How Geoff Johns is ruining DC Comics

July 18, 2010

By Avi Green

I recently posted an article on two of the fansites I've built over the years where I told why I no longer want to read the output of Geoff Johns, whom I've since realized is a most truly distasteful writer, and by far one of the worst things that could happen to DC Comics since he began writing for them in 1998. I suppose when he debuted Courtney Whitmore, the Star-Spangled Girl, he did well enough then as a solo writer. But if so, then that's the sole book he ever pulled off solo. While his work on JSA and Hawkman may be worth something, his solo writing on the Flash and Teen Titans, as I've since concluded, really scraped bottom.

There are even paralells that could be made between his work on the Flash and that of J. Michael Straczynski on Spider-Man: his depiction of a married couple may have been decent, but it stops there. Other than Wally and Linda Park West's marriage (and even that's in question now), his work on the Flash was by far one of the most loathsome in retrospect, and I've decided I will no longer excuse the damage he's done.

But since I've already said what I have to on the fansites, and since that article was pretty much intended for those places, I think that's why this article will be mostly dedicated to finding the opinions of various other comic readers who've been disenfranchised with Johns and see what they have to say. The idea came mainly after reading a similar entry at the Titans Tower Monitor, about what people think of the dismal Teen Titans volume. I thought to write up a special entry of my own for this very website where I first began, and see if there's what I could say afterwards.

So let's begin with what I found on a topic at Big Hollywood, one of Andrew Breitbart's conservative media ventures, which spoke primarily about how Ed Brubaker exploited Captain America for an attack on the Tea Party. But there was more to be found in the comments, and it included this:
You [k]now, maybe it's because of my strange upbringing in the backwoods of New Hampshire, but I always had a soft spot for Captain America. I remember buying a bunch of his comics back in the early 90's and enjoying his fights with the Red Skull. But, I was always disappointed by his constant working for the government, and constantly being in New York (yes, as a good New Hampshire boy, I was ardently anti-government, and as a good New Englander, I was ardently anti-yankees [yankees suck!]).

I can't say I'm surprised by this development. Comics have been extremely liberal since, well, probably the 70's. I remember one writer in particular would go on these long screeds about Bush being the devil, and horribly damaging America in the world. He said he was an Army Ranger and he personally saw the atrocities, and still knew many people internationally that hated the country. Turned out, he lied about rh whole thing. He was never an Army Ranger, and didn't even have a passport. Wish I could remember that guy's name.

I always liked the staunch anti-communism of the early 1960's Marvel stories. And of course, they kept a fairly black and white DC universe until the dreadful, terrible geoff johns took it over. The last comics I remember really enjoying were Grant Morrison's JLA from the 90's. No politics, no breast-beating, or self-introspection about what;s "really" right "really". Just good guys beating the crap out of bad guys. Good stuff.
Someone else responded:
Geoff Johns' Green Lantern comics is not about good vs. evil?

I'm not a rabid Johns fan, but his "Sinestro Corps War" storyline was an unapologetically pro-liberty/anti-terrorist as a superhero comic can get.
The former replied:
It's possible, I haven't read Johns in probably close to a decade. I've always despised his writing. At first, it was because everything he wrote seemed to be dependent on me reading some obscure Infinity Inc. comic from 1983, and was filled with way too many continuity winks to the audience. After that, he just became way too violent and misogynistic in his writing (and people complained about Ron Marz because he killed off Kyle Rayner's girlfriend). It's possible John is currently writing a anti-terrorist story as you say, but I'm sure he's filled with all kinds of extreme violence (and not the normal comic book violence of people punching each other, I mean stuff like having a woman get a pike run through her gut, as I understand happened recently).

Plus, a multi-colored Lantern Corps is just lame. Even for comics.
(Note: the vulgar scene he's describing, which can be seen on the side here, may be from the first part of the Infinite Crisis miniseries. It's very disgusting indeed.) And the latter replied:
Well, I can't argue with you about the violence in the Sinestro Corps War.
Neither can I. If what we'll learn about below is any indication, the New Hampshire resident has every right to be concerned. There's also a legitimate argument to be made that, whether Johns is writing an anti-terrorist story, that alone does not make the violence any more tolerable, most definitely not if it's sensationalized. As for me, I was so amazed, I had to post my own response as follows:
I'm very glad to find another conservative who feels the same way I do about Geoff Johns's writing. I stopped reading his books at least 5 years ago, along with many other DC/Marvel comics, because they were becoming increasingly gratuitous and unpleasant, and if he has any sense of humor, even that falls flat. The Flash was decidedly where he really mishandled things. He implied that the Mirror Master was a sexual harrasser and the Turtle was wiling to stoop to child rape, among other serious problems. Not exactly what I'd call appropriate for a book that was built on an optimistic view like Superman. But you know what the straw was that broke the camel's back? It happened in the miniseries called Rogues' Revenge, if you want to read this page on Inertia at the Titans Tower and what he did to the son of the Weather Wizard. After what Johns depicted happening there, I will never read his future output again, and feel embarrassed that I ever thought he was anything great years before.

Incidentally, Johns also wrote at least one story for Marvel that could be considered leftist in the Avengers in 2002-2003 (I think it was called "Red Zone") where the Red Skull infiltrated the US government as a defense secretary anagramed as Dell Rusk (same initials as Donald Rumsfeld?), and it featured the Skull on a splash page cliffhanger saying "I love America", in a way that could've been meant as an insult to American patriots. It was truly awful. I have no intention of wasting time on the relaunched Flash series where Johns brings back Barry Allen, and I won't be surprised if it turns out to be a distorted reflection of the Barry I once knew in my childhood.
Let me just note that, it could turn out to be theoretically entertaintaining in the same way as Spider-Man's Brand New Day, and still wouldn't be worth it, since, even if they don't depict Barry and company in the same crudely characterized way as Peter Parker's been shown since 2008, that doesn't mean they won't resort to crude violence and bloodletting. Why, the first story centers around a murder, and even if it's the murder of some futuristic takes on the Rogues', that still doesn't mean it's worth our time.

Let's then turn to this page at the Invincible Super-Blog, where the blogmaster has pretty much told that he's no fan of Johns either, and certainly not of his work on the new bi-weekly miniseries called Brightest Day, which is unlikely to be so, and certainly not in a legitimate manner. For example:
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to read Brightest Day after that clap trap that was Blackest Night. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.
Mine too. Next:
Man, I can literally feel your anger about these books coming off the screen. I’m not saying that as a bad thing, just that it’s very obvious how strongly you feel about this stuff.

I’m in general a Geoff Johns fan. I’ve for the most part enjoyed his Green Lantern run, after having never cared about the character before. I thought his Hawkman run was great. I also really enjoyed his work on the Flash and JSA. But I also realize that the people that don’t like him have some valid points, and it seems that lately I’m agreeing with them more and more. I’m still enjoying GL (I thought his work during Blackest Night on GL proper was much better than on the actual BN series itself) but the navel gazing and over the top gore and arm-severing is getting tiresome. And this is from someone who considers Garth Ennis as one of his top 5 writers(not that Ennis overdoes the navel gazing thing.) But man, there honestly was no reason whatsoever to bring back Barry Allen. And if Brightest Day still has the level of “super-kewl” gore that Johns and DC seem to think they need in their comics, they really just don’t get it anymore.
If Johns has suffocated GL with as much bloodletting as this suggests, it's almost enough to wonder why Hal Jordan had to come back...for this?

Now, here's a comment that may have been written by the same New Hampshire resident who boldly stood up and made clear his misgivings about Johns at Big Hollywood:
Let me join the chorus of Geoff Johns…dislikers. I have to say, I, personally, view johns as the single worst thing that ever happened to comic books in general and DC Comics specifically (well, one of the two, the other being the Didiot). I keep wondering who it is that Johns has incriminating photos of. Or how he got popular in the first place. I remember reading Day of Judgment back in the day and saying to myself “This is the most poorly written comic, I’ve ever read, and that includes all the indie comic crap about unsociable loners whom normal just don’t understand because the loner is “special” in some way (God I HATE Ghostworld!)”. I mean, Alan Scott supported Hal becoming the Spectre because and I quote “it feels right”. Yes, let’s just give the power of God to a mass murdering psychopath who had to be reminded that racism was bad back when he was sane. And then his Teen Titans where every issue basically amounted to 22 pages of “Hey do you guys remember the NEW Teen Titans? Wasn’t book awesome? Isn’t it this just like it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?” I gave up after 6 issues, and haven’t read a johns comic since.

If you ask me, and you didn’t, there are really only two or three writers who really understood what made the Silver Age great. AS stated before by Karsten and Tim C, it has nothing to do with the characters who were wooden, interchangable, one-dimensional goodie-goodies. The big appeal was the constant stream of new ideas and new characters. In my opinion the only people that ever understood that were Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Tom Peyer on the criminally underrated Hourman book. These guys kept expanding the mytholiges of characters and giving us new takes on old concept, and brining in completely fresh concepts (speed force, time prison, and god only knows how many crazy things Morrrison came up with). Every time I picked up an issue of Flash, JLA, or Hourman, I knew I was going to get something I’d never really seen before. It was awesome!

To me, the worst part of Johns writing is endemic of all of what’s ailing DC comics currently, which is this bizarre combination of self-referential nostalgia and incredible, explicit hyperviolence. The whole thing seems to be “Remember Barry Allen wasn’t he awesome? Well, now he’s super badass cuz he rapes kittens and then pulls apart dead bodies and drinks blood. Super-kewl, man”. And it’s not superkewl, it’s a symptom of an inability to create a new idea and tell it in a story.

Sorry for the length of the rant, but Chris’s review just got me thinking. Great review Chris, and I second that general Johns review.
The jarring violence of Johns' stories aside, again, there's a legitimate point to be made that all that "naval-gazing" gets way out of hand in his storytelling. He's not even actually trying to appeal to new readers, just to old ones and allegedly peddle a book that's supposed to literally be nostalgic for those eras gone by without even being very clever, nor very thoughful.

Next up:
Long time reader, first time poster.

I seriously think that Johns will be infamous some day as the guy who killed DC comics. You can’t devote most of your career to rendering things out of continuity just because you didn’t like the stories, or changing characters back to how they were circa 1983 without ruining some of the things readers liked about DC’s shared universe in the process. Which probably helps explain why a lot of “popular” DC books sell about like stuff that would have been cancelled back in 2002.

Johns has done a lot over the past ten years to drive away people like me who had no major beefs with DC’s status quo before the year 2000, when he and Judd Winick and Greg Rucka started deliberately messing things up in preparation for Infinite Crisis. And for what? To add a few more members to the JSA? To make Green Lantern one of the only titles that gets decent sales? To bring back Barry Allen?

Now, the “DC Nation” that DiDio used to talk about all the time is basically the fifty or sixty thousand people who still like reading Geoff Johns comics. If those are the only people you can count on to buy your stuff on a consistent basis, you might as well throw in the towel and admit you just publish comics as a way of keeping the rights to the characters. In which case, they might as well just reprint old comics from the Eighties instead of paying Johns all that money to write new ones. They can stick some fresher pop culture references into old Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans comics and call them “Titans Reborn” or something.

I predict that promoting Johns will turn out to be a really, really dumb move. He and DiDio probably won’t ever figure out that most people don’t like the Johns formula of mixing pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths nostalgia with Miracleman-style violence any more, so that means they’re screwed unless Jim Lee somehow manages to save their bacon.
Let's hope Lee doesn't do that. I'll say for Lee that he's surely even more reasonable a man than DiDio and Johns will ever be, but then that's why he'd do well not to help them out of any jam they'll hopefully get themselves into. Next:
I feel that Geoff Johns’ writing kind of symbolizes eveything right AND wrong with modern DC comics. I am, however, seeing his promotion to chief CREATIVE director as kind of a red flag. Being CREATIVE isn’t the guy’s strong suit.
No siree, it sure ain't. And here's another worthy note:
The original Captain Boomerang is a cooler character, even in spite of his horrible costume. They probably brought him back as a bone they could throw to people who didn’t like Identity Crisis. Also, it helps make DC in 2010 a little more like DC in 1983.

The one I don’t get is bringing back the original Hawk. Also known as Extant. The guy Johns had the JSA and Metron basically murder in cold blood as revenge for stuff that happened during Zero Hour. The guy Johns then went on to replace with a new Hawk. Who was the never before seen or mentioned estranged sister of the female Dove.

I don’t see Johns as being self-aware enough to realize that introducing the never before seen or mentioned estranged sister of the female Dove was a mistake. So what’s the deal? Did he finally notice how weird it was to have the JSA murder a guy and then basically let Atom-Smasher take all the blame for it?

Yes, I know the story where Extant died in a plane crash so that Atom-Smasher could rescue his adoptive mother without causing a time paradox was Johns’ way of dealing with the death of his sister, the inspiration for Stargirl. That was still a weird comic.

So… Is Hawk going to be evil now? Is he going to become Extant again? Or was Johns or somebody just feeling nostalgic about the Karl Kesel series?

Just imagine how awkward it will be the next time Hawk sees the JSA. “Hey there, guys. Remember how I killed three of the coolest members of your team for stupid editorial reasons during Zero Hour? And then you let Atom-Smasher and Metron kill me so Johns could put how he felt about that into continuity? Let’s just let bygones be bygones, huh? Call it even? Wait! What if I said Parallax the evil space bug made me do it? Please don’t kill me again, Alan! Jay? Ted? Okay, I can probably take Ted… Not in the face! Not in the face!!”
Followed by:
Well, I’m tremendously nostalgic for the Karl/Barbara Kesel “Hawk and Dove” series, but even I have to admit that the character has been wrecked so badly that nothing short of a truly ****ing hellacious retcon can fix him.
I have some ideas how to repair things, and that's by retconning away a lot of the grevious errors made since the early 90s. For now, I can understand how people feel about Hank Hall, whom I'm not sure has been depicted very respectably since returning, making this resurrection all the more mysterious. Next:
DiDio is going to be known as the other guy responsible for the death of DC’s mainstream comics line. The guy has done almost nothing to justify why some people think he’s doing a good job, other than smoothing things over with Grant Morrison that one time he threatened to take his ball and go home.

DiDio called Countdown “52 done right.” That right there should have been a huge red flag.

DC’s successes under DiDio’s tenure mostly seem to boil down to ol’ Dan getting out of the way when Johns or Morrison want to do something that sounds cool. And for this he keeps getting promotions?
If I were in charge, DiDio would've been fired long ago. He's actually done quite a bit to drive away decent writers like Chuck Dixon, yet he's allowed to continue as any kind of a comptroller?

Here's a reader comment that sums up almost similar feelings to mine:
Even back when I was basically a Johns enthusiast (because of JSA and Hawkman), I always disliked his work on Flash. Seemed to me like he broke Wally West, after Waid had done such great work for so long developing him. And what he did with the Rogues was my first hint about what was to come: “all character development since 1986 should be undone, so that everything’s like it was in the Bronze Age, except with a nasty edge and a bit of the old ultra-violence.”

I don’t actually believe that he deliberately broke Wally in order to make him unusuable in order to get the chance to bring back Barry. But it kind of amuses me to pretend to believe it.

I’m fine with saying: Barry could be interesting. But Wally already *was* interesting, and Barry made a better dead patron saint than he had ever made an actual character. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through, for no particularly good reason.
Yep. There's a resonable argument to be made that Johns all but ran Wally into a corner, one more reason why I'm advocating a reboot of several years worth of continuity for this decade, something which sadly may never be done.

And here's another comment that's also got something worth considering:
I want to echo what [name withheld] said above. I love DC’s characters. I grew up in the comic book Bronze Age, but thanks to 80-page giants and 100-page super spectaculars I was pretty well-versed in the rich history of the company. I knew the difference between Earth-X and Earth-S.

For me, Barry Allen will always be THE Flash. While I don’t dispute Chris’ argument, the truth is that none of that matters to me. I’m the guy who wants things to be the way they were when I was a kid.

And yet, I have no intention of reading the new Flash series. Nor do I read Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or any other current comics featuring these beloved characters.

Why? Because I find it pointless to read the monthly adventures of heroes who live in a constant state of universe-shattering crisis, where Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again. And again. Where icons are butchered to slake fanboy bloodlust, then resurrected to play their part in the next cosmos-overturning, year-long crossover. (And they said that the multiple earths were confusing.)

I briefly bought Detective Comics when Paul Dini was writing it and it wasn’t part of some multi-title story arc. Because I like Batman, and I want to read stories about Batman (preferably Bruce Wayne) being Batman.

I was thrilled when I heard the multiverse was back. But rather than spend some time exploring the ramifications of that “new” reality, DC immediately set to destroying most of the revived earths. Then there was a “final” crisis (which I did read, but still don’t understand), followed immediately by everyone becoming a zombie power ring-wielder, followed immediately by whatever the hell Brightest Day is.

So, instead of buying current DC Comics, I watch “The Brave and the Bold” and revel in good stories, well-told.
This alludes to the mess of company-wide crossover "events" that have been virtually choking the company in one way or another for years now, and another problem they've led to: zero character development or exploration. The same problem has plagued Marvel as well, with all character development, plausible or otherwise, brought to an utter standstill. One more reason why it's hard to understand why they're bringing back Barry Allen if they can't even explore his character, or give a plausible personality. Judging from the declining sales receipts, people may have begun to realize this.

Johns most definitely does deserve to be remembered alongside DiDio as the men who helped to destroy DC Comics, all because they couldn't keep themselves from allegedly bringing back the Silver Age, in a way they consider "cool" - that is, to make it more violent, less joyful, and overall, downright depressing.

The best way to save the company, IMO, would be to buy out the comic book publishing arm of DC and Marvel, and leave the other stuff, like the toys and movies based on them, to Warner Brothers and Disney to make money off of. Could such an idea be done? It's possible, if we consider that Atari at one time split into two different companies, one that made video games and the other that made computer hardware and software. Volvo split into two seperate companies back in 1998 when the car unit was bought by Ford, and the truck division became a separate one too. If that could be done, the same is possible with DC and Marvel comics.

The only question that remains then, is if anyone decent is out there who'd be willing to buy ownership of the comic book publishing division, and has the money needed to buy the outfits?

Copyright 2010 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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