Titan Maximum Interview with Geoff Johns

Geoff Johns tells Superman what to do. In his job as one of the chief architects of the DC Universe, Geoff has written the hugely popular mini-series Infinite Crises, Blackest Night, Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War, and Flash: Reborn. When he's not putting superheroes through their paces in comic books, he's punishing them on TV too, writing episodes of Smallville and Blade. And it was recently announced that Geoff is tackling the big screen too, working on the Flash and Shazam! movies. We talked to Geoff about his writing role on the new Adult Swim series Titan Maximum.

Geoff, tell us what you do on Titan Maximum.

I came in on the early stages of the story and just helped break story and character for the show.

You've done a lot of live-action and comics, but was there a big learning curve in moving to the world of animation?

Not really. I mean, I've known the Robot Chicken crew, Tom Root and Matt Senreich especially, and Seth Green, for so long that when we hang out we goof off and make up stories anyways. So it's just kind of doing it in a room with specific characters.

It was a lot like when I briefly worked on Robot Chicken. It's just a bunch of... It's just coming up with jokes and gags, and in this case, it was just a little more focused on characters that made up the Titan Maximum crew. But it didn't feel like it was much different than stuff I have done with them before.

Out of all of these guys, you probably have the most experience with action stuff and long-form narratives. Were they leaning on you a little more for that perspective?

I think they wanted me there really for my story sense and long-form storytelling. Things like that, so... And I'm a bit of a story Nazi sometimes in that I think every scene needs to say something about character and plot at the same time. But yeah, I think I was brought in obviously for what I specialize in. And Tom's amazing in the humor. And Zeb Wells, too, is also a great storyteller. He's got a great sense of story as well. It's just a matter of a bunch of friends taking all of our strengths in different areas and trying to put them together on the show.

Do you like telling a story in such a short format, since the episodes are just 11 minutes?

Well, it makes you appreciate real estate. Working comics and live-action, it's the same thing where you only have so much space and so much time. It's always a challenge, but I think it forces you to... If you said, "Hey, it can be as long as you want," you end up getting gratuitous and going all over the place. With a shorter format, and even in these 11-minute shorts, it forces you to really only pick and choose the very best elements of the story that goes in the script.

And I like that. I like a challenge. And I think everybody there had fun with that. Like, "This is running long, well, what can we cut?" And this is gone, this is gone, this is techno-babble, it doesn't really matter. This is a really fun scene and says something about the characters, so let's keep this. It's funny to look at Titan Maximum, in particular, and say this is really story-driven, because there are so many jokes and so many gags in there. And the tone of it is so off-the-wall. But believe it or not, there is a system to the madness.

Is it easier for you to do the action stuff? Or do you like to focus in on the comedy?

It all depends what I'm doing. It goes back and forth. With those guys, it's always easier to focus on comedy.

A lot of your comic book stuff, like Flash or Green Lantern, you're known for bringing out the villains. Like, re-establishing old bad guys and bringing in new ones, fleshing out their motivations and re-establishing what they're all about. Are you working on any bad guys for Titan Maximum?

We talked a lot about the villains in Titan Maximum. They're a different kind of villain. We slanted them. But we did talk a lot about Gibbs and what his whole story is. I think we plotted out a story for quite a few seasons to slowly reveal what he's really doing. The motivation behind him... I always said, "Well, what's his real motivation? Why is he really doing this?" Because in the first episode, you don't really get a whole lot of that. He seems like he's totally off his rocker and for a good villain, you have to understand his motivation.

So, we went into that quite a bit and over this first season, you do see a lot more to Gibbs than him just flipping off the camera. I always think that if a villain is weak and your villain is goofy and you villain is nuts and has no real purpose...Even the Joker in The Dark Knight had a purpose and had a mission. He wanted to prove, in a weird way, that everyone was as ****** up as he was.

Your DC Comic's mini-series Blackest Night is huge right now. What's it like for you to go online and see people guessing at the ending and what's happening next? Has anyone even gotten close? Is there a moment coming up that you can't wait for people to see?

I'm excited for every issue because I think there's something surprising in every issue. In most cases, there's more than one thing. But I don't have a whole lot of time to go to message boards and see who's guessing what.

I've heard myriad theories at my comic shop and stuff. It's always fun to hear the theories.

You just recently bought that shop right?

Yeah, I opened up a comic store in May.

Has that changed the way you look at comics?

Not totally. It just helps inform me of what people are really into. What they like, what they don't like. The format of the books. The problems and advantages of being a retailer.

I always want to learn more and more about the businesses that I'm in, whether it be TV, film, comics, whatever. So this was an opportunity to enter a side of the business and really put my money where my mouth is and see how I can help the comic industry continue to grow beyond just writing books.

Were there any big surprises for you in what people are buying or not buying?

Yeah, there's certain books that just blow out because everybody's talking about them and there's a lot of other books that we order a lot of because casual readers just come in and buy consistently. Orders, in general, were interesting for me.

It's just a matter of being smart about orders and being smart about the look of the store. I think comic shops can have a negative image in some people's heads, but I think a clean shop that's organized and friendly and open isn't that hard to do.

If you had unlimited time and money to do your dream project, in addition to what you're already doing, what would it be?

My dream project? I'm kind of already doing that by working on the Flash movie, the Flash comics and Green Lantern. I really enjoy what I'm doing and doing things like Titan Maximum for fun and writing an episode of Smallville... I'm just doing what I enjoy. So as far as dreams, I don't know. I'm kind of living my dreams right now.

I can't complain.

Is there a character on Titan that's easier for you to identify with?

Ooh, I don't know if I really identify with anybody on Titan Maximum. Maybe Leon. I like him. Quite a bit. And Leon is named after a character from a favorite around the office, Midnight Madness. It is a quality movie, very underrated. And a big Michael J. Fox movie, too.

Do you watch anything else on Adult Swim?

Well, Robot Chicken obviously. I watch that religiously. What else do I watch?

Nothing's on my TiVo. Sorry, guys. Ha. Well, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, of course, but everyone watches that. I don't know if that counts.

We were talking about Halloween costumes right before you called. Do you do Halloween up? What do you do?

Two years ago, I was Green Lantern! Seth had a big party. That was fun. This year, my girlfriend is going to be Baroness and I'm going to be Snake Eyes.

What comic books do you read?

Oh, I read a ton of comics. One of the greatest things about opening a shop is that you get half-off everything. From Marvel, I really like JMS' Thor. I really like the recent Wolverine run, Old Man Logan. That was good. I tend to follow writers. I like Bendis a lot.

Over at DC, Grant Morrison. Batman and Robin is really good. Greg Rucka. I like Detective Comics. And Peter Tomasi's Green Lantern Corps. I work really closely with him, but every time I get a script in, I'm really psyched about it. I read a lot of different books.

Is there anything we should have asked you about Titan Maximum but we totally missed?

It's hard to talk about Titan until people see it. It's just brought to you by the same guys who did Robot Chicken, but this time it's going to be the same characters from week to week.

That's something I really like. In Robot Chicken, I was always talking to the guys, going, "I'd love to see your original characters in here. Characters that you get to know and characters you get to learn about." But Robot Chicken isn't the right venue for that. It's perfect for what it is. But this gives everyone a chance, myself included, to go into that Robot Chicken world, but also bring the world of narrative into that and play around with it and see what happens.

And there's some really funny stuff coming up. I love how the planets are defined. I love Mercury. It's probably my favorite planet to go to. You look at all these teams with members that form one giant robot and Matt and Tom came up with this concept that, "What if they were real people? Teenage celebrities and what would they turn out like?"

And I just think it's a hell of a lot of fun. It goes beyond just a show that makes you laugh. Just like Robot Chicken, if you dig a little deeper there's actually meaning behind some of the sketches. Some of them! Not all of them.

Titan Maximum premieres Sunday, Sept. 27 at 11:30p ET/PT on [adult swim]