It’s been 75 years since DC Comics introduced Superman to an unsuspecting nation of comic book readers, and since his first appearance three-quarters of a century ago, the last son of Krypton has become the most famous superhero on Earth. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman debuted on April 18, 1938 in the first issue of “Action Comics.” A year later, the self-titled “Superman” series was launched and it, along with “Action,” has been published without interruption (not counting the New 52-fueled numbering reset) ever since.
Now, industry veteran Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort have been telling Clark Kent’s story in “Superman” while Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel inherit “Action Comics” from the departing Grant Morrison and Rags Morales in April. And with Warner Bros.’ big budget “Man of Steel” mere months from release, DC has upped its ante in Metropolis, launching two more Superman titles in June: “Superman Unchained” by superstar writer Scott Snyder and DC Comic Co-Publisher Jim Lee and “Batman/Superman” by “Planet Hulk” mastermind Greg Pak and Eisner Award winner Jae Lee.
CBR News spoke with the four writers in control of Superman’s adventures during his big anniversary year, and to a man, Diggle, Lobdell, Pak and Snyder expressed unequivocally their thrill at being tasked with such an awe-inspiring assignment at such a momentous time in the character’s long-standing history.
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CBR News: How different is the New 52 Superman from the Man of Steel of the past 70-plus years of continuity?
Greg Pak: In “Batman/Superman,” I am writing the story around the time of Grant Morrison’s “Action Comics” #1. We’re jumping back in time a little bit to tell the story of the first meeting between Superman and Batman, and definitely, at that point and time, the story features a really great and distinctive Superman. It’s going back to the roots of the character in a really interesting way. But it’s also something that we haven’t seen in a while.
The minute you look at the cover of New 52 “Action Comics” #1, you see that it’s a different kind of Superman. He’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt and work boots. It’s a Superman, and a Clark Kent, at a very, very young age. He’s fresh to Metropolis. He’s got a real populist streak. He’s always fighting for the little guy. And he’s cocky because he’s a kid. And that comes with a young person’s rawness and brashness about him, which is really interesting to explore because we’re used to Superman as the totally put together guy that does everything right — the Christopher Reeve version of Superman. He’s the adult in the room. And this Superman is not the adult in the room and that makes it really interesting.
His heart is totally in the right place, but he’s still young and raw and learning what it means to be a hero. I think this is a different kind of Superman to play with and I couldn’t be happier to have that chance.
Scott Snyder: At his core, I think he’s still the same character with the same sort of ethical compass. The things that make him great, that are imparted him by the Kents, are still there, but part of the fun of the New 52 is that he doesn’t have his history quite as defined down to a T.
I also think he has the feeling of being a little more rebellious or dangerous because he’s younger. I think we’re all playing with that in different ways.
â€¨Each of our books really has a different character. Some of us explore him being different and still relatively new, and I think other people explore the fact that many people have accepted him and his status is sort of what it was before. It really gives all of us some time to breathe, because the continuity is there and we are developing it, but it’s fluid enough that we all have room to do our own take on Superman and make it seem like it does gel, as different as they are.
Scott Lobdell: Seventy-five years of stories put on the shoulders of one character is a really difficult thing to do. Even the physicality of a 27-year old guy with 75 years of stories — that’s a lot of weight to put on a character. [Laughs]
Is he the same character? Yeah, he’s probably exactly the same character that he was in “Action Comics” #1 when he was lifting that car on the cover. But he’s a character that changes with time. And as new writers come on — I don’t think anybody was ever asked to take out the old Superman and throw him out like a baby in the bath water. It’s not about throwing out the things we don’t like about a character; it’s about finding the things that we do like about the character and writing to his strengths.
So yes, I would say that he is 100 percent the same character. It’s just, every decade or so, there are different types of stories. Fortunately, Superman can be as vital a character today as he has been each of the previous seven decades of storytelling.
Andy, DC Comics recently released a preview of your first issue of “Action Comics,” and in the panels teased, Superman says, “I don’t throw the first punchâ€¦ but I’ll throw the last.” That’s not very Clark-like, is it?
Andy Diggle: I’m taking the title “Action Comics” at face value. I want to make sure that there is plenty of action in there, which is kind of what I’m known for anyway. I’m trying to make it feel like a Superman comic but also an Andy Diggle comic, if that’s not too arrogant of a thing to say. [Laughs]
At the same time, because I’m following what Grant [Morrison] has been doing — and when Grant started writing [“Action”], it was set five years in the past — we kind of saw a young Superman before his power levels really ramped. He was more brash and he was quicker to anger and throwing people out of windows and breaking legs and stuff like that. He was a hero of the people kind of character. He’s mellowed out a little over the intervening five years until we get to the current New 52 version. He’s still a little more punchy and a little more quick to anger then, say, the Christopher Reeve version, but each generation has their own version of Superman and it feels like we’re all doing this generation’s Superman, now. He’s also not throwing himself into battle with as much relish as Grant’s early Superman did in those first “Action” issues.
To quote a line that is oft credited to Stan Lee, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m trying to write a Superman that has grown into taking responsibility for these insane power levels that he now has. Obviously, I want to do a fight with giant robots in my first issue, which I’m going to do! [Laughs] But at the same time, I’ve written Superman so that when they start menacing him, he doesn’t just start blowing holes in them. He says, “Guys, power down. Let’s talk about this.” He gives them the opportunity to solve this problem with a conversation, which they, of course, don’t. And that’s when he breaks out the “first punch” line.
I guess I’m trying to balance between the humble, wholesome Christopher Reeve version of Superman and the very punchy, aggressive, Grant Morrison “Action Comics” version.
Why is it about the character that has allowed him to endure and thrive for 75 years?
Pak: He works for several reasons. Firstly, Superman comics on one level are fantasy, right? And it’s a fantasy about what your life would be like if you had unbelievable powers. Superman is the epitome of that. He’s Superman. He’s the icon of the superhero. He’s incredibly fast, incredibly strong, incredibly smart, incredibly everything. For that pure fantasy level of excitement and escapism, Superman is king.
I’m old enough to remember when “Superman: The Movie” came out with Christopher Reeve, and the big tagline was: “You’ll believe that a man can fly.” And it was utterly thrilling to see that and dream of that. We all have that dream. I have flying dreams to this day. That kind of fantasy is a big part of the appeal. But that, by itself, wouldn’t be enough. You can get that same kind of excitement from a roller coaster. You know what I mean?
What makes it compelling as a story and a character is his tremendous backstory, which sets up the character as someone who is different than everybody, but striving to help. That sense of somebody that is an ‘other,’ someone who doesn’t belong but is doing his best to do the right thing all of the time. That’s incredibly compelling and universal. All of us, no matter how much we feel complete, sometimes feel like we’re on the outside, feel like we’re alone, feel like we’re strange and different. That’s why the Harry Potter books and movies are so popular. That’s why the X-Men are so popular. That’s why just about every pop culture phenomenon you can think of is so popular.
It’s amazing how many of the stories we love to cherish explore that sense of being different. That’s a universal human condition. And the reason Superman, in particular, is so compelling is because he’s on the outside, yet he’s doing his best to help everybody. That moral core of the character is something that we all, deep down, want to aspire towards. It’s that struggle to do the right thing that is really compelling.
And it’s not easy for him. I think that’s another thing that great Superman writers have explored over the years. This is a guy that — everything should be easy for him because he’s Superman and he can do anything, but he is still in a constant struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is and how to do it.
When “Superman Unchained” was announced, Jim Lee said, “We’ve been pushing the creators to not be beholden to past conceits and understandings of Superman so we can speak to a new generation of readers.” If not beholden to past conceits and understandings, what are you doing with the character to allow him to speak to new readers?
Pak: It’s easy to forget that for a person picking up a Superman comic for the first time they need to be able to immediately be drawn into these characters. They need to meet them as people and find some reason to run along with them and turn the page. And part of that is just finding those places to set up the history of the character so you can better understand them. It’s important to drop in those bits of their backstory that are compelling and need to be known in order to have the overall story make sense.
More importantly, it’s about finding those little moments, that help bring out the characters and what they’re struggling with at the moment. And already I’ve found that writing Superman there is fun to be had by just letting Superman do incredibly super things. At the same time, there is fun showing those small, everyday moments. This provides great contrast in the storytelling.
I keep talking about Harry Potter, but every Harry Potter, or at least several of those Harry Potter books, opened with Harry Potter on summer vacation living with his Muggle family. You see Harry in a regular world struggling with the types of things that every lonely, orphan kid struggles with, and then you step into the world of magic and you’re hooked. J.K. Rowling is no slouch and everybody knows that character now, but she always takes that character back to the Muggle world at the beginning of those stories to set it up so that new readers can slip in and get acclimated. You get hooked on these characters on a human level. You get hooked on what the various human concerns are. And then she whirls you off to the world of magic and you’re totally ready to go because you care about these characters desperately.
I think that’s the challenge for us writing comics, is to try and find that hook at key points so that we can position the characters for new readers to seamlessly step in and get hooked and get excited. That’s what’s great about the New 52 initiative. I’ll be honest, I’ve fallen behind on my DC comics reading, but the New 52 let me jump back in all over again with a bunch of characters.
Snyder: I agree with Greg. And by the way, I’ve read Greg’s first script and I’m so excited about that book and how accessible and fresh it is. But for [Jim and me], the idea is to tell a big, epic story with a new villain and a new kind of threat. The story is really about how young Superman is and how new he still is to the planet, even though people have accepted him as a champion and a hero. Our story isn’t so much about the population being suspicious of him; it’s more about this notion of, how well does he know himself and his powers? The threat that comes and the villain of the series is someone who really challenges him psychologically and emotionally and has a power set that will really threaten him.
The situation that we’re trying to put him in and the conflict that we are trying to build really has this big, earth-shatteringly large consequence and a huge plot, but at its heart, it’s really about how new Superman is to the planet. We’re trying to make it something that makes him both classic in some regards with some big, iconic heroic moments, and at the same time, give you a look at him and his physiology and all of that kind of stuff that is maybe a little different from what you’ve seen before.
Lobdell: I can’t wait to read Scott’s take. I like the fact that we’re suddenly in a world where we have Greg’s Superman and Andy’s Superman and Scott’s Superman and my Superman, because while I think that they are all the same character at the core, it’s not the case where you have one writer writing the character across four different books. It’s a way that each of us can examine the parts of Superman that we find most interesting.
When I hear Scott talk about his plans and I hear what Andy has planned — we were at the summit a while ago, talking about his love of Lois Lane — this is all stuff that I find interesting as a fan, to see other writers working on the character. As we are fans of him ourselves, that’s only going to translate to the wider audience of the Superman fans that are out there.
Pak: The character is deep enough and broad enough that different writers can bring out totally different nuances and all be contributing to the same big story for the character by telling very different kinds of stories that can reach very different kinds of readers. I think that’s the sheer genius of characters like this. They have that depth.
Diggle: One of the balancing acts that we all have to do is, and everyone bandies about the word iconic with Superman, but he really is the icon of a superhero. In a way, the character is so simple, and yet he’s this legendary character, so everybody gets him in their own way. Each writer can bring his own thing to him, so the balancing act is, how do you make it all coherent? How do you make it feel like it’s all taking place in the same universe?
At the same time, you have to leave each creative team enough room to breathe, enough room to give him their own particular flavor. The more we all communicate with each other, the better it is because we can make sure that we’re not going to trip over each other’s continuity and so on, while at the same time, we all have room to do our own thing.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of CBR’s Superman writer’s roundtable!
AXEL-IN-CHARGE: From ComiXology to Ageism To “Age of Ultron”
Diggle, Lobdell, Pak Snyder Celebrate Superman: Part II