I have a confession to make. I’m not afraid to borrow ideas from other writers. Since we’re talking about comics, we’ll just call it an homage. Like this one. Earlier this fall there was debate over at Comic Book Resources between the Comics Should Be Good blog and the When Worlds Collide blog over Geoff Johns’ and Warren Ellis’ best books. Those columns were the inspiration for my articles of the last couple of weeks, counting down the best books of Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid. However, the Johns column also inspired me to write one of my own. It seemed to me that the writer of that column wasn’t that familiar with Johns’ early work. It was basically made up of his work of the past 3 years and Avengers. It struck me that the article was written by a Marvel fan who only really became aware of Johns after he wrote Infinite Crisis. So I decided to rise up to the challenge and write a ten best list that reflects Johns’ entire career. I have a second confession to make. I’m doing this as a fan of his work.
10. Booster Gold
Geoff Johns did the incredible on Booster Gold. He took a character who had been reduced to a punch-line and restored him to prominence. And he did it while preserving Booster Gold’s punch-line status within the fictional universe and keeping up a fair dose of comedy. He turned Booster Gold into the preserver of the time stream and used his series to ask questions about the grief, heroism and the immutability of time. Plus, he brought in great guest stars like the Barbara Gordon Batgirl and the Elongated Man.
Stars and Stripe was one of Johns’ first ongoing series as a writer, back in 1999. He based the star character on his younger sister Courtney, who had died several years earlier. That source of inspiration shone through. Courtney was one of the truest examples of a teenager anywhere in comics. She was cute, bubbly and full of spunk. But she was also occasionally annoying. Not in an off-putting way. Just in a way that made her real. Her adventures were a lot of fun. Her life situation, trying to find her place in a mixed family, spoke to many who had grown up in similar circumstances. The series dealt equally with super-villains and braces. And Courtney went on to star in years of JSA comics after her own series was canceled.
When Geoff Johns was named the regular writer of Flash, he was taking over a title that had been written by Mark Waid and Grant Morrison. Yet he made the title his own and became as associated with the character as those superstars who had preceded him. He did it by focusing on the Flash’s Rogue Gallery. The Flash fought the Weather Wizard, Gorilla
Grodd, Captain Cold and a new Trickster. Many of the villains had their powers amplified, making them more dangerous, though staying true to their Silver Age roots. If it’s true that a hero is only as great as his villains, Johns raised the Flash’s profile by restoring his cast of rogues.
This is the series that definitively established Johns’ reputation for being able to restore broken characters. He had been one of the writers to resurrect Hawkman in JSA and he followed it up with this excellent solo series. Drawing inspiration from James’ Robinson’s Starman, Johns weaved a wonderful tapestry of history for the Hawk heroes. Johns focused on the concept of reincarnation, affirming all of the earlier versions of Hawkman as past lives and even co-opting a few older comic characters as former incarnations. But Hawkman wasn’t stuck in the past. He also created an emotional present situation as the new Hawkgirl, Kendra, refused to fall in love with Hawkman and attempted to run away from a destiny she didn’t want. The series raised questions about fate and love and free will. And it asked those questions while its main characters smashed the villains’ faces with a big ol’ mace. That’s an action philosopher.
Geoff Johns’ run on Action Comics was up and down. But when it was up, it was way up. The opening story arc “Up, Up and Away,” co-written with Kurt Busiek, was one of the best stories of the year. His central story, “Last Son,” co-written with movie maker Richard Donner, was a Superman story for the ages, with General Zod as an unrelenting villain. And his last two epics built new foundations for the Legion of Super-Heroes and Brainiac. The scene in which Brainiac steals the city of Kandor from the planet of Krypton is incredibly powerful.
No, Johns didn’t write 52 by himself. Yet, partnered with Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, Johns turned in one of comics’ modern epics. The year-long story focused on secondary characters like Elongated Man, the Question and Steel. It looked at odd corners of the superhero universe. It told stories of loss and redemption. It included heroic journeys and quests of adventure. It featured many memorable moments. And it was a testament to the talents of everyone involved. After it was finished, we found out in bits and pieces who was primarily responsible for which storylines. Johns was apparently the lead writer on the Elongated Man story, with its emotional core, many twists and surprise ending.
It seems like every star writer is given his chance to write an epic crossover for one of the big two companies. That crossover can cement a reputation or unravel it. For Johns, Infinite Crisis made his star shine brighter. He went from the restorer of misused characters to the teller of epic stories. Infinite Crisis brought the heroes low as it threw multiple challenges at them at the same time. It introduced new heroes, like a second Blue Beetle, and brought back old olds, like the lost characters from Crisis on Infinite Earths. It juggled a huge cast. And it depicted momentous and memorable fights, like the classic battle between three Supermen.
I think that a lot of people have started to forget how good Geoff John’s Teen Titans was, as it’s been overshadowed by his more recent work on Infinite Crisis and Green Lantern. Many fans were ready to hate it because Peter David’s excellent Young Justice had been canceled in order to make way for it. Yet this fan couldn’t hate it. It was just
too good. Johns crafted compelling friendships that are once again being echoed in his new Adventure Comics. He took misfit characters on heroic journeys in believable ways so that we could, for example,
accept that Impulse would grow up to become the new Kid Flash. And he balanced the expectations of several generations of fans, including
classic characters from the Wolfman and Perez Titans, while telling new stories to win over a current audience.
Fifteen years ago, no one would have mentioned the Justice Society as one of the greatest teams in comics. Well, except for Roy Thomas. Sure, the Justice Society had been the first but they had been surpassed by so
many others. Geoff Johns took the first team and made them the best. The team started out with David Goyer and James Robinson but eventually Geoff Johns took over as co-writer and then sole writer. And for a long time, JSA was the best team book in comics. They fought Mordru and Eclipso. They fought Black Adam, recruited him, turned him into a hero, watched him fall and fought him again. They bridged the
generations, with original heroes like Green Lantern and Flash and new heroes like Stargirl and Cyclone. They gave equal footing to newer heroes like Mr. Terrific and the new Dr. Mid-Nite. The title and the
team did everything right. And so did Geoff Johns.
I never thought I would be a Hal Jordan fan. I never thought Green Lantern would be one of my favorite comics. I was wrong on both counts. Geoff Johns made Hal Jordanone of the greatest characters in comics (again, for some older fans) and Green Lantern the comic book that everyone was talking about. Starting with the Rebirth mini-series, Johns’ re-established Jordan’s reputation as the greatest Green Lantern of them all while alsohonoring other Lanterns like Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner and John Stewart. Johns was equally adept at writing villain back-stories, big fight scenes and quiet family moments like having Hal talk with his brother about what it’s like to be back from the dead. The excellent writing continued through the major Sinestro Corps War story and into the present with the current Blackest Night epic. Every comic should be this good.
And that’s my list. I left Adventure Comics out since it’s only three issues old and it’s a little early to have a fully formed opinion on it. And I kind of included Blackest Night in the Green Lantern entry. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it meant that I didn’t have to leave Booster Gold out (as I had to leave Power Company off of the Busiek list). I hope you enjoyed it. And I don’t mind if you disagree. That’s part of the fun. And that’s what inspired this list in the first place.