Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire on wrapping up ‘Trinity War’

(CBR) First teased in DC Comics‘ Free Comic Book Day offering back in May 2012, “Trinity War” marks the first crossover between the publisher’s three current Justice League series — “Justice League,” “Justice League of America” and “Justice League Dark” — and the different superhero teams that star in each one.

Thanks to the machinations of The Outsider’s Secret Society, it hasn’t exactly been a friendly group hang. The Trinity of Sin — Pandora, The Phantom Stranger and The Question — have further complicated matters, with Pandora’s Box exerting its influence on multiple superheroes throughout the story.

It’s all leading up to “Forever Evil,” the September-debuting event headlined by a seven-part series from writer and DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist David Finch. Recently it was revealed that the latest incarnation of the Crime Syndicate — the evil Justice League equivalents — will be the primary antagonists in that story, though exactly how their involvement takes shapes remains to be revealed.

With “Justice League” #23, the sixth and final “Trinity War” chapter, out this week, we talked to the story’s two main writers, Johns and Jeff Lemire (writer of the newly announced “Justice League of Canada”, about the way things have played out thus far, handling such a big cast, Superman’s shocking actions and presenting a kinder, gentler Doctor Light.

CBR News: Geoff and Jeff, “Trinity War” is the first big crossover story between the “Justice League” books of The New 52 era, and it’s a simple observation, but with the big characters all together and the chance for some unique character interaction, it simply seems like a fun thing to get to write. How much did you guys get that sense while putting the story together?

Jeff Lemire: It was just fun from the start, really.

Geoff Johns: We wanted to tell a fun story with all of these characters, all of these superheroes teaming up for the first time. I’m really happy with the overarching story structure and what happens at the end and the revelations, but for me, the most fun moments are the interactions. Jeff’s really got his handle on Constantine and Wonder Woman. Those for me were the standout scenes — I would read those scripts, and that made me want to just have more fun with the characters. What would Catwoman and the new Green Lantern be like together? What would Shazam and Constantine be like together? It’s been a lot of fun to see that and tell one of those stories over the summer, like old-school Justice League team-ups.

And you’re both definitely handling a lot of characters — it’s kind of a packed story. Was that a challenge at all, or just another part of the fun? It seems natural that this type of story would inevitably include a lot of different players.

Lemire: It’s a lot of things to juggle, but you kind of get in the rhythm of it. It’s not so bad.

Johns: You know what the story is about, and having things like Superman killing Doctor Light — the different heroes having different reactions to that. I think most of them immediately try and support Superman, but some have their doubts. Juggling those characters and knowing where those characters stand, because Jeff and I did it together, and divided the characters — when we put them into groups, we specifically looked at those groups and said, “Who would side where?” If Wonder Woman says, “We’re going to go find this device, this thing that did this to Superman, that momentarily altered his chemistry, his essence, we’re going to find that and destroy it, and save Superman.” Wonder Woman says that, and Stargirl’s there, and Steve Trevor says, “No, no, we’re going to do this” — well, Stargirl’s not going to listen to Steve Trevor, she’s immediately going to go to Wonder Woman, because she’s Wonder Woman.

So the power that these characters have, especially Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and how they affect all of the other characters, was really at the center of the story. That’s why it’s called “Trinity War,” in part. The first blow against the Justice Leagues was against Superman — who’s the most powerful of them all, I think, spiritually and physically.

The juggling of the characters was a lot of fun, in the sense of the big things that have happened through the story. You get to see everyone have a little bit of a spotlight. Martian Manhutner gets a spotlight, the Atom has her moments, Green Arrow. It actually was a lot of fun to juggle them all. Sometimes character just react — there’s a great line that Jeff wrote when Constantine sees Wonder Woman for the first time and says, “Are you here to arrest me?” She says, “Why would I be here to do that?” and Deadman just says, “You don’t know him very well, do you?” That’s just a wonderful coloring on those characters and that relationship, and Deadman in particular — as much as he is a ghost, he’s still funny. He’s always been kind of the everyman in a bizarre way. To see all of that stuff happen, with all of the characters mixing up, was a lot of fun.

Lemire: For me, it was the first time I got a chance to write a lot of those characters, like Wonder Woman or Batman. Rather than being a challenge, it was more just exciting to finally write a line of dialogue for Wonder Woman, or [whoever]. I think that rush of excitement far outweighed any kind of challenge of juggling so many characters.

It’s also noticeable that the many different characters — including these icons everyone knows, more obscure ones and some fairly new, like The Outsider and Pandora — seem to be on the same, level playing field. Was that an important part of the story for you both?

Johns: I think absolutely, for both of us. Jeff and I are both very big fans of the very minor characters of the DC Universe, and having characters like Black Orchid and Frankenstein, and the new Atom and Element Woman play significant roles in this. There are some brand-new characters in here, too.

It’s an opportunity for these characters to get the spotlight. It’s a bit like when Mera went side-by-side with Flash and Green Lantern in “Blackest Night.” You can help these characters get elevated and get more exposure, and for people to get to know them, and see more dynamics and new perspectives through these new eyes. And it’s more of an opportunity for us to have some fun with characters as well.

With most of the story already out by now, have either of you kept much of an eye on the reactions to it from readers? If so, has it been along the lines of what you expected?

Johns: I usually get a lot of my interaction through Twitter and just talking to people. Personally, I’ve been really happy that people are enjoying it and seeing it as this really fun summer Justice League event. They’re intrigued, and they’re trying to piece it together — some have pieced it together, but not everything, which I like. They’re on the right road, but it’s not quite correct. It’s been a lot of fun to watch that, and people’s guesses have been pretty fantastic. And the reactions to everything have been really interesting, too.

Lemire: I don’t read a lot of reviews or anything, but I check my Twitter feed once in a while, and people seem to be reacting well to it. I more judge it just by how much fun Geoff and I had writing it, and I know that we had a blast no matter what the reaction is.

Wanted to ask about a couple of the finer points in the story, and get both of your take — the death of Doctor Light was a major incident at the start of the story, and obviously he’s portrayed as a very sympathetic figure and a family man. That’s certainly a stark contrast from what we know of the character, especially after the last 10 years or so. What motivated the decision to present the character in such a different light in The New 52?

Johns: No pun intended. [Laughs] I had to do that.

What I really wanted to do is introduce Doctor Light in a new way — and the story of Doctor Light is not over. There’s a lot more to come. It just gives me story to play with that character, and it’s more unexpected. You’re not sure what the next step is for Doctor Light when he first shows up. “What’s going on here?” To have people introduced to this character and wondering, “Where are they going with this? Is he going to turn evil?” — trying to wrap their head around it, and as soon as they feel they get a sense of who he is, boom, he’s gone. Superman unleashes heat vision and burns a hole through his head, and there’s a big mystery to that.

Doctor Light turned into such an iconic character in the last decade, and I really wanted to use him in a radically different way. Again, the story’s not over, and I think there’s a lot of potential in Doctor Light and his family, and everything else to come. It’s to keep people off balance, and it’s to create a new back story and a new world that the Doctor Light theme can play with.

Lemire: He has a lot of baggage. It just adds more mystery to that first issue and more questions when you see him.

On the note of Superman killing Doctor Light, even though the circumstances are very different, some have read into a a connection between Superman killing Doctor Light here in “Trinity War” and Superman killing Zod at the end of the “Man of Steel” movie. Was there any deliberate connection, or is the close timing just a coincidence?

Johns: The circumstances and the context, and ultimately the outcome, are so vastly different. Where we came from wasn’t so much about Superman killing, it was more about these villains — you can go all the way back to the first arc in “Justice League,” and there’s stuff in there that actually is connected to this, and it pays off in this storyline and beyond, into “Forever Evil.”

The whole idea and genesis of Superman taking out Doctor Light in the way he did was all about the villains’ first attack on the Justice Leagues, and really looking at, “Where can they go next?” If they killed Superman, everybody would be coming out of the woodwork and joining the Justice League, and finding out who the hell did it. But if Superman kills somebody, then their faith in their greatest hero is cracked, and the Justice League and all those heroes around them are going to lose a little faith. The world’s going to lose a little faith. Superman’s going to lose faith in himself.

It takes him off the board in a radically different way than just out-and-out killing him. The worst thing they could have ever done is say, “Let’s kill Superman.” It would bring the entire DC Universe after their heads. For us, if we’re going to start a crack in the Justice League that’s going to send them on this hunt, who do we target? Superman’s got to be accused of murder, and we have to see it, and we have to believe it. If we’re going to really lose faith in Superman, or question what happened or what he did, we really need to see it play out a certain way. That’s where the idea came from.

It’s interesting that there’s consistency of style between the three artists of “Trinity War” — Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and Mikel Janin — but also an individual quality that fits each book. Thematically, do you see the different series as having a different theme within the story? Is that an important thing to maintain in a story like this?

Lemire: I don’t know if each book had its own theme. I feel like we were trying to write one consistent story that spread over all three titles.

Johns: We really wanted this to feel like one story. [“Justice League of America” #7] focused a little bit on the Atom revealing the true nature of the JLA to Superman, and “Justice League Dark” #23 really has a lot of focus on how Pandora’s Box effects tie into magic.

It wasn’t so much the themes of the book, but the differences between the teams; the members and what they’re all about. We wanted to contrast those throughout the story. Clearly, Justice League Dark has a different M.O. than the JLA and Justice League. That was one of our goals. This is the first culmination of these three teams getting together, then throughout “Forever Evil” they’re going to go through radical changes. At the end of “Forever Evil,” the Justice League books are going to be on a very different path. I’m super-excited for where they’re going. I think we have a lot of great plans and a lot of great creators on the books.