The lights are on
As chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, Geoff Johns handles the company's properties across a variety of multimedia formats while still writing comics and other projects. We spoke to him recently about his work on Batman: Arkham Origins, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and his graphic novel Batman: Earth One (shown above).
Can you describe the many facets of your job in a nutshell?
I’ve been writing comics for a long time now - over 10 years - mostly for DC Comics. Since I was a kid I’ve always loved DC Comics. I’ve written for games, TV, and film. I work at DC Entertainment in a role where I am still a writer by trade, but I work with Warner Bros. and all the divisions like Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, theatrical, television, and consumer products on anything DC. I guess I’m kind of an evangelist and liaison from the comic books to all the media stuff. That includes games. I’m a huge gamer; I love games.
Can you talk about your first exposure to Arkham Asylum back when it first came out?
Well I bought it and played it as a fan. I was blown away like everybody else by what Rocksteady did and what the game entailed. I love superhero games not because they were any good, but back in the day... I don’t know if you remember the Death and Return of Superman SNES game, even though it was just a simple 2D sidescroller I still loved it because it was based on the lore. All these years later to have a superhero game based on the mythology I really love be executed so brilliantly and be a great game, it’s like the Christopher Nolan movies. They’re great films and then they also happen to be Batman films. And this was a fantastic game that also happened to be a Batman game.
You became chief creative officer in 2010. Did you do any consulting on Arkham City, or did you play that as a fan as well?
We worked on Arkham City. I mean it was already started, but we worked on Arkham City during that time with the guys.
Can you describe the early discussions on Arkham Origins?
We talked about what would be interesting to explore, what story they wanted to tell -- it was all character based at first. The story is the first thing we spoke about, and what the world would be like, what Batman would be like, what certain characters would be like. You would see characters roll back like Penguin or characters you’ve seen before, what they looked like, what their relationships were, and how that would eventually evolve into the Arkham games.
How did it progress from there?
It’s a lot of conference calls at first when we’re talking big, big picture. We try to do at least video conference calls and talk about it. Eric [Holmes, creative director] was out here and Ames [Kirshen, executive producer WBIE] and I would go out and have drinks or whatever and talk about it in general. The day-to-day is really trying to support them and let them tell what their vision is. With all my friends that love comic books it's just the same type of thing - "Wouldn’t this be cool?" It was an absolute pleasure. We're constantly talking about things that are either story-driven, character-driven, or game-driven. It changes all the time.
How would you compare your comic take on the origin of Batman in Earth One versus what WB Montreal is doing?
It’s really different. In Batman: Earth One...the first time you see [Batman] he tries to make a jump off a rooftop and can’t make it. This is really beta Batman. It’s Batman before he’s good. The Batman in Origins still kicks ass and he’s learning kind of trial by fire. Batman Earth One was tackling a Batman who was doing it for the wrong reasons and not doing it very well. He's ultimately learning that maybe the reason he’s doing this or why he should continue to do this aren’t quite the same reasons as when he started to do this. This story is very different. The [Origins] story is further along. He’s very confident in what he’s doing. It's called Arkham Origins and it really is the introduction of what Arkham means. Arkham evokes a sense of insanity and chaos embodied in the twisted minds and colorful villains of the Batman universe. That had to start somewhere. This is really more about Batman’s initiation into that insane world, where my book’s more about Batman as a vigilante and really deciding which path to go down.
Would you say that Origins is more closely tied to the traditional Batman comic canon than Batman: Earth One?
Yeah, I would. Obviously it’s got the DNA of Arkham and Arkham City. That stuff springs forward from the comics. Batman: Earth One is almost like Arkham Origins Origins. It’s even before this.
One of the cool things to see in a new Arkham game is the take on character designs. What was your impression of the new Batman?
Character design was something we talked a lot about and went through very meticulously. There’s a lot of debate on all sorts of characters. Every single character in there, you’d start with the Arkham and Arkham City version and then look and scroll it back and say, "Well, where were they back then?" Those designs reflect that. I’m excited for people to see them. There’s one in particular I found very interesting that evolves throughout the first game. You’ll see a character start somewhere and eventually end up and match right up with Arkham, which is cool.
We know about Deathstroke and Black Mask.
We talk a lot about Deathstroke because he's not traditionally a Batman villain. He’s a DC Universe villain. You’ll see how the DC Universe actually opens up a little bit in some of this stuff coming up like [Batman: Arkham Origins] Blackgate. There’s a reason Deathstroke’s in the game and there’s a story that he has that opens us up to a bigger DC universe. There are some nice surprises in there. You want to keep people guessing and keep them unsure of what’s around the next corner. Part of the reason the Arkham games work so well is the storytelling is just phenomenal. The gameplay’s amazing, but the storytelling’s just as good.
[Next page: Geoff Johns talks working with the Injustice team, more Arkham Origins, and writing DC Universe Online.]