Geoff Johns is currently in the middle of a major event, as DC villains get the spotlight in Forever Evil. But there are lighter and darker shades of villainy, and as Johns related to us, the story is about the small pieces of humanity that make a villain more interesting. He was kind enough to sit down with Gamma Squad and talk about Forever Evil and what fans can expect.
Gamma Squad: Forever Evil is the spine of a major event. How do you approach breaking down something like this as a writer?
Geoff Johns: It starts with the story you want to tell. Who’s it about and what’s their story? I’ve wanted to tell a villain story for quite a while, and this was a chance to tell a villain story strictly about the villains. The real backbone of the story is Lex Luthor and his journey through Forever Evil. Once I had that and I knew what his story was, everything else grows around that. It helps when you have a focus, then you know exactly what’s necessary.
It’s about contrasting villainy in the face of the darkest and most evil of beings. The Crime Syndicate is just wired differently than us. Their culture is different, they don’t understand compassion or the value in it, there are certain things in them that are just off and they’re never going to be able to understand. Then we have villains like Sinestro, Captain Cold and Catwoman who are on that line.
Gamma Squad: The Crime Syndicate Of America was a bit out of left field. They’ve appeared here and there but were hardly major villains. Were there any difficulties updating a pre-Crisis concept for modern readers?
Johns: It’s all about the characters, looking at all of them and twisting them around. In the Justice League issues, we see some of their beginnings, we crack into their characters a bit. It’s interesting, and fun, and challenging to take a character like Superman and change him slightly. There are things that have happened in Ultraman’s life that have tipped over the dominoes and turned him into this thing, someone who is all about power, strength and survival. That’s all that matters to him. That’s the most important trait that’s been burned into him since inception: “You’re the strongest or you’re nothing.”
Gamma Squad: There are a lot of one-shots in this, from origin stories to side stories about the events of Forever Evil. What goes into coordinating such a broad mix of stories on your end? How do you keep track of it all?
Johns: I’m really focused on Forever Evil and some key one-shots that tie in more directly, like Black Manta or Lex Luthor. A lot of the one-shots, Brian Cunningham, my editor on Justice League and Forever Evil, he’s coordinating all that stuff with the DC editorial team. When they tie in close, we’ll have conversations about how that works. And with the miniseries like Forever Evil: Rogues, or Forever Evil: Arkham War, I’ll just talk to Brian Buccellato and Peter Tomasi and their editors, and they do the rest. It’s very smooth. (laughs)
Gamma Squad: Were there any villains that particularly stood out to you as needing an update?
Johns: The villains that I’m really focused on are the Crime Syndicate, Lex Luthor, Captain Cold. He’s somebody I have a history of writing, but he’s a character I just find fascinating. He’s on the door of my office, my favorite villain by far. He’s so grounded, he’s so normal, he’s just a guy. He’s just trying to live hand to mouth and he’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of Antarctica. The reason I love him so much because of how human he is. Getting into the human villains were the ones I really wanted to get into.
The Crime Syndicate doesn’t have that side where they do something for someone else. “Don’t cross that line” is a phrase they don’t understand. They literally don’t know what it means. Do you watch Game Of Thrones?
Gamma Squad: Of course.
Johns: You know how there are villains in there that are just irredeemable, like Joffrey and that guy who cut off what’s-his-name’s hand? You can’t stand those villains. They’re so villainous. The thing that’s really great about doing a story like this is that the Syndicate doesn’t have to be redeemable. They can be awful dark human beings. In contrast to our other characters, who have these slivers of humanity in them, that’s what this story is all about.
Gamma Squad: It’s interesting to see the contrast there between some villains and, say, Ocean Master…
Johns: Ocean Master could care less about people. He doesn’t care! He just wants to get back to the water. But when it comes down to it, and there’s a boy in trouble, he says he had to deal with this when he was eight and that the kid should deal with it. But in a weird way he connects with it. He almost doesn’t, he jumps in the water, he’s made the decision to leave.
He gets in the water… and it doesn’t feel right. He comes back out. All he says is “Eight’s too young.” This burden on him, all his life he’s had to carry this throne, knowing that he’s got an older brother who deserves it. He doesn’t understand our world, but at the end of the day, it comes back to “There’s an eight year old boy just like I was.” And that tells you so much more about that character and so more realized than a villain who just says “I’m going to kill a whole bunch of people.” That’s uninteresting to me. That’s psychotic. Psychotic villains just aren’t interesting.
Gamma Squad: Any villains out there that may not get their chance right now that you’d like to see in the future?
Johns: Oh, sure. I’ve always wanted to do a big Scarecrow story, but I’ve never done a story specifically focused on him. I think the character has so much potential.
Forever Evil #2 is on stands this Wednesday, and features the Teen Titans getting their collective asses kicked.