I’ve made it quite clear that I really don’t care for the New 52 version of…almost everybody, really, but especially…the early Firestorm. After that, though, is Superman. The first storyline had some good ideas storywise but it had Clark complaining about the Daily Planet being taken over and joining the online and TV age and then we had the story with Hellspont that at least got Superman right. The arcs by Keith Giffen (odd considering my major issues with his He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe run) and Dan Jurgens (the man who knows Superman better than any other writer currently at DC Comics outside of a few Adventures Of Superman guest writers) were more in line with the Superman I know and love. Clark hanging out with his co-workers, lighthearted or touching moments, Superman being inspirational and caring, great action–these are the things I look for in a Superman story.
I also haven’t been a fan of Geoff “supervillains are more interesting” Johns lately. He might be a nice guy but that hasn’t stopped me from complaining about DiDio or Jim Lee, has it? Justice League lost me on the first issue and I haven’t been to kind to either Blackest Night, his take on Captain Marvel/Shazam, or Forever Evil, despite someone bringing up JSA or other works that he indeed did give a lighter, fun tone. Then came this interview with Comic Book Resources managing editor Albert Chang, two issues into his run with legendary Marvel artist John Romita, Jr, and inker Klaus Janson. (No love for the colorist. These are color comics after all. Letterers are also left behind but baby steps and all that.) Does it make me immediately excited? I still have trust issues, but it does sound a bit more like what I want out of Superman.
With this new run, clearly you’ve introduced a lot of new elements, but you’ve also embraced a lot of familiar things, both storyline-wise and visually. Was it easy to find a starting point of what you want to say with Superman in 2014, to find that entryway into such a famous character?
Geoff Johns: The most universal way into any story is through just the fact of the human condition; being alive, and emotion. Superman’s story is timeless. His rocket can land here today, or it can land here 70 years ago. But the way into this story was looking at the stories that have been happening the last few years on “Superman.” Saying, “What’s Clark Kent experienced?” He’s experienced quite a bit. And looking where he is in his life right now. He works at his apartment. He doesn’t work for The Daily Planet anymore. There’s no one that knows his secret identity, except another superhero.
When we started talking about the book, and I started thinking about all these scenes, where Clark Kent would be able to talk about everything he’s experienced, I had to have Batman or Wonder Woman or Green Lantern there. I realized, “Wow, he doesn’t really have that many people he talks to anymore.” So right away it was, “We’ve got to bring that Daily Planet cast back in,” because they’re important to Clark Kent. They’re his friends, and he doesn’t have friends he grew up with — he doesn’t have cousins or family, or friends from high school. Pete Ross? He’s been out of the picture forever. There’s no one that really has been a constant in Clark Kent’s life since he was a kid, because his parents aren’t around anymore, either. To bring Clark back into a world where he can connect with people and friends was the first thing, and then the other side of it was, if we want to explore his isolation and his loneliness, and how he can channel that into something good, let’s introduce a character like Ulysses, who in a lot of ways struggles with the same things Clark does, but Clark has the ability to help him overcome it — or maybe Clark can’t overcome it himself.
I don’t know anything about Ulysses so I can’t comment on him. However, Johns hit on my biggest problem with Scott Lobdell’s run right out of the gate, by having Clark quit the Planet. Superman’s supporting cast is as much Clark’s circle, if not more so now, than it is Superman’s. These are the people who help us relate to Clark and isn’t that what writers, editors, and producers/directors are all on about lately, relating to the character? It’s Clark’s interactions with Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and the other staff that help us see Superman not as Kal-El, god among men, but Clark Kent, caring man with a love for the human race he is part of in all but birthplace and some biology.
This is how we see Clark Kent the man and can get an idea as to why he doesn’t just conquer the world like the Plutonian over at Boom Comics or…actually, every other version of Superman DC is publishing not written by Josh Elder or in a digital-first comic. (Wait, are they still making Smallville? I haven’t paid attention because it’s Smallville and I still can’t get over the stigma of being set in that show’s universe no matter how well Notintheface tries to sell it to me.) Kal-El is Clark first, Superman second and his non-superhero friends help us remember that and get closer to the character.
Johns: We made our first issue as accessible as possible. Superman should be for everybody. Anyone, whether they’ve read comics for 30 years, or never read a comic book, should be able to pick our first issue up, and feel emotionally connected to the character and want to read the next one.
It would help if the content would be for everybody, like that little kid the same age you were when you wrapped a sheet or towel around your neck and played Superman. Not me, of course. I actually had a Superman cape. 🙂
Romita: I didn’t consider this until I started working on the character: This is the first superhero, he’s been around so long. One of my raison d’êtres in comics is to try something I’ve never done before, or be different than what I’ve done in the past, or try to do something that hasn’t been done by artists before. Nearly impossible to do. Not just because of my contemporaries, but the people before me — the Romitas, and the Kirbys, the Buscemas, the Kuberts — you can’t get better than that.
Here’s a character that’s been done a million times by fantastic artists, fantastic writers. How do you come up with something new, and something different? It’s a problem that exists forever, and it’s only going to get worse. [Laughs] Guys that start this in 25 years, I pity. [Johns] has come up with this great premise. Visually, is the only question here. The costume is pretty much limiting. He’s got the cape, he’s got the blue, he’s got the S’s on both sides — what do you do with that? You play with it. Jim Lee played with it nicely — this is a segmented costume, and it’s a nice combination of things. But I’m still stunted. How do you go beyond what’s been done before? You just come up with quality, and pray that it’s different.
I knew there was an intimidation factor, because the character is so storied. But getting on it, and then realizing, “This has been done before — I’ve got to come up with something different” — [Johns] helped out with that, and then [Janson] helped out with that. The style we have on “Superman” hasn’t been done before, and I think that helps, in a big way.
This is something I both like to see and am a bit concerned with from both Romita and Janson elsewhere in the interview. Yes, Superman is a big responsibility and I’m glad they’re taking it seriously. However, it is possible to be too intimidated. I’ve been lucky in that I’m just doing a silly parody comic where my biggest worry is getting the darn “S” right (and I’m still working on that), but this is the official comic and even someone of a Romita’s stature in sequential art can find that intimidating when he’s only done it in an occasional crossover, if that. (I think his dad worked on the Superman/Spider-Man crossovers or at least one but I’m too
lazy busy to dig through my longbox right now.) I can’t say I’ve been thrilled with his work but it’s hard to make that outfit work. I’d love to see him draw the “REAL” Superman outfit instead of Jim Lee’s V-Neck armor.
Johns: Everyone working on this is such a pro. Everyone on it — from [editor] Eddie Berganza to all of us, and [colorist] Laura Martin — everyone’s invested in making this the most high quality book we can possibly make. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve done so far.
At least the colorist gets praised. Baby steps.
Romita: I just think, ultimately, [Superman is] a more difficult character to do, because of its storied history. That’s my opinion as an artist. [Superman]’s been done to death, so to speak — now, do something better than the guy before you. That’s not easy to do.
I don’t care if you do something better. Just that you do something good and find a new take or get him doing something we haven’t seen before. That’s more on John’s shoulder than Romita’s.
You’ve all done a wide variety of different things in your career — written and drawn a lot of major projects — and are now on the longest-running superhero. Among a number of people in the comics industry, there’s a notion that creators should focus on new things, new ideas. The three of you are investing heavily with your time and effort in Superman, and doing new stories.
Johns: And new characters. When we sat down and talked, we were like, “We don’t want to do another Brainiac story.” We’re introducing Ulysses and The Machinist, and the mysterious character that’s been watching Superman. We’ve got a lot of new stuff, and that’s what we wanted to bring to the book. If we’re going to do Superman, let’s make sure we stay true to the core and utilize the best of the core — but also, it’s got to feel new. We’ve got to have new characters. They have no idea where we’re going to go with this story, and that’s good.
Romita: I have a question along these lines: For a character that’s been around so long, the fanbase of the character, do they want to see a return to the old villains? Do they want to see a nice smattering of the old villains and new villains? How do you find a balance?
Johns: I think people love good stuff. If it’s a good Brainiac story, they’ll like it; if it’s not, they’ll be like, “I’m bored of Brainiac.” If it’s a good new character, they’ll enjoy it, if the new character doesn’t work, they’ll say, “I want Brainiac back.” That’s my take on it. As a fan, I always liked new stuff — if it was good.
And vice versa. Bringing back a classic villain, and exploring them in a brand-new way, or reinventing them — in “Green Lantern,” Sinestro had been around forever. But to really crack into the character, if there’s a classic Superman villain that we can get into — and there’s one waiting in the wings a bit — that we can crack open and explore in a brand-new way that will redefine the character, then that would be worth pursuing.
I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the old villains make a comeback but there’s nothing wrong with adding to villains gallery either. I want to find out what happened to Anguish and what little I’ve heard of the Machinist sounds interesting, but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Toyman or Livewire make a return. Johns’ response is right on the money with this.
Johns: I think we’re doing kind of the best of both worlds, in my opinions.
Romita: It’s a balancing act.
Johns: We wouldn’t want to come on and just re-tell a classic Superman story in a modern way.
Romita: And also, just adding a new character, to do it right, and come up with a character like Ulysses — that’s pretty amazing to me.
Johns: And to take the time and the pages and the scenes that we need to really make the character fully fleshed out so he feels as real as Perry White or Clark Kent.
As to why Superman needs more stories told — maybe we’ve read a lot of Superman stories, but there’s a kid out there that’s 12 years old that’s picking up the new Superman comic that’s never read it before. And that’s super-important. Superheroes — I like to call them “good junk food.” On the surface, they look like they’re candy and they’re popcorn, but I think they embody ideals that all of us get drawn to. Especially Superman. You know exactly how Superman’s going to act. I think he’s one of the easiest characters to write, because you know exactly what he’s going to do.
There was a discussion on Twitter yesterday with at least one of the people I follow about remakes. Remakes are fine if the spirit of the original isn’t lost. Superman has been redone numerous times in all but one current media format and even a couple of “dead” ones but each version had a unique take and varying degrees of success based on your preferences. Man Of Steel and most of the New 52 have been the only ones that didn’t feel like Superman while Smallville felt like they were scared of making the leap official but still had Clark acting like Superman. That’s why I didn’t care for either of these. I think it’s important to keep these characters alive, because they do inspire people. Especially this one. This is the most inspiring super out there.
I would also put it to Johns that Superman stories also need to be told because we need a hero who demonstrates the best we can be not because of his powers but because of his compassion and good will. Sometimes you need Batman but sometimes you really need Superman and the DC Universe would be lost without either one. And they’ve been lost since they “re-imagined” Wonder Woman. Superman is the light, hopeful hero and his stories represent that. In a world where dark, angry, and depressed seem to becoming the norms if they’re not already, we need lighter characters like Superman. And Captain Marvel, but Johns screwed up Billy Batson.
I haven’t commented on Janson’s side because it’s been mostly about the art but not as interesting as Romita’s. However, he finally says something I can comment on with this subject.
Janson: One of the things I really like about Superman is that he is one of the few remaining characters who has a brand of idealism. In an age of when everybody is very cynical, and producing a lot of work that’s very gritty, and grey, and dark, I think it’s kind of nice to have a character that is hanging on to a certain amount of idealism. I personally can identity with that, and I find it affirming, and reassuring.
Johns: I agree. Again, it’s not campy or anything, but we are going to do a Superman story. You can’t plug and play this storyline we’re doing right now with any other character. You can’t put Batman in there, or anyone else. It is strictly a Superman story. And quite frankly, if you could [tell it with another character], it wouldn’t be a good Superman story.
Janson: I think you’re being true to the character, and that’s why it can’t be plugged in to another character.
As the interview said, and I reprinted more than I usually would because we don’t hear this enough about superheroes in general or Superman specifically, this sounds like a more optimistic, human (rather than alien, but there are elements of Clark having to hide who he really is and how he deals with that) Superman than the New 52 has given us. I hope Johns has been living up to this version of Superman in the issues already published. This does sound like this trio understands what Superman should be about. And Clark gets his friends back, too. It sounds like Johns’ run will fix everything Lobdell screwed up and give us the Superman we’ve been wanting in this new continuity. I really hope that’s the case. With Adventures Of Superman ending when it runs out of digital-first stories it would be nice to see the real Superman on shelves somewhere.