Geoff Johns – DC Comics 2000s

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Met at comic shop opening L.A. Comic writers are always such nice guys.

Geoff Johns largely WAS the face DC Comics of the 2000s, in my twenty-something resurgence as a hardcore comics geek I basically read every single one of his books that entire decade.

 

Note: Goodreads Shelf: Geoff Johns — that 68 at last count

 

Johns is not going to win any big literary awards and change your life, and that’s not the point. He is a great entertainer, a great storyteller, never dumbing down and utilizing the best aspects of the superhero genre. Throughout the 2000s, he was particularly skilled at taking complex continuity and streamlining into a way that pleased hardcore fans and newcomers alike. Nowadays is a different story, but that’s what it was like at the time.

I remember first discovering the former screenwriter’s first published Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. at the very beginning, a certain humble 12-issue series about the Star-Spangled Kid, an update on old Golden Age retired heroes. It was the perfect start. Nothing grim and gritty (although later I’d learned the main character Courtney Whitmore was based on Johns’ deceased sister), just fun comics with respect towards history.

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This also concerns Starman. Written by James Robinson in the 90s, Starman was one of DC’s finest works. Another legacy comic about a modern take on the Golden Age, Starman was very different from the norm. Jack Knight might be called a hipster hero today. His dad was the original Starman, and he was a normal, cultural guy with tattoos and good taste in movies, forced into the life.

Ultimately James Robinson ushered in the new JSA: the Justice Society of America. Thanks must also go to the success of the JLA at the same time, and DC was trying harder with classic team books.

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Geoff Johns wrote from issue 5 and up to the end, and it was something special indeed. Unlike previous incarnations of these characters in Infinity Inc., the new book was ambitious and quickly became the centerpiece of the DC Universe. Arguably more crucial than the Justice League themselves. The society saved the world, introduced new mythos, let the original Flash and Green Lantern and Wildcat mentor the next generation, and not to mention a return to glory for Hawkman.

 

As for solo heroes, Geoff Johns took over The Flash…

This was back in the Wally West days, not Barry Allen like the new show currently airing. Barry had died way back in the Crisis on Infinite Earths event in the 80s, long replaced by his now grown sidekick. Wally was more of an everyman hero, without a secret identity, but still very much in the mainstream superhero scene.

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Flash already had very high standards, thanks to the extremely talented Mark Waid, and Johns – joined by artist Scott Kollins – focused on Wally as a sort of working class hero in a pseudo-Detroit. The villains were given the utmost important, with the Rogue’s Gallery often being the stars.

The Flash became my favorite hero of all.

I still really miss Wally West…

 

Geoff Johns was gaining traction, and got noticed by Marvel Comics. He had a brief run over on the flagship title The Avengers, as well some other miniseries such as The Vision and The Thing. He did as well there as expected – he was perfectly suited to Captain American in particular. Sadly, it was over all too fast and Johns signed on to be exclusive with DC and the run abruptly ended after a mere 20 issues. Avengers after that became New Avengers  by Bendis and I was no fan; that was point I cut off all Marvel and focused only on DC.

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Geoff Johns kept going. Teen Titans debuted, fusing the 80s Titans fused with Young Justice. I didn’t love the art and I kinda missed Peter David, but it was very much worth reading. Robin, Superboy (now revealed to be… spoiler ahead… Lex Luthor’s clone!), and Impulse took up the mantle of Kid Flash.

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This would not be a post about Geoff Johns however, if I did not speak of his epics of epics: Green Lantern!

(Note many of the pics below I simply took myself, as I thought these comics worth saving in my China apartment right now)

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Superman!

Prev: DC – 80s

Goodreads Shelf: Superman

If any one character deserves a really long solo post, it is Superman. That is, not just comic book/superhero characters. Any one character in all American fiction, period.

Most would agree that Superman is very important. However, he hasn’t gotten the movies he deserves (at least since the late 70s). Hasn’t been a top seller in ages. And everyone likes Batman better.

Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Batman. But I always felt resentful that everyone thinks the caped crusader is so much cooler than Superman. I prefer the Man of Steel out of sheer spite.

Seriously, I am a sincere fan. I like escapism, science fiction, exploding planets, time travel, that’s what comics are all about to me. It’s funny Batman is more grounded in the real world, yet he’s in the Justice League with aliens and mermen. I will admit one discrepancy: Superman needs Batman as part of his mythos but the other way around isn’t necessary. Batman can be in both worlds. More on Batman later.

First of all, let’s just admit that the superhero genre is supposed to be a bit corny. We’re talking about muscle men in skintight outfits saving the world from super-villains; it’s not meant to be gritty and realistic! That’s me. I find the literary quality comes from taking 1950s children’s stories and then somehow grounding them in plausible scenarios.

I like corny heroes. Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero of all, and Cyclops is my favorite X-Men.

On Superman… Shall I start at beginning? In 1938 Jerry Seigel Joe Shuster created ushered in the superhero genre, a true American creation as valid as jazz, punk rock, and pop art. The metaphor is obvious in retrospect, the last son of the planet Krypton disguises himself as mild-mannered Clark Kent: He is the proverbial Jewish immigrant.

The Golden Age was the beginning. The Silver Age was totally weird and psychedelic. We’re all familiar with the films. Pre-Crisis Superman is classic, but he was a bit stiff. Too perfect, with only kryptonite as a weakness, he more than anyone needed a reboot.

Before the Crisis, noted genius Alan Moore and iconic artist Curt Swan produced Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow as this iteration’s last hurrah. Nostalgic yet serious at the same time, and nobody could write it like Moore. Goodbye, Kal-El.

“An imaginary story. Aren’t they all…?”

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Then the Crisis happened. The previous “didn’t count”, or something. So came Marvel star John Byrne to do Superman his way. It wasn’t bad, but I preferred Byrne on team books like Fantastic Four. At least Clark Kent was three-dimensional. At least Lex Luthor was more formidable. New villains were introduced, but mostly it was just the start until the 90s Superman was to be fully fleshed out.

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Dan Jurgens was in charge by then. Louise Simonson of X-Men fame was a good writer as well. Lex Luthor was cloned and recloned — kryptonite poisoning you see — Kirby-esque Cadmus Labs was made integral, Maggie Sawyer of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, and Clark even revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane when he proposed. A lot was added to the backstory.

Things were looking up. Yet, with all that competition from Marvel with those big crossovers, DC had to do something drastic to get noticed. They wanted an event. Hence came Doomsday, and the pivotal Death of Superman event.

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Doomsday was a kickass villain. About damn time Superman faced more physical threats. Still, Doomsday had a rather simplistic motivation. He was mysterious and we later learned more, but the real point of the death was to introduce the Resurrection of Superman.

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Superboy, the new clone. The Eradicator, a Kryptonian intelligence. Steel, a new DC hero of Justice League merit. And the badass looking Cyborg, whom of course turned out to be the villain. Then Superman came back to life, albeit with a mullet, and it was an epically great story unlike any other. We all have the fondest memories.

 

Over in the other side of the DC universe in the mid-90s, much was stalling. Meanwhile, the great Grant Morrison proposed that DC simply utilize the best they have and make the Justice League the premier team they were in the Silver Age. After doing away with the endless spinoff aspects, Mr. Morrison put in Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martain Manhunter and made it as awesome as possible. Unfortunately, it all started during the mullet era.

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Grant Morrison’s take on Superman, as well as Mark Waid’s, was crucial to how the character evolved in the 90s and 2000s. DC purposely wanted to downplay the more omnipotent aspects to Superman, make him just another decent hero with various states of dramatic conflict fighting average villains. But the critically-acclaimed writers wabted a classic Superman, embracing what makes him “super” instead of toning him down. JLA (Justice League of America) worked, it was DC’s top seller for years, the only title that legitimately competed with Marvel. Was a more cosmic take on Superman valid after all?

Perhaps. And then they changed his powers and him electric, a controversial move. Still lambasted today, though I kinda liked it. Whenever there are great changes to the status quo we all know it’s temporary, so why not have fun for the time being? Least he got a haircut.

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Finally, in the 2000s it was decided that Superman should be more pure. Enough of the gimmicks. Grant Morrison and Mark Waid unfortunately didn’t get to lead the way, but writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness did their best.

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I didn’t like Jeph Loeb’s writing, but McGuinness was spectacular. I say the cartoony-look worked well. Joe Kelly writing Action Comics was most brilliant of all. I miss that era. It all climaxed in the Our Worlds at War crossover, where Superman and the JLA fought a Galactus-type new space nemesis, Imperiex.

 

On villains, yes some are too lame. Toyman, the Prankster. Mxyzptlk ok. Lex Luthor, of course, is great but has always suffered from being a normal human up against the power of a Superman — intellect or no.

Metallo is cool. Parasite is decent. But overall, Superman’s old school villains haven’t been the best. Especially when compared to the classic rogue’s galleries of Batman, Spider-Man, and the Flash.

As said, I believe Lex’s rebirth in the 80s as a sleazy businessmen was a great improvement. In the 2000s, it went one step further. President Lex.

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(Which “coincidentally” corresponded to the W. Bush years. Life imitates art or art imitates life? Seriously, I’m asking.)

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