There are always bad guys in comic books — rogues and evil geniuses out for world domination. In DC Comics' slate of "New 52" titles there's about to be nothing but villains as the universe finds itself under assault and protected by an unlikely hero: Lex Luthor.
Writer Geoff Johns said the opening pages of "Forever Evil" this week promise to upend readers of DC Entertainment's comics as the crossover ripples throughout the publisher's titles and turns "inside out," the nature of DC Comics' long-standing characters, both good and bad.
"The Justice League is gone and the Crime Syndicate is here. You have all the villains in new roles, and the world has been really altered. The strongest team in the world isn't what you'd expect — it's a team of villains," he said of the baddies from an alternate Earth.
It's also a chance for Luthor, who throughout DC's long history has been cold, calculating and devious — everything diabolical to Superman's inherent good. In the upcoming series, and the crossovers, he takes on the role of hero.
"Our tagline for the story is 'Evil is relative.' One of the most important characters is Lex Luthor, who decides someone has to stand up to these villains and stop them," Johns said. "And he's the one. He knew this day would come, he knew the people with powers flying around would need to be stopped and he's the one that has to do it."
But like all tales of sacrifice throughout history, can Luthor be that hero? Can he, asked Johns, be what "the world needs him to be, and save everyone?"
Johns, who is also the publisher's chief creative officer, says the first issue of the seven-issue miniseries, out Wednesday, takes the idea of good and bad and mixes it up in a way that will leave readers unsure what's right or wrong.
The idea for the series has its roots from DC's relaunch of all its characters two years ago, revitalizing heroes well-known and some obscure. While those characters — from Zatanna to Nightwing — have taken center stage, the villains have remained in the background.
"The launch was so much about the heroes and their stories — we had to turn it on its head and focus on the villains and have them in the spotlight. That's really where the idea that became 'Forever Evil' started," he said.
And with villains in the forefront, there's no need to worry about any lines being crossed, giving Johns and DC's other writers great flexibility as they craft the stories in the coming months.
"The great thing about villains is that they cross the line all the time. They don't know where the line even is. They're unpredictable," he said. "You're not sure which way they'll turn, which makes writing them always compelling and motivating."
Rogues, Johns said, are more like regular people than the heroes they are in conflict with.
"They're more conflicted and like us, they're real people. They have their own internal set of ethics and morals that change on a sliding scale, he said. "You don't, for example, know what Catwoman or Captain Cold or Sinestro are going to do in a given situation. It's a writer's dream to write villains for a while."
Moore reported from Philadelphia. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/mattmooreap
DC Entertainment is owned by Time Warner Inc.