Mike Johnson shines Green Lantern’s light on the Final Frontier

 To spearhead one franchise is an impressive feat, and privilege, for any writer, but to captain two franchises at once takes a singular mastery. The expectations are ratcheted even higher when these two franchises are thrust together across two different companies for a crossover of epic proportions.

The two franchises being fused together are Star Trek (IDW) and Green Lantern (DC). Each possesses an entrenched fan base that has grown ever larger and more loyal over the past 50 years. While at first glance the merger  may seem unnatural, a closer inspection behind the concepts of each suggest the two seem born to cross over. Both are epic adventure tales that utilize the vastness of space and the farthest reaches of our imaginations. At their best, each franchise explores the infiniteness of the human spirit and will. These franchises accomplish this so naturally, that their first crossover Star Trek/Green Lantern: Spectrum War proved such a massive hit that IDW and DC has greenlit a sequel, Star Trek/Green Lantern: Stranger Worlds. Luckily, the sequel is again being helmed by the deft writing of Mike Johnson.

The first series centered on the aftermath of a devastating Black Lantern attack in an alternate DC universe. At the last moment, the Guardian Ganthet transports the remaining Green Lanterns into the Star Trek universe. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of that universe, the lanterns from all the other emotional spectrums made the journey into there as well. Not long after, the lanterns of the different spectrums choose sides with the Green Lanterns working alongside the crew of the Enterprise. Sinestro grabs control of the Klingon Empire, Larfleeze the Romulans, and so on. Eventually, several members of the Enterprise crew have become ring wielders as well as specific Klingons, Romulans, and other species. Meanwhile, Nekron, the avatar of Death, has also crossed over, driving the ultimate conflict.

I first asked Johnson about his writing process.

“It varies for each story, but usually starts very high level: ‘this will be an Uhura story’, or ‘this story arc will be Klingons,’” he replied. “From there, it’s moments that pop into my head as I go for long walks and think very hard. Moments could be something as small as a line of dialogue that can grow into a whole scene, or a striking visual that leads to a particular plot thread (or even a comic book cover.)”

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British novelist Diana Wynne Jones once said, “Most teachers will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not write stories.” Johnson’s description of his own process suggests he would be quick to agree.

“I don’t outline very much beyond writing down ‘Page 1, Page 2…Page 20’ in a list and giving each page a one-line blurb about what happens,” he said. “It could be as specific as ‘Kirk tries to reach the shuttlecraft before his exosuit loses oxygen’, or as broad as ‘Talky-talk on Bridge’ or ‘Fighty-fight’. From there I like to let the story tell itself, by which I mean I don’t stick religiously to the page outline. I find that a lot of the best discoveries come in the process of scripting, a pure ‘What happens next?’ feeling, so that I feel as surprised and entertained as I hope the readers will be.”

I felt that Johnson had an interesting dilemma in writing this next Star Trek/Green Lantern series, because it did involve editors from both IDW and DC. There are always horror stories about the interference caused by some publishers trying to incorporate their own vision into a writer’s story, and now Johnson had to deal with two sets of editors at once. According to Johnson, though, I was wrong in this assertion.

“It’s easy in this case because IDW and DC have a good relationship, and there aren’t a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” he told me. “My Star Trek editor Sarah Gaydos and Jim Chadwick at DC have a great rapport and oversee the project, and I’ve done plenty of work for both companies so the trust factor is there. I have a lot of freedom to come up with the story. The only times I’m told ‘nope’ is if I’m pushing things a little far, like killing a character or having something happen that might lean too far from the character’s established personality and lore.”

The way Johnson combined the two comic universes was a master-stroke. The introduction of the two sets of characters to each other would definitely have an enormous impact on the characters from both universes. Still, I wondered for which set of characters did Johnson think the adjustment would be hardest.

“I think probably for the Trek crew because they haven’t seen anything like the Lantern Corps before,” he said. “They’ve certainly seen bizarre things, including phenomena akin to super-powers within the Trek universe, but I think the Lanterns and their mythology are at a new level. Also, the Trek crew travels in the Milky Way galaxy, whereas the Lanterns travel the whole universe. The Lanterns would not be surprised to encounter a starship full of explorers. That said, the Trek crew are quick learners. The unknown is their job.”

Into the very scientific universe of Star Trek comes the concepts of the emotional spectrum, an avatar of Death, and immortal Guardians of the Universe. I wondered how the characters of Star Trek process this new reality and which member of the Enterprise crew adapts to it best.

“I think the Trek crew is suitably wowed by the Lanterns and their mythology, but this is also why they signed up for Starfleet — strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations,” Johnson said, citing the USS Enterprise’s mission statement. “So whatever awe they might feel at what the Lanterns can do, they quickly adapt to it and face the problems at hand. I think Spock probably adapts to it best simply because he is a dispassionate Vulcan. To him, the Lanterns are just a new phenomenon to be studied.”

One of the more fascinating scenarios to come out of the first series is the creation of replicated Lantern rings by Starfleet. While these rings to do not possess all the qualities of the true Lantern rings, they are a powerful new weapon in the Star Trek universe. One character who chooses not to use the rings, however, is James T. Kirk.

The reason, per Johnson: “Even though he’s a starship captain, I feel like there’s always been an old-school aspect to how Kirk approaches things. He’s hands-on, whether it’s a motorbike or beaming down with the away teams himself. He’s not really a big gadget guy. So he sees the silver Starfleet rings, approves their use, but is perfectly happy to stick to his trusty phaser.”

Any mutual fan of Hal Jordan and Captain Kirk knows that both characters are alpha males with strong personalities. Johnson has the task of deciding how these two take-charge men can work with one another on the Enterprise. I wondered which character was really in charge.

“Depends on the situation,” Johnson replied. “They are obviously both headstrong guys, but I wanted to avoid the tired trope of heroes who meet for the first time and do battle before they team up. Kirk and Hal recognize that they are both essentially military types, and share that commitment to duty and a higher purpose. They won’t always agree, but I think they give each other a little leeway in their own fields of expertise. Hal’s not going to tell Kirk who to put on away teams, and Kirk’s not going to tell Hal what finger to wear his power ring on.”

One fantastic twist in this series occurs at the end of the first issue. Sinestro comments “if the Manhunters exist [in this universe], so must the Guardians. So, must the planet Oa”.  That line struck me as interesting and I asked Johnson if Sinestro meant the Guardians from the DCU crossed over or if the Star Trek Universe also had their own Guardians.

“As we will see, it’s the latter,” he said. “Oa exists in this universe, but at a different time in its history, with ensuing complications.”

Only time will tell what the impact of Sinestro’s pronouncement will have. So, what can readers look forward to in future issues?

“Khan and his Unfrozen Popsicle Augments have just arrived on the scene, so things are about to get messy. The action will shift to the center of the universe, and the future of the Green Lantern Corps within the Trek universe is not assured,” Johnson said. “We’ve kicked around ideas for a third series, and I think if the second one does well enough it could happen. I know what the last panel of this series is, and if it the next series happens the title might not be just Star Trek/Green Lantern.

I, for one, cannot wait!

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