Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Image Comics, 2021
Stop us if you have heard this tune before.
For those of us who lamented the demise of the ground-breaking but eventually anchorless Vertigo Comics imprint and the ill-fitting replacement by the DC Black Label imprint, there is something bitterly satisfying about DC Comics’ Chief Creative Office Geoff Johns turning to a competitor, Image Comics, for his new title Geiger. (Our note on Vertigo’s demise is here: https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2019/11/07/a-eulogy-for-vertigo-comics/ .)
Image Comics have been the cauldron for the most innovative titles in the American comics industry for at least the past fifteen years, at least partly because of a willingness to back creator-owned concepts, and partly through a degree of risk-taking. The reason for Mr Johns’ embrace of Image Comics for Geiger might be because Image can do what DC Black Label cannot: be a platform for a new title in which Mr Johns wants equity.
A comic book review site, Comic-Watch.com https://comic-watch.com/comic-book-reviews/geiger-1-fall-from-grace , contemplates an alternative motivation:
Geoff Johns is always at his best as a writer when he’s playing with others’ toys: the JSA, Green Lantern, the Flash. He made his career not only by being a first-rate storyteller, but by an innate ability to hone in on what makes a particular character work, and expound upon it to great effect. Now, though, as accusations of bullying and racially insensitive behavior on the set of Justice Leaguethreaten to upend his entire career, Johns appears to be hedging his bets and branching out from DC a bit just in case, and establishing his own brand with Geiger. And though this isn’t quite the first time he’s chosen to fly without a parachute, it’s certainly the most high-profile.
How true these allegations are against Mr Johns remains to be seen.
Mr Johns reunites with his creative collaborators on The Three Jokers. We have previously, favourably reviewed https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2021/01/29/the-three-jokers-1-3-review/ this sequel to Alan Moore’s notorious Batman comic, The Killing Joke.
As Comics-Watch.com notes, Mr Johns likes to play in the sandboxes of others. The most notable example of this was the sequel to Watchmen, entitled Doomsday Clock, which we have also reviewed: https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/01/06/doomsday-clock-12-review/
In Doomsday Clock Mr Johns mashed together DC Comics’ mainstream continuity of the world-famous superheroes Superman, Batman and so on, with Alan Moore’s bleak universe of murdering and raping costumed adventurers of Watchmen. Doomsday Clock contains a sequence where a nuclear missile strike finally occurs in Mr Moore’s long-precarious Cold War world.
The story of Geiger could very, very easily be a sequel to that. DC Comics has been keen to explore this continuity, as demonstrated by it’s Rorschach title – see https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/11/03/rorschach-1-review/. We wonder if the story of Geiger was repurposed by Mr Johns from a plot thought out for the universe of Watchmen.
Readers witness in the beginning of the first issue a series of global political tensions leading to an interrupted television broadcast, and then the plume of a missile sailing into the sky in a graceful arc from a concealed rural Strategic Air Command bunker.
The main character, with the unlikely name of Tariq Geiger, desperately hustles his family into a backyard survivalist bunker, but not before he is shot in the leg by his gun-toting neighbours as he endeavours to save the family dog. Both Geiger and the neighbours are then caught in the firestorm of a nearby nuclear explosion.
Mr Johns seems very keen to make the lead character both good and Muslim, compared to his overweight, gun-toting white neighbours. Mr Johns communicates to the reader that these people are bad guys, not just by way of the cowardly shooting and intent to commandeer the bunker, but by singling out Geiger’s ethnicity:
It is terribly hamfisted and cringeworthy. It assumes, so often seen in cliched superhero comic books, that those who do violent and desperate acts have a malign (and in this case prejudiced) intent. What if instead Geiger’s neighbours had simply been scared and not racists? What if having been shot Geiger offered them refuge, regardless, but Geiger’s injury meant they could not make it to the bunker in time? There were far better approaches to this scene which would not have involved slapping paint onto a wall with a bucket.
Geiger somehow reappears in the post-apocalypse as the superhuman guardian to his family’s bunker. It is trite to say that people die or become extremely sick as a result of nuclear strikes. From the 1960s through to the 1980s, superhero comic books repeatedly how ordinary humans are instead benevolently transformed into the superhuman, as seen in Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk and DC Comics’ Firestorm. It is a profoundly dated concept. Here, somehow, like a Reagan-era superhero, Geiger has not just survived but also developed super-strength and the ability to transform himself into a glowing green skeleton.
There can be no denying the art in this title. Geiger cuts a striking figure, thanks to the pencils of artist Gary Frank. (Some reviewers have drawn a visual comparison with DC Comics’ villain Dr Phosphorus, an irregular foe of the masked vigilante Batman. To our eye, Geiger looks more like the skeletal, blue-glowing Atom from JSA: The Unholy Three published in 2000 and 2003 by DC Comics – see https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/01/14/jsa-the-liberty-files-revisited-20-years-later/)
Regardless, Geiger plainly acts like a superhero, poses like a superhero, has the powers of a superhero, and has the tragic backstory of a superhero. Geiger even has a superhero pet – an improbable two-headed black wolf. If anyone was expecting the post-civilisation grittiness of Scouts’ Honor https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2021/04/29/scouts-honor-1-4-review/ they should instead prepare themselves for a post-Armageddon Superman and Krypto the Superdog. Mr Johns cannot help but play the same pop tune, regardless of his publisher.
For the purposes of Comic Book Round-Up’s score-keeping, we give this title 2/10.