That’s huge news in itself, given that he’s worked at the House of Ideas for most his life and is the son of Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Famer John Romita Sr. (also a veteran Marvel artist), but get a load of this: he’s going to take over Superman with Geoff Johns.
Take a look at the exclusive sketch DC provided to IGN of JRJR’s Superman:
A lot of comic fans find it hard to be surprised by character resurrections and the endings of big event stories, but it looks like the people behind the comics themselves still have the power to surprise us. Technically, Romita drew Batman in 1994’s Marvel/DC crossover Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights, but this is his first true project exclusively with DC.
We were invited to the taping of this morning’s DC All Access episode to provide you with an exclusive interview with the new Superman creative team. Hear how Romita came to work at DC, what he and Johns have planned for Superman, and what Romita’s father had to say about all this.
IGN Comics: The reaction to this when I heard the news was, “What!? No way!” This is astounding news. The rules of comics are that Uncle Ben stays dead and that John Romita Jr. draws for Marvel. So that’s out the window now. I’d just like to hear the story of how this happened.
John Romita Jr.: In all honesty, it was a little bit of happenstance. My contract at Marvel was nearing its end. By hook or by crook, I had been working on creator-owned for quite awhile with Mark Millar on Kick-Ass, and I developed a whole bunch of creator-owned properties myself. So before I actually decided to do this, I had been thinking about going freelance to work on my own creator-owned properties, and that was the ultimate decision-maker for me, was that I wanted to go freelance so I could do my own work. As I was ruminating about this, somebody suggested that I have a meeting with somebody in San Diego. That’s honestly what happened.
I had a meeting with [Co-Publisher of DC Comics Dan DiDio], and I had been talking it over with my wife Kathy. My wife had wanted me to try Superman for a long time — Superman or Batman. I never really paid attention to it, only because I had been under contract. So it was a confluence of events: a really good breakfast with Dan, some accepted ideas, and it built on itself. Plus, I’m still going to have a chance to work on my creator-owned properties at some point during this and after this. So it serves all my purposes. The biggest thing for me was I’ve always said I want to do something I haven’t done before, whether it’s draw something in a way that I haven’t drawn before, tell a story in a way I haven’t done before — and this is the ultimate in something I haven’t done before.
IGN: I’ve seen the sketches, and they look absolutely incredible, especially in how you captured the weight of the character and the momentum and power that he has, which is perfect for your style. What are you going to bring to Superman, who is the most iconic character out there?
JRJR: Honestly, the only thing I can do is stay within myself on this. I’ve said before, I’m a little bit intimidated for the soul purpose that there are so many people who have done it before me, and done it very well — exceptionally well, iconic versions. So if you concentrate too much, you feel like you’re following a Hall of Famer in a position on a baseball field. You can’t do that. So all I can do is do the best I can do. One of the things I can do as well as other people is tell a story. That actually makes my artwork look better. So if the storytelling is there, the artwork will be there. But I can’t look at myself as trying to compete with the guys before me. I’d go out of my mind. So I will honestly stick to what I can do best, and hopefully the rest will work.
But I’ve actually asked myself the question you just asked me. I call them death books. I followed guys like John Romita Sr. on Spider-Man, I followed Frank Miller on Daredevil. Now I’m following Jim Lee on Superman. I’m not exactly brilliant with my strategy, but I just know that I’m in good company if I followed those people. I have detractors, and I have fans. I will find out quickly if it’s not quality. I’ll know instantaneously, from the first printing.
IGN: I have to ask, John, what did your dad say?
JRJR: [Laughs] Honestly, his first reaction was his eyes were wide open. “Are you really going to do this?” We have gone back and forth in discussions with the DC guys on two or three occasions before this. He said, “Are you really going to do it this time? You’re not going to just tempt them and leave them in a lurch.” I said, “No, and if I did that before, I feel stupid. I wouldn’t do that again.” When I did make the decision, he said, “Good. If you’re happy, I’m happy.” He said, “I have no allegiance anymore. I’ve been retired since 1996.” He said, “Whatever’s good for you, whatever’s good for your family,” and he said, “Best of all, it’s something that’s different and something new, something you would never consider,” which were the words that came out of my mouth a short time before that. He’s very biased, but he’s very happy.
IGN: Geoff, what are you looking forward to working with John? What can you tell us about what’s coming up for the story?
Geoff Johns: Well, probably one of my favorite things I did was I went back, and I read so many of John’s comics, all the work he’s done. It was really actually a pleasure to read it. When you write for any artist, you want to make sure that you know their work. You have to tailor your style differently to everybody, and John’s work is so beautiful and so epic and yet personal. One of the things I loved about his run on Spider-Man, for instance, it’s just the personal moments were as powerful as the big action moments.
So going in and analyzing John’s art and taking it all in and sitting with that for awhile was where the story started to come. What kind of story is going to best pair up with what I think John does the best? So the story really developed around that and around some discussions John and I had. I don’t think we want to talk too much about the story and specifics yet because it’s so early, but it will introduce a new character, and it will kind of reset Superman and his universe in the New 52. I think we’ve got a lot of great ideas that we’ve never seen before in a Superman book. One in particular that John threw out was — I guess it ended up being a very casual thought, but then it turned into such a hinge to our entire storyline, and it developed in a way that I never expected it to.
I think working with somebody like John, who has ideas of his own, we’d go back and forth and amplify each other. That’s really where I get my excitement about working on a project, is when I speak with an artist and we actually become real, creative collaborators. It’s not about handing a script over and then having the pages drawn. It’s gotta be about that collaboration. You talk and formulate ideas and themes before you even start writing or drawing. For me, that’s the key to a great relationship. Again, like I said, it’s a lifelong dream. It’s such an honor to work with John, because I’ve followed his work of course for years. So it’s really a dream come true, and it’s great to be back on Superman.
IGN: Yeah, you’ve written Superman before back in the pre-New 52 DC Universe. In the New 52, you’ve had some Superman moments in your Justice League run, and now you’re returning to the character in his own title, which is momentous in it’s own way.
If you had to come up with a tagline for this book, what would it be?
Johns: For me, as far as the story goes, my tagline for the story is “Putting the Man of Tomorrow back in the Man of Tomorrow.” It’s really looking at Superman and getting back to the core values and attributes and strengths of Superman. Really, the Man of Tomorrow is the theme, for me, that we’re going to tackle in this first storyline.
IGN: John, you want to add to that?
JRJR: [Laughs] I’m an artist, so I should draw something for you right now. But honestly, there’s a lot of unknown in this, about the project, because I’ve never done the character before. I didn’t have an idea of what I was going to do before I decided. I didn’t have an idea of what I’m going to do now that I have decided, because until I read Geoff’s synopsis a couple hours ago, I hadn’t considered anything other than a couple of pinup shots. Now I have an idea. Now I’m turning it around in my head. The Man of Tomorrow line is perfect for this. To me, it’s a little bit more of the Man of the Unknown, because there are some things about Superman that are unknown officially, now, that we will discover. So that part I’m really excited about.
Johns: Yeah, we really are exploring the unknown. If there’s a theme for this entire project, it’s entering the unknown, right John?
Johns: Working on the project, working in new territory, and then the storyline; it really is discovering the unknown. We’ll learn some things about Superman that you’ve never known before, one in particular that is going to be redefining him in a way that we’ve never seen.
JRJR: Absolutely. Well put. That’s why you are the writer! He can write. I’ve been asked what my favorite writers are that I’ve worked with in the past, and I could never give a straight answer because they’re all amazing. What’s exciting about this is I read Geoff’s stuff more intently when I found out there was a chance to work with him. I love the colloquial dialogue that applies to this fantasy stuff. Gaiman does that, where you have this amazing fantasy moment, and you have this casual dialogue that applies to it, then there are other casual moments with the fantasy dialogue. That to me is the proper balance of both. I usually look at a book, and I’d stare at the pictures, because I’m an artist, and I want to see what my competition is.
When I found out there was a chance to work with Geoff and then when I found out that I was going to work with Geoff, I started leafing through things, looking at the artwork first, then I started reading the dialogue. I’m not sure if Geoff was in complete control of the artists when he was working with that person. It sure looked that way, because the dialogue and the art really were nicely mingled. I think that that lends itself towards a really fantastic collaboration with me. As long as I don’t — in the words of the running back in the Cleveland Browns, “Oh Lord, please don’t let me eff this up!”
IGN: [Laughs] That’s a good note to end on.
Johns: It is, and I echo that statement. This is my chance to work with John Romita Jr., and I say the exact same thing every night: “Lord, don’t let me eff this up.”