In September, comic book writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson brought readers a brand new number one issue of “Supergirl” and a brand new take on the alien teenager, exploring her origins and beginnings on Earth as part of DC Comics’ 52 title relaunch.
If you’re a fan of Superman, you’re probably already aware of Green and Johnson who co-wrote the ongoing monthly “Superman/Batman” from issue #46 through 63. Or you may know them from their television and film credits; in addition to his work on the Wildstorm “Fringe” and IDW “Star Trek: Countdown” comics, Johnson wrote for “Transformers: Prime” on the Hub Network and Green is no stranger to superheroes or teenage melodrama as he both wrote for and produced NBC’s “Heroes” and the CW’s “Smallville.”
Featuring art by Turkish artist Mahmud Asrar, whose previous credits include “Adventure Comics” for DC and “Dynamo 5” for Image Comics, the three combined forces in the first issue of “Supergirl” to introduce readers to their version of the Maid of Might: a scared and super-powered Kara Zor-El who is stuck on Earth and not at all happy about it.
Green and Johnson spoke with CBR about the book, discussing their love for the pre-September Supergirl, promising more mayhem in coming issues as the Kryptonian teen faces off against Superman and a mysterious new villain and explaining why, when it comes to Kara, their comic will show “with great power comes great exploitation.”
CBR News: You were the wroting team for quite a while on “Superman/Batman.” When the “Supergirl” title came up for grabs, how did you get involved — did you actively seek it out? What attracted you to the title?
Michael Green: This was a rare and fun incoming call. Eddie Berganza reached out to us and said, Something big is going on here, can’t quite talk about it, but do you have any time?” The answer to that question is always, “We’ll make time!” He said, “What do you think about Supergirl?” As it happens she’s a character Mike and I had thought about a lot and had a lot of ideas for and have pitched things about before that just weren’t [pitched at] the right time. So when he said Supergirl, we were both like, “Hang on a sec!” and we were able to just [list] idea after idea of things we’d been dying to do with her anyway.
Mike Johnson: She popped up in our “Superman/Batman” book a couple of times — we had a lot of fun doing an issue with Rafael Albuquerque on art where she teams up with Robin and they go into Arkham Asylum. Even at that one issue, she’s just a really fun character to write. She’s sort of got all the fun, cool stuff that Superman can do, but her personality is so different that she’s just a blast to write.
Because you guys had the chance to write Kara before, when it came to reboot her for the New 52, did you go back to those “Superman/Batman” issues to figure out what you wanted to keep, or were you inventing a whole new Supergirl so it didn’t matter what came before?
Green: We think she’s still ultimately very much the same girl, but what we get a chance to do is tell the story of how she got to be that familiar Kara — we get to tell her beginnings on Earth. As it turns out, that’s a really underexploited story with tons of potential for exploring what it’s like for a girl like her to land on Earth and experience it for the first time.
Johnson: I think the core character is there, whether you are reading Sterling Gates’ run on the character or seeing her now, in this new light. The core qualities of her being heroic, but also being very relatable in terms of how she handles her powers and her experiences in this crazy alien world she wakes up in, those, of course, don’t change. As Michael said, we’re getting this great opportunity to go back to this earliest part of her experience and tell it in a new way.
The first issue is a bit light on plot but does delve into Kara’s inner monologue and who Kara is. In order to get new readers onboard, rather than setting up a big overarching story right away, did you want to pace the first issue so they got to know the character first?
Green: Yeah, we’re definitely thinking long game with her and we wanted to make sure that people were first introduced to the perspective with Supergirl’s point of view. It’s really the most important and the most fun part of it because it’s through her eyes we’re seeing this crazy world we live in. We wanted to make sure we had room to understand it. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with letting Mahmud draw and give him some space to show off, too, because we really, really enjoy looking at his work!
Johnson: The plot is going to come. It’s more important that we get into that plot once we already have gotten readers into Kara’s POV and sympathizing with her — and then we get into the juicy plot stuff, which is going to unfold over the opening issues. Also, the fact we’re not dumping a bunch of plot right now mirrors Kara’s own experience — she doesn’t have all the answers. We’re going to explore with the readers; the readers are going to experience it as she does, where she finds out new things and she gets some answers but more questions are raised.
Green: We really wanted to get into the mystery of that, and for us, plot without character is just mechanics. It’s much more important for us to get hooked into who she is, then exactly what is happening to her. That will come and we have a bunch of ideas and we’re really excited about it. We just had to be a little bit patient with ourselves in terms of complication.
Talking about the first arc, you’ve set up the mystery of how Kara gets to Earth, you have her crash-landing and getting the worst reception possible for a confused teenaged girl in the first issue! Where do you go from here?
Green: It’s a big planet! [Laughs]
Johnson: It’s a big planet; it’s a big galaxy, a big universe! Issue two, I think you can see from the cover, is showing her introduction to her cousin and the idea of whatever he has to tell her, it’s not that she’s automatically going to take him at face value. If you woke up somewhere bizarre and someone walked up to you and said, “Earth is destroyed,” you’re not going to say, “Oh, really?” and start crying. You’re going to want answers for yourself. On the flip side, he’s not necessarily going to believe that she is who she says she is. That’s really the foundation for issue two. Getting into three and four, we dive into answers about the pod she arrived in and the nature of it and who sent those big killer robots to retrieve the pod in issue one, so there’s a lot more answers there. Beyond that, when we start getting into five and six, we start to get more information about the circumstances surrounding her past, why she was sent and what the circumstances were for her arrival.
Green: Sort of in the overview way, the first bunch of issues and the story will be, for us, Kara going through the questions of, where the Hell am I, how did I get here and ultimately, what is my place here now that I am here? Those aren’t easy questions to answer, and they’re not questions that have definitive answers. Her role on Earth isn’t obvious and it’s going to be evolving.
Johnson: We could answer a ton of those questions in issues two and three and tie a nice bow on it, but first of all, it robs the book of mystery and tension, and then it also just robs us of character. It robs us of being able to experience what she’s going through in a way that’s unique to our book, because of all the other DC characters, most of them are sort of established, whereas Kara is in the same place new readers are, which is, where the heck am I?
Green: We really want to see her become a hero on Earth, rather than just be one. It’s a long journey.
Just looking at the solicits, it doesn’t seem like it is a foregone conclusion she’ll even be a hero.
Green: Exactly! That’s why the point of view of that girl is really important. We wanted to just imagine what would it be like to be someone who had a life and family and world you expected that you could rely on, to literally wake up in a new environment and have insane capabilities. You wouldn’t jump to, “I guess I’m a superhero on this new planet!” You would start with, “What is this new planet? What are these creatures? They have a language, I should probably learn that. How do you find food around here? There’s a thing called money?” It’s a little bit of a fish out of water story, just learning what this new place is. Only once she develops a relationship with the place and the people in it does she realize that she has something here of value that’s worth giving of herself to protect.
Johnson: It’s having fun watching her learn the powers! It’s not like, just because you have super powers you’re going to like them and automatically know how to control them. We’re going to see, especially in issues three and four, we’re going to see her struggle with learning how to control her power. How gently can she touch something without breaking it? How does she turn on things like heat vision? It’s not automatically like a reflex for her. That’s a lot of the fun we’re having, showing what it’s like to get superpowers.
One thing you’ve really been emphasizing is that she’s not a human girl, she’s an alien trapped on a world that’s not her own. How are Kryptonians different from humans? Is it huge fundamental differences or more of a culture clash?
Green: For me, it all started when Mike wrote down the line, “All teenagers are aliens, anyway.” That was when I realized I knew what the series was going to be about. She’s not just an alien being on our planet — she’s a teenager figuring out her life, and that already puts her at such a remove from the world around her. She’s got two sets of problems.
Johnson: The Kryptonian back story is going to unfold as we go, because obviously we can’t portray her surprise at life on Earth if we don’t know what life on Krypton was like. But that’s also something we don’t want to spoil because we’re working as part of the larger Super-books family and there’s a lot of Kryptonian reveals coming in those other books. Grant Morrison is doing his thing in “Action [Comics],” and Scott Lobdell on “Superboy” and George Perez on “Superman.” Each book is giving you a little bit more of that picture of what Krypton was. I think we are unique and have a great advantage because she’s the most Kryptonian of all these people.
Green: She grew up there.
Johnson: As the book goes on, we’re going to flash back to her life on Krypton.
Green: Getting a sense of that life and culture.
Green: I feel we missed a really big joke opportunity when [Josie] said, “How are Kryptonians different than humans?” There are a lot of really good anatomy jokes we completely missed!
Johnson: This is a family book! [Laughs]
Green: We don’t even have to go blue!
I can always re-ask the question and let you guys start hitting me with jokes.
Johnson: That would be dangerous! [Laughs]
Green: I want to apologize to the readership that you gave us a straight line like that and we didn’t have a joke to tell. “Let’s talk about comic mythology and the Super-family!” We took it straight and we probably shouldn’t have, and that is not indicative of our intention with “Supergirl.” [Laughs]
Johnson: I’m going to continue to go completely straight, but one more answer to your question —
Green: Nerd! Nerd! [Laughter]
Johnson: Krypton is essentially an advanced civilization. She comes to Earth, and her first introduction was violent. Her first introduction was not one of an advanced welcome in the sense of a civilization used to interacting with alien beings and used to welcoming them in a nice way. For her, her first introduction is, this is a violent place. Basically, the overarching theme is coming from an advanced civilization to one that’s backwards, and yet having the power to completely take over that backwards place. That’s going to completely mess with anybody’s head.
Green: The metaphor we started with was, “If the kid from the city is taken out to live in the suburbs and suddenly everything is lame and backwards.” Or even worse — it’s being told to live without wireless! [Laughs] Your life is so diminished by comparison from what you expected.
Johnson: And then you’re expected to save these people and be their hero.
Well, she sort of shows up in a superhero outfit and then Superman shows up after her. Are people going to immediately assume she’s a mini, female Superman?
Green: You know what? I can’t answer that one without spoilers. People see her and they have expectations; that’s why we really liked staying with that immediate moment of, what are her first powers on the planet. Because you can’t go straight to, “Oh, you’re wearing this suit? Let’s go fight crime!” She doesn’t speak English. There’s no means of communication, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding. And then, of course, with great power comes great exploitation. A lot of people see her and go, “I want that,” and are going to try to make use of her and the things she came with.
Johnson: You’re going to see that idea that people see her as something to be exploited and controlled for the wrong purposes in issue three and four, and then, we’re actually working on issue six right now, where we’re really going to start to see her revealed to the world in a larger way, and how they react to her.
Green: She’s going to reveal herself to the world in high dudgeon. But we can’t say anything about that! [Laughs]
Johnson: Did you say high dudgeon?
Green: Nerds! [Laughter]
So you aren’t really setting up a traditional superhero story. Much of it is Kara acclimating to life on Earth.
Green: It’ll be there, too. We still have plenty of things for her to be dealing with — we just wanted to make sure, while she was dealing with more traditional superhero problems, there was a set of character and circumstances and point of view to follow. It wasn’t just a girl in a costume punching, but our girl in a costume punching.
Going along with that, how do you set up a rogues gallery for a character who doesn’t even know if she wants to be on Earth? Is it hitting those ideas of exploitation?
Johnson: That is a great question. It’s sort of an interesting challenge for this book, when we’re not dealing with someone who set themselves up as a superhero and then the super villains will follow in time. Our super villains are really coming out of her story. Again, the villain in issue three and four is a new villain we’re really excited about, a new arch-villain for Supergirl that, again, in terms of tying it to the story, it’s the villain behind what happens in issue one. In fact, you hear his voice on the first page of the first issue. Then, the villain for five and six, we’re going to be reintroducing an old character from the DCU, but the way that she comes to interact with Supergirl very much comes out of what Kara is doing and wants to do and needs to do at that moment.
Green: The way they meet is pretty far out. Not in a ’60s sense, but in a literal sense!
Johnson: There’s a teaser! [Laughs] Then, after that, we’ve already teased that we’re bringing back Silver Banshee, but we’re bringing her back in a very cool way, retaining the coolest aspects of the character and then going even farther with what she looks like and especially what she can do.
When we were chatting earlier, you mentioned the book’s artist Mahmud Asrar is based in Turkey — how has it been like working with Asrar on the book, waking up to find art pages in your inbox?
Green: The single most fun part of writing comics is when the email comes through and you sort of forgot about a page and the page comes in and it looks that good and that much better than you ever imagined, making staying up late to work on the script was totally worth it.
Johnson: It’s one of the best things about working in comics. Michael and I have worked for a long time in film and TV, and it’s a longer production process. You don’t see the fruits of your labor until years down the line. With comics, you’re constantly getting that interaction and feedback and results from your collaborator. Just like you said, it’s like you get up in the morning, open your email and, oh my God, there’s a beautiful new page! It’s one of the best things about working in comics, the production process where you are always creating and you are always seeing that work getting out to an audience on a regular basis.
Specifically about Mahmud, he just has this amazing combination of epic and quiet emotional scenes. I think it’s on show especially in issue one, where he can draw the big action beats and things being ripped apart and then he can draw that look on her face where, we as writers — he’s making us look good! He’s a true storyteller in the way that he draws, and that’s invaluable. We’re really lucky.
Green: He really focuses in on character. It’s just a blast — he’s awesome. Also, the nicest guy!
Johnson: Yeah, he’s really great and he speaks English — our Turkish is not so good and I see Mahmud tweeting in Turkish and English and it’s just amazing!
Green: He’s been a blast, we’re very lucky.
Johnson: And we want to give a shout out to the other collaborators on the book; we have Dan Green inking, Dave McCaig, who is a genius on colors, and John Hill, our letterer. I feel like letterers don’t get enough props but they are so integral to the storytelling, from where to put the balloons on the page to creating awesome sound effects. We just have an awesome team.
You guys also obviously know each other and work well as a team yourselves! How did you two start working together? Did you start on “Superman/Batman?”
Green: Mike and I met in college and, because we were in a school where everyone took schoolwork really seriously, he sat there sketching Batman on the foodservice line and I was sitting there reading Batman on the food service line. So that’s how we fell in love! [Laughs]
What happened was, I started writing my first comic, the “Batman Confidential” arc I did with the Joker. After years of being friends and talking about comics, anytime I wrote a comic script, I would send it to Mike because he was the only one whose notes I’d listen to. Then I got really lucky [when DC] offered me a chance to do a run on “Superman/Batman,” but my work in television was about to get so crazy, I was fearing for my deadlines. I don’t like missing deadlines, ever. I thought, “Instead of just showing Mike my script and taking all his thoughts, why don’t we just do them together?” And it got a lot more fun and a lot better.
Johnson: All I can add to that is Michael was a great writer back in college — it was obvious then, his talent was obvious. It’s fantastic that we both independently wound up here in the film in TV industry and re-connected over comics. It’s very serendipitous!
“Supergirl” #2 lands on shelves October 19