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Geoff Johns Says a Great Superman Video Game Needs the “Right Studio”

Illustration for article titled Geoff Johns Says a Great emSuperman/em Video Game Needs the “Right Studio”

I started off my talk with DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer on the wrong foot, by forgetting that Geoff Johns has been writing an Aquaman series. "You just proved my point," he chided me. The point being that people rag on the publisher's amphibious character, which is a phenomenon that Johns is trying to reverse in the DC Comics New 52 relaunch. Johns' Aquaman is powerful in ways that other characters in the DC Universe are not and, when cannibalistic sea creatures come to the surface, the same people who once made fun of the Sea King in the comics have to thank him for saving their lives.

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Re-envisioning classic characters has made Johns one of the most respected writers in superhero comics but even he has to admit that taking characters outside of comics presents a whole new set of challenges. Everyone's basking in the success that Rocksteady's had with their two Batman games but DC's flagship character has gotten airborne in the interactive medium.

Johns has written great runs on Superman so I asked him specifically about what he thought the problems have been with bringing the Man of Steel into video games. "We talk about it a lot, about how flipping up robots for four hours would get old," he offers.

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There's been talk about adapting Johns' Last Son storyline—where Kryptonian villains escape the Phantom Zone dimensional prison to plague Superman—because it delivers enemies who are credible threats to Kal-El's power level. Cosmic tyrant Darkseid's also been floated as another big bad for Clark Kent to face off against. "I think all games come down to gameplay and the right studio. I'm sure the right studio could crack it. Rocksteady has a real passion for Batman, and I think that's why they make a great game."

Johns knows how to get inside characters' heads and the best example of that right now is in the new status quo of Green Lantern, where villain Sinestro finds himself with former hero Hal Jordan's power ring. "That conviction that what he's doing is right is what drives him. People have gotten hurt and killed and outright murdered because of him . He's very ego-driven but he's not selfish," He is narcissistic but he doesn't really do things for glory. What makes him a compelling villain is the fact that he really knows what a Green Lantern is."

Johns' penchant for the cosmic is reflected in his video game tastes, too. He jokingly asked me if I had any dirt on Halo 5 before admitting that he's got a serious Halo: Reach habit. While Gotham City Impostors represents a video-game shooter with DC Comics roots, Johns is most excited about another game in development form the media company. "We're working on Suicide Squad; it's in development right now," he divulges. The team book where supervillains take on ultra-dangerous government espionage missions that they're not expected to come back from is on the DC Entertainment slate as both a movie and a video game. "I'm really super excited about it. Because of the concept, you have a game where any of the lead characters can conceivably die and it's not a stunt. Some really cool story could come out of that."

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DISCUSSION

My feeling is that the recent Batman games—while quite wonderful—were not success stories simply because of the developers involved. They succeeded because Batman is a character whose franchise has been handled quite well recently and who still remains relevant to contemporary issues, fantasies, and tastes. Batman has at least 2 wildly successful film reboots and 1 beloved cartoon under his utility belt within the past 20 years.

Superman has none of that, with my apologies to his fans. If that franchise and character can first prove its continued relevance by creating just one (one!) decent film, cartoon, or other popular adaptation, then and only then may we start making comparisons to the success of Batman games.

As things stand, however, a Superman game would not only need to successfully translate something popular into an interactive medium like the Batman games; it would also need to make the character interesting and relevant in the first place, and that's by far the greater task.