Which Comics Provide Clues to DC's Developing Film Universe?

From 'Justice Society' to 'Justice League.'
Ivan Reis/DC Entertainment

As first revealed in The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns will be stepping up to co-run the newly creative DC Films with Jon Berg as part of a shake-up at Warner Bros., giving the Justice League and Flash comic book writer increased oversight over all upcoming DC properties on the big screen.

It's a position likely to suit Johns, who has been a key partner with showrunner Greg Berlanti on the successful CW series Arrow and The Flash, as well as CBS' Supergirl. Additionally, he's overseen the upcoming Rebirth relaunch of DC's superhero comic book line, writing the 80-page DC Universe: Rebirth Special that restarts everything May 25.

Johns has been writing comic books since 1999, the vast majority of them for DC (There was a brief period at Marvel, writing The Avengers and related titles from 2002-2004); he's written Superman, Batman: Earth One, Hawkman, Aquaman and the Teen Titans, as well as less high-profile characters such as Booster Gold, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Beast Boy.

There are, however, four comic book runs for Johns that might be considered his core texts, and ones that could provide clues for what he might do with DC Films — or, at least, where his interests lie in terms of the larger DC mythology and how to use it. For those seeking a primer on the comic book work of the man who could be to DC what Kevin Feige is to Marvel, read on.

JSA/Justice Society of America (2000-2009)

JSA — later Justice Society of America after a 2006 relaunch — wasn't Johns' first comic book title (He'd previously written Stars and STRIPE, a generational dramedy about a teen superhero and her stepfather, a former kid sidekick, as well as the miniseries Day of Judgment), but it was certainly his first hit, and arguably the title that helped make his reputation. Initially brought on as co-writer to The Dark Knight's David Goyer, the series ostensibly focused on the Justice Society, a team made up of the remaining superheroes who fought in World War II and their literal and figurative offspring, but as it continued, it took on an increasingly wider focus, taking in elements from across the DC comic book universe and tying them together to make one unified whole.

Notable For: establishing Johns' ability to identify and retool what might seem like nostalgic ephemera so that it serves a story purpose for a new audience.

Recommended Reading: "Thy Kingdom Come" (Justice Society of America Nos. 9-22, collected as Justice Society of America Vols. 2-4.)

The Flash (2000-2005)

Inheriting The Flash in 2000 was a big step up for Johns; not only was it a high-profile series that he'd get to write solo (JSA was still a co-writing gig at this point), but it was a fan-favorite title coming off a lengthy run written by Mark Waid, who many credited with revitalizing the character. Johns' take — assisted by artist Scott Kolins — was different from Waid's, and centered more around re-establishing the setting of Keystone City, rebuilding the Rogues Gallery with all-new villains and re-positioning the Flash (Wally West; Barry Allen was still some years away from returning from the dead during this period) as a working class, blue-collar hero trying to do the right thing by his family, his friends and his city.

Notable For: establishing Johns' love of placing a personal journey at the heart of his heroes and villains' storylines. For many writers, superheroing (and supervillaining, for that matter) could be a career chosen by protagonists; in Johns' stories, it's almost always a passion.

Recommended Reading: "Blitz" (The Flash Vol. 2 Nos. 192-200, collected as The Flash: Blitz.)

Green Lantern (2004-2013)

Arguably the series that made Johns into the superstar writer that he is today, Johns' Green Lantern started with a rescue mission of sorts — the property had fallen into disrepair, prompting the six-issue Green Lantern: Rebirth series that restored the Silver Age status quo of the concept (and the Silver Age hero, too; Hal Jordan returned from the dead in the series). The approach was a smash hit success, but only the beginning; along with a number of rising star artists including Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke, Johns used the classic setup as the foundation of an ambitious mythology that would include multiple colors of Lantern "corps," intergalactic wars and more than one storyline that would end up involving DC's entire superhero line for months on end.

Notable For: not only did Green Lantern involve world building — technically, universe-building considering so much of the series took place in space — on a scale beyond anything Johns had attempted before, it was also successful to a degree unimaginable when Johns first took on the property: At its height, it was supporting three ongoing spinoff series (Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians and Red Lanterns), topping even what had been managed in the spinoff-crazy 1990s.

Recommended Reading: "The Sinestro Corps War" (Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special, Green Lantern Vol. 4 Nos. 21-15, Green Lantern Corps Vol. 2 Nos. 14-19, collected as Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War.)

Justice League (2011-2016)

Following the 2011 New 52 line-wide reboot, Johns took the reins on DC's primary property and set the tone for the initial months of the reboot with fast-paced, blockbuster movies on paper. (If his first storyline with artist and DC co-publisher Jim Lee isn't the basis for the Justice League movie, it'll be very surprising.) While Johns' storylines tended towards the epic — Atlantis declares war on the surface world, an evil Justice League from an alternate Earth invades, a virus turns everyone in Metropolis into superhumans — he clearly enjoyed playing with expectations fans had of the big guns of the DC mythology: It was Justice League that introduced the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship, as well as turning Lex Luthor into a superhero who genuinely did want to save the day (admittedly, for the purposes of his ego, but still). His run is currently wrapping up with final storyline "The Darkseid War," which has seen Superman turn bad and Batman gain access to all the knowledge of the universe — including the true name of the Joker. Consider it going out with a bang.

Notable For: showing that, as rooted in the classic versions of characters and concepts as he may be, Johns is unafraid to push icons in new directions when necessary … and also teasing what Johns might be interested in doing with DC Films, given the entire toy box to play with.

Recommended Reading: "Justice League" (Justice League Vol. 2 Nos. 1-6, collected as Justice League: Origin)

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