Writer pens the first meeting of two superhero greats this week, and in the fall he starts on the iconic Man of Steel title.
Greg Pak is being handed the cape and the legacy that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster began 75 years ago.
The Man of Steelmovie featured a creative change for Superman on the big screen, and it’s happening in the comic books, too. Starting in November, Pak takes over as series writer of DC Comics’ iconic Action Comics series, which introduced the character in 1938, and joins artist Aaron Kuder.
Fans don’t have to wait until then to get a taste of Pak’s Superman, though. The first issue of Batman/Superman, illustrated by Jae Lee, debuts online and in comic shops Wednesday and features the first meeting of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne in a tale set before the twosome would team as part of the Justice League.
Penning the early adventures of arguably the two most iconic superheroes around “is crazy and incredibly fun,” says Pak, 44, who is mainly known for his work with Hulk, X-Men and other Marvel Comics characters but is making his DC debut with Batman/Superman. And getting the call to do Action Comics, too, “is one of those things you dream about idly, imagining the craziest thing that could ever happen to you in your comics career.”
The first Batman/Superman issue finds the two heroes at the beginning of their careers, and Clark Kent, a reporter for the Metropolis Daily Star, has come to Gotham City investigating the murder of three Wayne Enterprises employees.
When they meet out of costume, they don’t become the best of superfriends. Instead, they’re shocked by each other’s existence: One is running around in a bat costume and beating up people with impressive technology and physical skills, and the other is an insanely super-powered person invulnerable to bullets who can leap over tall buildings in a single bound.
Yet they find out they have more in common, especially with their backgrounds, than they would have thought.
“They’re figuring out what it is they’re doing, who they are and what kind of methods they’re going to use,” Pak says. “They’re testing their ethical limits and boundaries, and it’s just a huge opportunity for great drama and conflict. That whole package is a blast.”
A book like this needs and deserves a writer like Pak, who has penned epic, expansive comics such as Planet Hulk, Lee says. “He brings a different flair to the dialogue and approach to the story. I really feel like a kid again.”
Pak wanted to start the book with the meeting between Kent and Wayne, and Lee captures them as fresh-faced youngsters years before the adventures they’d have later. Pak also loves the little moments the artist brings, too, like Kent looking over his shoulder as he feels out of his element.
“He’s Clark but he’s also checking things out as Superman,” the writer says. “When you get an artist who can convey that kind of subtlety, who can draw the difference between 22 and 32 and bring out all of that, that’s an amazing gift.”
And in writing those scenes, and exploring what it’d be like for each of them to find out the other is a man of great abilities, Pak puts himself in those superhero boots — a trick he learned by taking an acting class while in film school at New York University.
“The things that an actor asks him or herself are the same things the writer has to ask to understand a character,” Pak explains. “You’re trying to see the whole world from their point of view, you try to imagine what your reactions would be and what you would do if you only knew what they knew and what they experienced.
“Harlan Ellison once said writers take tours in other people’s lives. I’m doing that all the time.”
The initial story arc takes Batman and Superman to the parallel world of Earth 2 for the first time, where they face older version of themselves.
“On Earth 2, these heroes are established and they’re best friends and they’re straight-up heroes who solve all the problems,” Pak says. “And our guys are young and raw and hate each other’s guts and are suspicious of everybody.”
The writer’s also enjoying the supporting cast of each hero, too. Catwoman fans will get a kick out of seeing her in the first issue, Pak says, and there will be a lot of tweaked female characters on Earth 2 such as Lois Lane, Catwoman (who’s married to Batman) and Wonder Woman, who’s romantically involved with the Man of Steel on regular Earth but not so much in the other world.
“There’s some fun stuff in those differences,” Pak says.
While working with Superman editors at DC Comics on Batman/Superman, the writer had lots of conversations that led to him being offered Action Comics.
He remembers being enamored with Batman in high school after reading Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” story line and The Dark Knight Returns, but as a child an oversized Superman book was one of his prized possessions.
“Basically, I’ve fallen in love with this character all over again,” Pak says. “In fact, the first comic book I ever drew as a kid was a Superman thing. I was doing Superman fan fiction when I was 6 years old.
“For young children, Superman is your first introduction to superheroes and you love him. But as I’ve gotten older, I realized how resonant the whole story of Superman is and how his struggles actually reverberate with people at every age.”
In most every superhero project he’s done, there is always a feeling of “standing on the shoulders of giants,” so Pak understands the long history of Action Comics. Yet, he says, it’s also his job to push characters so they can continue to thrive.
He takes over in issue 25 (or issue 929 if one goes off the pre-relaunch numbering) and plans to explore both Superman’s struggles with doing the right thing, and his life as Clark Kent.
“The book is called Action. So we want to have big action. And it’s Superman! Superman’s gotta do crazy, huge things,” Pak says. “At the same time, every step of the way in order for me to care and you to care, whatever Superman is going through has to resonate on that emotional level.”
Kuder is equally excited about working on Action Comics as well as with Pak. “I am a huge fan of Greg’s work and, as a person, he’s a super nice guy. I mean, come on, it’s freaking Superman!” says the artist, who is writing and illustrating a special Superman one-shot in September featuring the villain Parasite.
One of the themes Pak wants to explore with Superman is that even with all the drama and heroism, he’s just regular-dude Clark Kent at his core, a Kryptonian-born guy who grew up in Kansas with regular people, still trying to make sense of the power he has.
“It’s not like he grew up among people like him from day one and all his power was just totally natural and supported by everyone around him and everything was cool,” Pak says. “He grew up as a normal kid who discovered he had these powers and it was terrifying and it set him apart from everybody else and it gave him incredible responsibilities.
“In a weird way, that replicates everybody’s experience. Just as regular people, as we grow up we learn that we actually have real power. The things that we do can hurt people terribly, can break hearts, can break stuff, or they can be a real help to people. And it’s up to each of us to figure out what we’re going to do with our own abilities.”
Small decisions people make every day — determining whether to speak up when one sees a bully — are the same kind of huge decisions that Superman has to make, Pak figures.
“The character becomes the way for all of us to explore — in a safe way — these things we actually grapple with ourselves just by being human.”