Greg Pak burst into the minds of many comics readers in 2006, writing the epic “Planet Hulk” storyline for Marvel. It doesn’t get much bigger — or more powerful — than the not-so-jolly-green-giant, but last year, Pak started writing the Man of Steel for DC Comics in “Batman/Superman” and “Action Comics,” which gives the writer perfect perspective on the long-running debate, who is stronger: Hulk or Superman?
Pak says Superman’s humanity would give him the upper hand against Hulk, but love, social intelligence and all the Clark Kent goodness have been stripped away from the hero in “Superman: Doomed,” and that changes everything.
Spearheaded by Pak and Charles Soule, “Superman: Doomed” explores what happens when Brainiac infects the Man of Steel with the Doomsday virus, turning him into SuperDoom. And with the storyline crashing towards its conclusion in the pages of “Action Comics” #34, “Superman/Wonder Woman” #11, “Supergirl” #34 and the finale, “Superman: Doomed” #2, Pak also shared his thoughts on writing the “regular people” in Superman’s life, like Lois Lane and Lana Lang, as well as the not-so-regular ones, like Batman and Wonder Woman.
CBR News: There is an awesome spread in “Action Comics” #33 where Superman is flying through space, smashing asteroids, which immediately made me think of the Hulk. Superman perhaps most famously defeated Hulk in “DC Versus Marvel” back in 1996, but the war over which one is stronger wages on via social media and the online comic book community. But who wins Hulk versus SuperDoom? Because one would think stripped of his humanity, SuperDoom would be a little less forgiving than Clark Kent/Kal-El —
Greg Pak: I think Hulk.
If Superman goes up against Hulk, Superman finds a way to calm Hulk down. Superman would turn the other cheek and find a way to understand the problem and reach out. Because Superman would diffuse the fight, Superman would win.
But if it’s SuperDoom versus Hulk, and Superman is all doomed out and his heart is not in charge, I think the Hulk wins because the Hulk is the strongest one there is. If all you’re doing is throwing brute force at the Hulk, he’s just going to keep getting angrier and angrier. Honestly, we would all lose, because if those two go up against each other, the world would probably blow up.
What has infecting Superman with the Doomsday virus allowed you to do in terms of putting the action in “Action Comics”?
It certainly raises the emotional stakes. Part of this story is a test of Clark and how strong he is, not physically, but emotionally. We’re looking at how strong his heart is. How strong is that heroic spirit inside of him? What happens through much of this story is that even when he’s SuperDoom, Clark is trying to do a lot of things that he would do as Superman. He’s coming back to Earth to save the day, even though he’s going to SuperDoom-out. In a way, that heroic heart of his may be making him even more dangerous. He is convinced that the world needs him to save the day, but if SuperDoom completely takes over, then he could destroy everything. He just can’t stay away because he needs to help people. The devilish nature of the SuperDoom virus is that it takes Superman’s greatest virtues and uses them against him and against us.
Yes, the conceit allows us to have massive action and hopefully allows for big, crazy, visceral things that you’ve seen before in a Superman comic, but at the same time, and more importantly, it gives us a big emotional arc. What is the essence of Clark Kent? What is the essence of Superman? Can he resist this massive threat to his emotional center? And what happens when you strip away Superman’s trust in himself? Those are great questions to tackle as storytellers.
Trust is a topic that comes up a lot in this arc, so I am glad you mentioned it. Wonder Woman, Lois, Batman — they all have incredible trust in Superman. And Superman has to make an unimaginable choice at the end of “Action Comics” #34. Save the three people that mean the most to him in the world, or seven billion others. In “The Wrath of Khan,” Spock taught us “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” but still this is no easy choice.
Exactly. [Laughs] We’ve been building towards that moment for some time, and you’re going to see all of it pay off hugely in the next few issues. And there is some particularly big emotional stuff that is going to be delved into deeply in “Superman: Doomed” #2, which comes out at the end of August. If you care at all about Superman’s relationship with Batman, Wonder Woman, Lois, Lana and Steel, you’ll want to pick up that issue.
Things will be changing for some of these characters moving out of this story. There are some serious repercussions.
There is an interesting parallel between Superman being infected by the Doomsday virus and Lois, in a sense, being infected by Brainiac. Did you feel the two infections would generate different responses from readers because I was certainly more disturbed by very human Lois Lane channeling Brainiac than the super-powered Man of Steel fighting the Doomsday contagion?
The supporting cast for all of these heroes are hugely important. When I was writing “The Incredible Hulk,” I realized that one of the reasons that the Hulk has been so successful over the years is because he has a spectacular supporting cast. In my very first issue of “The Incredible Hulk,” we featured Bruce Banner, Rick Jones, Betty Ross, General Ross — we had the whole core group. In a later issue, we even had Glenn Talbot. In a similar way, Clark Kent has very strong relationship with all of these regular people. That makes him understandable and human and vulnerable all at the same time. It’s one the big reasons that we love him, and it’s one of the big reasons his stories become high stakes. It’s been a blast writing Superman, but also Lois, Lana and Steel.
And we’ve introduced new characters too. I love writing Baka [Laughs], the Monster Prince of Subterranea. He’s a ton of fun to write and is another character that provides an emotional touchstone for Superman.
As Charles and I were co-writing “Superman: Doomed” #2, we received our last round of notes back from editor Eddie Berganza, who is great, and he really wanted us to take another look at the last 10 pages or so and really dive even more deeply into the emotional moments we show with the people that love Superman and the people that Superman loves. That’s always where the fuse is.
While this is a Superman story, the women in his life have really been a focus. I loved the spoken ‘fist bump’ between Wonder Woman and Lana Lang, and when Wonder Woman bear-hugged Lois Lane. Can you talk about the women in Superman’s life and how these three very different characters affect his decision making and actions?
I’ve loved that from the beginning. The fact that there are these three really great characters in Superman’s life, and we’ve been exploring them in different books. Each one of them knows Superman or Clark in a different context or a different way, and as a result, you can pull out different kinds of stories with each of those characters. It’s great to have multiple characters available to explore Superman and his world in different ways.
Lana was huge when I first started on “Action Comics.” The book was really focused on Lana and Clark, and Lana is just a ton of fun to work with because she’s really the only person that has known Clark since the beginning and knows his secret. That fact alone makes her somebody special. If she is able to keep Superman’s secret, it raises a lot of questions about what kind of person she is and what kinds of way she would complement Clark and what kinds of way she would challenge him. And these are very different questions than the ones raised by his relationships with Wonder Woman and Lois.
Finally, with all of the might unleashed in the “Doomed” arc, Lex Luthor and Batman are charged with defending Earth when Superman runs amok. Can you talk about brain versus brawn in comics? Because I would love to read a Batman/Lex Luthor team-up book.
[Laughs] When you are doing big, crazy fantasy or sci-fi plots, it’s always good to have someone really smart to figure things out. It’s a challenge to write those characters because we’re not as smart as they are. It takes a while to figure out what they might do. But brain versus brawn is a great contrast to bounce back and forth between.
I should add, Superman is no slouch. Clark Kent is one of the best reporters on the planet and he’s a smart guy. He’s definitely had his moments during the course of the storyline where he’s been the one to come up with the plan or the solution. At the same time, we talked about trust and the notion that you can’t do it all by yourself. People coming together save the day. It’s not just one hero. A big part of what makes Superman work is how he inspires other people to do great things.
“Action Comics” #34 is on sale now and the story continues this week in “Superman/Wonder Woman” #11, next week in “Supergirl” #34 and in two weeks in “Superman: Doomed” #2.