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Geoff Johns explains how Aquaman is getting his groove back at DC Comics

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Long before Geoff Johns was named DC Comics’ Chief Creative Officer, the veteran writer made a name for himself bringing classic characters like Green Lantern (out this week), Flash, and the members of the World War II-era Justice Society of America back to the forefront of the publisher’s universe. One of the industry’s most celebrated superhero scribes on both the page and screen (he scripted several well-received episodes of the live-action, “Smallville” television series based on Superman’s early years), Johns recently undertook the daunting task of turning Aquaman, one of DC’s most punchline-friendly heroes, into a relevant member of the publisher’s A-list lineup.

And while some might scoff at the idea of DC’s trident-wielding, gold-shirted King of Atlantis standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Batman or Superman, Johns has managed to win over skeptics and newcomers alike with the first few issues Aquaman.

As one of the 52 new series DC premiered last year in its much-heralded, universe-wide reboot, Aquaman is one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of the event, with its mix of classic superhero storytelling and self-aware references to the perception of the character in the real world. IFC recently had a chance to chat with Johns about his approach to the character and why Aquaman has had so much trouble getting the respect he deserves.

And because he’s the CCO of DC Comics and one of the premiere architects of the DC Universe these days, we also made sure to ask Johns about a few other projects on his radar these days — including the DC Universe Online game and a few small-screen projects currently in the works.

IFC: So before we even get started here, I’d like to know what it is about Aquaman that appeals to you — because we’ve talked about this character a few times over the years and I know you have some unique feelings about him.

GEOFF JOHNS: Well, it’s two things, really: his awareness coupled with his reputation. It’s the fact that everybody knows who he is, but not a lot of people put him high on their list of favorite heroes. This is outside of the world of comics, too — so I think that’s an interesting dynamic to play with and explore.

IFC: So when it came time to pitch your take on Aquaman for the “New 52” relaunch, how was it originally received? I assume you have to be careful when you suggest anything that might be interpreted as hurting his reputation any further…

JOHNS: [DC editor Pat McCallum] and I talked a lot about what the take would be. We did a straight superhero take on him in “Brightest Day” [one of DC’s earlier, universe-wide events], and that was far and away the most popular story in that book. When I was talking about launching the book and diverging from that take and getting a little more off-kilter, Pat was really into it, but there was some push-back from other people. Once the script and art came in, though, people really got what we were trying to do.

And now that we’ve got our tone and got our book going, hopefully we’ll roll for a long time on it.

IFC: There’s one particular scene in the first issue that has Aquaman answering questions from a blogger character that clearly represents some of Aquaman’s critics and the people who made him into the punchline he’s perceived as today…

JOHNS: [Laughs] Yeah, that was an easy way to take on some of that…

IFC: In the scene, Aquaman gets visibly angry with the character who’s peppering him with ridiculous questions, and it left me wondering if that was a representation of your own feeling about all the Aquaman jokes. I know you’re a fan of the character, but how do you feel about Aquaman being the butt of jokes all the time?

JOHNS: No, the jokes don’t bother me. I actually like the jokes. There was a quote I read on Vice recently that said “finding Newt Gingrich at the head of the presidnential pack is like turning on ‘Super Friends’ and finding Aquaman in charge.” The fact that this was in an article about politics just says everything you need to know about Aquaman. I think that once you’re in on the joke and understand what he deals with — after all, he’s the easiest target in the world, but he’s a bad-ass and he can take it — you’re almost more justified in liking the character.

IFC: Well, I noticed that a lot of the first issue was devoted to Aquaman confronting this type of stuff, but then there was a little less of that in subsequent issues. Was this just an early, tone-setting thing, or can we expect to see him dealing with more of that “we’ll call you when we need to talk to fish” stuff down the road?

JOHNS: He’s always going to deal with this. I’ll say that about it. He won’t deal with it as directly as he did in issue #1 in most cases, but it’s not going to be something we’re going to change until the world’s perception of him changes.

IFC: Along those lines, Aquaman has always seemed to have a rough time making the jump from page to screen. There was that failed “Aquaman” television pilot years ago, and one or two other projects that never really got off the ground. Why do you think that is?

JOHNS: Well, he has been a huge character on “The Brave and the Bold” [animated series], and he’s very popular on that show — so I wouldn’t count him out completely. He also has some pretty prominent roles in a few video games coming up and things like that, too. But most heroes have never had their own pilot, so the fact that Aquaman even got one says a lot about his appeal.

I also think it’s incredibly expensive to do a show like “Aquaman” unless it’s firing on all cylinders — but again, the fact that he did get a a pilot and the investment was made is a pretty big deal. He was also a character on “Smallville,” and so was Mera, so he’s actually had a lot of exposure compared with some of the other heroes out there. He hasn’t headlined his own thing yet, but I think one day he will. The fact that he’s so well-known is certainly on his side.

Even so, the preconceptions of what Aquaman is and who he is are a challenge. A lot of people like Aquaman for nostalgic reasons, and kids like him because it’s cool to be Aquaman in the pool, but when you get older, Aquaman can be a bit of a joke. It’s tough to get people to give him a chance.

IFC: DC also rebooted the Justice League, so I’m curious about how this version of Aquaman will fit into that team. Superman is sort of the big gun and the moral compass, while Batman is the detective and street-level guy, and Green Lantern deals with the cosmic threats. What is Aquaman’s role?

JOHNS: He’s very much a leader, and some might say he is the leader — though public perception would never expect that. You’ll see his role evolve with the team. He’s still underestimated by some of the members of the team, though, and you’ll see that play out in the book.

IFC: What can you say about what’s next for the Aquaman comic?

JOHNS: Well, we’ll eventually get to Atlantis, and when we do, it’s going to be big.

IFC: We’ve mentioned “Smallville” a few times now, and over that show’s long, ten-year run, it introduced a lot of DC superheroes and proved they could make the jump from comics to the live-action world. Is there a desire to find the next “Smallville” over at DC and Warner Bros?

JOHNS: Of course you want DC characters on live-action TV. I think they’re great for it. The characters in the DC universe — the majority of them, at least — could be adapted pretty easily with the right takes. Right now, we have a lot in development that I can’t discuss, but it’s pretty well-known that we’ve got “Booster Gold” at SyFy, “Deadman” is at CW, and “The Spectre” is at Fox. And we have more shows in development beyond those, too.

IFC: I also noticed that one of your recent creations in the Green Lantern universe, the Orange Lantern, recently appeared in a Christmas-related campaign on DC Universe Online. Did you have any input on that decision or the narrative that puts characters like Larfleeze (the Orange Lantern) into the game?

JOHNS: DC works with Sony and Warner Bros Interactive on that stuff, but I did write the bible for the game. I’m not really involved in anything else, though. That being the case, they do updates on DCUO pretty regularly, and it was fun to see them want to get Larfleeze in there for Christmas.

You can pick up “Aquaman” #1-4 on shelves now, and “Aquaman” #5 will go on sale January 25, kicking off a new story arc in the series. The “Aquaman” comic book series is written by Geoff JOhns with art from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

Chime in with your thoughts on this interview below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.