When TV and comic book writer Geoff Johns became an executive for DC Entertainment, he may have had a lot on his plate. But one of his priorities was getting DC Comics characters officially united with the Emmy-winning Cartoon Network show Robot Chicken.
"As soon as I got this job, it was one of the first things that I wanted to see happen," Johns said, citing the success of the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials.
This fall, the executive is finally achieving that goal, as the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special airs on Cartoon Network. The 22-minute special will feature fan-favorite voices as DC characters, utilizing the stop-motion comedy that has made the Adult Swim series so popular.
Actor Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, co-creators of the show, actually brought the writing staff of Robot Chicken to DC's offices so that Johns could participate in writing the Special. And they were surprised how much they "got away with."
"Because we're all under the Warner banner, and being that Geoff was there, it really just eased the approval process," Senreich said. "And having Geoff in the room especially helped. I can't think of anything he said no to! So yeah, we pushed the envelope. And everyone at DC was supportive of the whole process. We kept waiting for the 'no' to come, and it never did.
While Robot Chicken is usually a series of short skits, the DC Comics Special will feature an overarching storyline, much like the show's last two Star Wars specials. Senreich and Green joked that it was like they got to write a comic book — pointing out that Johns and comic writer Zeb Wells were among the writers — although they assured fans that it's going to be very different from what they've seen before in a comic.
"The story is really simple," Green said of the DC special. "Aquaman gets exhausted by being shit on by the rest of the Justice League and decides to take matters into his own hands and join the Legion of Doom. You'll never find a more sympathetic telling of an Aquaman story than this. One of the things we like to do is take the characters that people don't think much of, the most left-on-the-side-of-the-road, and empower them to be the most important characters.
"Aquaman is not pathetic," said Green, who provides the voice for the character. "He's just made to feel pathetic. And we wanted him to be really empathetic and not too silly. It's a really delicate balance."For Johns, who has written for Robot Chicken before, it was particularly rewarding to help out with this version of Aquaman for the show because it's so different from the one he currently writes the Aquaman comic book.
"I love writing comedy, so this is an opportunity to do nothing but comedy," Johns said. "It's a totally different writing process because it's sketches. So coming in and doing that is really fun. Just thinking of jokes and looking at these characters through a different lens. Everyone in Robot Chicken is different from the one we've got in the comics. This is Robot Chicken, and if you've seen the show, you know what I'm talking about. So I'm working with characters that I already work with, but in a different way. Like there's a sketch in there with Sinestro that I love, and of course I've been writing him in the comics for a while now. So it was really freeing to write him and the rest of these characters in this context."
"When we started talking about Aquaman, we worried a little, because this is a different version than the one Geoff's writing in the comics," Senreich said. "But he was totally game and liked writing this version a lot."
Green and Senreich said they were able to get an all-star cast involved with the project, including people who've worked in DC's animated shows before. "We took the fanboy geek route where we wanted Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern," Senreich said. "We cast a lot of voices on our show before as well, where we have Breckin Meyer coming back to play Superman, or Megan Fox did our Lois Lane."
"Neil Patrick Harris played Two-Face, which is awesome, " Green laughed, adding that viewers will "get to see what Two-Face goes through and wrestles with when he makes his everyday decisions. But then we also went for fan favorites, like getting Tara Strong to play Harley Quinn. And I had always heard that Paul Reubens was supposed to get cast as The Riddler in the movie that Jim Carey wound up doing, or at least he was discussed, and so I wanted to give him the chance to play that.
"And then we were trying to find the best Lex Luthor we could, and the idea of Alfred Molina came up, and I've just been the biggest fan of his for the longest time and didn't even think it was possible," Green said.
The special takes place during the Super Friends era of the Justice League, focusing on characters like Aquaman, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, but featuring dozens of other DC characters along the way. Much like the second Robot Chicken Star Wars Special showed "behind-the-scenes" stories of bounty hunters like Boba Fett, the DC Comics Special will show some never-before-seen moments in the lives of DC characters.
"What we like to do in Robot Chicken is take all the things that are outrageous and fantastic, and then superimpose the mundane and the normal over them," Green said. "So you've got something as outrageous as the Legion of Doom, but nobody talks about the inter-office politicking. We like to take the things that people most relate to in their regular lives and show them how similar that is to their heroes."
Johns said the writers worked "tons" of DC characters into the show, some of which might even surprise the most hard-core comics fan. "We worked inside the DC offices, so we had tons of copies of the DC Encyclopedia, we had lots of copies of the '80s Who's Who, we had truckloads of Mattel's action figures, and DC collectibles," Johns said of the writing process for the show. "So we were able to come up with all kinds of fun combinations of DC characters.
"One of my favorite sketches is one we did with Captain Cold and Mr. Freeze and The Icicle," Johns said with a laugh. "There are some quick sketches that have characters in them that you almost never see. There's one of the most obscure Shazam villains of all time in it, who I think steals the whole sketch. There's all sort of guest appearances, and if you watch close, there are a lot of cameos in the background."
"You're going to see members of the Green Lantern Corps that you never thought you'd see on film," Green said with a giggle.
"And we definitely venture onto different earths," Senreich laughed.
But Green emphasized that the gags are not only for hard-core DC fans. "Like The Avengers," Green said, pausing for comic effect, "we're excited to bring exclusive nerd fantasies to screen, while still making it available and accessible to mainstream audiences that don't know anything about super-nerdy stuff. We want people to be able to laugh whether you know the comic or not."
Plus the show will feature a few regular characters from Robot Chicken. "There's this running gag that we keep cutting away to where our nerd character will get involved in DC characters lore a little bit," Senreich laughed.
All three writers are hoping the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special is popular enough to spawn a sequel. "After we finished the script, we cut 60 pages out of the original document," Green said. "And then after we filmed, we cut 24 minutes out of that. So there was so much more stuff in this special than we were capable of shooting. If this works, we'll do it again."
"Seth and Matt and the crew are really good friends of mine, so after this opportunity to bring DC Comics and Robot Chicken together and have fun with our characters, we're hoping this is the first special of many more to come," Johns said. "We probably already have enough material for a whole second Special. And hopefully, we'll be able to get there."FACEBOOK and TWITTER!