It’s been 75 years since the debut of “Action Comics” #1, and DC Comics brought a panel of special guests to New York Comic Con 2013 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Superman. Gathered the celebrate the Man of Steel were moderator Gary Miereanu DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio, actress Molly Quinn, former Superman editor and DC Entertainment Creative Director/Animation Mike Carlin and Paul Levitz with a special appearance by Bruce Timm, who was on hand to present an animated collaboration between Timm and “Man of Steel” director Zack Snyder.
Miereanu opened the panel with a special feature on the “Man of Steel” home video release, called “Strong Characters, Legendary Roles.” The clip featured voiceover from “Man of Steel” and concept art as well as on-screen interviews by Zack Snyder. “He exists in a weird way outside of comic book culture,” said Snyder. Also on screen were Lawrence Fishburne, Henry Cavill, Kevin Costner, David S. Goyer, Amy Adams, The feature also went into Superman’s history, starting from “Action Comics” #1 with comment from DC CCO Geoff Johns. “You see Superman reinterpreted and his mythology expanded,” Johns said, saying his favorite period was the ’90s when DC Comics published “The Death of Superman.” “The return story was the biggest story in comics the whole year,” Johns said.
After the clip cut off, DiDio discussed relaunching Superman with the New 52, which was meant to go back to the essence of what the character really is. “It’s the ultimate immigrant story,” said DiDio. “It’s the impression that he’s the one to save us all, regardless of who’s around. He’ll always be the one person to save people regardless of who they are.”
“The essence really drives it,” said Levitz. “When we were doing the 1985 run, we had to boil down the rules of Superman to about a page. … Beyond that, there’s a lot of room and a lot of liberty. Beyond that, it has to change with the times because the audience changes.”
Carlin said the reality was that any audience needs to feel like they’re getting in on the ground floor of something that “is old, but at the same time new.”
The panel all had a varying first contact with the character of Superman, and Quinn said the character is “all that is good.” “Of course it impacted me in my life, he impacts everyone’s life,” she said. “I think he’s the perfect role model for humanity. … That conflict is always there. He chooses to be good. That’s the most difficult thing of all. … That’s what makes Superman super.”
Carlin had his tonsils out at the same time as his mother, and read Superman comics during recovery. “Superman means ice cream to me,” he said.
“My first memory of Superman was a really grainy, scratchy image of him on the TV,” said Timm. “We were flipping the channels and we flipped to this channel and there was this guy flying. We sat there and watched this ‘Superman’ episode.”
DiDio’s got his first Superman comic by accidentally taking it from a barber shop, but he stated he felt the character had always been in his life. “Superman shields were one of the first things I saw as a toy translated from a comic book,” he said. “Now to be involved in helping him live his life along is really interesting.”
Levitz noted that it was important to remember that the original creators felt assimilation was a good thing, and they wanted to do stories that promoted belonging. DiDio said DC uses the analogy is Batman and Superman walk into a bar, and while the patrons might feel guilty with Batman, they would feel at ease with Superman. “The strange thing about that is it should be the reversal, Batman’s a guy in a suit — I think I can take him!” said DiDio. “Even with [Superman’s] power, people want to be his friend.”
The panel called out “All-Star Superman” as one of the perfect examples of bringing a modern sensibilities to old concepts. Timm, a man well-associated with DC animation, said beyond practical challenges of animation, he said there are things that are actually very expensive to do in animation. “Going back to the first animated Superman, the Fleischer cartoons, those to this day are probably my favorite version of Superman,” he said. “He hardly ever speaks, it’s Superman punching robots, rescuing Lois — it’s classic primal stuff.”
Carlin very recently switched over to animation from comics in the last few years, and said there’s so little animation out there compared to comics that it’s freeing to bring concepts from comics to animation. “The thing I love about animation is they have sound,” said Carlin. “They have voices. We never thought about that in comic books. I never thought about a sound effect being an actual sound. It’s a really new experience for me.”
Continuing on the track of voice, Levitz said Superman’s voice exudes confidence — whether it’s the old movie versions or the modern animated character. “‘It’s going to be okay, kids.’ — it worked when I was watching the Filmation [series] and it’s worked for kids since,” he said.
At one point, Carlin related a story of Dean Cain on the set of “Lois and Clark,” when he was interacting with kids on the set. “They did not know he was just a guy wearing a suit that Hollywood made, they believed he was talking to Superman,” he said.
Quinn had the opportunity to voice Supergirl in “Superman: Unbound,” and said her take on the character was more feisty and head-strong. “They’re not the same person at all,” she said, comparing Supergirl to Superman.
Next up was a short celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel produced by Zack Snyder and Bruce Timm. The animated short will feature on the “Man of Steel” Blu-ray. The short started with Superman running off the cover of “Action Comics” #1, leaping a tall building in a single bound, and flying through the evolution of his character through comics covers, animated versions of the old black-and-white television show and more — all set to the John Williams Superman theme. Even more images fluidly came on the screen — his era with the Super Friends, his fight with Muhammed Ali, his death, his return, Timm’s animated version, Smallville and the New 52 — all the way up through “Man of Steel.”
“We thought this was really cool, a great idea. It was originally supposed to be a DC Nation short,” said Timm of Snyder’s pitch. “We sat down and made this big laundry list — History of Superman. It quickly snowballed and became way bigger than a DC Nation short. The budget ballooned, I don’t mind saying. It’s going to be on multiple platforms, but the best way to watch it will be on the Blu-ray release.”
The short is “loaded with Easter Eggs” and the hardest part about the short, according to Timm, was “not doing everything.” “There are things that didn’t make the cut and we’ve tried to cover as many of the artists that contributed to Superman over the years,” he said. “It’s loaded with as much Superman joy over the years as we could put in.”
Carlin got choked up when he first saw the film and likened it to seeing his life flash before his eyes. “I was a reader for the 25th anniversary. I worked at DC for the 50the anniversary,” said Carlin. “I just got chills watching it again.”
The panel opened up for fan questions, and Timm spoke briefly about the controversial moment of Zod’s death in “Man of Steel.”
“I think it’s the most controversial part of the whole movie,” he said. “But I think it worked. I think they totally made it work in that this was a place that he had to go to and now he does have this code.”
“I got really sucked into it for the first few minutes,” Timm said later. “Even though it was hitting all the bases, it seemed to be a really fresh, modern interpretation of Superman.” Timm walked out of the movie thinking there are always new ways to tell classic stories.
A fan asked about product placement in the books and whether it was difficult to walk away from “easy money.” “As long as we have this many fans, we don’t have to worry about product placement,” said DiDio.
A question about what the modern meta for Superman is, and Levitz said he thought it was that “we all have gifts, we all have powers, what do we do?” He said it’s not that might makes right, but “what you do with your powers” that counts.
“If you can play the piano, you have powers that I don’t have,” said Carlin. “If you play the piano well, you’re a superhero to me.”
One female fan asked about the current Superman/Wonder Woman relationship in the New 52. “I think it’s an interesting dynamic,” said DiDio. “This is something that’s been teased a lot in comics, they’ve told alternate future tales — so it gave us an opportunity to explore that story in a big way. I want to say emphatically that this is not at the expense of Lois. It’s Superman’s 75th Anniversary, but it’s Lois Lane’s 75th, too. Her name looks as good as Superman’s on a title in some places.”