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Justice Society of America: David Goyer and Geoff Johns

Double threats, the popular writing duo is singing comics' praises in both print and film.

By Michael Patrick Sullivan     November 17, 2000

Writers David Goyer and Geoff Johns give double meaning to the term 'double threat.' Together the duo is charting the course of the Justice Society of America as they head into the twenty-first century every month in DC Comics' JSA. Separately, both are working to bring comics and sci-fi to movie and TV screens.

Comics enthusiasts since they were kids, the duo have come to work in the four-color field by way of Hollywood, where they've worked on a number of big budget films. Goyer is perhaps best known as the screenwriter of Blade, Dark City and The Crow 2: City of Angels, while Johns has worked for director Richard (Conspiracy Theory and Superman) Donner's production company.

Getting Personal

It was the shooting of Conspiracy Theory, in fact, that brought Johns and DC together. While the movie was in production, DC sent over several copies of its Paradox Press imprint's Big Book of Conspiracies to be used as reference for the film. 'I invited the editors out to the set,' says Johns. 'We were talking, they knew I liked comics and said I should submit stuff to them. So I did. I submitted Stars & STRIPE to editor Chuck Kim and he really liked it.'

While Stars & STRIPE only lasted a year and a half, it has a special place in Johns' heart. The lead character, Courtney Whitmore, is based on his sister, Courtney Johns, who died in the tragic explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1997, a subject recently touched upon in JSA. After Atom Smasher's mother died in a plane crash caused by the arch-villain Kobra, the JSA found themselves tangling with the time/space villain Extant. When an opportunity arose for Atom Smasher to swap Extant into his mother's place on that plane, thus saving her, he did so.

Fan reaction to the story has been mixed. 'I think people still, unrealistically, think it was the wrong decision to make,' says Johns. 'But you have to walk in those shoes first.' To help readers understand, Johns explained the story's background in an editorial later in the issue, briefly blurring the line between the creator's life and his creations. 'I went back and forth on it quite a bit,' explains Johns. 'I thought it was something that would help people understand why Atom Smasher did what he did.'

Despite Stars & STRIPE's cancellation, Courtney remains the JSA's youngest member and a hero in training, echoing one of Johns views about the group. 'JSA is about teaching heroes about being heroes, about showing the world what a super-team is supposed to be. It is much more a model of what a super-team should be than any other group in the DC Universe.'

A New Duo

Johns has put his mark on the JSA while working with Goyer, but he wasn't on the book when it launched just a year and a half ago. 'DC had approached James [Robinson, writer of Starman] about doing a JSA book,' explains Goyer, but Robinson said he wouldn't do the book without Goyer, who at the time had been co-plotting Starman.

'Literally at the end of the first issue he was saying 'I don't want to do it anymore' because he was just burned out on comics,' explains Goyer, who was initially concerned because he'd never written a comic solo before. It was at that point that DC approached Johns about joining the book. 'I enjoy doing it with someone,' says Goyer. 'I think it's fun to hash things out over dinner and say 'Wouldn't it be cool...''

It was just that sort of collaborative process that brought the screenwriter into comics in the first place. 'I called [Robinson] up originally to see if he wanted to write an episode for a TV show I was potentially doing,' explains Goyer. 'That never transpired, but then we did some screenwriting work together. We'd been hanging out and I had been giving him suggestions for Starman for at least a good year before I had actually showed up in the book.'

Despite the creative shuffling, the new duo of Goyer and Johns gelled fairly quickly. 'The first issue we did, issue #6 [featuring Black Adam] was really a testing ground for us working wise,' says Johns. 'It's the only one I think we could have done a better job on. I think we've really hit our stride.'

While JSA has been steeped in continuity, that's proven to be a double-edged sword. 'Whether it's good or bad, I tend to think it's fun,' confesses Johns. 'But for newer readers it probably isn't as much as we think it is. If people keep clamoring for that stuff, well do it.'

Regardless, both writers agree that the continuity-heavy arcs will ebb and flow over the next year. Although sometimes what is and isn't continuity may not be so easily distinguished, as with the current 'Injustice Be Done' storyline. Johnny Sorrow, the leader of the new Injustice Society, has been shown to have an extensive history in the DC Universe, despite the fact that his first appearance was only a year ago. Prior to that, he'd only been mentioned in passing by Robinson in Starman. Sorrow shares that trait with another character who's figuring strongly in the JSA. 'The King of Tears comes from a line in the Shade's Journal [in Starman] and I thought it was a cool name,' says Goyer. 'He's a retconned Golden Age character, like Sorrow, but the King of Tears is not human and Sorrow is.'

Hawkman's Return

Following 'Injustice Be Done' and a single issue 'Day in the Life' story in #21, is an arc that's already had fans buzzing for months: the return of Hawkman. 'It's going to be really really cool, very epic,' says Johns. We all know Hawkman's history is screwed up. We're going to sort it out. What stands now is what stands. We add a little bit. We picked a focus. We interpret a few things. But nothing will be negated, changed or [made a result of] hypertime. We're just going to pull the elements out that you really need.' By the time it's over, Johns promises that Hawkman's origin will be able to be recapped in as little as a page or a panel.

The identity of this Hawkman, who will become a JSA member, has also been the subject of much speculation. The duo remain cagey on the subject, however. 'The story does take place on Thanagar,' confirms Goyer, 'but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's about Katar. People are assuming it is, but they shouldn't.' Long-time Hawkman fans who've been confused by his multiple incarnations will finally be able to rest, though. 'I felt very strongly that there should only be one Hawkman,' says Goyer. 'But there are elements of both [the Golden and Silver Age versions] that I really enjoyed. I think we did a good job of pulling from each and bringing in some elements that are new.'

Following the Hawkman arc, the duo's plans get a little sketchy. 'We're finishing up the script for the last part of the Hawkman story [issue #25] right now,' says Goyer, who'll be taking a hiatus from the title following that plotline. Regardless of what order they ultimately appear in, though, some plotlines are certain. 'Clearly Mordru will be coming back,' says Goyer, '[plus] Obsidian again and a couple of entirely new villains we plan to bring into the fold.'

'We'll be forging ahead instead of looking back,' adds Johns. 'There's things we're not going to ignore like Doctor Fate's wife,' referring to Lyta Hall, a former member of the now-defunct Infinity Inc. and mother to Daniel, known these days to Vertigo readers as the new Sandman. Johns also promises that longtime readers won't be disappointed. 'It's fun because we have characters like Wildcat,' continues Johns. 'We haven't seen Wildcat on a consistent basis [or] this interesting in years.' He also promises that the JSA will be around for some time to come. 'They've been around since 1940, they'll still be around in 2040. It's just the way it is.'

Ghost Writing

Outside of comics, the duo is doing its part to bring comics and fantasy characters to Hollywood. Most immediately, Goyer is busy writing Ghost Rider's big-screen debut. 'I'm in the midst of writing the treatment of the film,' says Goyer of the Ghost Rider project, which re-teams him with Blade director Stephen Norrington. 'Norrington and I have been meeting almost every day.'

While working with Norrington is nothing new for Goyer, neither is Ghost Rider. 'I did a pass on him six years ago at [producer] Avi Arad's request,' says Goyer, 'It wasn't something I was really happy with and I didn't enjoy the development process with the people making it. Ghost Rider was never a character that I was interested in or gravitated to. Then Arad approached Norrington and I and said 'What if you could do whatever you wanted to do with it?''

Goyer and Norrington separately worked up their vision of what a Ghost Rider movie should be and then compared notes. 'We both ended up pitching the same thing,' says Goyer. 'It has a lot of gothic-western elements. We're using a sort of 'Sergio Leone Man With No Name/Road Warrior' model, but first and foremost it's a horror film. We never regarded Blade as a horror film. To us, it was always an action film.'

Ghost Rider will center around the Johnny Blaze incarnation of the character as a stuntman who makes a deal with the devil, although the 'Blaze' name might be changed. It will not use Danny Ketch of the most recent Ghost Rider series or the demon Zarathos. There may be recognizable villains from the comics, but who they might be remains a mystery at this time. Goyer has also revealed that the film will not delve too heavily into the Ghost Rider's past or origin and Blaze will have already become Ghost Rider when the film opens.

A Toothy Sequel

Goyer's next installment of the Blade franchise is also moving closer to production. The film, tentatively titled Bloodhunt, will feature the return of Wesley Snipes in the role of Blade the Daywalker, the Marvel Comics' vampire hunter created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan.

'It's going to be a better movie than the first film, though I was quite happy with the first one,' says Goyer, who explains that the second film won't be burdened by Blade's backstory. 'Blade himself is at peace with who he is in the second film, so there isn't as much of the self-loathing. It's a film patterned after the Dirty Dozen, because it's Blade being forced to team up with a group of vampires. They have to rely on one another to go up against a greater threat.'

Blade was almost joined in the sequel by another Marvel character. 'One of the main nemesis of the original concept was Morbius,' says Goyer. 'I was initially toying around with using him. There's a character in the film named Jared Nomack based on him. But Marvel decided they wanted to spin Morbius off into a whole separate franchise.' Nonetheless, Goyer promises that the character will still retain several of Morbius' characteristics.

Goyer is optimistic about the sequel's chances to equal or better the success of the first Blade. 'On every level I think it'll be one of those sequels that surpasses the first film, like Aliens or T2,' says Goyer. 'I'm usually hesitant to do a sequel, but I ended up coming up with an idea that I liked so much. It was the most fun I've ever had writing a script. There will be more humor. There's also a bit of a love story.'

With such high-profile comics projects in the works, and credits that also include The Crow 2: City of Angel and the made-for-TV Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, is Goyer afraid of being pigeon-holed by his involvement with comics properties in film? 'I've already been pigeon-holed,' laughs Goyer, who's working to change that with a more personal project. 'I'm trying to get a movie off the ground that I'm going to direct. It's just a straight drama. I wanted to show that I can do something different. The film is titled Zig Zag and is a coming of age story.'

Parting Thoughts

While his credits aren't quite as high-profiles yet, Johns is no slouch in Hollywood either. He's currently involved in bringing a new Sci-Fi series to the airwaves. 'It's called Blackheart,' says Johns. 'It's about a modern day Frankenstein monster made up of the best soldiers of World War Two, reactivated today to fight left over Axis creatures that have been hiding out. We're about to hopefully close the deal on the show for Sci-Fi. If that happens, I'll be producing it and possibly write an episode.' Johns is also involved in acquiring the Green Lantern movie rights, but can't comment further at such an early stage.

For both writers, though, one golden apple still alludes them. While Goyer has become renowned for his work with Marvel's characters in film, and is a three-year comics veteran, he's never been asked to handle those characters in the comics themselves. 'Kicking out JSA for the last two or three years has been really hard to juggle with films,' says Goyer. 'If I did do something, it would just be a limited series. I'd love to do something during the upcoming [Hollywood] writer's strike.'

Similarly, Johns also hasn't had an opportunity to write for Marvel. At present, however, the writer is busy with his new monthly duties on The Flash, where he's planning a one-shot story titled 'Iron Heights' with Ethan Van Sciver that'll lead into a major regular series story arc titled 'Crossfire.' 'It has more twists and turns in the Flash history than any other book I can think of,' says Johns.

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