When Geoff Johns was announced as the new head of DC Films, fans rejoiced that the DCEU had found a perfect leader - but if things had gone differently, he may have wound up masterminding Marvel's TV and movie entertainment instead. That's assuming that Johns would have gotten a similar climb up from writer to producer and Chief Creative Officer, of course, but as the writer of some of DC's greatest comics and events in the modern age, some would argue Johns was always bound for his current position. Which is why it may surprise some DC fans to know why the current President of DC Comics ended his time with with Marvel.
Even more surprising is his account of exactly what brought him to DC instead, and how easily things may have gone a completely different route. Johns gave a summary of his less-than-direct path to comic book legend status at SDCC, explaining how his early career aspirations had him leaning towards writing and directing films, not comics. The alternative, it turns out, was to channel his early love for DC's superheroes into a career as a comic book artist.
As Johns explained, his future out of high school came down to a simple decision: to head to Michigan State University film school, or The Joe Kubert School to pursue comic book art. Although his love for DC characters was instilled from his first comic book onward, Johns chose to write and direct film. A knack for writing soon followed, eventually evolving into a job as director Richard Donner's assistant. Some freelance work with both Marvel and DC Comics soon followed, with DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio asking Johns to find the exact moment when 'writing' became his true profession.
Apparently, that day came after his time as a Marvel writer:
[It was] probably the day that I signed an exclusive at DC. I was like, 'Oh I guess my profession is a writer.' That was a journey too, because... Obviously I love DC. I like Marvel, but I love DC... I love Hulk. If I could buy Hulk from Marvel I'd like to. That would be really cool. I'd do a Hulk movie. Hulk vs. Superman or something... Thor: Ragnarok does look really badass.
I was working for Dick Donner as his assistant and I was writing comics for DC, and Marvel offered me Avengers. I did write for Marvel for like, a year and a half... it wasn't a great experience because of the management at the time. Though I love Tom Brevoort, who was my editor, I didn't love the experience of writing there because it was very different than DC for me, personally. It's different for everybody... But at the time it wasn't really for me.
Johns has no need for sour grapes, and his comments about Marvel were clearly delivered with respect and professionalism (his comments about a potential Superman/Hulk Movie should be taken a bit less seriously). Some may be able to deduce where the creative differences between Johns and Marvel management were found, but later in the panel Johns explained that it was some Marvel characters who posed problems he never faced at DC. One example being Thor, thanks to his stilted form of speech (seeking aid from his nearby colleague Jeph Loeb in the office).
After putting in work at both DC and Marvel, it was actually the latter that gave Johns a major opportunity... one that DC editorial was quick to counter in a big way:
The day I got The Avengers, and they announced it, DC called me and said 'Hey will you sign an exclusive?' And I said 'I just got announced on Avengers, I can't sign an exclusive!' But about a year later... I loved working with Dan [DiDio] and everybody at DC, and my heart's at DC, it just is. And so the day I signed the DC contract... it gave me some security that for the next number of years I would be writing full-time for DC. And that's when I really felt like my profession was a writer.
By now the history that followed is well known, as Johns beat the odds with one rejuvenated book, hero, and super team at a time. Even before the Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth epics that reshaped the DC Universe, Johns was committed to showing why the Teen Titans mattered with an Outsiders crossover - good practice for the pushback and doubts he would meet by bringing Hal Jordan back into continuity as a superhero, not supervillain. And as he highlighted during the panel conversation, it was the editor at his side who helped challenge and support him along the way.
The entire DC Rebirth was sold to Geoff Johns by Dan DiDio, with the DC Films boss admitting he wasn't sure about sharing the "Rebirth" name (having come to mean so much to him) until he argued his way over to DiDio's side. But after discussing the early chapter of their collaboration, the typically high-spirited DiDio seemed humbled, if not touched, when Johns revealed the person who may really be to credit for Johns's contributions:
Again I give a lot of credit to you, Dan. Because I wouldn't have signed at DC if you weren't there. You were the one that made me want to sign at DC. I could've been at Marvel. If you hadn't come to DC, I probably would have stayed freelance.
Instead of wondering what might have been, DC fans should simply add DiDio's name to the list of people they have to appreciate for Green Lantern, Flash, Flashpoint, the DC Universe: Rebirth, and what Johns brings to the DCEU. And be glad that the right people were in the right places, at the right time.
Hal Jordan and Barry Allen most of all.