Although he couldn't tell them at the time, comic-book writer Van Jensen had a really good reason for not hanging with some friends after hours while at North Carolina's HeroesCon in June.
He had a date with the Highfather.
"What I wanted to say but couldn't was like, 'Um, I'm creating new New Gods. This is not something that happens every day. I'm not going to have a beer with you tonight,' " Jensen recalls with a laugh.
He finds it a crazy situation but also a huge honor to continue and also add to Jack Kirby's trippy Fourth World in the pages of DC Comics' Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead. Out Wednesday, the one-shot kicks off a cosmic crossover that engulfs Jensen's Green Lantern Corps, Robert Venditti's Green Lantern, Charles Soule's Red Lanterns, Justin Jordan's New Guardians and Cullen Bunn's Sinestro series in a major war.
And during its creation, the various writers made sure the tale was worthy of the late Kirby's legacy of the New Gods began in 1971. "We're always looking to up the ante," Jensen says, "and from this one-shot to the end of the crossover, it's huge moment followed by huge moment. It keeps topping itself."
The different outer-space groups connected with the seven colors of the spectrum have been heading toward a confrontation with the New Gods since the "Lights Out" story line, when the Green Lanterns discovered that the power of their rings originated somewhere beyond the Source Wall, the boundary that encloses the universe.
The villainous Relic looked to wipe all the sects out, from the love-fueled, purple-tinged Star Sapphires to the rage-filled Red Lanterns, but he was foiled by Kyle Rayner. As the White Lantern, who holds the might of the combined palette of powers, he carried Relic into the Source Wall and then passed back out of it, which no one is supposed to be able to do.
This news perked the ancient ears of Highfather, leader of the ancient race of New Gods on New Genesis. He believes the way to finally defeat the evil Darkseid and his forces from Apokolips — and keep the Multiverse safe — is to capture the Life Equation, a weapon that is said to be stored beyond the Source Wall.
So when Highfather learns of the White Lantern's exploits, he sends out his generals to take one of each power ring since the Lanterns are tapping into what he views as his power.
"It's almost the story of Prometheus: These mortals are unknowingly stealing from the gods and so the gods are very angry," says Jensen.
Artist Ethan Van Sciver draws an expansive four-page spread of the Source Wall in the Godhead one-shot — "Anything that touches it is infused into it permanently almost like this great cosmic flypaper," Jensen says — and Jordan penned a sequence in the middle of the book with the New Gods on a ring hunt.
"It's something we've seen before but Justin did it in a wholly new way," Jensen says, "and the magnitude of the power of the New Gods is fully on display. To see that scope held up against the Lanterns, who supposedly wield the most powerful weapon in the universe, they're basically like ants next to the New Gods."
The five lead characters — Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner and Sinestro — all have major roles to play in the crossover and face "extreme challenges that really get to the core of who their characters are," says Jensen. Rayner especially has huge things happening on the horizon and isn't just a MacGuffin everybody is chasing.
He has been really significantly changed by that the Source Wall incident, Jensen adds, "and there's a power within him that is something beyond what he has control over."
The New Gods are, of course, a central aspect of the story line, and because the writers wanted a cast that wasn't just faceless entities marching to Highfather's orders, they leaned into the individual personalities of existing characters and came up with new ones.
One of Jensen's favorite old-school citizens of New Genesis is Orion. Many of the New Gods are proper, wise and like-minded from having coexisted for eons. But then there's the cocky Orion, who was reinvigorated in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's recent Wonder Woman run.
"He's a little bit of a bro and kind of a brat," Jensen says. "You can just see him being the loudmouth guy at the bar in a college town."
Bekka, an existing character who only had a few appearances in Kirby's original run, is getting rebooted and is going up against Sinestro, and Jensen himself created Uggha, a bearded obnoxious guy with a big hammer who rides a giant space bulldog and has a big hammer — a shout-out to Jensen's friends who went to the University of Georgia.
How does one go about creating a new New God? "With a lot of trepidation is probably the easiest answer," Jensen says, chuckling.
He figures that not using old Kirby comics as an influence would be sacrifice, and what Jensen took most from those was the Fourth World characters' over-the-top personalities, overflowing energy and amazing costumes as well as them as primal archetypes.
"You can see them in one panel and you already get it," Jensen says. "You know exactly who that is and how they fit into this myth he's building.
"The way I looked at it was, OK, here are the archetypal roles that are already filled, so what are some of the archetypes that aren't represented here and how can we fill some of those spots?"
Jensen is also exploring themes of faith in Godhead as a way to bring focus and change to characters amid an epic gigantic story. Many of the space saga's players come from different religious traditions, including Saint Walker and Simon Baz, a Muslim Green Lantern.
"One of the things that has been really interesting to me as a person of faith is, what does it mean to you as a believer when all of a sudden somebody shows up and tells you that they're a god and they're wreaking hell upon you?" Jensen says.
"For a story where very little of it takes place on Earth, to have those kinds of things that ground it is really important."