Greg Pak is known amongst superhero readers for stories full of smashing gods whose stories dug up some deep character moments. But up until today, that sensibility was defined by one side of the Big Two equation.
With the announcement this afternoon that the longtime “Incredible Hulk” writer would team with Jae Lee on a new “Batman/Superman” ongoing series, Pak is making his mark on the DC Comics universe for the first time. And adding to that new series idea is the hook of the story: a first meeting between the two iconic heroes within the history of the company’s New 52 relaunch.
CBR News reached out to Pak to discuss how this story came to be, and below the writer explains his own history with Batman and Superman, explains how this book and this story will be different from past meet-ups between the World’s Finest heroes and describes why younger, more dangerous heroes will combine with Lee’s signature stylings for a whole new world of ideas.
Story continues below
CBR News: Greg, when I first heard the news about “Batman/Superman, my reaction was, “This can’t be the first time Greg Pak has written anything for DC, can it?” But a quick Google search confirmed it was. How did you end up talking to the folks over there and landing this job?
Greg Pak: I’ve been friendly with folks at DC for a long time and particularly with Jim Lee. We did a panel together at the San Diego Asian Film Festival a few years back, which was the first time I got to meet him face-to-face, and we kept in touch. A while ago, I got a call from him and the timing was right. It was an insanely exciting project, so I said, “Let’s do this!” When you get a call from Jim Lee about these characters, it’s an exciting time. But this is indeed my first DC book.
Do you feel at all that there’s a difference in writing for the DCU as opposed to the Marvel sandbox you’ve been in for so long?
It’s funny. In the past when I thought vaguely about what it’d be like to write the DC characters, I thought there would be a difference in that kind of a way, but now I don’t think so. To be honest, the one thing I’ve found everywhere I’ve worked in comics including at Aspen, Valhalla, Dynamite and Marvel is that everybody I’ve worked with has been very interested in figuring out a cool story that matters on an emotional level in developing the characters. It’s just about finding the emotional hook in the story that gets to the essence of who these characters are. That’s what everybody’s interested in. So it’s been great transitioning to DC on that front.
I will say that one of the exciting things about this project in terms of where DC is at right now is that the New 52 allows us a lot of freedom to get into who the characters are from the ground up. The company had this huge, exciting and brave initiative, and it makes a great entry point for the characters. That’s an exciting place to work from as a writer.
We know this story will be the origin of how Batman and Superman first met in the New 52. I feel like that’s a story that’s been told multiple times in multiple venues, but it’s also the kind of thing that has room for infinite variations. What did you want to bring to this to make it stand apart from past takes on their meeting?
Again, I’ll point to the setup of the New 52. It’s just very interesting in terms of where you can start with these characters. I think the way Superman’s origins are in the New 52 give us a great entry point. He doesn’t come out fully formed when he first starts superheroing. In Grant Morrison’s “Action Comics” series, we see this is a guy who’s raw and young and rash. He does things in a way where a more mature Superman might see it in a different light. There’s a great opportunity in working with these very young characters where they’re raw and, frankly, dangerous. That’s the real distinction here between some other tellings of their first meeting.
I mean, I love the classic story where the two meet on a cruise ship. [Laughs] I think that’s where they first did it, and it’s hilarious. The cruise ship is overbooked, and so they end up getting put into the same state room by chance.
It’s like a screwball comedy.
It is! And I love that. But the tone of this is different. We’ve got an opportunity to work with a different tone and look at these guys at a very different stage in their lives. I think looking at any character at the point where they’re becoming who they are offers a real cool opportunity. There are places we reach in our lives where we could turn one way or the other, and that’s where these characters are in this story. So the way they react to each other is also going to be fraught with danger. I mean, what would your reaction be to the first time in the world you came across a guy who dresses as a giant bat and beats the heck out of people? Are you immediately going to assume this guy’s a hero? And what are you going to do the first time you meet an alien who can bend steel with his bare hands? Given these guys’ understanding of the world when they meet, everything changes. And it’s not necessarily in a friendly way. There are huge opportunities for new stories.
From your own perspective as a reader, I feel like when you read DC Comics as a kid you can be a Superman guy or a Batman guy. What side of that equation did you fall on?
When I was very young, I had two “first comic books.” Well, my very first comic was a Richie Rich comic, and I remember thinking, “Wow, that dog sure has a lot of money!” [Laughter] But my first superhero comics were a Marvel Treasury Edition of “Spider-Man” and a Superman oversized comic. They were both these oversized books we’d gotten at a Target or something like that back in the day. I’m actually holding the Superman one right now, and it’s like 10 X 14. It was printed in 1975, and it’s got some reprints of cool old Superman stories including this great one about Ziggy and Zaggy called “The Juvenile Delinquents…From Space!” It’s all these great Silver Age stories, and I read and reread it a million times when I was a kid. One of them deals with Superman being in terrible danger, and he finds out he’s going to be saved by someone whose initials are “LL.” Who could that be? Lex Luthor? But the big twist is that it’s a Little League. [Laughs] This kid from a Little League team closes the box of Kryptonite to save Superman.
Flipping through this now, even that story itself is just awesome because it’s about what a lot of superhero stories are about;Â it’s about the underdog. The most important person in the story isn’t Lex Luthor or Lois Lane or Lana Lang or Lightning Lad. It’s just a little kid. That’s Superman’s hero here. There’s something interesting about that, how these hugely powerful heroes become relatable to kids or just to regular people. I think that’s a real value to these stories and how they’ve been written over the years.
So that was my entry level Superman book. And growing up, I did not have great access to monthly comics because I was buying them from the local 7-Eleven where it was hard to get consecutive issues. I do remember checking out a big book of Superman stories from the library, and I remember be scared of Superman for a while because there was this really creepy Bizarro cover that freaked me out when I was very young. But these are iconic characters that stuck with me. I loved the Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner movie as a kid.
With Batman, I remember as a kid being fascinated by the images from his origin story where he trains himself to physical and mental perfection. He’s holding up a barbell or studying test tubes or whatever. And that was a strange and inspiring challenge –Â the idea that a regular guy could do that. It’s not that I ever dreamed I could train myself to physical perfection. [Laughs] But that was a very attractive thought that a regular person could rise to be a superhero.
I kind of drifted away from comics at a certain point early in high school. I still read some indie comics like “Usagi Yojimo” which was a big favorite and “Cerebus.” But I’d drifted away from superhero comics until college, and I got back into it because of Batman. Specifically, it was “Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One.” That’s what got me back in was Batman and Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Those books blew me away, and there’s so much atmosphere in them. There’s so much world there. Seeing this lonely individual trying to make these crazy worlds better was really gripping. The depth and texture of that was mind-blowing.
So both of the characters have been important to me at different times of my life, and the chance to work with them today — particularly telling this story –Â is tremendous.
What’s it been like working with Jae Lee? He’s got a very atmospheric, statuesque feel to his characters, and I have to assume that you have to change up your approach some to mesh with that.
Oh yeah. I love it when I know early on who’s drawing a book. As I’m putting together sequences and thinking about how I’m staging things, it helps to have those images in my head. Jae’s amazing, and like I was talking about the atmosphere of “Year One,” his work is built on atmosphere. His wife June is our colorist, and the two of them working together brings so much depth to these images and these worlds. I’m really thrilled about that. I think Batman and Superman are characters for whom their environment plays a huge role. Their biographies are tied to certain places and cities. Their whole reason for being and their psyches are tied to those locations in interesting ways. Having someone like Jae to create those worlds is fantastic.
And if you’re familiar with Jae’s work, you know that he’s a no-brainer for Batman. He’s really well known for these elegant, creepy, haunting images. You guys are going to go nuts when you see how Jae draws Gotham City. But another great thing about this is that we’ve been talking a lot, and Jae’s interested in stretching in some different ways and showing off other sides of himself as an artist. I think everyone’s going to be equally blown away by how he draws Superman and those other environments. We’ve talked quite a bit in person and on the phone, and this is going to be a special collaboration.
With so many new elements at play in this story, what’s the central way in which you brought all the pieces together to tell a new story?
I definitely have all those things in mind, but I can’t tell you just yet. [Laughs] I can say that this story is going to get very big. I think DC Universe fans in particular are going to be excited when we reveal our villain and the full scope of the story. But I think particularly when you’re dealing with these kinds of iconic characters and a story this big is to get under the skin of these guys in a way the audience can appreciate.
Dan DiDio said something to me a while ago that really resonated. He said we’re so used to these characters. They’ve been with us almost our whole lives. Since I was seven I’ve known these guys. And we think that we’ve seen everything in their origins and we just know it, so it’s not something we need to think about while writing their stories. It’s very easy to skip over stuff and get to it. But the fact of the matter is, in order to pull people in and to pull me in, you’ve got to start in a place that finds a way to introduce them that’s fresh and exciting but also gets to the roots of the characters. You’ve got to find that new, surprising way to introduce these guys. When we pick up a book, we may think we know the characters –Â and we do –Â but every writer is bringing their own nuance. There’s a reason this book wants to be, and it’s the job of the writer to show that. You have to show who these characters are along with what you want to reveal about them.
That’s a very long-winded way of saying that this is a crazy exciting story with big ramifications, but at the same time I’m really working hard to bring out the character moments that make it live and breathe. These guys are flesh and blood under these suits, and I really want to get under their skin and come away with a fresh sense of who they are. There’s some amazing work that’s been done by the other writers of the New 52 to set this story up, and I’m really lucky to be able to come in now and tell this story. I’m doing my best, and I hope everyone has fun with it.
“Batman/Superman” #1 ships this spring from DC Comics.
AXEL-IN-CHARGE: Jonathan Hickman Takes “Avengers” To “Infinity”
EXCL PREVIEW: Jim Zub’s “Uncanny Skullkickers”