As the Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment, Geoff Johns wears a lot of hats. He writes a fair number of comics for DC, including Superman and Justice League. He runs point on DC’s presence in Hollywood, which has yielded hits like Arrow, Gotham and The Flash. (He also spent part of this past summer in his hometown of Detroit on the set of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, watching Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill duke it out.) He also oversees DC’s video game initiatives, consulting on games like the Batman: Arkham series and Telltale’s recent Fables game, The Wolf Among Us. See? A lot of hats.
Johns took a break from his TV victory lap — Gotham continues to perform for Fox and The Flash was the highest-rated series premiere on the CW in years — to field a few Qs with some As.
What is it about the character of Batman that allows him to evolve across all mediums whether its comics, different actors playing him in movies, different TV shows and multiple games over the course of 75 years?
That character is incredibly elastic. He can appeal to a six-year-old kid through the Fisher Price Super Friends toy line and LEGO Batman, which reaches all types of kids — I have LEGOs all over my office. And then there’s Gotham on Fox, which is going to explore that Batman world in a different way for a different audience. But the character himself — the concept of a young boy who watches his parents gunned down by a criminal and then vows to become a vigilante and trains himself and uses his money and time to try and hone himself into a crime fighting machine — that’s a lot of fun to look at and play with. It’s just timeless. His parents can get shot in an alley in the ‘30s or today and it still works. The character is still very relatable and Batman’s transcended so many generations, he’s become our modern day myth. I don’t know if there’s a character out there in fiction that has more stories told about them in different media than Batman.
Batman is also part of the Justice League. What impact do you feel the big screen adaptation of that will have on DC superheroes across the board?
I can’t really comment on that so specifically other than our whole entire goal is to introduce these characters to a large audience. Like a lot of people that work here, I love DC Comics more than anything else. I love these characters dearly, from Batman to Captain Boomerang to all sorts of weird characters that you’ve probably never heard of. When we do all this stuff through movies and TV shows and games, we want to share the love and the passion for these characters. So when a show like Constantine gets on the air, we hope it finds an audience and we hope there’s a whole new fan base for that character that wants to know more, whether it’s through the show or comic books or whatever. If we can have other people fall in love with our characters and what they represent — because I think they represent a lot of great stuff — then that’s great. I always call superheroes a junk food because on the surface they’re really fun and entertaining, but these characters have a lot of great lessons and meanings behind them that are inspiring for a lot of people. And that’s why so many people connect with them.
How do you go about choosing which comic book characters to focus on across different platforms?
We do it carefully with all our partners here at Warner and the creative people we work with, but the key is diversification. With our new shows, they’re all very different. Flash is different than Arrow. It’s different from Gotham. It’s different from Constantine. It’s different from iZombie. It’s different from Supergirl. That’s the key: To make sure that everything has a unique voice and a unique point of view and they can co-exist. And that goes the same whether it be in games or film or anything else, they have to have a reason for being. As long as the characters have their own individual tone and story and arc and purpose, then they can stand together. It’s the same way as in the comic books. Sometimes people say, “Well why aren’t there any new characters?” And while there are a lot of new characters every week in comics, fewer resonate. Sometimes that’s because if we’re going to introduce a new archer with a bow and arrow, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to eclipse Green Arrow because we already have an archer. A lot of the niches of characters have been filled over the decades by these wonderful characters like all of the heroes in the Justice Leagues and the Teen Titans, so it gets harder and harder to carve out a niche. But when those characters do carve out a niche, they stay. And that’s the same thing with television. It’s just that you need some diversity among the shows.
We’ve seen Marvel take characters that not everyone knew like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and now Ant Man and turn them into mainstream names. What opportunities do you see with lesser known DC characters?
Well, Arrow did it. One of the great things that happened with Arrow when we were first testing that pilot — which we really liked because David Nutter directed it and he did a great job — we were showing people for the first time and at the end of it when they were asking questions and making comments, someone said, “I really liked it. I think it could make a great comic book.” Clearly, that person didn’t really read a lot of comics, but the fact that it didn’t matter is why Arrow was still a cool show. That’s what we try and do with everything. These characters bubble up to the surface because they have great stories, not just because they’ve been printed in a comic book. Whether it’s the Marvel movies or Arrow, a lot of the stuff doesn’t have to be characters everybody knows. If they’re great characters and there’s a good story behind them, then they can find and audience if they’re well done. That’s why they’ve lasted so long. That’s why these characters are going to be around for decades.
Comic book movies are hot now, but in the ‘80s and ‘90s there were a lot of misfires. With video games suffering poor adaptations on the big screen, do you see games becoming the next Hollywood success story?
It just depends on the execution. The more that people embrace the stuff and understand it — and you have people who grew up with it working on it who are willing to dive into it — the thing is any of these characters can be done in any medium. I honestly believe that because as a comic book writer I’ve made my career out of taking characters that were ignored and giving them some personality and mythology and a purpose. It’s so much fun. And there are a lot of other writers that have done that on characters I never would have thought to do. That can happen in games and film and television and everything else we’re working on. It just takes the right creative take and the right creative mind to crack a character open. I’m a firm believer that every character can be a great character and every character can make a great show or a great film with the right take and the right creative team behind it.