Geoff Johns started working in the industry alongside Superman (1978) director Richard Donner. He then went on to write a very successful run of the Justice Society of America where he introduced his own characters such as Stargirl. This was the beginning of John’s nostalgia and love for DC’s history becoming the basis of his work. His success in writing for DC led him to retcon and relaunch popular versions of his favorite characters: Barry Allen’s Flash, and Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern. These characters had previously passed on their mantles after they both died in different events. Eventually, Johns would write the Flashpoint story, which became a crisis event, recreating the DC universe from scratch in The New 52.
In 2016, Geoff Johns seemed to be at the height of his game, acting as president and CCO of DC Entertainment, while crafting the critically and financially successful DC Rebirth soft-relaunch that corrected mistakes made in The New 52. This initiative was inevitably leading up to his grand finale, Doomsday Clock, which saw Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen crossover with the DC universe, implying that Doctor Manhattan had a hand in some of the previous crisis. DC fans were excited, Alan Moore was pissed (as usual), and it seemed like DC finally had a concrete plan that was going to span over the next five or so years… until Geoff Johns decided to leave his position, opting to open a new studio, Mad Ghost, and served as a freelance writer and producer for DC.
Once Doomsday Clock started to come out, it was clear that DC and Geoff Johns were not on the same page. All of the build up to the event seemed to fizzle out and other books hardly, if ever, made reference to it. Doomsday Clock saw a DC universe in turmoil after world powers and public opinion started to turn on people with super powers when they learned that some of the world’s superheroes were actually made by the US government. Johns referred to this as the “Supermen Theory,” and its influence eventually became the setting for the DC universe… only it didn’t. With hardly any books even referencing Doomsday Clock, this new status quo only showed up in the event itself. This level of disconnect with the rest of the universe was the first nail in the coffin, showing that without Johns’ leadership, DC creators wanted nothing to do with his Watchmen sequel.
Doomsday Clock continued on, marred with delays, ultimately taking over two years to release in its entirety. By the end of the event, not only were creators checked out, but so were fans. The long gaps between issues made the book forgettable, and the way Johns chose to use the Watchmen characters garnered lots of criticism. This wasn’t made any better by the final section of the last issue, which painted a picture of the future of the DC universe that was immediately contradicted when co-publisher Dan Didio left DC. Less than one year after the event’s conclusion, DC released another crisis level event, Dark Knights Death Metal, which essentially negated all of the events of Doomsday Clock, shoving it further into obscurity. Since many people didn’t actually read the event, and instead dismissed it due to negative headlines and delays, the book became widely known as a failure. In all actuality the event was quite good. Look no further than Comic-Pop’s video about the event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wmv9Gek-lO0) which breaks down a lot of its nuances and helps clarify its more confusing aspects. Needless to say, Johns’ exit from DC not only upended the company’s plans, but also the successfulness of his own event, but this is only where Johns’ DC universe story gets started.
Mad Ghost acted as a production company on many DC projects, mainly in film and TV, such as The CW’s Stargirl and Wonder Woman 1984. Johns also leveraged this studio into his comic works in Image with the Mad Ghost’s Unnamed imprint. Clearly Johns’ love for writing comics drove him out of editorial so that he could focus on his passions. This all led up to Johns’ working back with DC on a comic book that would solidify his position with the company, Flashpoint Beyond.
Flashpoint Beyond is a sequel to the universe-shattering Flashpoint storyline, where Thomas Wayne Batman somehow returns to the Flashpoint universe. While the story unravels, we learn that Bruce Wayne actually used his father’s ashes and snow globe that belonged to Doctor Manhattan in order to bring back the Flashpoint universe where his father would not be dead. Johns also introduces the concept of the Divine Continuum (or DC, get it?), a concept that represents all of the different realities within the DC universe. This combines concepts like the Metaverse, Multiverse, Omniverse, and Hypertime in a way in which they all can work together. The two forces inside the Divine Continuum are space: the Omniverse and Infinite Frontier, and time: Hypertime, which represents possible futures and alternate timelines. This concept is important for a lot of the inner workings of the DC universe, but it also represents the significant shift in Johns’ storytelling, where he clearly shows a disconnect with the rest of DC.
Running concurrently with Flashpoint Beyond was DC’s big Dark Crisis event. This was one of the first times in DC’s history where two events of massive proportions were not only happening at the same time, but also directly conflicting with one another. Johns puts a greater emphasis on Hypertime while Dark Crisis and the rest of DC are focused on the Omniverse. It was fairly obvious when these stories were coming out that Johns wanted to distance himself from the rest of DC as much as possible, with the separation of these two fictional concepts proving to be the way he could do that. No longer would DC act as a cohesive universe, instead, DC would tell their own stories, while Johns would tell his own, using hypertime and the Divine Continuum as an excuse for when things may not exactly line up for readers.
Following Flashpoint Beyond, Johns rebooted the JSA and a new limited Stargirl series. Both of these books deal with the ramifications of the end of Beyond, but in Stargirl: The Lost Children #4, the grand design of Johns’ plans starts to become more clear. The issue starts with a Time Master, Corky Baxter, expositing the plot, where he reveals the three most important events in the DC timeline that had led up to these points, and yes, they are all Geoff Johns stories. The three aforementioned books are Flashpoint, Doomsday Clock, and Flashpoint Beyond, which if you’ve been following along, are three of the most critical parts of Johns’ personal, writing and editorial journey as well.
At this point in time, Johns is telling a DC story that is not only fully removed from the rest of the universe, but also one that only hinges on his own works. He clearly has no care for what everyone else is doing, but does that mean his stories are bad? I would argue on the contrary. One of the most confusing aspects of comics are the several writers interpreting characters differently and making continuity hard to follow. In Johns’ case, you can clearly follow his stories into one singular narrative that hardly hinges on what everyone else is doing. His stories may feature far fetched fictional science and concepts, but they also can be read sequentially with little confusion narratively. This concept of one writer staying on a story and world for this long is not unheard of, just look at some great long runs such as Bendis and Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man or Peter David’s Hulk. The difference here is that Johns is also in control of the greater universe surrounding these characters. If you read through Ultimate Spider-Man, you also have to deal with the various events going on throughout the Ultimate Marvel universe which sometimes disrupt the story, forcing it to go in a new direction. Johns is in total control of his works, and practically is free of any editorial control. Whether these stories resonate with you or not, this is a feat that is unheard of in the comic book world.
Geoff Johns has managed to craft his own corner of the DC universe that allows him to do practically whatever he wants, while also using his favorite characters to do so. When Johns stepped down in 2018, many people were confused as to why, but five years later it has become clear that he has more control over his work in his current position than as the president and CCO of the company. Your mileage may vary on how you feel about his content, but there is zero question as to how expertly Johns has maneuvered himself into a special spot in DC.