Geiger Volume One (2021)
Reprints Geiger #1-6
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson
In the Marvel/DC-dominated superhero space, it can be a bit daunting for someone to do capes & tights seriously outside of that duopoly. Most of the time, these end up being more like Black Hammer, a critique or commentary on superhero comics seen through a contemporary lens. Geoff Johns is a comics creator who has undoubtedly seen better days. His peak was in the early to mid-2000s working for DC, where he managed to revitalize the Justice Society and did some absolutely legendary work on The Flash and Green Lantern. His role at DC grew, which led to a leadership role in their film & television development. Johns would help co-write the screenplays for Wonder Woman and Aquaman and serve as a producer on almost every single DC film.
In 2018, Johns stepped down at DC and entered into a more independent writer/producer relationship. He’s also been deeply embroiled with the controversy surrounding Joss Whedon’s direction of Justice League and the racist treatment of actor Ray Fisher that has undoubtedly left Johns looking less like the heroes he writes about and more of a corporate stooge. His writing for DC has been spotty, with frequent delays on books like Doomsday Clock and Shazam. Johns was set to revive the JSA with artist Bryan Hitch and DC even put a house ad in a recent Stargirl Special teasing the return. Recently, Hitch stated the series had been canceled before it even started. And now Johns has begun building his own superhero universe with Geiger.
Human civilization has reached its crescendo, and a nuclear war has come. A man named Geiger rushes his family into a bunker they prepared just for this moment, but his neighbors show up armed to the teeth to force their way in. Geiger closes his family inside to protect them and receives the full blast of the nuclear bomb that falls. Decades later, stories of a glowing green man protecting a small area in the Nevada desert are circulating amongst the survivors. Las Vegas has become a tense series of interconnected kingdoms, the casinos serving as castles and the people inside living under the theme of each building. The Camelot is ruled by The King, desperate to prove he is a great ruler and warrior. His goal is to get control of the Nuclear Football, the device used by US presidents to launch nuclear arms. Air Force one was shot down around the end of the war, and the device was lost in the desert. A waitress at The Camelot learns The King’s men have found it and steals it away but is killed. Her two children escape into the desert with the device and are pursued. Geiger makes himself known and vows to protect them from the King and his soldiers.
Johns is playing to a lot of his strengths with Geiger. With JSA, it was clear he has a knack for world-building and using relationships between characters through legacies to make comic book worlds feel alive. The broad strokes are kept in the background, and the comic never becomes overwhelmed with exposition. I’ve felt Johns and Brian Michael Bendis were opposites in that regard. Whereas Bendis writes overly talkative characters, Johns knows how to communicate who a character is through sparse dialogue. I also think Johns is a better collaborator with his artists than Bendis has been. Since their work on Superman: Secret Origin, Gary Frank has been a recurring partner with Johns and fits well in this book. His faces are incredibly expressive, and the characters feel natural in their movement, never stiff or posed. Even on Doomsday Clock, a book with a wide variety of takes from readers, you have to admit Frank is a damn great penciler.
The problem with Geiger comes from the fact that now unmoored from the corporate strictures of DC Comics, Johns and Frank have created a pretty generic superhero book. This feels like something that could easily be slotted into some nebulous point in DC’s future timeline without much retconning. That’s disappointing because one would hope that working for a company like Image Comics which publishes a wild variety of creator-driven comics, Johns & Frank would want to stretch their creative muscles. But instead, too much of the plot is built on contrivances, people behaving stupidly or conveniently forgetting things. By the end of these six issues, I didn’t really care about the characters any more than when I started because everything is plot-heavy. It’s also evident that Johns is setting up future stories and spin-offs, which means characters are introduced or mentioned and serve no purpose in this story. Instead, it’s a tease for an upcoming mini-series.
Geoff Johns’ most significant weakness is that he doesn’t do well with his own creations. He’s terrific when playing with DC’s pre-existing toys, building on decades of established continuity. It’s a talent that has served him well in his early years at the publisher. However, because he’s inventing many of these characters from scratch or basing them on pre-existing archetypes, they never seem sympathetic. This is glaringly obvious with Geiger, who readers should click with right away, but don’t because he’s the most generic superhero you’ve ever read with little to no actual development. Maybe things will improve the further along we get, but compared with something like Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer, which was fantastic from the start, it does not bode well for Geiger.