Without asking, we’re pretty sure Jeff Lemire can pat his head and rub his tummy. While the Eisner-nominated creator is busy writing and drawing his critically acclaimed indie hit, “Sweet Tooth” for Vertigo Comics, he’s now landed his second gig for DC Comics, and this one is a doozy.
Already writing a Ray Palmer Atom co-feature for “Adventure Comics,” which begins in July, DC Comics announced Friday that Lemire will also be scripting “Superboy,” a new ongoing series, featuring art by North American industry newcomer Pier Gallo. The Italian artist just finished a three-issue run on “Adventure Comics,” illustrating the Human Defense Corps co-feature, written by Eric Trautmann.
Set to launch in August, “Superboy” will explore the new adventures of Conner Kent, A.K.A. Kon-El, a Kryptonian/human hybrid clone of Superman and Lex Luthor. Conner died in the pages of the 2005-06 event series “Infinite Crisis,” which was written by Geoff Johns, after saving the Earth while battling Superboy Prime.
Three years later, Conner enjoyed a rebirth in Johns’ “Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds,” just in time for another matchup with Superboy Prime. This time, Conner won and he next appeared in a six-issue run which jumpstarted the new “Adventure Comics” ongoing series, currently featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Lemire told CBR News his Conner Kent stories will be based entirely in Smallville during the title’s first year and there will be some notable guest appearances including Ray Palmer and Pete Ross.
CBR News: First off, congratulations. Last time we spoke you hinted there was some more news coming, and here we are. So how did you land “Superboy,” your first ongoing series for DC proper?
Jeff Lemire: It kind of came about in a funny way. When I started working on “The Atom,” I started talking to Geoff Johns about it one morning and I had pitched another idea to DC for another character and he liked it but he didn’t think the character could support his own book right now, maybe some day, but not now.
And I said, “It’s hard to know what to pitch to you because I don’t know which characters are in development or whatever.” And he said, “What about Superboy?” And he actually kind of caught me off guard. It just wasn’t somebody that I would have actively pursued, you know, but as soon as he said it, I started thinking about it – it had Smallville and farm life and everything and it just seemed like such a natural fit. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. I got really excited about it.
Was part of your apprehension the complicated backstory of Superboy, or is his relative obscurity to the mainstream audience part of the draw?
I think it does offer me a lot of freedom to sort of figure out who he is. His past is pretty complicated, but you just have to boil it down to one thing: that he is the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor. It’s pretty simple and you just go from there. I think Geoff’s run in “Adventure Comics,” that finished about a year ago, was a really good starting point for what I’m going to do. I’m just going to take that and run with it.
His personality is kind of an open book, I thought, because when he was younger, when he first appeared, he was a cocky kid, and then Geoff portrayed him as this guy trying to figure out who he is now, and if he’s going to be good or bad or whatever because of the Lex Luthor connection, so it was just sort of an open book for me to figure out who this guy was and who he is now. I just took the approach that he’s now in his later teens. He knows who he’s going to be. He knows he’s going to be a superhero and he can see the man he’s going to become, but now it’s him coming of age and taking on those responsibilities after putting everything else in his past behind him.
What’s your familiarity with the character? Did you watch the “Superboy” TV show in the 1980s, or did you have to go back and read a whole bunch of Conner stories?
No, because I was a huge Legion fan, so if you’re a fan of the Legion, by proxy, you’re a fan of Superboy because their histories are so tied together. So my first exposure to him was when I was reading the Keith Giffen/Paul Levitz “Legion” stories back in the 1980s. He was in there, so that’s kind of when I first saw Superboy. I think I read a lot of late 1970s/early 1980s’ “Superboy” series that was coming out when I was younger, and then I didn’t really read a lot of comics at all in the 1990s, to be honest with you, so I kind of missed out on this version of Superboy’s beginnings. But I was getting back into reading superhero comics around the time that Geoff started writing “Teen Titans,” so I was pretty much up-to-date with everything that had gone on. And then I read all the recent stuff, like “Infinite Crisis” and his involvement in that and “Legion of Three Worlds” and the recent “Adventure Comics” run. So yeah, I guess I was pretty up-to-date on him and I had a good sense of his history both him and the Clark Kent version.
You’re also writing The Atom for “Adventure Comics,” but it’s a bit limited in a sense of the size of story you can tell because it’s a co-feature. With “Superboy” being its own ongoing series, I guess that alone makes this a much bigger opportunity for you to jump into superhero comics.
Exactly. That’s what’s happened. When I first started writing outlines for my first year, we decided to just focus on the first year for now, and just really make that strong. So I was trying to squeeze so much stuff into it, because you just kind of get excited about the possibilities, and after a while we started saying, “Why don’t we leave this for later.” But that’s good, too. I think one thing we’re doing that I really like – and I was actually opposed to at first because it’s so not what I’m used to – but instead of writing this book for the trades with five or six issue storylines, we’re not going to do that at all. We’re actually only going to do one and two issue stories, which I love that because it goes back to the way they used to write comics back in the Silver Age and the old “Superboy” comics from the 1940s and 1950s. They were all just these crazy concepts in one issue and then the next month, it would be something completely different. That’s the model I’m using for each month, to just introduce this crazy new villain or this crazy new adventure. But while they seem like they’re standalone stories, after a year’s worth of them, you notice they’re actually telling a larger mythology. That’s really fun because so much stuff now is just written specifically for the trades. I think six-issue arcs can sometimes be drawn out too much. Superhero comics should be kind of fast and fun, I think.
For your first year, are you sticking pretty close to Smallville or will Conner be off exploring the far reaches of the DCU, as well?
The plan is to specifically tell his adventures in Smallville. He’s in the Titans and he’s probably going to be popping up in other places, so I’ll let those people tell stories with him out and about. Mine are going to be really focused on Smallville, and I think Smallville itself is going to become a major character in the book. The focus of the stories, especially in the first year, is really going to be Conner developing this community around him and a family and it will involve all of these different people from Smallville and him sort of finding a home for the first time.
Before the ongoing kicks off, you have a 10-page co-feature in “Action Comics” to set this thing in motion. Can you give us a tease of what we’ll see story-wise?
It’s kind of weird because a lot of times, they’ll give you these previews or something and it will just be an excerpt from the first issue. We didn’t want to do that. We felt that if we were getting 10 pages of “Action Comics,” why not do an original story? So, it’s actually an original 10-page Superboy story by me and Pier [Gallo] and it’s going to be, well, I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s not going to be a cute little prelude or something, it’s actually going to jump right into the heart of things and really give you a preview of where the series is going to go. It’s going to be intense and action-packed.
Can you share who else will be featured in the cast?
There are going to be tons of new people and I don’t want to reveal any yet, because even to reveal who they are kind of gives away some of my storylines. The people from the past that I’m using will obviously include Ma Kent. She’ll be a big player. And Krypto. Geoff introduced a couple of new characters, including Simon Valentine, who is Conner’s new best friend, but you can tell he’s almost going to become his Lex Luthor eventually. That right there just gives you so much potential, these two best friends that you know one is going to become [the other’s] arch-nemesis. So that’s a great thing to play with. Simon will be the main supporting character. And then Geoff also introduced Lori Luthor, who was Lex’s niece, and her and Conner ended up having feelings for each other, but then they’re also kind of related, so that’s kind of weird. So that will be a lot of fun to play with too, sort of playing with the three of them and their friendships. Both friendships have this weird thing going on – this weird brother/sister thing going on between the three of them. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.
So that’s the main cast. But I’m also going to use Pete Ross, the old best friend of Superboy from the Clark Kent days. He’s going to come back and play a role in Conner’s life now, so those are the old guys that are coming back and then, like I said, there will be a whole bunch of new villains and new friends, but to me, Conner really didn’t have an arch-nemesis or really a great supervillain yet, so that was kind of fun to be able to try to come up with some really good new villains for him.
You mentioned Krypto. You’ve just made an incredibly loyal fanbase very happy.
Oh yeah, Krypto is the best. I love Krypto. I think, and I’m not joking about this at all, I really want to write the first really great Krypto story. I want to give him a really serious and a really meaty character arc over the first year just as much as Conner. What I want to do, if I do it correctly, is have it playing out in the background of every story where things are going on with Krypto and if you’re not paying attention, you probably wouldn’t notice them, because we don’t want to distract from the main story, but if you do pay attention to Krypto, you’ll see there is a full second storyline going on with him. So that will be really fun.
While these will be primarily one and two issue stories, you also mentioned a larger mythos will be evolving, as well. Any teases on that front?
There is one big mythology going on, and it’s all centered around Smallville and it’s going to reveal itself very slowly. Well, not slowly, but it’s going to reveal itself…I don’t want to say too much, but a lot of the stories will stand alone and be really satisfying, but there is obviously something bigger at work here that will come out eventually.
Once this title was announced, I jumped into a few forums to see how readers were reacting and there were a number of threads asking, if not begging, for a new costume for Superboy. Is it time for Conner to ditch the black t-shirt and blue jeans?
No, he’s going to stay the same. I think the one thing DC is trying to strive for, especially after “Blackest Night” and now with “Brightest Day,” is consistency. You get so many characters dying and then new characters popping up or so many different costumes changes turning up and I think what they’re trying to do is find that one iconic look for each of their characters and just try to stick to it and really establish it. So I think this is the look that Geoff established for Conner, and whether people love it or hate it, that’s what he’s looked like for a while now, so I think we’re going to stick with that.
Like your upcoming run on “The Atom,” you’re not drawing this book. What can you tell us about Pier Gallo?
It was a really interesting process finding an artist for this book, because with the Atom stuff, the editors had already found Mahmud [Asrar] and had him in mind, and he really fit the book, but with this book, it was more like an open thing. We just didn’t have anyone in mind, so there were a lot of artists that they kind of threw at me. And I basically said, “No, no, no.” They just weren’t what I had in mind for the book. And then Pier’s stuff came up, and I don’t know how they found Pier. I think maybe he’s done a little bit of stuff here, like little short bits on things for them. But he just had a real different look from the other mainstream superhero stuff. Not in the way of like a Vertigo artist or something where it’s like a really big departure from superhero art, but he had a subtle difference. You could tell he is European and you could tell that he’d worked a lot in Europe doing graphic albums and stuff.
The two strengths that he has, that are really going to be good for the book, are that he is super, super hyper detailed – almost like a Geof Darrow kind of way. Really intense detail and yet it’s never stiff. And he also has a really amazing way of bringing a lot of realism to his faces and his characters.
So, those are two things that I really like. He brings a lot of texture and a lot of detail to Smallville. And he also brings a lot of realism to the characters and I thought that would really suit my storytelling style. So yeah, I think it’s going to be a good mix. It’s sort of the tone and mood that I had planned at its heart.
You mentioned that DC is really trying to focus on the iconic versions of its characters, and we’ve just been talking about your big Ray Palmer/Atom story that will kick off in July, so I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the death of Ryan Choi? When we last spoke, you hinted that you weren’t sure what the plans were for that character.
Yeah, I knew. But it’s all in line with what I said. They really want to go back to the core characters and the core ideas. And that means, Barry Allen is The Flash, Hal Jordan is Green Lantern and Ray Palmer is The Atom. And the people who loved the Ryan Choi stuff, it’s still there. You can still read it. But I don’t know, I think Ray, especially, of all those Silver Age heroes never really had a great run or a great story that you can go back to and re-read. So I think he is still owed that. I’m not saying that I’m going to do that, because that’s sort of high-minded, but I’d like to give it a shot. Or at least get the character set up so someone else can.
I like all the Silver Age versions of these characters. A lot of the stuff that has happened recently, with so many different costume changes and stuff and trying out all of these different things, it’s really hard to build a fanbase or a readership for a character that is never is going to be a huge character to begin with if you’re always changing the costume and you’re always changing their identity. So I think it’s a good idea to be going back to the classics.
Now that you’re working with these two characters, any chances will see Ray paying a visit to Conner in Smallville?
Yes, definitely. It’s already plotted out. I had to think of a good way to have it make sense and not make it too obvious but I thought of a good storyline where Ray will be useful. So yes, he’ll be there.
With your second major project announced for DC Comics, is this the start of your transition away from creator-owned projects or do you still have time for books like “Sweet Tooth?”
Doing creator-owned work and writing and drawing my own stuff is always going to be my first passion. Whether I’m doing Vertigo at DC or self-publishing, it doesn’t matter. It’s always going to be main focus. And that’s not to say this superhero stuff is just a fun side thing for me, I take it quite seriously and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, as well. I’m just lucky enough that I’m a fast enough artist that I’m able to balance doing this different kind of stuff. I don’t see the reason to limit myself as one kind of guy. If I can write and draw a book every month and I can still write a couple of these superhero books on the side and have fun writing it, I don’t see why not. It’s so easy to polarize and call a cartoonist an indie guy or a mainstream guy. I like all of that stuff and I just like good comics, so whether it’s a superhero comic or a self-published comic, I just like good comics. Why limit myself if I have different kinds of stories to tell.
You have “The Atom,” “Superboy,” “Sweet Tooth” and “The Underwater Welder.” Is there anything else you’re working on for 2010?
No, that will be 2010 [Laughs]. That’s it for this year. There’s some other DC stuff sort of in the discussion stage for next year, but that will be after “The Atom” when I can balance another book.