UPDATED April 30 @ 1:26PM: The original version of this story indicated Dustin Nguyen will be providing would be illustrating a full-length story in an upcoming issue of “Superman Unchained.” CBR has since learned that this is not the case, and Jim Lee will illustrate the remaining issues of the series in their entirety.
In an extremely chilly conference room two stories above the show floor of the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, DC Comics’ VP of Marketing, John Cunningham, paced around the room, waiting for creators to join him for the Superman: The Man of Tomorrow panel.
After Greg Pak arrived, Cunningham pulled Aaron Kuder from the audience and brought him on panel. Pak is currently writing “Action Comics” and “Batman/Superman,” while Kuder is drawing “Action” and writing “Superboy.”
The first slide was DC’s promotional logo for Batman’s 75th anniversary, leading Pak to point out, what better way to celebrate than by adding “Batman/Superman” to your pull list? This got a good laugh from the audience, and Cunningham added that DC will be celebrating the Dark Knight throughout the year.
The slideshow began with an image from “Action Comics” #30, “Prelude to Doom,” featuring Doomsday clobbering two polar bears, with a presumably deceased third bear in the foreground. Pak surveyed the crowd for readers of “Action Comics,” which were two-thirds of those assembled. “This is a good place to jump onboard,” Pak declared to the remaining third. “We’ve got the set up for the big ‘Doomed’ story, which is coming. And how do you know Doomsday is a bad guy? He kills endangered species!” The crowd chucked, as Pak continued, “That is just unacceptable, and it must be stopped.” Pak explained that Doomsday kills everything he encounters, checking himself by saying that, really, readers don’t know if Doomsday is a he, she or neither, only that Doomsday is a killing machine.
“‘Action’ #30 sets some things up that are going to pay off big time in the ‘Doomed’ one-shot that comes out in May,” Pak continued. “You’re going to see a Doomsday that you’ve never seen before. Not your daddy’s Doomsday. He’s your Doomsday. It’s going to be the hugest, biggest challenge Superman has ever had. It’s going to be an enormous comic book fight that does everything comics does so very well — incredible, huge, visceral action as well as big emotional content.” The story will explore multiple aspects of Superman’s supporting cast.
At this point, Scott Snyder’s arrival was greeted with exuberance from the audience, prompting Cunningham to welcome Charles Soule, who had quietly snuck in and quietly assumed his place on the stage, to the proceedings.
The slideshow changed to display the cover for “Doomed” #1, which kicks off the event. From that one-shot the “Doomed” storyline continues into “Action Comics” #31, “Superman/Wonder Woman” #8 and “Superman” #31, “will blow your minds, it’s going to take it to the next level and provide our hero with Superman level challenges on every level, according to Pak.
Steel is on the cover of “Action Comics” #31, and Pak shared that, “Steel’s going to have some trouble in the ‘Doomed’ one-shot, and you’re going to see a whole new Steel in Issue #31.”
“Steel is a regular dude who is trying to become Superman through strength of mind and strength of will,” Soule said, adding that he’s a fun character to write.
Asked how the crossover came about, Soule shared that throughout the first arc of “Superman/Wonder Woman,” readers were teased with Doomsday appearances. Last October, Soule, Pak and others at DC began planning the event. “We all know [the ‘Death of Superman’] story. It meant a lot to a lot of us, so we wanted to do it in a way — we’re not doing that story, but we wanted to do a new story that would pay homage to it in present day and do a lot of new things.”
“The books are designed so that if you just read ‘Action,’ I love you and just keep reading ‘Action,'” Pak quipped, leading to gentle ribbing from the panel.
Pak went on to say the supporting characters would remain in their respective books and the impact of “Doomed” would be apparent on them. He added, “When you take the whole thing in as a whole, it’s kind of a beautiful thing. Each book will lead to the other. The whole is going to be much greater. Each individual puzzle piece, by which I means issue, is going to feel like a very consistent story in and of itself.” he then declared it will be, “The best crossover you’ve ever read.”
Addressing concerns that this is simply a retelling of “Death of Superman,” Pak said assured the audience, “It’s really not. There’s a whole new emotional challenge for Superman that he has never faced — that our Superman has never faced… Doomsday — this storyline is going to push him to the limit with all those questions. It’s gonna put him in a position where none of the answers he’s had to these questions apply. They’re new circumstances that challenge everything he knows and they’re going to test Superman in some really great ways.
“If you love Superman, I hope you’re going to love this story,” Pak continued. “Also, Krypto’s in it.”
Asked about the significance of the triptych image used at the launch of “Superman/Wonder Woman,” Soule explained that while the first six issues dealt with Superman and Wonder Woman exploring their relationship, they were also busy with big villains, “Zod and Faora were a shadow version of them they had to fight.” As the slide changed to “Superman/Wonder Woman” #7, Soule explained that the issue does two things. “It’s the first chance they have to take a breath,” but it’s also a “Prelude to Doomed” issue, so Doomsday will start to come into view. Every moment of happiness the two heroes have will gain extra resonance because readers know something is going to happen to shake the characters up.
Soule went on to say that the Doomsday action is “really, only Act One of this story. It’s about what happens in Acts Two and Three that play out over the rest of the summer.” Issues #8-11 show the effects of the fight on Superman, Wonder Woman and the cast around them. The scope of “Doomed” allows other characters to appear, like Batman, and readers will finally see some interaction between Lois Lane and Wonder Woman in Issue #8. “Doomed” is, according to Soule, “not a Justice League event, but a lot of those characters keep showing up in it.”
Cunningham asked to review the Doomsday slides one more time. The images deict Doomsday underwater, killing sharks and on land, killing polar bears. He appears to be working his way through the animal kingdom. Cunningham was a bit uncomfortable with the animals being killed, so Soule assured him that Doomsday would be killing more endangered animals.
“You definitely one-upped us,” Snyder said. “We fought a horse and then we fought a lion. I was taking all this heat yesterday,” the writer continued, referring to the scene in “Batman” #31 where the Dark Knight fights for his life against and mortally wounds a lion. “After you did that [Doomsday’s violence against animals], you’re like ‘Your move, Batman!'”
“PETA did not certify these issues,” Soule added.
The conversation then shifted to “Superboy” as Kuder explained how he landed his writing gig. “I wrote the ‘Parasite’ issue of ‘Villains’ Month’ last September,” Kuder said. “Eddie [Berganza] liked it a lot and asked me to write something else.”
Jonathan Lane Kent, born in the future as a child of Superman and Lois, was brainwashed by Harvest and trained to be a sadistic warrior. For some reason, however, the time-displaced character is now dying. “The big premise I wanted to address right away, here he is a trained warrior sent back from this dystopian future and he has to deal with his mortality. And he’s used to being this really mean, really powerful guy, and yet he goes back into this time and it’s basically his own version of utopia. And he’s dying. How can somebody stay angry when they’re facing their mortality and they’re in their own virtual heaven? So we deal with that right away; we kind of bring down his meanie notch.”
“And then he dies,” Snyder interjected, to laughter from the panelists and attendees.
Pointing to Jae Lee’s art on “Batman/Superman” specifically, Cunningham said of the entire “New 52” line, “The level of artwork on these books is just so staggering right now. It’s really cool.” Pak explained a little about the recent crossover between “Batman/Superman” and “Worlds’ Finest,” while also praising Lee’s art. “Batman/Superman” #12 provides some payoff for the Earth 2 events that have occurred in the title. Pak also said that the growth of the relationship between Batman and Superman was a gift for a writer.
When the panel moved to “Superman Unchained,” Snyder said, “This book has been such a blast for me. I’m just finishing the last issue now.” Snyder apologized for the book’s tardiness, explaining both he and Jim Lee overestimated their ability to add this book into their schedules as a monthly. Now that the book is no longer monthly, Lee is able to pour more detail into his drawings. As a result, “Superman Unchained” #8 and #9 will also be larger than a standard monthly comic.
Snyder said a collection of older Superman stories — fighting Nazis, carrying subs and even blowing things up with the bad guys in them — is what got him interested in writing a story about the Man of Steel. To that end, Snyder fashioned Wraith to be a cipher, a larger, stronger, perhaps more-amped up version of Superman, who believes, “they [Wraith’s people] shot me here for a reason. I landed in this country. I’m dedicated to helping this country, essentially, defend and promote its ideology and any mission that’s given to me. I’m a soldier, I’m a warrior.”
“I’m trying to really hurt Superman emotionally, like the way we go after Bruce,” Snyder said. “Wraith wants everything from the Fortress [of Solitude].” This leads to a brawl with all the major players on stage. Snyder revealed that Superman will attempt to use a Kryptonite-equivalent on Wraith. Reeling, Wraith asks Superman where that came from, to which the Man of Steel replies, “It’s good to have friends who are paranoid.” From there, the comic cuts to a scene of Batman whistling, illustrated with a musical note actually coming from Batman’s lips.
“Superman Unchained” #7 is an oversized brawl, as Wraith goes after Batman who just needs to avoid getting killed. Snyder dropped more than a few spoilers about the issue, including the trophies of the Batcave and their role in the battle — Jim Lee wants to use the dinosaur as a weapon — and the odds stacked against both Superman and Batman. Can Batman stay alive, and can Superman survive all of the Superman-killer weapons the military turns on him. “The answer is, not without Lois,” Snyder said. Also, there is a big secret behind Wraith that he doesn’t understand about himself. “It goes as crazy as you can imagine at the end. Planet-destroying forces, all over the place.”
“How good are the Superman books now?” Soule asked.
“There’s one other Superman book we haven’t mentioned,” Cunningham said, referring to “Superman,” written by Geoff Johns, drawn by John Romita Jr. and inked by Klaus Janson. Their run starts with “Superman” #32, debuting at the end of June. Cunningham made the point that the deconstruction of Superman to “just a guy from Kansas” that occurred with the launch of the “New 52” was intentional, to give Superman a world with new consequences for his actions and to give the world a Superman who doesn’t know everything as the pre-“New 52” version appeared to.
The first audience question asked the panelists about their approach to writing Superman’s villains. “We talk about it, actually,” Pak answered. “We try to figure out a fun take for each of them.” He mentioned the Superman writers talk things through with one another as well as with their editor Eddie Berganza, and the two sources combine at Superman summits. “All of these characters have to push our hero in a new and special way.”
Soule added that with the New 52, “You can crack open a villain and change their motivations if you want to.” He suggested that the newer, evolved heroes could also have evolved villains.
“They have to make the heroes really frightened of themselves in some way,” Snyder said. “That’s how we approach Lex Luthor in [‘Superman Unchained’], and Joker in ‘Batman.'” Those villains might point something out to the hero that the hero had never seen before, or hopes isn’t true, or had never considered from that point of view. The villains have to get under the heroes’ skin in a new way.
Cunningham noted that the due to the questioner’s press badge, he chose to award her a limited edition “Forever Evil” hat, a move which generated laughter among attendees. “It is indicative of nothing of how I feel about the comic book press. At all.”
An audience member asked who would win in an all-out brawl between all of the variations of Superman. Snyder wasted no time in his response — “Batman” — which was met with applause and laughter.
Pak’s answer was Christopher Reeve, and Snyder’s real answer was “Superman: The Animated Series,” due to the fully realized mythology. Kuder’s nominee was the Curt Swan Superman, while Soule favored the “Red Son” Superman. “That communist mindset might help him out.”
In light of the 75th anniversary of Superman, the next audience member asked, “Is there a story that should get more recognition?”
Pak answered, “I am a huge fan of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s ‘Superman for All Seasons.’ It’s a beautiful book and Jeph’s great. Jeph loves these characters so much,” and continued, “I re-read that book when I started working on Superman. It’s great.”
Kuder admitted a fondness for Roger Stern’s work on Superman, and Soule recommended “It’s a Bird” by Steven T. Seagle, which looks at the way Superman affects the world.
“‘Birthright,’ for me, is one of the seminal books,” Snyder replied. When he was beginning his work with Superman, he consulted Mark Waid who recommend the Elliott S. Maggins novels. The novels, he explained, are filled with character definition.
Soule also mentioned “Gladiator,” a novel by Philip Wylie from 1930 which has been cited as one of the inspirations for Superman. “It is unbelievably good.”