East of Gotham: The Great Geoff Johns Debate

The Great Geoff Johns Debate

Since I wrote a few weeks worth of columns of DC Comics hate, I figure most of you would assume I was also against DC’s chief creative voice, Geoff Johns. When the esteemed senior site writer and DC lover extraordinaire Mathan Erhardt wrote a column titled “Geoff Johns Must be Stopped,” many likely assumed that, as a whole, we were against Johns work. Well, sir or madam, your powers of inference have betrayed you. Geoff Johns is NOT the problem with DC Comics.

This will, naturally shock and astound many of you, but Geoff Johns is not the best writer in comics, but, here’s the thing, he’s not even close to the worst. As a matter of fact, he’s pretty damn good. His JSA run is arguably the best and certainly the most consistently good book of the past decade. His Teen Titans run is the last time they were relevant and really good. He made a lot of folks who never cared about the Legion of Superheroes take note when he tackled them in Superman. He made Green Lantern a top selling franchise with great core concepts. Overall, Johns work has been astoundingly good and consistently not only interesting, but commercially viable. This is where Mathan’s main complaint comes in.

Mathan complains that Johns has a formula he sticks to for his success, whether on Superman, Green Lantern, or, most recently, the Flash. With these books, he has a heavy retcon set up a re-launch leading into huge major events and expansion. His writing is also very much about stripping characters to their core with heroic melodrama dripping off his dialogue, and a penchant for extreme violence. To these complaints I say, so what?

Warren Ellis writes series after series exploring the implications of technology on various aspects of life with smart talking, angry characters who smoke and drink too much. Grant Morrison writes about the fluidity of storytelling and our perception of it, even when he’s thematically talking about something else, going for big concepts with a slanted takes. Current internet darling Jonathan Hickman is all about the ascendancy of man due to imagination and freedom from societal restraints, with ideas placed above characters. None of these views are inherently more viable than the Johns approach.

On Green Lantern, Johns took what has always been a middling title and made it often the top seller in all of comics. More, his space opera with the emotional spectrum was good and original. Were their holes? Of course there were! But it was a giant space opera about space cops wielding magic space wish granting rings! The concept is absurd, but he tackled it with such a sense of fun, with such original ideas that it’s now one of the top selling comics in the world. Blackest Night, for me, ventured too far into melodrama and gore and too far from the fun adventuring space cops, but that’s just me – part of a vocal minority. In other words, you can’t argue with success.

That success is now being translated to the Flash. Is it transparent? Absolutely, but it’s also a massively fun comic. This is Johns second run on the Flash and while this is a new old character at the helm, the same fun and understanding of how to make that character’s world work is at display with a whole new audience opened up because of the events that lead to the rebirth and re-launch of Barry Allen as Flash. This smart, fast book carries a mostly different tone than Green Lantern, but with Barry still a bit of a cipher, and Johns not known for writing characters without strong personality, there is reason for optimism. This book is good now and, with Barry more fleshed out, could be great. Is it the repetition of a formula? Yes, but with enough variance within the book itself to keep it at the very least entertaining.

This is, unfortunately, especially obvious because Johns seems to have given up team books. With a larger cast to play with, most of his tics were hidden. Moreover, when spread out over a cast, Johns got most of the cast over with the reader through various different tricks which he now applies to one character. Even better, he understands team dynamics and how to make a story work for an entire group without overshadowing or marginalizing half the cast. Actually, come to think of it, he’s the flip-side to his Marvel counterpoint, Brian Michael Bendis, who excels at a single character and character driven work, over Johns strengths of group dynamics and plot.

Geoff Johns is not the problem with DC Comics. He’s a very good writer who has proven ridiculously successful time and again. He is not without flaws, just like any writer, but his strengths more than outweigh the bad. While he isn’t for everyone, no one really is. He is perfect for teams and iconic characters, which is where DC has him working, and he’s easily their biggest success- proof positive of him being properly utilized.

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