Regarding the Notion that DC’s Geoff Johns is “Knowledgeable”

Somebody who’d unwisely worked with Johns in the past, artist Ethan Van Sciver, said the following recently:



Now he may have some valid points to make about young adult writers not knowing diddly squat about the creations they’re tasked with. But as somebody who read plenty of the older stuff in years gone by, and owns a portion of items from times that were far better than what we have today, I must vehemently disagree with the claim Johns is “knowledgeable”, and in the past, I posted some samples from Johns’ early to mid-2000s work featuring some loathsome, violent moments from his writings, and that includes continuity glitches, including one from Flash volume 2’s 180th issue, where it stated Vic Stone got struck by “an explosion” in his youth. But that’s not what was established by Marv Wolfman back in 1982, in the special “Tales of the Teen Titans” miniseries, detailing origins for 4 of the stars. 


Here’s the original premise:


One day Vic happened to visit his parents at S.T.A.R. Labs. They were working on two projects: a long-range inter-dimensional study and observation project, and the development of cybernetic body parts for physically disabled soldiers. While observing another dimension, Silas accidentally let a blob-like creature slither through the dimensional barrier. The entity killed Elinore and critically wounded Vic before Silas could activate the recall button and send it back.

Determined not to let his son meet the same fate his wife did, a desperate and unauthorized Silas used the untested cybernetic technology to rebuild Vic’s body with a frame of enforced molybdenum steel, special polymers and plastics. Vic survived, and Cyborg was born.


That was the actual setup, and contradicts what Johns wrote years later, which is just a sample of his disputable knowledge. Say, how about that time when Johns made the Golden Age Turtle look like a child molestor? Is that an example of genuine “knowledge”? As though the violence and gross moments in his writings weren’t bad enough (not to mention the leftist politics he shoved into Green Lantern later on), we had to be struck over the head with that kind of shock value? Such elements wouldn’t be acceptable if this were Japanese manga either. If Johns were knowledgeable, he’d recognize that most established characters from the Golden/Silver/Bronze Ages usually had a sense of honor and avoided harming innocent women and children in repugnant, dehumanizing ways.


And even if Johns were supposedly knowledgeable of DC history, or kept a consistent approach to it, that still wouldn’t explain why he had to take a “cool and edgy” approach rather than an entertaining one without resorting to jarring violence and other grating elements. Including the following page samples from Flash #118 volume 2, which told Johns’ rendition of Heatwave’s origins, not that by Cary Bates, who’d written one as far back as 1978:



So Johns was setting Mick Rory up to look like a child psycho in this issue. And it only gets worse with the following:



So in this take on the Heatwave origins by Johns, not only is Mick a scatterbrained psycho from childhood, he even sets his house on fire, effectively murdering his family in the process. This is sick, and if I didn’t say that, I wouldn’t be a Flash fan, or even a Fantastic Four fan, for that matter. Heatwave may have begun as a crook, but it’s still no excuse for making him look worse than he did in the Silver/Bronze Age, nor the following, equally disturbing moments in this issue:




It’s bad enough this part of the story was inconsistent with the late 70s take, and makes it look more like Mick was wearing winter clothes even before getting locked in a freezer. Oh, never mind that. What’s really offensive is when the panels turn to making the later Heatwave out to be willing to murder for revenge. Say, how did he get away with arson against his own family, let alone that of the scummy student who got him stuck in the freezer to begin with? Why, how did he get away with arson against the circus he’d joined up with? And if he were to be this demented, it makes his later reformation and occasional friendship with Barry Allen afterwards look pretty implausible viewed in light (or flame) of this blatant depiction. Heatwave, according to this repellent take, caused deaths of innocent people like his parents and the circus employees, and we’re supposed to find him any more “likable” than the Joker and Two-Face? PC-laced stories like these are exactly why villain worship is such a bad influence.

In addition, this rendition is not only so “serious”, it also makes it impossible to provide a sense of humor like the earlier stories had, and come to think of it, retroactively takes away the flavor from the earlier Flash stories, which often employed slapstick to good effect. And then, at the end of the issue, as if the above weren’t bad enough:



Heatwave set fire to a pub, effectively destroying any sympathy we couldn’t have shown for him if he’s depicted as that demented anyway. This was one of the grimiest moments I’d ever seen in a Johns solo story, and indeed, a lot of the stories he scripted by himself were even worse than those he co-wrote with others, at least until Countdown to Infinite Crisis came along, and that was loathsome based on its treatment of Ted Kord.

And now, to make a point on how far removed Johns’ script was from what came before, I found a profiling page from the mid-80s Who’s Who in the DCU specials for Heatwave:



This profile above says nothing about Mick being a far gone psycho obsessed with fire/arson while endangering lives and committing murder. What it does note is that towards the end of the 1st volume, Barry Allen and Mick Rory became buddies when the latter reformed, and even helped defeat Goldface, which reminds me of another farfetched moment in Johns’ writing – when Keith Kenyon suddenly becomes head of a union in Keystone City in the Flash during the early 2000s. All this ignoring that earlier, Goldface had led to the deaths of at least a few people in the 80s before he got imprisoned on the planet Oa prior to the 2nd Green Lantern volume’s end. Including GL Corps member Tomar-Re circa Crisis On Infinite Earths, as seen in the panel on the side. After such monstrous acts, how can Goldface suddenly be allowed to retain a reputable job viewed within the context? Something’s missing here alright.


While we’re on the subject, I also noticed this Cinema Blend article about the Stargirl TV show’s guest role for the Shade, which brings up the equally overrated James Robinson’s retcon from the mid-90s:


In his Golden Age debut, The Shade was as a mortal man who constructed a darkness manipulation machine that was reintroduced in 1961 as a special cane – which has remained one of his more definitive aspects, but as nothing more than a stylish walking aid these days. In his 1994 resurrection of Starman (following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour), writer James Robinson reinterpreted The Shade’s abilities as something of a supernatural origin, but without giving away his true identity or even the true nature of his abilities. He did, however, reveal his past as a sophisticated 19th-Century Londoner granted his mystic powers and immortality by a mysterious rite that, otherwise, killed man – along with a few other fresh and surprising revelations that changed the character forever.

The Shade Was Also Reinvented As A More Heroic Figure

James Robinson’s reboot of The Shade was actually not introduced in his Starman series as an antagonist, but not exactly as a hero, either, because Richard Swift is more of a morally ambiguous and adventurous gentleman. He uses his mystical powers to aid Jack Knight (who inherits the Starman moniker from his father, Ted Knight) in his pursuits of justice in Opal City, which almost makes me wonder if The Shade in Season 2 of Stargirl is destined to continue his established legacy as a villain, or reemerge as a reformed, neutral force. Honestly, there is no telling which way it could go, not only because the series features a version of Starman who is unique to the source material, but it also features a version of The Shade who is unique to this “earth” within the Arrowverse.


Honestly, I do not like how Robinson handled the Shade either, but as I’d written in past years, I took time to reevaluate Robinson’s writings as well, realizing they were slimy, awful tripe. Besides, I think the Shade was already depicted as becoming more morally ambiguous in the Bronze Age, so what’s so new about Robinson’s take anyway?


For now, I want to make clear that I think it’s shameful van Sciver’s telling everybody Johns is knowledgeable, to say nothing of glossing over the grimier, noxious aspects of Johns’ writing that bring things to the point where a sense of humor is hard to maintain or consider plausible. Sure, I know some artists and writers may maintain good relations, but it’s still no excuse. Let’s remember van Sciver was involved in the Flash Rebirth story, where Barry’s background was turned darker, all for the sake of it, in another example of political correctness. I’m sorry, but this is unacceptable, and again, I’m saying this because I’m a Flash/Green Lantern fan. Anybody who thinks there’s no audience whatsoever for a more lightweight, less PC approach to storytelling no matter their age, doesn’t belong in the business. If DC goes under, it’ll be at least partly Johns’ fault, because his stories were just the beginning, much like Brian Bendis’ were for Marvel.




Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1