Greg Pak, the longtime Marvel Comics writer behind titles such as “The Incredible Hulk,” makes his way into DC Comics’ New 52 this June with the brand new ongoing monthly series “Batman/Superman.”
Drawn by “Ozymandias” and “Fantastic Four: 1234” artist Jae Lee, Pak’s initial five-issue arc tells the story of Batman and Superman’s first meeting in the New 52, as well as their ongoing struggle to figure out what sort of heroes the two young men will eventually become. “Batman/Superman” also marks Pak’s first ever work for DC after years of work at companies such as Dynamite, Valhalla Entertainment and Monkeybrain, which recently announced his creator-owned series “Code Monkey Save World.”
Speaking with Comic Book Resources about the Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne pairing, Pak sat down to share his favorite “World’s Finest” stories, his joy at writing an “angry” Superman and the similarities in tone between “Batman/Superman” and “Jaws.”
CBR News: We know the first arc in “Batman/Superman” details the meeting between DC’s greatest icons. These are characters who have such a long history, both on their own and together, for the past 70-odd years — what exactly is your take on who Superman and Batman are as heroes and as people?
Greg Pak: I feel incredibly lucky because I’m coming onboard at a point where, with the New 52, DC relaunched all these books and took the characters everybody loves and started fresh — started their stories again, basically. That allowed new readers to come onboard without having to worry if they read the last hundred issues of a series. It also allowed writers to try a new spin on some aspect of these characters and nudge things in a surprising new way. Superman and Batman, it’s just a really sweet time to come onboard with them. I’m so excited about it because, especially with Superman, you look at what Grant Morrison did in “Action” #1 when the New 52 launched. He introduced a young, raw Superman who runs around in jeans and a t-shirt and work boots and fights for the underdog. He can’t fly yet, he’s leaping tall buildings with a single bound, he hasn’t figured out the extent of his powers; he’s a bit angry and a bit self-righteous. He’s Superman, he’s still the Clark Kent who really is trying to do the right thing and find out how to use these incredible powers, but he’s young. He’s a little cocky and a little dangerous. That’s just a really sweet spot to come onboard. Whenever you have a character on the edge who might make mistakes, who might go a little too far, that’s just really fun to write.
You put that together with Batman who is also young and raw and fairly new to this, and you let them meet each other for the first time and you’ve got a very different relationship suddenly that you can plunge into and play with. I love those classic stories where Superman and Batman are best friends. I can read those all day long! [Laughs] Where they finish each other’s words, where they know without saying anything what the other guy’s thinking, that kind of stuff is incredibly fun to write. But it’s a blast to start at the beginning and see these guys at the point where they first meet and they both think the other is the most dangerous guy on the planet. It’s just a really fun place to start.
Jae Lee has always been an artist who is both very polished and very moody, and in the pages here he’s employing a grittier take on the environment surrounding Superman. When you found out Jae was onboard did you try to tailor the tone of your stories to fit his particular style?
When I heard Jae Lee was onboard I was just thrilled because I love everything he does. When you think Jae Lee drawing Gotham City, Jae Lee drawing Batman, that’s totally a no-brainer. Everybody immediately understands that and wants to see that! But also I had been keeping track of what Jae was doing and all his work on “Ozymandias” and I was dying to see Jae Lee draw Superman and Clark Kent and Metropolis as well because Jae has just got this amazing design sense he can apply to all sorts of different characters and situations. He also has a great sense of humor and he understands subtle humor.
He draws kids really well too! He can draw really sweet images without being cloying or cutesy, he can really get to your heart that way. You can see it in the double-page spread where you see Superman’s origin on one side and Batman’s origin on the other. Those images of Smallville are beautiful. I kind of fall in love with those kids in those images. Jae’s got all kinds of depth, all kinds of range and I’m thrilled to be working with him. Every page he turns in has blown my mind.
Also I love it because you look at the page in those preview images of Clark Kent arriving in Gotham City and Jae totally gets that moment. You get Clark Kent is kind of uncomfortable around this — he’s the farm boy coming to big, dirty, dangerous Gotham for the first time. Jae understands both sides of that coin, it’s just amazing.
You mentioned that Jae has a good sense of humor, and much of your Marvel work has a very distinct sense of humor as well, almost buddy-buddy comedy at times with characters like Amadeus Cho. Is any of that tone coming into play in “Batman/Superman?” Or is this a more serious character exploration?
I think everything I do has drama and humor in it, of course to different degrees. Like the “Incredible Hercules” book that you mentioned, that was definitely more yuks per page! The quotient was pretty high there! This will not be like that. [Laughs] At the same time, there’s all kind of small moments of humor in the book.
I think about it this way: “Jaws” is one of my favorite movies of all times. “Jaws” is an incredible action movie, but it’s also a big comedy. They don’t call it a comedy but there are multiple belly laughs in “Jaws.” You don’t think of it that way but the reason it works so well as a drama and an action movie is because you’re laughing at the same time. You’re invested in these characters, they’re human, they’re doing funny things and have funny reactions to things, so humor is part of it. I think this will be similar. This is a big action book, we’ve got quite a lot of stuff going on, but at the same time every step of the way it’s about these characters. It’s about Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, Superman and Batman, and how they’re reacting to each other and learning. It’s this amazing confrontation. Basically, it’s how are they going to become heroes? Doing a serious character book like that, that humor is going to come through at points, and its also part of the glory of seeing these two guys together.
No, not a joke book, yes lots of great human moments that make you smile and hopefully leave you thrilled at the same time!
Looking ahead, what’s your long-term goal for the book? Would you like to continue doing arcs like this one, chronologically seeing their adventures together, or jump around in time and place with them?
We’ve got a bunch of stories lined up and I don’t want to spoil too much; I love the whole idea of this book because it lets me just play with these two characters and see who they become, who they are becoming and how their rivalry/friendship/fight to the death if it becomes that, how that affects their development and their character arc. I don’t want to spoil where we go next, but the book will have an ongoing effect on the past and the present of these characters in a big way. It’s just crazy to have the opportunity to play with these characters in that sort of way.
Because the book is going to have an impact on the present have you coordinated with or spoken to Scott Lobdell and Scott Snyder as the writers of the “Superman” and “Batman” flagship titles about where your book fits in?
Yeah, definitely. I got a chance to hang out with both of them in person a while back and it was great! They’re both amazing writers and it was just a ton of fun. They have amazing stories and amazing ideas. As we move along we’re talking about this stuff; on the “Superman” side I’m constantly talking with Eddie Berganza, my editor, every week to make sure these stories fit in with the Superman universe.
But yeah, I love the Scotts!
The pre-New 52 versions of the World’s Finest team-up had Batman and Superman very close, sharing cabins on cruise ships and paling around —
[Laughs] That’s a great story!
Do you have a favorite story from that era or one of the more modern takes?
Oh my god, I love that original cruise ship story, that’s awesome! That’s some solid gold stuff right there! I’m a big fan of that time and those fun hijinks the two got into when they were having adventures as friends. That story was the original meeting between the two of them back in the day; the cruise ship was overbooked, right, so they have to room together. Of course that’s how they meet!
But I’m a huge fan of “Dark Knight Returns” and the way Frank Miller shows the other extreme where Superman — not to spoil this for anybody who hasn’t read it, if you haven’t please, please go do that immediately! [Laughs] In it Superman is basically working for the US government and Batman is essentially an outlaw and there’s an amazing conflict/rivalry between the two of them that’s so strong. There’s also a great story, John Byrne drew it and he might have written it as well, where it’s another telling of the first meeting between Batman and Superman and it’s incredibly tense. I can’t remember the exact setup but it comes down to Batman making what sounds like an incredibly dangerous threat: if Superman does one thing somebody in Gotham will be blown up, will be killed. Which is crazy and makes Batman look insanely dangerous. There’s a beautiful way that resolves itself where you realize what’s really going on and the real heroism of both those characters. It’s a great story and another one that really sticks in my mind. It’s another way to look at this relationship and see the dangerous aspect as well as the precious.
As a fan yourself, what’s the Batman/Superman relationship you like reading the most: the BFF/blood brothers friendship or the frienemies/rivals dynamic?
Oh wow — well as a writer I’m totally in the second camp because that’s what I’m writing right now. I’m in love with it, but I’m sure if and when I get to write the other side I’ll be just as much in love with that! So that’s my weasel answer — I don’t know! [Laughs]
“Batman/Superman” #1 hits shelves June 5.