I had dinner with Geoff Johns once. It was in 2010 or so, on the set of Green Lantern, and a bunch of journalists went for dinner with Johns and the publicist. What we had seen on set was, frankly, terrific, and even more terrific was the way Johns walked us through the storyboards, weaving a version of that movie that was awesome. I had huge hopes for Green Lantern all the way to the end simply because Johns made everything seem so compelling.
At dinner Johns was great - funny and personable, and with the deep knowledge and geek banter only a true believer can have. You can always tell when you’re talking to a corporate flunky about nerd stuff, and Johns was no flunky. He was charming and enthusiastic and he shared his deep knowledge in a way that wasn’t intimidating but rather was exciting. I had fallen off the comic book bandwagon, but after a dinner with Johns I was ready to head back to my local comic shop and dive back in. In many ways he rekindled my passion for the hobby.
Fast forward to last night, when I finally caught up with the DC Films Presents: Dawn of the Justice League TV special, co-hosted by Johns and Kevin Smith. There was the Geoff Johns I had met and enjoyed, but someone in corporate had decided to put him opposite Kevin Smith, wearing Colossal Boy’s dinner jacket and positively buzzing with a cranked up enthusiasm that, on TV, read as flop sweat and desperation. Smith was all huge hand gestures and reactions as over-sized as his jacket, while Johns was coming at a reasonable level. He seemed smart and informed, but he was almost overwhelmed by the bizarre pantomiming Smith.
The rest of the special was a mixed bag - there wasn’t as much new footage as you might have liked, and the editing of the entire thing was completely disastrous (the editor seemed to be just as wired and antsy as Kevin Smith) - but at the end of it I was certain of one thing: Warner Bros has to just let Geoff Johns be Geoff Johns.
The DC Movieverse doesn’t have a Kevin Feige. The Marvel Studios head functions as both a spokesperson and a decision-maker for the MCU (although it was really interesting that Feige was, as best I remember, absent from the Captain America 75th anniversary special, which ran the same night as the DC special - competitive to the end!), and from the outside Kevin Feige is the guy that you look to - and complain at - when something new is happening in the MCU. I don’t fully know the behind-the-scenes dealings at Warner Bros’ new Justice League universe, but I believe there are a couple of people making decisions, and none of them have been real figureheads. Zack Snyder has say, as does Geoff Johns. Kevin Tsujihara calls shots, obviously. But what makes Feige Feige isn’t the power he does or doesn’t wield behind the scenes, it’s his status as the guy out in front. Basically he’s the new Stan Lee - even when Stan left New York and moved to California he was still the face of Marvel Comics.
Geoff Johns should be that face. He’s got the street cred and, I think, he could operate on camera. I understand why you pair him with a co-host for that special - Johns isn’t a ball of energy onscreen. But the reality is that Johns should have been paired with a highly knowledgeable female co-host, not the anthropomorphic personification of the basement-dwelling fanboy. Beyond the fact that the special was hyper-kinetic to the point of annoyance, it was just a bad look to have two middle aged dudes representing the face of your hopefully four quadrant blockbuster universe.
That DC special was trying to capture the energy of a Hall H presentation at Comic-Con, but that room has six thousand enthusiastic fans in it. This show was two guys on a closed set. Smith’s energy was outsized, and he felt like an intruder in our living rooms - more infomercial pitchman than anything else. They got it half right, though, having Geoff Johns out there. But Warner Bros needs to trust that Johns can be the face of the DC Movie and TVverses, that he doesn’t need a ‘name’ crutch on which to lean. If they need to pair him with someone else it should be Aisha Tyler, who is funny, beautiful, an experienced TV presenter, the host of last year's Warner Bros Hall H panel at Comic-Con, a woman of color and also a nerd in her own right.
This may seem like a nitpick, but I think that as the DC Movieverse gets going, and as the TVverse continues to expand, a central figurehead will be vital for DC. This isn’t about behind-the-scenes decision making, although it would be nice to have a clear vision there as well. This is about having someone with whom the fans and press can interface, someone who will understand what the audience wants and how to talk to them about it. By having a face out front the DC Movieverse will feel less like a corporate move to chase the money Marvel has made and more like the joyful work of people who actually give a shit about these characters.
That face should be Geoff Johns, a guy who has roots not just in the Hollywood side but in the comic side. A guy who has written comics and who owns a comic book store (Earth 2 in Northridge, CA, a pretty nice shop). A guy who has been inside the machine on every level but who still speaks with the knowledge and enthusiasm of a fan. Johns should be the guy hosting TV specials on his own. He should be hosting the DC Movies panel at Comic-Con. He should be fielding (and dodging) the questions from fans.
Warner Bros: let Geoff Johns be Geoff Johns. Let him be the face of your new universe. And the next time you have a TV special hire an editor who knows what he’s doing.