Actually… I’m only going to talk about one Johns… one Geoff Johns to be exact. More to the point, I’m going to talk about why his writing confuses the hell out of me. His writing is good, prolific, consistent, generally in character, and it might just be indicative of the very trends that are killing superhero comics.
On the one hand, Johns gives the readers and collectors so much of what they want. Lately, he tends to write characters that are in sync with their mainstream tradition and continuity. Whether or not you like his stories, you rarely read a Johns story and have those obnoxious fanboy thoughts like, ‘wow, Superman would not do that.’
His run on Green Lantern has been incredible, and the whole Sinestro War saga was one giant orgy of awesomeness that made fanboys and fangirls scream ‘Holy geez, this is what I’ve been waiting years to read!’ His run on JSA appeals to fans of all the JSA mainstays as well as to anyone who likes the fan-favorite Elsewords tale ‘Kingdom Come’. The ‘Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ arc in Action Comics was a nice breath of fresh air for fans of the pre-Zero Hour Legion, and didn’t bore people to tears like ‘The Lightning Saga’.
Yes, fellow fanboys, Geoff Johns gives us everything we want. And that’s the biggest problem with Geoff Johns. He represents everything that makes superhero comics continuity heavy, inaccessible, and fundamentally alienating to the new or casual reader.
Let’s be honest: Comics are a huge frakkin commitment. Even if you only pick up a few books a week, you know deep down that you spend time on Wikipedia trying to piece together the bits of minutiae and continuity that are piled high in the monthly superhero book. And while the average geek, myself included, actually enjoys that kind of stuff, it annoys most people. Even the most convoluted of serialized fiction in other media doesn’t require the depth of historical background it takes to understand the ‘Sinestro Corps War.’ Even a child could explain the finer points of ‘Lost’ in a few minutes. It’ll take a bit longer to explain why that Daxamite has a huge glowing green worm inside him… or to explain what a Daxamite is for that matter.
The greatest threat to superhero comics is their relegation to status as collectors’ items rather than literature. Sure, the characters live on in TV, film, and cartoons, but I believe that superhero comics could once again be a bastion of mainstream all-ages entertainment and myth-building. But at present, most of them are, at worst, publicity stunt crossovers and events that get stuck in collectors’ long boxes while they wait for money day. At best, they’re Geoff Johns style fan fiction. And neither of those things is something a casual or new reader could pick up and enjoy without completely geeking out.
I’m picking on Johns at the moment, but we all know that even our favorite writers, from Simone to Morrison, are guilty of the great sin of superhero comics: They write books for themselves. They write the comics they’d want to read, full of sex, violence, and nigh incomprehensible references to ages-old continuity. DC and Marvel shouldn’t need to keep launching separate imprints to market to new readers and kids. The whole genre needs to be accessible to these groups, because the 20, 30, and 40 somethings stuffing bagged and boarded copies of ‘One More Day’ and ‘Secret Invasion’ into their long-boxes won’t be around forever.