The comics industry was stunned earlier this week when DC Comics announced that writer J. Michael Straczynski was leaving his run on “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” midway through his opening arcs on the two long-running titles.
The announcement came with good news, as well, for JMS fans, as a sequel to his New York Times best-selling “Superman: Earth One” graphic novel was also confirmed and its production has been fast-tracked.
Since the news broke on Wednesday many pundits have pontificated that Straczynski’s departure from monthly shipping titles to graphic novels and limited series is in some way an indication that the writer no longer believes in the industry standard but JMS told CBR News that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In speaking with CBR News, the always candid Straczynski re-affirmed his reasons for leaving “Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” spoke openly about the cheers and jeers his work at DC has received from both critics and fans and updated us on the progress he and artist Shane Davis have already made on the sequel to “Superman: Earth One.”
CBR News: Let’s start with reactions to your recent announcement> There are those in the industry and on the forums that believe you shifting from writing monthly titles to graphic novels and limited series means you think the monthlies are dying. Is that the case?
J. Michael Straczynski: No, not at all. Never said it. I think that given their past success, and the growth of that industry, the original graphic novel form is becoming more acceptable, not that the monthly format is becoming less successful. The growth of one doesn’t mean the downfall of the other; that’s just silly. There are always a few folks out there who like to foment hysteria and turn something someone said around toward the negative, but that just doesn’t apply to what I actually said. I think the graphic novel form and miniseries, which are published monthly, is the future for me, certainly, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, and DC believes that there there’s a coming wave in that area.
OK. But your love of Superman is well documented. And you finally get a stab at writing him and you leave after only six issues. So I have to ask, did your departure from monthly series have anything to do with the fact that you simply had more fun re-imagining the Man of Steel for “Superman: Earth One” than you did working within 70 years of continuity while writing “Superman?”
Something needs to be made really clear here, because there’s a heavy-duty distortion going on out there. Let me walk through this again, and hopefully this time it’ll stick.
I came to DC primarily to do “Superman: Earth One,” and filled out the time on “The Brave and the Bold.” That was DC’s reason for bringing me over in the first place. They think the OGN format is a promising venue, and they wanted to create that division. So I came over to do that. When I was finished with the OGN, I took on a 12-issue arc on “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” figuring I’d have time to finish both of them before the next OGN would need to get up and on the rails.
But when the GN broke all kinds of records, DC wanted to fast-track the next volume. I said that given the work on the “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” monthlies, I couldn’t do both those and give the next OGN the kind of care and attention it needed to get it right, especially since there would be so much more expectation for this one given how well the first volume did. There wasn’t even a hesitation at DC. They said, “No problem, we’ll slide you off the scripting duties on those two books, give the stories to two other writers to finish up those arcs, and let you concentrate solely on ‘Earth One.'”
I’m absolutely fine with DC. [DCU Co-Publisher] Dan [DiDio] has been nothing but great, I was absolutely happy writing the books, the sales were great; it’s just that I’m one guy and I can only do so much work at a time and get it right. They decided that my time and effort would be better spent on the OGN since creating that venue is a high priority for them right now.
Parallel to this, and as I’ve said elsewhere, I feel that I’ve generally done my best work in the limited series/graphic novel form: “Rising Stars,” “Midnight Nation,” “The Twelve,” – which Chris [Weston] has now caught up on the artwork as of a week or two ago, so now it falls to me to finish the last of it. I tend not to get too far ahead of him because whenever I see an issue’s art, I adjust the story to build on what he’s doing – “Silver Surfer: Requiem,” the list goes on.
I think I’ve done good work in the monthly format, and better work in the limited-series/GN format where I can really take my time and finish the book before it’s ever solicited.
There’s never been an opportunity where I could break away from the monthlies because there was always a book that needed to get done. But by DC saying, “Let’s move you out of the monthlies into this arena,” I have a clear space to make that jump. So that’s what I did. It was a hard decision – going away from monthlies means a 75 percent pay cut – but the money isn’t the issue. The issue is telling better stories. When you’re gone to dust, nobody cares what you got paid. All they care about is what’s on the shelf.
So I took advantage of this to begin a sabbatical from monthly comics. Not because I think the form is in trouble, because it ain’t. I want to be able to focus on doing just one or two things per year and getting them right, rather than pushing out two books per month or more and getting it mostly right.
Chris Roberson is taking over from you on “Superman,” using your notes. How far ahead did you have “Superman” charted out in terms of storylines and character developments and how much of that is DC Comics going to share with readers?
As far as I know, it’s going to stay on course. I gave DC an issue-by-issue breakdown of all 12 issues, so they could plan covers and solicitations, and they’re going to work off that for the rest of the run. Ditto with “Wonder Woman.” I wrote up a synopsis of the whole arc a while back, and gave it to them. So I’ll be providing the story for these issues, while others write the scripts, which is common in the business: one writer does the plot, another does the script. My name will still be on the books, and it’ll still be the story I developed.
Were you surprised by the responses you received from critics and fans for both “Superman: Earth One” and “Superman?”
It’s been a great response. Most of it has been very positive, and where it’s been negative, I’ve been able to learn and adjust. I like constructive criticism. When somebody says, “It’s dumb,” that doesn’t really help you, because A) if I can find somebody who doesn’t think it was dumb, it destroys the universality of “It’s dumb,” and B) it doesn’t give me the information I need to see why you thought it was dumb, so I can analyze it and correct for that in future. So I always learn from criticism. In any book you write, there will be some who uncritically hate it, some who uncritically love it and most somewhere in the middle. What you have to watch out for is which way the middle is tilting. And of all the comments I’ve seen, it seems to be tilting positive. Most of the negative criticism seemed to come from folks who responded to the cover image, fell for the dumbness of the “It’s Twilight Superman,” which it ain’t, and made a pre-emptive judgment call.
I realize it’s very early in the process, but what do you and Shane have planned for the sequel to “Superman: Earth One?”
We’re actually quite a ways along in the development. I have the story worked out, Shane is doing some character drawings for new guys and gals we’ll be introducing, but there’s nothing I can say about the details right now without blowing it.
Starting with “Superman” #707, Chris Roberson (“Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love”) will be the news series writer. Phil Hester (“Green Arrow”) begins his run with “Wonder Woman” #605.