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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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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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