In the late 1990s and early 2000s, DC Comics loved a Fifth Week Event. You might have noticed, as a person that lives in the world, that every few months we get a month that has four weeks rather than five and during this era of DC Comics, it would run a complete crossover event over the course of those five weeks. Most of the time, these events would be self-contained like “The Kingdom” or “Green Lantern: Circle of Fire” but in September 1999, Day of Judgment by Geoff Johns, Matt Smith, Christopher Jones, Steve Mitchell, James Sinclair and Comicraft spread out across the DC Universe, roping in issues of regular ongoing titles like Martian Manhunter, Hourman, Supergirl and JLA.
I really did debate whether or not to cover this miniseries for “Uncut Gems” because a five-week event featuring some of the biggest characters in the DC Universe doesn’t seem like a lost treasure than I’m unearthing. However, I really wanted to talk about Geoff Johns at some point in this series and this is a great insight into the kind of creator he’s going to evolve into over the course of the next two decades. There are more obscure comics I could have covered like Impulse #61, Star-Spangled Comics #1 or the Morlocks miniseries but Day of Judgment is just a perfect intro to everything Geoff Johns is going to be that I just had to start here.
Day of Judgment spins out of a couple of different stories from recent years. The first being the end of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s The Spectre ongoing series which ended with Jim Corrigan finally freeing his soul from the Spirit of Vengeance and the other being the imprisonment of the rebel angel Asmodel who was banished to Hell in Mark Millar and Ariel Olivetti’s JLA: Paradise Lost. The Spectre and Asmodel are bonded together by Etrigan at the start of Day of Judgment which results in Hell freezing over, Earth invaded by demons, The Spectre in need of a new host.
We’re not going to talk about the entire crossover event here, just the five issues written by Johns but I think the fact that other titles feed into it allow us to assess how well Johns handles his first crossover event and how well the events of those titles reflect back into the main title. There are moments when Day of Judgment will cut to a group of characters doing something — like Captain Marvel, Starfire and STRIPE searching for the Spear of Destiny in space — which come out of absolutely nowhere and I can only imagine that I missed something by not reading Stars and STRIPE #4 or whichever comic Batman sent them on this mission.
It’s interesting to see how well Johns juggles a crossover event as in a couple of years time from the release of this series, he’s going to be DC’s go-to guy for these kinds of stories. Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Flashpoint, Trinity War, Forever Evil; the only person in superhero comics with equal experience when it comes to managing a crossover event would be Brian Michael Bendis, who was in many ways Johns’ counterpart at Marvel for most of the 21st century. Day of Judgment isn’t as finely tuned a crossover as some of Johns’ later works but I think the five-week, one-month aspect of it proved to be a really good trial-by-fire that allowed him to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
The big throughline to Johns’ later career in Day of Judgment is that it’s here where he first writes Hal Jordan, who ends the series as the new host for The Spectre, which is a role he’ll fill for the next four years until Johns brings him back to life in Green Lantern: Rebirth. As one of the driving creative forces at DC in the 21st century, Geoff Johns has had his hands on pretty much every character — he’s written Superman in Superman and Action Comics, Barry Allen and Wally West in separate volumes of The Flash, Batman in Batman: Earth One and Batman: Three Jokers — but it’s his eight year run and reinvention of Green Lantern that will likely go down as most memorable and impactful run at DC.
The first two years or so of Johns’ Green Lantern focus a lot on trying to rehabilitate the hero both within his fictional universe and in the eyes of readers, but those first steps towards redemption come in Day of Judgment when Hal selflessly takes on the burden of The Spectre to make sure that Asmodel or the devil Neron don’t have access to its power. After what Hal did to the Green Lantern Corps and the heroes of the DC Universe, it was a long road back to good guys’ side for Hal and while I don’t think Johns was aware the role he’d play in Hal’s redemption several years later, giving the character a couple of years as The Spectre was a really clever way to bridge the gap so that it didn’t just come from nowhere.
Johns kind of revisited Day of Judgment several years later, in a roundabout way, as the architect of Infinite Crisis, Johns helped coordinate the key moments and stories that would need to happen to get the DC Universe ready for the event and one of those was Day of Vengeance, another miniseries about a hostless Spectre rampaging through the magical world. Day of Vengeance features much of the same core cast as Day of Judgment, including Enchantress, Ragman and Blue Devil, who gets resurrected in Day of Judgment but instead of reuniting as “The Sentinels of Magic” the magical heroes of the DC Universe go by a new name, “Shadowpact” which is also the name of a title which launches in the wake of Infinite Crisis.
The team of magic heroes concept also gets revisited over a decade later with The New 52 and Justice League Dark — which I discussed the first issue of in my New 52 retrospective — and that series features the likes of Zatanna, Madame Xanadu and Deadman, who are all key to Day of Judgment and there have been rumblings of some kind of Justice League Dark film for the past five years or so. DC has an incredibly strong roster of magic based heroes and having a team composed of them has been an important part of DC’s publishing slate for almost fifteen years now and it all stems back to Johns bringing them all together in this miniseries way back in 1999.
Day of Judgment isn’t the most consequential or memorable event but it serves as a great testing ground for the kind of writer Johns is going to be and you can trace a lot of his particular tics and foibles back to this miniseries. It suffers when it stretches itself too thin but Johns has a great command of the scope of the DC Comics and it uses obscure characters like Faust and Blue Devil as well as it uses Wonder Woman and Superman. Overall, it’s a fun look at the DC Universe of 1999 and an interesting insight into the future career of one of the biggest names in superhero comics, so it definitely has its place in the larger story of DC Comics.