Interview: Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok on Justice League and The Darkseid War

DC Comics’ New 52 era began with writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee on “Justice League,” the flagship team book that features Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam and Cyborg side-by-side in the neverending battle against evil.

This June, DC is ringing in a new era, but Johns is still shepherding “Justice League” into the book’s biggest story to date: “The Darkseid War.” Currently joining Johns on “Justice League” is former Detective Comics artist Jason Fabok, who is quickly becoming a comic book superstar in his own right.

During Johns and Fabok’s “Justice League” run, Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor has continued to be a prominent member of the team even as his mistakes came back to haunt him. When SuperHeroHype visited the DC office in Burbank, California, both Johns and Fabok effusively spoke about what they’ve done with Luthor and where his character arc is going.

Johns and Fabok also teased the new status quo for “Justice League,” which will be unveiled in “Divergent,” DC’s one-shot offering for this year’s Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 2. Additionally, Johns told us about the team’s interpersonal dynamics, the return of Green Lantern and he also teased the implications of the larger conflict between two of DC’s greatest villains: Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor.

SuperHeroHype: Justice League is getting a spotlight in DC’s Free Comic Book Day issue, Divergent. Can you give us a taste of the new status quo going forward?

Geoff Johns: We’re gonna introduce a couple new villains that will be part of triggering the war between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor. It’s a story we don’t want to spoil because some of the details have been kept under wraps… like the exact nature of where this villain comes from, [and] how they’re connected to the Justice League in a bizarre way. And ultimately, what the threat of a war between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor actually means. What could that result in?

Not only is that cataclysmic on a universes wide scale, but it’s very cataclysmic on the Justice League itself. The personal characters, the relationships, their futures, their status quos, the memberships. All of that is going to be hit pretty hard as they’re caught in a war between the greatest villains in the DC universe.

SHH: I’ve really liked seeing Lex Luthor as a member of the Justice League, but it feels like his time in the book is winding down. Am I right or wrong about that?

Johns: You are absolutely wrong. Luthor is going to play a huge part in everything that we’re doing and he’s a focal point for “The Darkseid War.”

SHH: I do love that status quo, because it feels like something that is unique in the history of the League. You can’t always get away with putting one of your biggest villains on the team and having it work.

Johns: There’s something really interesting about this. Putting a character like Lex Luthor on the team has to happen in a very organic way and “Forever Evil” was designed to do that and thrust Luthor into a new role. But ultimately, the real test is going to be in the Justice League.

Luthor knows that there is some big threat out there and that it’s coming here and that he’s gonna have to team up with the League to stop it. He thinks that he’s the only one that can stop it and he also wants to be the one that does stop it for a variety of reasons. Some people on the team embrace Luthor… at least his skill set, if not himself. And some don’t, no matter what. Working with the devil is not worth it. I can say that we have a new member of the Justice League introduced in “Justice League” # 41.

SHH: And you’re keeping the same numbering post-Convergence?

Johns: Same numbering.

SHH: Jason, Geoff has a tendency to really challenge his artists with lots of crowd scenes and lots of destruction. What’s the hardest thing that he’s had you draw so far?

Johns: [Laughs] It’s definitely in Free Comic Book Day!

Jason Fabok: Yeah, there’s been some… I’m gonna have to say that Geoff took it easy on me in issues 36 through 38 and kind of helped ease me into the whole team book thing. I had never drawn a team book before. It was always a single character Batman book before this. But then on issue 39…

SHH: He stopped taking it easy on you.

Fabok: Yeah, it was like “Hey Jay, let’s see how many hours you’re gonna work on [this issue] and how many days off you’re gonna have this month.” None, zero. But he challenged me and I had never drawn something like that before. In the end, it really turned out well and I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and confidence from that. I foresee as we go forward in this… yeah there’s going to be challenges, but I want to deliver a book that’s comparable to Geoff’s books that I fell in love with, like “Blackest Night,” which was just insanity. But that book spoke to me so loud and clear.

And I knew that was the kind of book that I wanted to draw. I feel that all the steps in my career have been leading up to that. I think that “Darkseid War” is really going to expand everything that I’m able to do as an artist and take it to the next level. Even though it’s fun to draw those big shots and two-page spreads, I love the more personal interactions between the characters. I love drawing those personal moments. When I look back at a book, those are the pages that I’m actually most proud of… those emotional, one-on-one scenes. So maybe that’s a little odd…

SHH: Here’s a question for both of you. Which members of the League do you find yourselves drawn to when you’re working on a script or a page?

Johns: It’s funny because it changes for me. When Luthor came on the team, I actually thought, “this is gonna be really fun seeing Lex and Superman in a different light.” And although we’ve played that up in “The Amazo Virus,” I actually found myself more drawn to Bruce Wayne and Lex. And Diana and Lex because they’re polar opposites. Superman grudgingly works alongside Lex, and in his eyes it’s better to have him here than do out there doing something that he can’t see or know about.

But I think that the interesting dynamic comes from Bruce and Diana because Diana actually gives him a chance because she believes in the innate goodness of people. Although she sees he is narcissistic and a pretty terrible person in general, but there is a glimmer of “Can I use this as a force of good? Can he actually do right by what we need done as a team?”

On the other hand, I think that Bruce quite obviously believes that [Lex] is a snake in the grass and that this is only temporary and the only reason that he’s agreed to this is that he, like Superman, wants to keep his eye on Luthor. But he begrudgingly realizes that Luthor brings a lot to the table. I just get drawn to that dynamic and I’m also drawn to Cyborg and Shazam together. We’ve got a lot of fun things coming up for those two. I just think that every time those two hang out together that I love writing those characters.

And then having Green Lantern back is fun. I haven’t written Green Lantern since I left the book several years ago. I think it was two years ago now? So it was nice to take a break from Green Lantern, but now that he’s back in the book he’s gonna be a lot of fun to play with.

SHH: And Jason?

Fabok: I’ve been drawing a lot of Batman for the last couple of years. But for me the two characters I’ve liked to draw [in “Justice League”] have been Wonder Woman and Lex. For some reason, I didn’t think I would really get into Wonder Woman and I have. I love every page that I can draw her on. I love exploring that character.

The same with Lex. Lex Luthor was a character I didn’t really care about until after “Forever Evil.” And then I was like “wow… this character is awesome!” I think what Geoff was talking about is that you don’t really know who this guy is. You don’t know if he’s going to be…

Johns: Predictable.

Fabok: Yeah, but I think I’m always drawn towards redemption stories. In my mind and my heart, I want him to redeem himself and become that.

Johns: Maybe he will.

Fabok: Yeah, and maybe he will! I don’t know. As a fan, it keeps you guessing. Is he for for real?

Johns: I am actually shocked by how much more I really love working with Lex Luthor. And seeing what Jay does to him, I’m actually shocked by how much more complex, and deep and interesting that he is. It’s almost a twist on him, because Lex is starting to learn that “taking on this role as a Justice League member, I make enemies, people want to kill me, maybe I should have had a secret identity. The people and the things I care about like LexCorp and potentially my sister are under threat because of them.” As he slowly gets more ingrained in the League, we’ll see him actually having to deal with what Superman has to deal with.

SHH: It doesn’t sound like you’re planning to do a seperate miniseries for The Darkseid War in the way that you did for Forever Evil. Is the core of that story going to stay in Justice League? And will there be any tie-in titles?

Johns: All I can say right now is that we really want to make “Justice League” the event. “Darkseid War” is the event. I’m writing it like an event. Our first issue is forty pages long, and we’re trying to do the biggest possible event that plays off everything that we’ve set up in the first forty issues with Darkseid, Forever Evil, Luthor and it ultimately sends us in a new direction.

We know the ending. We know the last pages, we know the reveals and we know the big changes to the team members that come out of this book. But we are treating this like the book itself is the event. There will be some other stuff that we can talk about later, but it’s early to talk about now.

SHH: Last question, why did you leave Superman so soon after starting on the book? I was really enjoying that run.

Johns: Thanks. I really enjoyed it. I loved working with John Romita Jr. on that book I’ve got some other stuff coming up in comics. But we’re shooting a couple pilots this year and we’re shooting two movies this year. And I’m really focused on that. But I’m moving off Superman and doing another comic book project that will pop up.