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Geoff Johns: Writer’s Workshop (Infinite Crisis #4)

Rewriting, Part I: ‘Infinite Crisis’ #4
By Geoff Johns
Posted August 8, 2006 10:40 AM

I used to think that my favorite writers, like John Ostrander, Alan Moore and Marv Wolfman, would just write a script straight through. I thought the genius of their work was poured onto the page and they never touched it again. And who knows? Maybe that’s the way it actually works. But for every writer I’ve ever worked with or talked to, there’s another step–one I mentioned a few weeks ago when discussing collaboration with a good editor. It’s called “rewriting.” And it can turn a good script into a great script.

You should know this. The average screenwriter writes something like eight screenplays before they sell one. That isn’t true for everyone, of course, but what it means is that writing is like anything else–the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it as long as you’re open to recognizing and working on your weaknesses and embracing your strengths. And above all, listen to your gut. Whenever something in me says something isn’t working, I should listen. There are a few times I haven’t done this and it never turned out as well as I’d hoped. But Infinite Crisis #4 was one of my favorite things to be a part of. Out of all the issues, I thought one turned out particularly well–and it included a scene I was stuck on for two weeks.

It’s the scene I think everyone responded to, because it was so controversial and telling. The message was, “Being a hero isn’t as easy as it looks.” It was all summed up in Superboy-Prime confronting our Superboy and then, as the Teen Titans come to his aid, witnessing Prime lose his cool and make a horrible mistake.

The first draft of this scene, which can be viewed by clicking here, went through many debates and changes. It originally included Superboy-Prime showing up and, as he does, tearing through the heroes. But in the first version, not only did he kill a different character (and there were many on the list which I’ll get to in a second–because I know that’s what people want to know) but he didn’t react the right way when he murdered someone.

It was so incredibly wrong to me.

But I didn’t have it figured out yet. So, I told Eddie [Berganza, editor on Infinite Crisis] there was something wrong with these two pages. And I told Phil [Jimenez, artist for the series]. And I thought about it.

Was it a matter of who died? That was a huge question. In the first draft, the Teen Titans’ Argent was the one that faced Prime’s outburst. But it was his heat vision that did it. Eddie loved Argent and had plans for her, so she was taken off of the table. There was discussion, and a draft, where Terra was the one who was killed. But I felt like her story hadn’t been yet told–it would leave too many unanswered questions. Red Star was also proposed, due to power levels but we had plans for him. And then I realized, as strange as it sounds, we needed to use someone obscure. I hated to say it, but this moment was not about who died, but about Superboy-Prime killing.

Superboy-Prime had to be horrified at what he had done, just like the reader. It needed to be an action much more shocking than heat vision. He had to be swinging in a fury, unaware of his power.

And that’s when it finally clicked for me. Superboy-Prime had to cry. He had to be scared. And his fear would fuel him. He would continue to lash out, blaming the others for his actions. Yesterday’s hero blaming the heroes of today for his corruption.

Going through the characters further, Pantha was chosen because she hadn’t been active in a long time and she would affect Red Star, who was very close with her, when we told his story. And it worked, for the most part. People said, “Did you see what Superboy-Prime did?” instead of “Pantha died!”

The rest of Superboy-Prime’s rampage justified the Flashes racing in to dispose of this super-powered “maniac.” You can see the fear and pain and guilt on Superboy-Prime’s face as he’s pulled away, yelling that one day he would be Superman. You can read the final draft of this scene by clicking here.

You’ll notice dialogue changes in the scene, as well as other deaths. Risk was going to die but, again, I wanted someone to survive this battle, however maimed, and live to tell about it–so he lost an arm instead of his life.

So, two weeks were spent on two pages. Not very productive, but sometimes it takes time. You need to let ideas sink in. Listen to your gut more than anything else. If you’re not feeling it, the characters won’t feel it and neither will the audience.


End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author