DC Comics has long specialized in parallel world stories, and as its universe of characters continues to expand into other media, the company’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns makes it clear that the film and television worlds will remain as separate as Earth-One and Earth-Two.
CBR News joined a small group of journalists to fire off some questions for Johns about The CW network’s DC series “The Flash,” where he both addressed several aspects of the Scarlet Speedster’s new show and the current proliferation of DC properties currently slated for television — including the hit “Arrow” and forthcoming series “Gotham,” “Constantine” and “iZombie” — while also making it clear that audiences should never expect to see Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight or Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel make a guest shot on the small screen, nor will Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen or Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen join the feature film’s Justice League — though each and every one of those characters remain fair game for fresh interpretation in each medium’s “universe.”
Why do you think we’re seeing all these comic book franchises come to TV right now?
Geoff Johns: Well, first off, as fans, I think people love it. But also, it feels like there’s a deeper engagement with this kind of material with people. They want to go beyond a TV show. They want to get in the mythology. There’s just so many great shows like that, like “Game of Thrones,” that just bring another level to television in a different way. And with the shows on now — at DC, we love it when Marvel puts on more shows, because it’s good for everybody when they’re good and they do well. Same with their films. We love when Marvel puts on great films because it helps everyone in this business that wants to bring comic books to life. With the TV shows, the reason I think that Warner TV and DC and everyone has such a great season, again, is because of the diversity of the shows. “Gotham” is very different than “The Flash,” which is very different than “Constantine,” which is very different than “iZombie,” and then “Arrow” is very different from “Flash.” We look at “Arrow,” it’s more on the Batman spectrum and “Flash” is more on the Superman spectrum. “Flash” is more bright and optimistic and hopeful, and “Arrow’s” gritty and dark and intense and very grounded compared to “Flash.” So as long as everything finds its own niche — and that’s what a successful character does in comics, same with a TV show — and we don’t get repetitive on what we do, there’s room for everything.
It seems like every network is looking for their own franchise to build on.
Yeah — my advice is, do something that’s not already on.
Are you focused on creating less of a chance of crossover and seeing the same characters in television and film?
No. Not really. I mean, Flash has the best Rogues Gallery, beyond Batman and Spider-Man, in comic books, and we’re going to explore that. From the Rogues to eventually a talking gorilla to time travelers. But really, it’s a separate universe than film, so we can allow the best creative — the filmmakers can do their best version. They want to tell the story that’s best for film, while we do something different in a different corner of the DC Universe on television.
So you don’t want to integrate those two?
No, we will not be integrating the film universe with the television universe.
How about the TV shows?
Well, “Arrow” and “Flash” absolutely live in the same universe. “Gotham” is set in the past, so it’s a very different show. “Constantine” is in the supernatural world, whereas “Arrow” and “Flash” are kind of at the center and heart of the DC Universe. That’s why you see characters like the Atom and Firestorm and others we’re talking about right now… You’ll see a lot of DC Universe characters. You won’t see Batman. You won’t see Superman. There are a lot of other characters that we aren’t going to go to. We’re in production on “Batman V. Superman,” so you’ll see characters like The Atom and Firestorm. We have plans for a lot of other ones, but right now, you will not see a Batman or a Superman in this one.
What would you like to see for the next comic character or title be adapted for TV?
I can’t say, because we’re trying to do it right now!
Do you see the existing TV shows as always being able to incubate the next show?
Some, yes. One of the great things about “Smallville” was it had Green Arrow on it for so long that people just got familiar with the character. It was a totally different version, but that way, when we talk about Green Arrow, a lot of people knew about Green Arrow. So when we introduce a character like the Spectre in “Constantine,” maybe it would be a spinoff, or maybe it’s just to get more awareness for the character, and eventually, we’ll do something else with the Spectre. The whole goal for us is to take the opportunity working with these great writers and producers in the studio and getting as many of our characters out there in the best way we can. The reason that “Flash” is so true to DC lore is because everyone working on it loves it. And you can tell when people don’t love it. Captain Cold’s on my door at the office — like, literally like 12 feet tall, printed on my door — and when people come in and say ‘Oh, Mr. Freeze!’ then I know they’re not a real fan.
How do you balance the integrity of the character’s canon with tweaking it for a more modern audience?
Well, you want to stay true to the DNA of the character. “Arrow” took a cue from this writer Andy Diggle and the artist Jock from this comic book “Green Arrow: Year One” that explored his time on the island. In the comic book, originally, his time on the island was two panels. And in the comics, Flash’s origin, he was in a lab and a lightning bolt hit him and that was it. There was no real backstory. So we knew that Flash had to get struck by lightning in a lab, but we added so much more to the backstory of S.T.A.R. Labs, and that allowed us to create a world. It’s a tricky thing. The guys who did “Captain America” said something in an interview that I thought was really smart. It’s like a piano — when you hit a note, and it’s out of tune, you kind of just know. And so that’s why you’ve got to work with people who love it, because they know.
Are you worried about an oversaturation of comic book shows on TV?
As long as they’re good, no!
Is there another specific corner of the DC Universe — like placing supernatural characters like Constantine in their own sub-franchise — that you want to land somewhere else?
There are, yes. We’re working on a bunch of stuff right now that I can’t really get into. And it’s not just DC — it’s Vertigo. It’s “Mad.”… We have so many different comics that aren’t just superheroes, and that’s what we’re working on right now. “iZombie’s” a Vertigo book that people probably hadn’t heard of before the show. It’s a great book, and it’s going to be a great show.
Considering the number of your shows, was that a corporate decision?
Well, since Kevin Tsujihara took over with Warner Bros. — he’s a huge DC fan, too. His favorite character is Solomon Grundy! He really knows his stuff, and he knows the value of it. All it really takes is people like Kevin and Peter Roth and Diane [Nelson], our president, to really love the characters and support all that. But it came about because everyone was behind DC, and you had great creators on it. Bruno Heller on “Gotham” — that’s A+. So as long as we have the best creators and the best studio — like, Warner TV is probably the best television studio. I don’t think anyone can argue that at all, and there’s a reason for that. You have to combine that power with the DC characters and brand and this is what happens.
What have you seen about what can go wrong with some of the comic book TV shows that have come before?
Well, some of the shows — from since I was a kid, I think everyone’s seen them go wrong — they don’t embrace what works about the character. And it’s not that their cape’s a certain length or their boots a certain color. It’s why these characters have endured for 75 years. When they don’t capture that, it doesn’t work.
Can you talk about taking some of the elements that work in the TV shows and integrating them back into the comic books? Like how the “Green Arrow” comic recently shifted a little to reflect successful aspects of the TV show.
Well, when they introduce a great character like John Diggle, for example — an amazing character on the “Arrow” show — and Green Arrow doesn’t have a huge supporting cast in the comic book, it made sense to just bring that character over. We’ve got Ben Sokolwolski and Andrew Kreisberg taking over the comic book this October, and they’re going to incorporate some of that stuff into “Green Arrow” but also stay true to the comics. It’s a nice cycle.
You wouldn’t let the word “crisis” get into the “Flash” pilot casually, would you?
No. We purposely put the word “crisis” in there. For those who don’t know, “Crisis” was a series from the ’80s. Barry Allen was a big part of that. He ‘died’ in it and returned years later.
Should we read into that?
Absolutely, you should read into that, yes.
How do you balance what you’re going to play out and what you’re doing for fun — Easter eggs for fun that may or may not play out?
Everything we put in there, we put in for a reason. Like that Grodd cage [in the pilot], when we walked on set — because we had to convince them, we went back and forth a long time because I had to convince them we want this. I had to convince them we want this character to be a part of Flash mythology. And David Nutter, who did an amazing job on the pilot, understood it, grabbed onto it, and when we got on set, it was gigantic! We only expected, like ,a little cage, but David really highlighted that because he knew it was a huge character for the mythology. It was important, and we were going to have plans for the future. We’ve dropped into so many things. There was a reason that everyone on the cast — like Cisco Ramon is a character. Caitlin Snow is a character. They’re all characters from the lore, and we don’t just do that casually. We do that with a purpose… We’ve talked about characters as obscure as Clive Yorkin, if you remember him. So we have a lot of different plans for this.
What’s the craziest Flash concept from the comics that you want to make work for the TV show?
God — I think if we could make the Rogues work, I think we’ll hit on something that no one else has. The Rogues are such a unique [concept] — I mean, I personally love those characters. They’re such a unique group of villains, and we’re starting with Captain Cold. If we can make that work, I think it will be really a blast to see them together, and the Flash fighting more than one character.
This is the 75 anniversary of Batman. Tell me what that character means to you — and also what he means to DC?
Well, he’s obviously the biggest superhero in the world. I think people really connect with him because he’s a human being. Unlike a lot of other people, Batman is someone who put it upon himself to become a superhero without any special ability, without being from Krypton or being bitten by a spider. And he just continues to resonate. But that character will exist forever because the Waynes can get shot, like “Gotham” shows today, and the ramifications of that and the effect it has on a young Bruce Wayne will be the same.
How cool has it been to see the 1966 “Batman” show finally getting its big debut on home video, and all the related merchandise?
Oh, it’s great to see all the hot toy stuff and all the product coming out. It’s fun to see. It’s fun to see ’66 “Batman” celebrated the way it is. I think fans have been waiting for so long. I’ve been waiting a really long time for this, and to see everyone get behind it is really great.
What’s the comic book character that you still haven’t gotten a chance to really get your hands on, the one you think, “Oh, in a couple of years –”