Geoff Johns Exclusive Interview

     January 14, 2009

Written by Nico

Being a member of the Collider writing staff affords me a lot of great opportunities and today ranks high among them. Today I was lucky enough to interview Geoff Johns.

Were I to wake up tomorrow in charge of Warner Bros. Pictures, I would hand Mr. Johns the DC comic book property of his choosing to bring to the silver screen. Check out his work and I’m sure you’ll agree.

If you’re not familiar with his comic book work (including stellar runs on The Flash, Green Lantern and Justice Society of America) – shame on you. Thankfully, he brings some comic book heroes to the small screen on the January 15th episode of The CW’s show Smallville entitled “Legion.” Johns is no stranger to the Legion as he also currently writes Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds.

Question: Could you tell me what it was like to be in the Smallville writer’s room?

Geoff Johns: It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in writing. That’s just strictly because everybody there is super nice and super talented. You’re always intimidated when going into a new situation. You’re the new guy on the block and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I didn’t know how it worked and how everybody worked together and how they felt about me coming in and doing an episode, but they were awesome. They’re really, really great. They are friends of mine now, which is cool because they’re such good people. It’s cool to meet the people and go, “Oh, Al and Terry. They wrote that episode. I love that episode.” It was neat to put faces to names. It was fun. I spent a week and a half in there breaking the episode with them and had a great time.

Did being the name of a Smallville villain carry any weight with them? [His name was used as a villain’s in season 4 episode “Recruit”]

Geoff: Johns: *laughs* I don’t know. I think so.

What is it like to share writing space with Jeph Loeb and Allen Heinberg?

Geoff: Johns: It’s great. They’re some of my best friends. It’s always cool to work in an environment that’s creative. Writing is this lonely job. When you sit at your computer all day and you’re just typing away – it can get tedious. To have other people there, you can brainstorm ideas or you can go off and do your own thing. It’s just nice to work with people. I like collaborating a lot. I like working with people, because I’m a people person. Writing, as a career, goes against everything I do socially. So it was fun to spend the time in Smallville because of that, but that’s also why I like sharing an office with someone.

About the Smallville episode — how do Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad differ from their comic book incarnations to what we’re going to see on the screen?

Geoff: Johns: Not that much, I think, and that’s really cool. They’re all a little younger, obviously, but they were young in the comics. They’re attitude is slightly different and there is one big thing that Clark teaches them that’s vital to who the Legion is and what the Legion Code is all about. That’s really important and that’s a pretty big thing. Cosmic Boy is the leader. He’s the one that takes things seriously and tries to bring everything together. He really looks up to Kal-El, as an idol, and tries to explain away all his flaws. He makes excuses for it because he wants to believe so badly in this vision he has even though the vision is a little bit off and maybe the truth is actually not worse, it’s better. That’s something he has to experience. Lightning Lad – Callum did a really terrific job playing the kind of “lightning in the bottle” Legionaire. I like to play Lightning Lad a little bit more volatile. I don’t know if you’ve read any of my –

Love the Legion of 3-Worlds.

Geoff: Johns: Yeah, Legion of 3-Worlds. Lightning Lad… He’s like a power, he’s ready to go off. He’s like his other name – Livewire. He likes to have fun and enjoys it more. Maybe he doesn’t take it as seriously as he should and maybe the reason he can kind of slack off a bit is because Rokk is there. Rokk is the rock of the Legion. Literally. He’s the guy who takes others, “Hey, we need to be here.” Lightning Lad can slack off a bit and have fun and know that stuff is taken care of. He can also take things not as seriously and get wound up about it. I think he captured him pretty well. It’s different with Saturn Girl because, to me, she’s much more empathic of people. She hears all their thoughts. She knows everybody’s dreams and hopes and worries. It’s almost like walking on eggshells around people. She’s silent, always aware, very solemn, very quiet, but very poignant every time she says something.

I think it’s very cool that you made sure they have their Legion flight rings.

Geoff: Johns: That was the number one thing when we started talking about what the Legion has to have. I said, “They have to have their Legion flight rings. That’s the most important thing. And the Legion flight rings have to have the “L” on them.” They did it. They said “Great.” They embraced it all. If you’re a Legion fan, you’re going to see so many throw away bits and lines that we’ll flesh out for the audience that don’t know them, but if you’re a fanboy, there’s just references all over the place.

Did they happen to give you a flight ring to walk off with?

Geoff: Johns: I have one on the way. They gave me a prop. There’s a baseball that Garth finds and he talks about. In one of my issues of Action Comics, Pa Kent pulls out a baseball that’s split open and he tells Clark he kept it – it’s the first baseball he ever hit and it flew across Smallville. He found it years later and kept it. I actually put that prop in the episode. They gave me that, which is cool.

Do you think there’s hope for a live action Legion TV series or maybe even a movie franchise?

Geoff: Johns: I don’t know about that. I don’t know about a live action TV series or a film right now, but I’d love to see it. If they do another season, I’d love to do another Legion episode. A Legion show might be too expensive, because they’re in the future, unless they come back here, and you’ve got all these powers, but you could do it. If people wanted to see it, you could do it. Maybe they come back here for some reason. I’d love to see a film version of the Legion. It would be awesome.

What was it like to write Superman (in Action Comics) with Richard Donner?

Geoff: Johns: That was great. I always wanted to work for Donner because of Superman. That’s my favorite film. When I started working with him, I asked him questions about the movie all the time. Occasionally, I’d throw in a Goonies question just to balance it out. He understands that character so well. He knows what Superman is and what he’s all about. I’m informed about Superman from the comics and the film. To work with my mentor on the thing that made me admire his work, before I even knew and admire him as a person, was a dream come true for me. That book we did together, Last Son, is very personal to me because he’s basically like a second father to me. I take a lot of pride in that book. I think it’s a really good book and I’m proud we did it together.

With that in mind, how do you react hearing that he kind of threw your hat in the ring for writing chores on the next Superman movie?

Geoff Johns: Very grateful. That was very nice of him. We had a great time working together. Maybe we’ll do it again some day.

If you could import one Marvel character to the DC Universe, who would it be and why?

Geoff Johns: I like Hulk, because we don’t have any monster guys. Spider-Man would be fun. Captain America already is a DC Hero. He’s just happens to be in the Marvel Universe. Captain America would fit right in – he’s a little bit of a cross between Superman and Batman. I’d say Hulk. Hulk would be fun to bring in. They wouldn’t know what to do with him.

What would be your dream comic book to screen property if you had your choice to pull anything?

Geoff Johns: It’d be between Flash and Green Lantern. Those are two favorite characters.

You’re doing great work with them.

Geoff Johns: Thanks.

Can you give us a little tease about Blackest Night?

Geoff Johns: There’s a Blackest Night 0 issue that comes out in May for Free Comic Book Day. It’s a giveaway so that’s cool. The story is obviously the dead arise as Black Lanterns. What they do and what they want is all in the series. Blackest Night informs me of what I’m doing for the next couple years as well. It’s its own story but it also has a lot of things that reverberate into the DC Universe in different ways.

What is on your pull list? What comic books do you read?

Geoff Johns: I read All Star Superman when it was out. That was my favorite book. I like Captain America. I usually read by writer. [Brian Michael] Bendis and [Ed] Brubaker. Matt Fraction. Greg Rucka. Grant [Morrison]. Batman, All Star Superman – those are my favorite books at DC. I really like Gregg Hurwitz’s Punisher. I love that book. That was kind of a surprise for me. At the Marvel side, I tend to track the characters like Punisher, Ghost Rider, Hulk because DC doesn’t have any characters that are that big; that fit those roles. We have Deathstroke but he’s still more of a superhero-y Punisher and every once in a while you like that Film Noir. That gritty side of Punisher. That underbelly of Ghost Rider.

I know you’re not one to talk out of class — you probably have some projects floating around out there, and you can be as cryptic as you like with this, but can you talk about some things you’ve got in the pipeline?

Geoff Johns: I can’t. I do, but I can’t.

Can you give us a call when you can?

Geoff Johns: Yes sir.

I have one last question: is Sterling Gates his real name? [Sterling Gates got into comic book writing through Johns]

Geoff Johns: It is. I make fun of him all the time for that.

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