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Phillip Kennedy Johnson illuminates 'Worlds Without a Justice League - Green Lantern'

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Phillip Kennedy Johnson illuminates ‘Worlds Without a Justice League – Green Lantern’

The extra heroic tale of John Stewart arrives on August 9.

Earlier today, we spoke with writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson about all things Warworld Saga, including the forthcoming Apocalypse one-shot. But, as it turns out, he’s also involved in another mega DC event — that’d be Dark Crisis — by writing (alongside artist Fernando Blanco) another big-time tie-in. (There’s also a Hawkgirl backup story from writer Nadia Shammas and artist Jack Herbert.)

Much like its predecessor, Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Green Lantern #1 takes place after the supposed “death” of the Justice League, and follows John Stewart defending Earth as the Emerald Knight alongside a cast of heroes — including a “Lantern-fied” Jason Todd/Red Hood. It’s yet another decidedly poignant tale, once more exploring the importance of family while delving into the core of the multifaceted Stewart.

The issue hits stands August 9. In the meantime, though, Kennedy Johnson was kind enough to answer a few questions via email, including his take on Stewart and how this all ties into Dark Crisis.

AIPT: I love your take on John Stewart, as the builder and the uniter. What about the character speaks to you, especially as you’re doing this kind of what-if/Elseworlds-esque tales?

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: For me, John represents the most obvious choice to be a Green Lantern. Every Green Lantern is great for their own reasons, but they’re often a sort of “dark horse” pick… like Hal, a fearless-but-reckless pilot who became one of the all-time greats, or Kyle, a struggling artist seemingly chosen as a last resort who nevertheless went on to great things. John is one of the few GLs who seems almost born to it: a brilliant architect, a genius tactician, a devastating combatant, and a born leader of soldiers. Of course the ring would choose him, and we explore that role for him in our story.

AIPT: Why is this story the thing that John is stuck in/dreams up/etc.? What about this is so painful and also so revealing to who he is as a person?

PKJ: John is in a world where there was never a Justice League, and when the ring chose him, he essentially became Earth’s Superman. The world we see him in reflects the immense responsibility he feels. Despite his best efforts to pass on the ring and move on with his life, the world still needs him, and he keeps finding himself fighting battles he tried to leave to others.

We also see important threads of John’s backstory that have never been fully explored in other John Stewart stories, threads that I hope other writers pick up in the future… threads I hope to pick up again myself someday. They tell us a lot about how John became who he is, and what he wants out of life.

Green Lantern

Main cover from Fernando Blanco. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How does this story fit in with the ideas and the themes of Dark Crisis as a whole (or, at least your reading of it)?

PKJ: For me as the writer, it was important to remember that the new worlds we see in Dark Crisis are not “For The Man Who Has Everything.” This world is not an illusion or fantasy that John is merely imagining… it’s a world that has been created, and that now exists. Dark Crisis takes the familiar Crisis concept of destroying and creating new universes and carries it forward. The “Worlds Without a Justice League” one-shots give the reader a chance to more fully explore the worlds being created, and the characters who live there.

AIPT: I got some real vibes of Kingdom Come here. Is there anything else, in terms of the look or feel or story in general, that influenced the issue?

PKJ: That’s pretty insightful that you mention Kingdom Come. I wouldn’t have listed that story as a specific influence for this one, but it’s a huge influence on how I view and write DC characters generally. Maybe more than any other work, Kingdom Come really captures the gravitas, the god-like nature of many of DC’s most iconic characters that sets DC apart from other shared universes. That’s certainly applicable to this Green Lantern story, but thinking back on my other DC work… yeah, I guess it is something I try to express at DC without really thinking about it. Thanks, Mark Waid/Alex Ross!

Green Lantern

Variant cover from Tyler Kirkham. Courtesy of DC Comics.

As far as other influences on this story, the next biggest wasn’t a story, it was a conversation. The Green Lantern I read growing up were mostly Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner, and although I’ve seen my share of John Stewart since then, too often he’s boiled down to the one-dimensional “ex-Marine,” and in those stories he always felt incomplete to me. I didn’t feel like I knew him the way I knew Hal and Kyle. So I reached out to someone who knows and loves John Stewart as much as anyone, and that’s Geoff Thorne. I asked him who he thinks John IS at his center, and the conversation that followed was so insightful, I can honestly say it shaped the direction in which I took this story. So a big, heartfelt thanks to Geoff Thorne, also.

AIPT: Does this story connect at all with your Warworld stuff in terms of evoking the same tropes or maybe exploring some parallels between Superman and GL?

PKJ: If there’s one commonality between the two stories, it’s this: in both stories, we see the hero facing a threat that only they can face, doing something only they can do.

I know this isn’t what you asked, but I promise it gets there: some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten from an editor was a few years ago, when an Aquaman short story I pitched for a Halloween anthology got turned down. The story would have been really cool and creepy and fun and all, but the note that came back was “Why is this necessarily an Aquaman story? It feels like we could replace him with a number of other characters and it wouldn’t change that much.” That note was completely accurate, and I will never forget it. The Warworld Saga could only be about Superman, and Dark Crisis: Green Lantern could only be about John Stewart. That note was still ringing in my ears when I wrote them both.

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