Comic-Con International celebrated the Man of Steel’s 75th birthday with a special panel spotlighting Superman’s Post-Crisis era. Launching with John Byrne’s 1986 reboot of the character, the over two-decade long stretch of stories starring the iconic hero included a number of milestones, not the least of which were the marriage, death and resurrection of the character.
Before the panel formally began, two of the creators most associated with this era of the character, Jon Bogdanove and Dan Jurgens, were presented with Inkpot Awards, in part for their contributions to Superman over the years. After the presentation, moderator and former DC Comics publisher Paul Levitz introduced the creators behind two decades of best-selling Superman storylines. Joining Jurgens and Bogdanove were a who’s who of Superman creators: Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Louise Simonson, Marv Wolfman and Super-editor of the era, Mike Carlin.
Levitz said he had very little do with the inner-workings of the Superman editorial team, but in the early days of brewing “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” relaunching Superman was one of the things he was most looking forward to. He had looked at pitches from Wolfman, John Byrne, Frank Miller and Steve Gerber, and all the takes offered “really interesting alternate worlds of what Superman might have turned into.”
One of the things Wolfman, who had worked on Superman pre-Crisis, most wanted to bring to the reboot was the businessman aspect of Luthor. “My feeling was that would affect Superman’s life differently if that character was not the supervillain who Superman would beat up every month and send back to jail,” he recalled. Grounding Superman in more realistic storylines was also a priority, as was adding characters like Cat Grant, a new love interest for Clark Kent.
Ordway talked about his art style on the book, and working off the art Byrne was creating. “I think the approach I had was a little more illustrative,” he said, giving a nod to John Buscema, his hero, who he added wasn’t that far off Curt Swan, in a lot of respects.
Ordway stressed that he was also intrigued by the opportunity to tell grounded, earthbound stories and didn’t want to do a Superman that was pushing around planets. “I wanted to do a Superman that was a little more accessible and a little more human,” He recalled. He also liked the decision to make Luthor like Donald Trump — because everybody hated Donald Trump, something that hasn’t changed much over the years.
Carlin talked about becoming the editor for the Superman books, which began after he was fired from Marvel. He had worked with Byrne on “Fantastic Four,” and Byrne helped get him on board at DC Comics. Carlin, a “second-generation Superman fan,” said his mom used to read him Superman comics growing up. “I worked at Marvel for five years — she never once called me at work!” Once he started working at DC ,she came to the offices to where Superman was made, “which was pretty cool.”
Carlin humbly stated he didn’t do much aside from executing plans already in place for the books, but Levitz disagreed, telling Carlin he was selling himself short and noting what a well-oiled machine the Superman books were.
“One of the things that really makes this group different from maybe any other group I’m aware of, working on a character — I avoided doing things like writing a book like Superman for most of my career because it’s an enormous pain in the ass, having to coordinate with four or five other writers, or artists, on a character, to make those stories work,” said Levitz. “It really boxes you in.” What Carlin did that was special was coordinating the books and ensuring that the creative team was always on the same page — especially in an era without tools like Google Docs and where technology makes it easier to communicate and share. “You kind of did it with brute force and care.”
George Perez talked about his brief stint writing Superman, saying it was hard working with a big group as a writer and he realized it wasn’t a good fit for him. “What was good for the character was good for the book. And for that I’ll always respect [Carlin],” Perez said.
Carlin seemed to sum up attitude of everybody on the panel: “You had to check your ego at the door. Only Superman mattered.”
Bogdanove said he felt the Marvel Age ended when Mike left for DC, and that’s what he felt Mike was creating with the Superman books, “foster[ing] the same kind of collaborative co-creation that existed in the halcyon days of Marvel,” where all members of the team had input into the story, “but in a way that synergized all of us.” Bogdanove said Carlin created a Golden Age of sorts, and the crowd reacted with strong applause.
Jurgens credited his time working on Superman with helping him become a better writer and artist. Referring to his first work as artist/writer, on “Booster Gold,” he said, “Anybody that looks at those will see the work of somebody who really didn’t know what he was doing, who was kind of learning on the job.” When Jurgens worked with the other Superman creators, they shared information, and by extension, ended up “playing a weekly game of can-you-top-this.” It was a competitive element in the very best spirit.
Levitz asked Bogdanove about the way he captured the magic of Superman differently from the other artists.
“I think, stylistically, I was coming from a Jack Kirby and animation kind of influence, but esthetically, I think that Jerry and I had a lot in common. We were both strongly influenced by the George Reeves TV show. Actually, it was Jerry’s real-world grounding of Superman that I tried to emulate; that kind of brick-and-mortar Metropolis was actually very interesting to me.”
Louise Simonson, who prior to working on “Superman: The Man of Steel” was primarily known as a Marvel writer, talked about being in the middle of someone else’s team, as opposed to calling the shots like she did at Marvel. She admitted it took her a while to understand how to work as part of a larger team and gave full credit to Carlin for helping with the adjustment as well as her understanding the character.
“For me, Superman was a guy who constantly had something else to do. No matter what was happening, he was aware of the world around him and he had a deadline to get his work done… He was a guy that was overscheduled and over-pressured, I guess. His humanity helped hold it all together,” she concluded before asking the other panelists for their take.
Jurgens concurred, adding, “I think we all agreed on this part, that he’s just a Kansas farm boy,” who just so happened to have superpowers. “I always think of Superman by not what he can do, but by what he chooses not to do,” Jurgens explained. “The story of a man who can do anything, but lays the line down and says, ‘I won’t go past this.'”
Perez echoed a similar sentiment, saying that with his powers, Superman could be Earth’s ruler, but is instead its servant. He admitted it bothered him that people called him a boy scout as a pejorative term. “How could we be so cynical that being good for good’s sake is a flaw in a character?”
Carlin said that despite the infamous “Kill Bill” monologue, he thinks everyone agrees that Clark Kent was the character and Superman was the disguise.
Bogdanove believes there are two valid takes; the Silver Age version that sees Superman as alien masquerading as human — and that that interpretation always leads to “escalating power arguments” — “and the other legitimate take on the character is that he’s an immigrant, raised as an American by good working class farm stock people and good values. Clark Kent is who he is, and Superman is his job.”
Levitz, before opening the panel up to questions, told of his favorite day with the panelists, during a Superman summit in California where they were joined by Jerry and Joanne Siegel for dinner.
“That really was one of the coolest evenings,” Wolfman agreed. “Jerry was a great fan of what they were doing, after the ‘Death of Superman’ — he thought it was a great idea to shake things up.” Levitz noted that the Siegel and Shuster Society could use help to restore a plaque that was recently damaged, and encouraged the audience to go online and make a donation.
Asked if the “Lois & Clark” television show informed the comic, it was admitted they were always looking for a bigger readership, and “if it was a success, we could try and plan our wedding story with them. If it was a bomb, we could tell our story anyway. So the story never went away.”
Carlin recalled the how the “Death of Superman” storyline began. “Honestly, this is the way I remember it. Every Superman meeting we had — [someone] would get stuck, and we’d go, ‘Let’s just kill him.'” The team would usually laugh it off, “But this time, everyone was mad because everyone’s stories were being postponed. What if they still weren’t on the books when they got to [the stories]… someone said ‘Let’s kill him,’” and Carlin said they could, but only if it opened up more stories.
Jurgens feels the group really did become greater than the sum of their parts, without losing their voice. “It allowed us to tell stories in a way where we could build onto Metropolis and the supporting cast in a way that all those little elements aligned.” This gave everyone involved the unique chance to tell a story that was bigger than what you could do in a single, monthly book.
The chemistry of actually creating comics can be invisible to the reader, Levitz said. “When it’s working, you kind of lose track of what was whose idea or contribution that made it work… You’re all throwing something in the mix — and it just works.”
Levitz wound down the panel by giving each panelist a half-minute to tell their favorite moments of being part of Post-Crisis Superman’s life:
Simonson’s favorite moment was “Funeral for a Friend.” “In a way, those books got to the hearts of fans… Without Superman being there, they got to say what he meant to them. I loved that.” Bogdanove concurred, adding he also liked the meeting where they all came up with their substitute Superman characters. “It sort of crystalized the difference between each of the creators.”
Carlin explained the process that would inform “Reign of the Supermen!” “The great thing about that was everyone got to do exactly what they wanted to do. We knew that if Superman came back, he had to be very different than he was, and everybody submitted different ideas.” When the pitches began to roll in, he couldn’t pick one, so someone asked, why don’t we do them all?
Jurgens said his favorite moment came before he started the books, when Karen Berger called, asking if he’d like to draw them. He said no initially, because he felt only Curt Swan could draw the character.
Wolfman said his favorite moment was creating Cat Grant, adding he always had a problem with Lois, growing up with the character, and wondered why more women weren’t interested in Clark Kent. He also told of an anecdote about meeting Tracy Scoggins — the actress who played Grant on “Lois & Clark” — and telling her that he created Cat. “She feel to her knees, kissed my ring,” he recalled, laughing, saying she then fought off the film set security to get a picture of the two with a Superman sign on the wall.
Finally, Carlin concluded the panel in succinct fashion, sharing his favorite Superman moment: “I got to name Bibbo.”