One of DC's biggest recent sales successes is the revitalization of their space-bound hero Green Lantern. Driven by fan-favorite writer Geoff Johns, test pilot Hal Jordan and his fellow Green Lanterns square off against an army of multi-colored Lantern Corps in the epic Blackest Night, and Johns opened up about building an accessible mythology with an emotional base and Green Lantern's potential for success as a Hollywood blockbuster.
Debuting with a special #0 issue on Free Comic Book Day and running through an 8-issue Blackest Night mini series as well as tie-in issue of Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and over a half dozen other mini series and one-shots, the new story earned its name at the end of Johns' 2007 The Sinestro Corps War event. That sales success revealed that aside from the will-driven power rings of the Green Lantern Corps and the fear-inducing yellow energy behind the Sinestro Corps, even more color-coded groups of alien warriors would arise each with their own emotionally-powered rings including the rage-filled Red Lanterns and the hopeful Blue Lanterns. Toss in an army of zombie superheroes controlled by the villain the Black Hand, and Blackest Night seems crammed with kinds of minutia that superhero readers love. But Johns promised that the wide-ranging cast of characters works more as an inviting and organic story device than it does a marketing gimmick.
PW Comics Week : You've been teasing the Blackest Night story line since early in your Green Lantern issues in 2005. When did this war between the multi-colored Lantern characters turn into such a big event for DC?
Back then I was just playing with the idea of the emotional spectrum. I wanted to explore another facet to Green Lantern that hadn't been explored, and because I had been playing with the yellow impurity and Parallax and fear, it just started to line up to me that if there was fear and there was will power, the potential for other things was there. I remember talking to [artist] Ethan Van Sciver once late into the night and going through the whole thing of what the other corps would be. It was a real organic process.
PWCW : You've explained how each corps is driven by a different light on the emotional spectrum. What does that cosmology do for you as a storyteller? Do the Green Lanterns represent the most emotionally balanced characters in this world?
GJ: They're the fulcrum. So if you look at ROY G BIV [a mnemonic for the colors of the spectrum] on a line and it's balancing on the tip of a pin, swaying a little bit—green is the center that doesn't move. When the first sentient being actually willed itself to move and had a voluntary action—the will to survive, the will to live—it created this invisible aura. It gave off an energy. I do believe there's something to being sentient and aware of your surroundings. We're not just rocks. We're moving around of our own will. So when those first sentient beings existed, they gave off an aura, and that aura was collected and coalesced into green light. When we got more sophisticated and our emotions started to change, we felt fear and survival through fear, and that gave off another invisible aura that could be condensed and collected into a yellow light. And it goes on into rage and avarice and hope and compassion and love.
The thing I always like about ideas in comics is when they're metaphors for something else. I don't want to see Batman fight Al Qaeda. I don't want to see terrorists in the books. If Green Lantern is going to fight terrorists, I want him to fight the Sinestro Corps. All these different corps represent something different to me and to the reader. If the readers like sci fi adventure with aliens and star wars and an epic tale, great. If they want stuff that's deeper, great.
PWCW : Blackest Night is the main series hitting this July, but there are also the regular Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps titles as well as several mini series both in the summer and through next winter. How do you balance the needs of a solo story headed towards an eventual collected edition while working with other writers to tie in so many comics?
GJ: I like collaboration. I like that this is a shared universe, and in its very nature you do collaborate on things. Sometimes you go off and do your own book for a whole year, and sometimes you collaborate with people when you want other characters and other books to be involved or when they want to be involved. [Green Lantern Corps writer] Peter Tomasi is one of my favorite people in the world, he's one of my favorite writers at DC, and collaborating with him on this is easy. I could do it forever. When you work with people you respect and like and you create these stories, it just makes the stories that much better. It doesn't matter to me if it's called an event or if it involves a bunch of mini series. As long as it's good and as long as I'm happy working on it and as long as people enjoy it, that's what it's about.
PWCW : Do you think about how the book will be collected as you're writing?
GJ: You always think about that. You always think about it because trades are such a huge deal now. In this atmosphere, you know it's going to be collected, but at the same time you write it the same way. I'm not in charge of collected editions. They collect what they want to collect and in any order they want to collect it. I would have collected The Sinestro Corps War a little differently than they had done it, but my job is to write the best stories I can. With Blackest Night, my goal is to write Blackest Night in a way where if you want to just read Blackest Night, you'll be able to follow the story, but if you want to read more stuff—Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps—you'll get another side of the story in that. And if they collect it as Blackest Night with just me and Ivan, great. If they collect it with me and Ivan and [upcoming Green Lantern artist] Doug Mahnke and Pete and [Green Lantern Corps artist] Pat Gleason, great. If they think it works better as a format, that's up to them. So you always think about that stuff, but I think it's going to work either way.
PWCW : With a story that brings characters back and deals so much with a big, mysterious prophecy, there are loads of fans online theorizing over what may or may not happen when the book finally hits. Is it fun for you to play along and read up on the guesses readers work up for your stories?
GJ: I see it more at conventions. The internet is like the wild, wild west, but at conventions you've got huge panels, you meet people face to face, and you see the size of the crowd. I was in New York [for the New York Comic-Con], and they sold out of all the different corps t-shirts. People I would meet would say, "I really like the Blue Lanterns" or "I really like the Red." It's an interactive thing, and that's what I like about it. It reminds me how today the mentality is that everything is specifically designed for the individual. You pick your color of your computer or your iPod. Everything is customized, and it's the same thing with the corps here. Everyone can relate to and identify with something whether it be hope or getting more into the rough and tumble of the Red Lanterns or the humor of Agent Orange. For me, that's what it's all about: cracking open the Green Lantern mythology and letting people interact with it.
PWCW : Are you hoping that the upcoming movie, while it won't include all the mythology you've set up with the multi-colored corps, will drive people into the comics and into this bigger world?
GJ: I think Green Lantern is poised to be one of the biggest characters in the world. No other superhero is like him. It's not even a superhero book; it's a sci fi book. It's Lord of the Rings in space. It's Star Wars and aliens and cop shows, but it's its own thing. For me, Green Lantern has always had the most potential to reach and touch a lot of people because it's such a wonderful mythology. It's grown in the comics to the point where there's interest in the movie, and now the movie is going to grow it to a place. With [Casino Royale director] Martin Campbell[signed to direct the Green Lantern movie], I really have a lot of high hopes that it's going to be great, and I think people will continue to become fans of Green Lantern.