In March, veteran comic book writer Keith Giffen and writer/artist Dan Jurgens aim to bring readers a new and more human Clark Kent as they take over as the creative team on DC Comics’ “Superman” with issue #7.
Announced in late 2011 as the duo helming the title after current “Superman” writer George Perez steps down, Jurgens and Giffen’s first issue will set Helspont and the Daemonites against Superman in a battle sure to thrill Wildstorm fans. Giffen and Jurgens also told CBR that readers should look forward to new villains, new love interests and new allies, hinting at some classic Superman villains coming back into the spotlight.
The creative duo spoke with CBR about plans for their first arc of “Superman,” and before long the conversation dipped into a myriad of topics, including their new-found appreciation for Jimmy Olsen and plans for the recently announced “Superman”/”Supergirl”/”Superboy” crossover for Summer 2012.
CBR News: With your very first issue, you guys are going big and introducing Superman to the Deamonites and Helspont from the Wildstorm Universe. Last time we spoke, you guys mentioned that a big goal was to introduce brand-new villains into “Superman” — how do Helspont and the Deamonites fit into these plans?
Keith Giffen: They kind of don’t. The Helspont thing was something that was coming down the pipe, and they wanted Superman to be involved. There was a chance to re-imagine Helspont to a certain point, but when I said new villains, new concepts, new situations, I meant brand-new, never seen before. This is a storyline that we’re starting off with, and then we’ll veer off into the storylines that we’ll be cobbling together out of wholly new cloth.
Dan Jurgens: I think part of the whole New 52 is, there’s a certain amount of re-imagining and re-casting the DC Universe. Some of that is extended to the inclusion of the Wildstorm characters. When this came up, both Keith and I felt Helspont has a great deal of latitude; he can fit into that Superman paradigm in terms of a heavy-hitting villain. To that extent, he’s one of those guys, and there aren’t a lot of these out there, who are a worthy foe for Superman.
Giffen: Don’t get me wrong — I used to constantly be in touch with Wildstorm. I enjoyed their characters and working on their books. So with Helspont coming along and being able to give it our take, that’s definitely enjoyable. But once the Helspont story is over, like I said, I just want new characters, new characters, new characters until DC tells me otherwise.
The first issues of both “Superman” and “Stormwatch” tied into each other, kind of. With this arc, will you guys be tying Superman more closely to the other Wildstorm characters or books such as “Stormwatch,” “Grifter,” etc?
Jurgens: I think it’s best to look at it this way: for me, and I think a lot of people, Superman is still the preeminent character in the DC Universe. What we’re trying to do is, by using Superman as the cornerstone, it helps to add validity to some of the Wildstorm characters and those books, and it makes it even more clear that this is part of the DCU and these guys are all integrated into it.
Giffen: Yeah, it’s not so much that “Superman” is utilizing Wildstorm characters as the Wildstorm characters are utilizing “Superman” for a brighter spotlight.
Along with the introduction of Helspont, this arc is also supposed to bring in some “new roommates” and a “new love interest.” What can you tell us about these characters? And does this go along with your plans to introduce more new characters after the Helspont arc?
Giffen: Define new; if you’re talking new in the spirit of the New 52, then yes, there will be some new characters coming into the arc. But if you’re saying, are they brand-spanking-new, some will be. The major character that we’re bringing back will be familiar to the fans, if not familiar in the way it’s reintroduced — if that makes any sense!
Jurgens: I think one of things we’re enjoying playing with a lot is the idea that this Superman, this Clark Kent, is substantially younger than Superman typically had been in the DC Universe. Because of that, we have a situation where Jimmy and Clark are much closer to one another age-wise. Due to that, there’s a relationship that can be played with which is, you can do more of a buddy movie rather than a master and acolyte type of movie. It’s not a case of Jimmy running around saying, “Gee whiz Mr. Kent! You want a cup of coffee?” We have a relationship about equals here, and we’re having a lot of fun with that. So while it isn’t a case of Clark or Jimmy being new per se, the dynamics between them are new because, like I said, they’re closer together in age.
Giffen: I’m having a ball with the Jimmy and Clark relationship because they’re interacting with one another as people who are kind of equals instead of the senior bringing the junior up. Jimmy doesn’t have a little watch that goes “Zee-Zee-Zee” anymore.
Jurgens: It is worth noting we are introducing — and we probably should have mentioned this right off the get-go — in terms of a heavy-hitting new villain within the DC Universe, all I can say is: bed bugs.
Giffen: There we go! [Laughs]
I can already hear the Internet trying to figure out what that means!
Giffen: And that’s an ongoing plotline. That’s not one issue, we’re done!
Jurgens: No, that’s an arc in of itself!
Giffen: Also, we will be introducing a new love interest for Clark. I don’t want to spoil it by saying who it is, but I can guarantee it will throw whatever future relationship Clark and Lois had completely off course.
Well, we’ve already seen their dynamic shifted as Lois is in a higher position at work than Clark. Is this new love triangle going to be a big part of the comic?
Jurgens: Yes! I’d say so!
Giffen: But it’s not going to be crowded. In other words, it’s not going to be new love interest, new love interest, oh, I love Lois! The Clark/Lois relationship is going to evolve as naturally as we can make it evolve. Now they’re friends, she’s his boss. He may be attracted to her, but she’s his boss. There’s awkwardness there, and it’s not an awkwardness coming from Clark. It’s the same awkwardness you would feel if you were working and you found yourself attracted to your supervisor or the CEO of the company. It’s not something you immediately act on. It’s not going to be six issues and then it’s Clark and Lois again. As a matter of fact, I honestly at this point cannot foresee when those two realize they have something for one another.
Thematically, Perez introduced a lot of big themes in his issues, such as the unrequited love angle and Metropolis distrusting Superman. Are these themes, especially the distrust one, things you are going to continue to play with?
Jurgens: Oh, definitely. And it isn’t just a distrust for Superman; I think we’re seeing across the DCU right now that not everybody, in terms of the American citizenship, are onboard with the idea of who these heroes are or what their motives are. Certainly, with regards to Metropolis and Superman, one of the things we get to right away in issue #7 is communicating that notion. If Superman walks into a mall in suburban Metropolis, if there are thirty people standing in that area, there might be thirty different reactions to Superman, and those might run the gamut. So yeah, we’re absolutely going to continue to play with that.
Giffen: The things George established we’re going to build on because they are the first six issues. We’re not coming in, trying to erase anything; we’ll be picking up a lot of the threads. When it comes to Superman and the way people react to him — just think in terms of if this guy really existed. Every time you see him, he’s fighting somebody, something’s getting destroyed. If he walked into a mall, I know my first reaction would be, “Oh no! It’s going down! I’m getting out of here!” There will be a little of that, and there will be people who look at him with stars in their eyes. There will be various reactions and Metropolis will hopefully reflect a lot of different viewpoints when it comes to Superman.
Then are you guys keeping an eye on trying to ground your stories a little bit more in reality?
Giffen: Absolutely. Dan pitched a story to me that we’re going to jump on right away. I don’t want to give away too much, but it sort of encapsulates that; the smaller stories in Superman’s life, the more personal stories in Superman’s life and what it means to share reality with this supremely powerful being.
DC editor Matt Idleson recently announced there is going to be a big “Superman”/”Superboy”/”Supergirl” event this summer. As the flagship title, are you guys sort of leading the charge and setting the pace for the event?
Jurgens: I think so, yeah.
Giffen: I would like to think so, yeah!
Jurgens: Keith would like to think so, I think so! [Laughter] The idea is, and again, this gets back to where we were originally in the conversation, that yes, this is a new DC Universe and we have a somewhat re-imagined Superman, Superboy and Supergirl. So, what are their connections, if any? Or is it going to be a situation where the connection is so distant there really isn’t one? How do they interact with each other? What we’re looking to build here, along with the appropriate creative teams from those two books of course, is we want to set up what exactly are those relationships, why these three characters see each other the way they do. I think there’s something there that’s very compelling and interesting because it simply isn’t going to be what it was a few years ago.
Giffen: With any bit of luck! I have to point out right up top here that I am not the hugest fan of the boy/girl, lad/lass, dog/chimp rule of superheroes wherein you take a character and then just introduce dozens and dozens of different variants. So one of the things I would hope with this crossover, what we can do is, instead of making these characters seem more similar to each other because they all wear the S, is make them as dissimilar to each other as humanly possible so each character is still a unique character in of itself and not just part of a bigger family of like characters. That’s always driven me crazy.
Have you already begun fleshing out the crossover with Scott Lobdell on “Superboy” and Michael Green and Mike Johnson over on “Supergirl?”
Jurgens: We have, which again, we’re very much in the opening stanza of that dialogue, but we’ve all gotten on the phone a few times and talked about it. Part of it is just coming to an understanding of when does this particular story for “Superboy” close, when does this story for “Supergirl” and “Superman” close, so we can synch up the timing on everything. If it’s a stand-alone, three-issue miniseries, it’s easy to do. But when you have to bring all your existing stories to a natural conclusion, it’s a little more complex. But we’re getting there.
Giffen: We’re still at the “Gee, wouldn’t it be neat if?” stage. Somewhere down the line a more solid direction will come out of these phone calls where everyone is just throwing their wish list out there and seeing how everyone else responds.
Idleson also mentioned that you have big “star-spanning” plans in the works for Superman. After Helspont, are you going to be focusing on more external cosmic and alien threats rather than threats coming out of Metropolis itself?
Jurgens: No! I think if you’re in a room with editors and writers, one of the words that get thrown out there is “cosmic.” Really what we’re talking about is power. I think with Superman, the two best Superman stories really fit at both ends of the yardstick, which is very small personal stories that can only happen to a Superman or Clark Kent, but then you cross out everything that is in between and get to the other end of the yardstick where you do big and powerful and “cosmic” stories. When we say it, we don’t necessarily mean threats from another planet. What we’re looking at is power and scope. I think that’s really what we’re trying to introduce to the book.
Giffen: Legion Of Super-Heroes fandom used to have a phrase: a “sense of wonder.” I think that is what we’re trying to bring back to Superman, at least that’s my primary goal. Bring back that sense of wonder about the book, the feeling that you’ll pick up the book and see something in there that you’ve never seen done or never seen done quite like that before. Somewhere along the line, that sense of wonder in comics got lost and I think it’s time we bring it back.
Then what do you two see as the core of your “Superman” series?
Jurgens: I think the core for me is, it’s a two-part question: who is Superman and who is Clark Kent? What want to do is some character-defining stuff. We can talk all we want about new offices, new bosses, new love interests, new best pals, whatever it might be. But at the end of the day, it still comes down to making sure readers have an understanding of, who is Superman and who is Clark. Why do they do what they do? This gets into that yardstick conversation again. Whether we’re doing a small story — which might mean Metropolis itself is not threatened but it puts Clark/Superman into the role of having to make a very difficult choice — I love stories like that. When you present Superman with a difficult choice, when he makes that decision, he defines who he is and readers come to understand who he is. As far as I’m concerned, that’s really our job one.
Giffen: It’s actually redefining who Clark is. My primary goal is to get rid of that view of Clark Kent as Christopher Reeves, awkward Boy Scout. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Boy Scout, but to move him closer to the people that we recognize, the friends that we have. He has no reason to be meek, mild and milquetoast, because nobody would think Superman was anything other than Superman 24/7. It’s about establishing these characters and making it as viable as possible within the confines of a fantasy. I want readers to look at Clark Kent and react to him as, “Wow, that doesn’t seem like Clark Kent,” because maybe they’re thinking of the pre-New 52 Clark Kent. Turning Clark Kent into a fleshed-out human being who gets angry, who gets sad, who has a sense of humor, who has social graces — that’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here.
Finally, what has been your favorite part of Metropolis or character to tackle?
Giffen: I mean, it’s Jimmy. I admit, I walked into “Superman” with Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s pal in the back of my mind. Once I realized how close they are in age, it just gave me a whole different take on Jimmy, so he’s the character that, right now, I’m having the most fun writing and bouncing off of Clark. No one is more surprised than I! [Laughs]
Jurgens: I’ll take it down the road of that artistic thing. It’s really been, and I’ll preface this by saying I have drawn more than a few panels with Superman in them in the past, it has been kind of invigorating to draw a Superman that now has the neck collar and the different uniform and no real spit curl. It’s cool because, I know I’m getting a bit esoteric here, but it makes you think about how you’re going to draw the character, which for any artist is a good thing. When you get to the point where you no longer have to think about it and you’re just running on automatic, that’s when you start to replicate yourself.
Giffen: Plus, everyone looks at the costume change and thinks they just took his shorts off and just gave him a few extra lines in his armor, but you’d be surprised how that changes the complete visual iconography of the character in terms of poses that work and poses that don’t work. You might think, how can a high collar make that much difference? But in terms of how he moves his head and some of the angles, it makes a lot of difference. The fact that the boots are slightly heavier, with the costume and more armor-like, you have to approach it from a completely different direction. You can’t do the same stock Superman as been done for years.
Jurgens: For example, and just as a teaser, you’ve seen those red boots that Superman is wearing. They are rather less form-fitting than what he had before, a little clunky. All you have to do is look at it and realize, it would be kind of hard to get a pair of dress socks and dress shoes on over them. So that becomes something we deal with. That’s where Keith and I are having fun, both from a character standpoint as well as the realistic aspect of asking, who is this guy?
Giffen: In a nutshell we’re coming into Superman respecting the fact that it’s Superman, but we’re up for anything.
“Superman” issue #7 hits stores March 28.
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