KryptonSite Interview: Geoff Johns Talks Absolute Justice!
Interview by Craig Byrne
For fans of the DC Comics universe, the name "Geoff Johns" is usually associated with being a positive breath of fresh air. Comics written by Johns have included the return of Hal Jordan as the iconic Green Lantern, the reinvigoration and reinvention of the Rogues Gallery of the Flash, and the appointment of the Justice Society of America as DC's premier super-team, in some ways even eclipsing the more recent characters of the Justice League. The work done by Johns in the comics has spawned many new concepts and spin-offs, and the writer is now currently in the middle of DC's line-wide Blackest Night crossover event as well as a Superman: Secret Origin miniseries which takes a new look at Superman's early days in the comics continuity.
Fans of Smallville know Johns as the writer of last season's "Best Episode" award winner, "Legion," which introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes to the Smallville mythos. That episode had some "Easter Eggs" for diehard fans, but compared to this week's Absolute Justice, that barely scratches the surface.
Absolute Justice brings the characters of the Justice Society of America into Smallville continuity and sets up some story elements that will alter the show's course for the rest of the season. It brings popular characters from the comics such as Hawkman to the forefront in full costume. Mr. Johns was kind enough to take the time to participate in an interview with KryptonSite where he talks about Smallville's first-ever two hour event, which airs on The CW Friday. Questions are bold; Johns' answers are not.
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When approaching Smallville, are there any characters that are distinctly different to write for in TV as opposed to in comics?
For me they're very similar when I write them for the comic books and when I write them for Smallville; they're very similar characters. Hawkman and Stargirl are both very similar. Doctor Fate was the only one that kind of took a life of his own in the world of Smallville. Kent Nelson is in a much different place and head space than he is in the comics. But for me, they're pretty close. They embody the same values and traits. Superman's always trying to do the right thing, and Lois is always trying to find out what the story is.
Were there any characters that you were surprised that you got away with using?
No, because Brian and Kelly were so open to it. When we were originally talking about the JSA over lunch, we talked about the various cast and how big it was. Going through the characters, I knew Brian really liked Hawkman, his backstory and his role. I really wanted Stargirl, and we talked about a lot of other characters. Wildcat, we almost did, instead of Doctor Fate. Jay Garrick... we just talked about all of these other characters. There was no limit, and there's no "we can't do that" or "we can't use that character." It was really up to our discretion, and eventually we decided upon Doctor Fate, because I thought the take I had on him was very unique, and he just fit the role that we wanted for the story.
Upon seeing Absolute Justice completed, is there anything that particularly surprised you in how it was executed on the screen?
I love Justin as Green Arrow. I didn't realize how good he was until I saw him on screen. Like, I knew he was good; but every line he delivered was perfect. He can make any line sound good. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much he stole the scenes.
I noticed in the painting of the Justice Society members that the Black Canary is present. Is her connection to the present-day Black Canary mentioned at all?
No, but we had a discussion that this is Smallville Black Canary's mother. At one point we were going to do Black Canary instead of Doctor Fate, and have that whole mother/daughter thing, but because I think [Alaina Huffman] was unavailable at the time, that was off. That was just a very preliminary idea, so that went on the shelf. [Editor's note: Alaina Huffman was starring in Stargate: Universe and just gave birth to her third child]
Did you speak to any of the actors directly about how to portray their roles?
I spoke to Britt [Irvin, who played Stargirl]. We had production meetings where we talked to Glen and Tom, because they were the ones directing the actors and going into the characters. Like with Hawkman - Carter Hall - and how he's two different people. He's Carter Hall, this guy who's kind of shut-in and reserved and distant, and then you put his Hawk-helmet on and he becomes a warrior. He flashes back to 500 years ago, when he was fighting like a barbarian. [We were] going through all of the characters like Doctor Fate and his demeanor, with the differences between Doctor Fate and Kent Nelson; or how Star Girl, there is no difference, she is who she is, mask or not, because she's so earnest and pure. There was a lot of discussion about the characters, but it was really up to Glen and Tom to direct it, which I think they did a fantastic job. I got the two best guys to work with.
When the show was expanded from one episode into two, was there anything major that had changed in the process?
It allowed us to do scenes that we wanted to do and originally couldn't, so I got to expand on things. There are more cameos. James, the executive producer up there, came up with this great idea that allowed us to open the scope of the JSA further than it was. It allowed us to give it a sense of history that it had in the first draft, but opening it up to two hours allowed me to have a lot more touchstones to the DC Universe and to the Justice Society throughout, and it also gave me the ability to have more scenes with Lois, Cassidy [Tess] and everybody. So I got to write for the whole cast, which is a dream. It's a fantastic cast up there.
If a viewer leaves Absolute Justice wanting to know more about the characters, are there any particular comics you'd recommend for them to read?
Sure. There's the Justice Society of America: The Next Age by me and Dale Eaglesham which kicked off our most current run on the book.
On the subject of comics, with the Superman story currently being reinvented with Secret Origin, is there still a chance we'll see Chloe in the comic books?
That's probably a question for somebody who works on the modern day comics, since I'm only on Secret Origin. I had a slight nod to her in Superman: Secret Origin #1. She signed Pete Ross's cast. As far as I'm concerned, she's in that universe. She's a great addition to Superman's mythology, and a terrific character. That's due to the writers and to Allison. Allison Mack's just a fantastic actress. Smallville's incredibly lucky to have her.
What is your favorite element of writing for a show like Smallville?
My favorite element - it changes. The last few seasons, as soon as Lois and Clark are hanging out more and more, that dynamic, to me, is a lot of fun. There was an episode where Lois was reading for a newscast this season, and to me, that was one of the best episodes they've done, because the chemistry between those two is off the chart. So, it changes. That was a very interesting element to work with, and something that I really enjoyed, but I think if I had written during Season 3 or 6 it would have been something else, and I couldn't tell you that unless I had done it.
When it came to doing a second episode of Smallville, was doing the JSA at the top of your list?
Yes. They were THE list.
I understand the character of Stargirl has a special connection to you. Can you talk about that, and can you also tell us how old Courtney is in the Smallville universe?
She's in high school, and she hasn't been there in a while, so she's gotten very bad grades.
Courtney Whitmore is based on my sister, Courtney, who passed away. She was in the TWA Flight 800 plane crash back in '96. She inspired me to create that character, so it was pretty special to see her come to life in live action and interact with Clark Kent. It's pretty awesome.
If you were asked to come back to write for Smallville again, is there anything in particular that would be at the top of your list to do next?
On a podcast [I did], Booster Gold was mentioned as interesting. I really haven't given it a lot of thought yet, because this episode's still not out. If there's a chance I could do an episode next season, fingers crossed that Season 10 is definitely happening, there's a lot of different characters I'd love to try. Who knows if there'll be a Batman or a Wonder Woman appearance, but there's a lot of other characters out there. I don't know who'd be at the top of my list. Maybe somebody mystical like Deadman or Spectre, or another JSA episode, since there are so many members.
Was it different to write for Clark this year compared to where he was last year at the time of "Legion?"
Clark's obviously taken more of a leadership role. He's getting stronger. I think this season he's really stepped up and realized that he is capable of leading everybody, and he's capable of being the hero he is. The only thing I think he hasn't quite grasped yet is that he could do it publicly. If he goes public, he could do so much more. But he's going to have to sacrifice a part of his life for that, and that's going to be a struggle for him. Whether that's what next season will be about, I don't know; but I think it could be interesting. I'm sure Brian and Kelly have a million ideas. I know they have a season finale that's going to be pretty bad-ass.
Can you talk about how the characters might be learning from one another?
That's kind of what the episode's about. It's about what both Clark learns from the Justice Society of America, and what Hawkman and the JSA learn from Clark and the Justice League.
Why should someone who might not have tuned in to Smallville in a while check out Absolute Justice?
If you haven't watched Smallville in a while, you should check it out again because it's a terrific show right now, and if you're a fan of the JSA, this is the first time they've ever appeared in live action, and they did a hell of a job. The cast, and the crew, and the producers, and everybody. Honestly, I don't know what other network would have backed something like this, let it air as two hours, and create an event behind it in a series that's in Season 9. It's terrific. They believe in it, and I believe it, and I'm psyched for it. I think a lot of people are going to check it out.
Absolute Justice airs for TWO HOURS on Friday, February 5 on The CW. Visit the KryptonSite News Page for access to images, spoilers, an episode forum and more! Thanks again to Mr. Johns for participating in this interview.