamp for the new DC Universe, what inspired you to approach the Shazam property in particular?

Geoff Johns: You know, Gary and I just finished working on Batman: Earth One, and Shazam's a character that we've talked about. It's so different from Batman. It's such a different flavor. It's less a superhero story and more of a magical adventure about a kid who doesn't have a family. It's just such a different tone, and the pacing's very different.

It's just not something that either of us has done before. And it's a lot of fun, and there's a lot of humor involved with these kids and Billy in particular. And Shazam is a character I've worked with before in JSA and Black Adam quite a bit, so I've always liked those characters. And this gave us an opportunity to reset it and push that magical element a little further than it's been pushed before.

Nrama: You've been working on producing and co-writing a Shazam movie. Is this comic book story at all related to the work you've done on the film?

Johns: Not really. It's got some elements that I pitched in there, and some of the same characters, obviously, because the characters cross over. Tonally, it's probably pretty close.

Nrama: We haven't heard much about the film project lately. Is it dead, or is there still a possibility this could be a film?

Johns: Oh, no, Shazam's always — there's always a possibility for Shazam. There's always talk about Shazam. And I can't get into the specifics on that, but yeah, there's hope for Shazam.

Nrama: We did a huge examination of the history of the character on Newsarama recently, and what was striking is how many times DC tried to revisit this character, but with limited success. Why do you think it hasn't stood the test of time as well as, say, Superman or some of the other Golden Age heroes?

Johns: There's so many factors, and it's debatable on a lot of those. I think a lot of disadvantages Shazam had was that it was off the shelf for so long, so it never really got consistent stories told about it again and again and again. There were big periods where it just wasn't published and the character wasn't around. It's kind of like Dick Tracy. You know? When you think of Dick Tracy, it just feels old. It's the same with a lot of those pulp characters, because they stopped telling stories about those characters, and so those characters stopped evolving.

Meanwhile, Batman had Year One and Superman had Man of Steel, Wonder Woman had George Pérez, and all these characters kept evolving. And changing. Even with Amazing Spider-Man, when Todd McFarlane got on there, he introduced Venom and all these concepts, and Spider-Man went in a different direction.

Shazam didn't really have that consistent publishing. A lot of great creators could have introduced some great takes on the character if he had.

Nrama: We've talked before about how you like to get down to the true core of the character. You're known for being able to sum up a character's core with a sentence. What do you think is the key concept of Shazam, and how would you sum up his character in a sentence?

Johns: How would I sum up Shazam?

Nrama: Yeah.

Johns: You'll see it in the first book.

Nrama: Then answer the question this way. When you were putting a fresh, new take on Shazam, what's the core essence of the character that you couldn't change?

Johns: Well, the core of the character, obviously, is surrogate family. I mean, it's easy. That's what he's all about. The same with wish fulfillment. And tied into his wish fulfillment, even if he won't admit it, is a surrogate family.

But it's making the best of every situation you're in. I think it's something that's at the core. That's what Billy Batson, that's what Shazam really allows him to do, is you've got to make the best of the situation that you're in.

But if you want a log line that sells the book or sums up the character, you'll see it in the little origin box in the first story.

Nrama: Are you calling him Shazam now? Have you gotten rid of "Captain Marvel?"

Johns: Yeah, we're going to call him Shazam.

Nrama: Why the change?

Johns: Well, there are a lot of reasons for the change. One is that everybody thinks he's called Shazam already, outside of comics. It's also, for all sorts of reasons, calling him Shazam just made sense for us. And, you know, every comic book he's in right now has Shazam on the cover. So I think just by embracing that and calling him Shazam.

And you'll see it actually make sense in story, why he's called Shazam rather than Captain Marvel. That's just what he's going to be called for us from now on.

Nrama: My dad was born in 1939, so he remembers loving those comics when he was a kid. But he talks about how those books were very much aimed at kids, with youth-centered stories.

Johns: Yes.

Nrama: You mentioned humor before, and we've been seeing that from you in all your titles since the relaunch. Are your Curse of Shazam! stories going to have a youthful slant to them like the old Captain Marvel stories did? Or are they like the playfulness we've seen in the main Justice League story?

Johns: There's stuff in the Shazam stories that are action-driven like that, but it's really all-ages. The Shazam story that Gary and I are doing is absolutely all-ages.

There's a touch of whimsical magic in this story, and it's a lot of fun, with a lot of heart and a very emotional journey for these guys. It's all about the characters. It's just a different type of book, with Billy at the center of it, and what the situation is.

Nrama: Does your run with Billy as a member of the JSA inform this at all?

Johns: Um... it's pretty different than that, actually. There's some stuff that's the same, but there's a lot of stuff that's different.

Nrama: Will it still involve Billy, Mary and Freddie?

Johns: Of course! You can't do Shazam without Billy and Mary and Freddie!

Nrama: OK, I was starting to wonder...

Johns: You've got to have those guys.

Billy, Mary, Freddie, Sivana, the Wizard, Black Adam. You'll see some other familiar faces. You'll see a lot of new faces too — new concepts, new characters.

Hopefully we're going to do what we've done before on Green Lantern and Aquaman, is take a character and really explore them in a different way, but stay true to what the concept is and what the core is, but also expand it out and introduce a lot of new things to it.

Fans who like the character already — hopefully they'll enjoy it. But we'll hopefully also find a lot of new people who have never read a Shazam story or given it a chance or checked it out.

That's what the hope is, you know? The hope is just to create more Shazam fans, and tell a great story.

The story is a very... again, the pacing's incredibly different than anything we've done. It's actually more in line with the pacing on Batman: Earth One than it is on anything else.

Nrama: Since I haven't seen Batman: Earth One, can you give me a hint what you mean by different pacing?

Johns: It just means we're going to be doing a lot of character work and we're going to take our time with story. There's a lot of mystery to Shazam and what that means and what's in the mythology.

We're going to explore areas in depth that maybe haven't previously been explored before.

Nrama: Does it pay homage to the old stories for people who know the character?

Johns: There's a lot stuff, obviously, in the DNA of Shazam, through the history, that will be in here. But there's a lot of new stuff as well, and new takes. We really wanted to try something different with this, and so we pushed it in a very different direction than previously seen.

Nrama: Can you give an example of something you've written in Curse of Shazam! that you would call "different?"

Johns: In the very first two pages, there's a completely different take on the mythology that's the bedrock of Shazam, as far as the wizard and the Rock of Eternity and all of that goes.

So within two pages, you'll see how much we're trying to expand it and deepen it and make it a lot grander and a lot bigger than it previously was.

There's one change, I think, that will excite fans that know the character, and one that will give them pause.

Nrama: OK, so "give them pause" sounds ominous. Should we be scared?

Johns: No. You know, all I ask is, like, the first chapter's 10 pages. Every chapter is 10 pages. So I hope Gary and I have earned the trust of people who like what we do together, that they'll watch the story play out and be excited about whatever happens next.

Nrama: We're familiar with the way Gary Frank draws superheroes, but has he changed his approach any for this story, since it has that bit of magical in it?

Johns: Gary is an amazing storyteller, but he's got the emotion down pat. And with these characters — both the characters that we know and don't know, that we meet for the first time — all of them instantly have personality when he introduces them. He knows exactly every line he draws, every expression he has, is brilliant.

When I worked with him on Action Comics, we immediately jelled. And when we worked on Batman: Earth One, which I really can't wait for that to come out, because it's done, but it's still not coming out for another six months or so. July, I think.

But to work on Shazam together, it's a pleasure to work with Gary. He brings so much. We talk about the characters and the story constantly, so we're on the same page with everything we're doing. So it's a very tight collaboration.

Nrama: Did you and Gary feel more freedom to make changes to this character, since he's been out of the public eye, than you did with, say, Earth One: Batman, since Batman is so much more well-known than Shazam? Did you feel more freedom?

Johns: We did. I think everybody felt a little bit of freedom with the relaunch, and this certainly gave us a place to start.

You know, the kid characters obviously have that core center to them, the concept of Shazam has a core concept to it too, but it did allow us freedom to introduce some new things to it and new takes on the characters surrounding it.

Nrama: We've heard about Earth 2 a lot lately. Will The Curse of Shazam take place on the same Earth as Justice League?

Johns: Yes.

Nrama: I wasn't sure, because we've heard there are Captain Marvel characters in what Grant Morrison's doing in his upcoming mini-series Multiversity.

Johns: Yeah, no.  Actually, what happens with Shazam in our back-ups eventually ties into Justice League. That's why it's in Justice League.

Nrama: Then let's finish up the interview by briefly talking about Justice League. We know you've got Curse of Shazam coming up in March in the back-up stories, but what can we expect in 2012 from the main part of the title?

Johns: Issue #7 is going to be an issue that focuses on the Justice League today.

Nrama: That's still the turning point for when it jumps to the present day?


Johns: These first six issues are set in the past, but then we jump to the present with issue #7. But in issue #6, you'll see a lot of subplots kick off in the book that carry over into the present day and develop later.

But when we jump to the present day in issue #7, we'll show how the Justice League operates with their main liaison to the rest of the world, and that's Steve Trevor. I don't know if we've announced that anywhere, but Steve Trevor will be their main liaison to the rest of the world. He'll play a big role in the book.


Issue #8 will feature Green Arrow, who desperately wants to join the team. And we'll learn about a history between him and Aquaman that's not so great.

Issue #9 starts off Jim's next art, "The Villain's Journey," which introduces a new enemy for the League that has a very personal connection to them. And this arc will alter how the world sees the League, how the League sees themselves, and will change relationships pretty drastically. Two in particular will turn into something that I don't think people will expect.

The end of that arc, "The Villain's Journey," will lead to the first new member of the team, beyond the set of the core seven. And that gets us through the year, I think.

[lead SHAZAM image above from "Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe". Gary Frank art from  "The Curse of SHAZAM" has been added above] 

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