Geoff Johns: Getting Psyched for Green Lantern

A comics interview article by: Jason Sacks

Geoff Johns has been associated with Green Lantern for a long time. He was the driving force behindRebirth, the "Sinestro Corps" storyline and Blackest Night. He's also closely associated with DC's animated projects. Jason Sacks participated in a group discussion with Johns about the new GL animated DVD, Emerald Nights.



Question: With the animated series, animated film, new video games -- did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams that it would get to that level?

Geoff Johns: No, but I'm very happy. [laughs] It's really cool. My hope is that kids discover Green Lantern and a whole new generation of fans are born. And all the fans that are already fans get psyched.

Question: Is Green Lantern getting to the level of Batman, Superman because they're pretty frequently being considered for films? Is that the long-term goal -- to get Green Lantern to that level where he is not just A-list for comic book fans, but A-list for mainstream audiences.

Johns: That's my hope. I think it certainly has the potential, the characters do, and it's such a different -- it's not a superhero. It's really sci-fi. It's a little bit Star WarsLord of the Rings, Superman -- all rolled into one. But it's pretty unique in and of itself. And it's got that great core center of overcoming fear. You're chosen because you have a quality inside you. I think that's really inspiring.

Question: You have such a long love for this character, and you're so passionate about the universe. What is it at its core, besides overcoming fear, that draws you in to write so many issues of the comic, be so excited about the game and involved in the movie and the animated film. What is it about Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps that appeals to you?

Johns: I just like the vastness of it. You can do a story on Earth, you can do a story in space. It's not about the ring, it's about the people wearing the ring. We're all humans, and we all have the potential to be a Green Lantern if we wanted to be. And it's cool looking -- I always loved the cantina scene in Star Wars, and in my mind it was like, "Wow, imagine that times a thousand, but they're all wearing cop uniforms." That's just cool. For me, it's the perfect superhero universe. 

Question: How challenging was when you were bookending all these different stories and making sure it's all tied together properly. Writing-wise, was it a challenge to make sure all of that gels?

Johns: Alan really did that. When Alan called me and said, "Hey, we want to do this Tales of the Green Lantern Corps series that involved all these writers that worked on the comic books, and do a wraparound story where it's Hal Jordan and the Corps fighting this giant threat," I was really excited to be a part of it. Everyone pitched their stories and Alan pieced it all together and made it work.

Question: With so many super-hero projects coming out from both DC and Marvel, whether it's live-action or animated, is there a conscious effort as you're developing these projects to combat the potential audience fatigue? Do you make an effort to differentiate the character?

Johns: I'm not worried about Green Lantern because it's so different. Green Lantern, like I've said before -- it's a little Last Starfighter, it's a little Star Wars -- it's not really just a super-hero property. It's a sci-fi world. I think you always want to find a different angle and a different tone, because there are so many superhero films. But if they're good, they'll survive. They just have to be good. All the stuff coming out of it has to be good.

Question: Can you tell us how you got in the business of screenwriting, comics and all that?

Johns: I worked for a director named Richard Donner, who did Superman for four years. While I was working for him, I started writing comic books. I eventually went writing full time -- wrote comics, wrote some TV and animation and some video game stuff -- and it just grew from there.

Question: Is there there a reason why Tomar Re didn't have a large role? He seems like he has a big role in the movie.

Johns: He does. That might be partially why -- I think we were just choosing to focus on different characters, and no one pitched a Tomar Re story. It was really up to the writers -- I wanted to do Abin Sur and Sinestro, Dave wanted to do Mogo, Pete wanted to do Kilowog and Eddie chose Laira. Everybody just chose their own character. It wasn't like, "We have to do this story, this story, this story." Which I liked.

Question: You got to indulge your fan love of certain characters, certain stories.

Johns: You got to indulge what you thought would be a good story, yeah.

Question: That's an interesting distinction. It's not necessarily what you love, but more what you thought would make an interesting story.

Johns: I love it all, but if you have passion behind something, you'll make it work. It goes hand-in-hand, I think.

Question: Were there any classic stories that you love that you wish you could have worked into the movie?

Johns: No, I was really happy with the ones we did. I thought it was great. There's a bunch of different ones, but there's not one out there that I'm dying to see.

Question: How has the response been for some of these smaller stories, like the Jonah Hex and the Spectre stuff and now the Green Lantern Corps stuff, as oppose to the longer stories? Are you trying to balance them out?

Johns: It's a balance. You don't want to do the same thing every time, and I think the goal is to use different characters and tell different types of stories -- not limit it to say, we're going to do this type of story only. I'm glad that not everything's Batman. That'd be very boring.

Question: I like it because uou can almost play with different tones for different characters and not feel weighed down because it's geared toward one audience. Is there potential to do another movie featuring secondary characters?

Johns: Oh yeah, I'm sure there is. If people like this one and they decide to do another, I'm sure they'll delve into it a lot deeper. Maybe they'll do one of all the different Corps. I don't know. It'd be cool.

Question: Will we ever see a Green Lantern/Green Arrow film?

Johns: Never say never.

Question: Has there ever been any interest in doing a Golden Age Green Lantern, dipping into some of the Martin Nodell stuff?

Johns: There hasn't really been a lot of talk of Alan Scott. 

I just like Hal Jordan's origin, his journey, the fact that his father dies in front of his eyes and he overcompensates and misinterprets what being fearless is all about. He doesn't ever recognize or acknowledge fear. Through his journey of becoming Green Lantern, he becomes more self-aware of his own fear. It's about overcoming fear and not being without fear. 

I just think there's something really interesting about that character growth. And I like a hero who flies in first and figures it out second. There's something cool about that, a daredevil. Makes it unpredictable, so you never know what he's going to do.

Question: For the story of this animated film, when you sat down to do the story, what inspired you to these stories?

Johns: I really wanted to explore the relationship between Abin Sur and Sinestro. It's something that I created in the comic books -- a friendship and mutual respect between those two -- and I wanted to flesh that out. I think it helps. It's also in the feature film, but I think it adds a whole other emotional depth to Hal wearing that ring -- so that immediately Sinestro looks at him and says, "You're not as good as Abin Sur." The one Green Lantern he respects dies and is replaced by an Earthman -- this guy from this primitive world where they're born on their planet and die on their planet -- it's embarrassing. 

And for Sinestro to look at this guy and see his friend's ring -- he represents Abin Sur's death in one way. He represents failures. He represents a lot of things to Sinestro. I just wanted to reinforce that relationship because I think it adds even more to that complex relationship between Hal and Sinestro.

Question: Is there a reason why all these Green Lantern stories are more space-oriented rather than Earth-oriented? There's a big story based on his relationship with his father on Earth, but that isn't explored in any of these films, cartoons and stuff.

Johns: Did you see First Flight? There's some of it in there, but the feature film explores a lot of that.

Question: You have a great voice cast for this project -- is there an actor whose voice you hear inside your head when you're writing Larfleeze? Will he show up in one of these films somewhere down the line?

Johns: Not really. I know he sounds like a Muppet -- that's all I know. I just don't know exactly which one. He's a good character. You will see him at some point.

Question: With your new responsibilities and everything you're doing, is it more fulfilling being all over the place now, or do you miss the attention to comics?

Johns: I still write comics and I still really, really enjoy that. I think that's still, for me, the most pure, creative experience. It's just me, an artist and editor, and that's it. So, working on an animated film or a feature film -- there's a lot of people you're working with, a lot of different creative people in the mix. That's great, but there is something to be said, too, about the purity of comic books.

Question: What was the turnaround time for the film from concept to completion?

Johns: I think Alan Burnett called me about two years ago. So, a while ago. And I only wrote a 15-page script or something like that.

Question: How is it different writing a script for comics versus for the animation? It's like a completely different set of muscles.

Johns: It's different. You have a budget, so you can't use as many characters as you want. You can't use as many locations as you want. In comics, there's no budget, there's no cast limit, so you have to readjust your thinking process there. In comics, you have to direct it while you write it because you're calling the shots, so that's more difficult. There's things that are easier in comics and things that are harder in comics.

I find live-action television like Smallville -- once you know the budget and you know what you need to do -- is a lot easier than a comic book. You don't have to stop and think, "What panel shot do I lay out, how many panels am I going to have on this page" -- you can just write a scene and it is what it is. Somebody else has to worry about how to break it down into shots. 

I'm not gonna say, "Close up on Clark, pull back to a medium shot." I'm not gonna direct the episode while I'm writing the script. Where in the comic books, you have to say, "Close up, long shot, very tight on the green ring," whatever -- you have to pace it out and you have to pace the pages that turn. And you say, "I only have five pages for this scene. How do I do it?" It's a lot easier when you don't have to direct it, too.

Question: Is that something you might want to get into in the future? Directing?

Johns: I don't know. We'll see. I'm pretty happy right now.

Question: How has Richard Donner influenced your career?

Johns: I think Dick's pretty excited. I see him quite a bit. He's my mentor, he's the greatest creative influence on my life and he's a huge influence on my personal life. I know he's proud, and that's really important to me. He's like my dad.

Question: Does he geek out the way you do?

Johns: It's funny -- when I first worked for him and I was working on JSA, there was an Alan Scott cover. He walked by and he said, "Oh, Green Lantern."

I said, "How do you know that Green Lantern?"

"That's the Green Lantern I grew up with."

And I was like, "Oh." 'Cause he remembers buying Action #1 and all the Golden Age comics. It's pretty cool. So he knew all the JSA, who all those characters were. So I had to introduce him t Hal Jordan, because he stopped reading comics by then.

Question: Are there any plans to have the Golden Age Green Lantern appear in any of the cartoon series?

Johns: No plans right now, but I'm sure he'll appear at some point.

Question: Is there a story you've written that you would prefer for a Warner Premiere direct-to-video feature?

Johns: Yes, there is. We're talking about it.

Question: It's in print. You don't want to tell us what story it is?

Johns: [laughs] Just in case it happens. We'll see.


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