On May 4, 2013, comic book stores worldwide celebrated Free Comic Book Day. At the Midtown Comics Downtown store in New York City, DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee and “Batman” writer Scott Snyder held a two-hour signing session for fans.
Many in line were excitedly speculating about Snyder’s upcoming stories “Zero Year,” in which he and artist Greg Capullo will re-imagine how Batman began his crimefighting career, and “Superman Unchained,” featuring artwork by Lee and Scott Daniels.
CBR spoke with both powerhouse creators about their upcoming projects, along with their thoughts on how the New 52 is progressing after a year and a half, Snyder’s approach to telling an origin story for one of the most famous characters in the world, the self-contained, new reader friendly nature of “Unchained” and more.
CBR News:Â Now that we’re nearing the end of the New 52’s second year, how are you feeling about this version of the DC Universe?
Jim Lee:Â It still feels very young and vibrant! I know people are really minding that five year [gap] — I think there’s still a lot of stuff that hasn’t been touched upon, and I think there’s a lot of mileage left.
Scott Snyder:Â That’s part of why “Zero Year” is so fun. We’re only now seeing how Batman started in this universe, and I know that the early years and origin story are pretty sacred to readers. I think it’s going to be good; you’re going to see things you haven’t seen before.
Traditionally, ‘Year One’ and ‘Secret Origin’ stories only acknowledge the main character, almost acting as if he or she is the only superhero around. Will “Zero Year” follow a similar line, or will it acknowledge that Batman lives in a world where a flying alien has recently made his home in Metropolis?
Snyder: Honestly, it’s one of those books that I promised myself I wouldn’t say anything about story wise. I Â love being like a P.T. Barnum for Batman all the time, being like, “Guess what’s coming up?” I’d really love to just sort of say, “Open it up: I promise you, it doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before when it comes to the origin or the early years.” But it’s true to the core.
Lee: The cool thing about Batman and Superman is, you don’t have to change everything to make them interesting to new readers. You can just introduce the familiar things in new ways. You mark new eras of a character by changing some things, but — when you redefine these characters, you don’t want to change them to a point where they’re no longer recognizable.
Snyder: He’s still from Krypton, he still grew up in Smallville, he wants to do the right thing. He’s so deeply guided by the things the Kents taught him.Â We’re just giving a new context, and it’s one I think that’s going to be exciting for new and old readers.
With “Superman Unchained,” we have the hero investigating a mystery involving Lex Luthor, falling satellites and an unknown third party. Could this involve new revelations about Krypton?
Lee: There aren’t any flashbacks to Krypton or anything in this book.
Scott, you recently looked over older Superman stories, in particular the novel “Miracle Monday” by Elliot S. Maggin. Did that provide any new insight that you’re bringing to “Superman Unchained?”
Snyder: Very much! One thing I love about Maggin’s work is that he showed Superman as a hero, ethically and morally. He has to solve problems with his head and his heart more than with his fists. “Miracle Monday” shows how lonely it can be to be Superman in a lot of ways that were surprising to me. Some of the real intimate moments — hearing an ant colony and being able to see colors in the electro-magnetic spectrum that no one else can see — those are details that you know Superman can do, but experiencing it in prose is really fun. It brings a very human element to Superman.
Jim, beyond the fact that he wears a new costume, how are you drawing the New 52 Superman differently from how you used to portray him in stories like “Superman For Tomorrow?”
Lee: He’s got a leaner physique. I try to draw him with a little more youthful appearance. It’s tricky, but I think it’s good because it pushes you in a new direction. I look forward to not trying to repeat myself and also to doing something different in the storytelling. We talked a lot about the visual elements that we could repeat throughout the story that would serve as visual motifs to remind us of some of the themes that we wanted to express in the storyline.
A lot of people have different views on how to portray Clark visually. How are you approaching him?
Lee: I know what [Scott] wants from Clark, but I also have my co-publisher hat on. We have this look for him in the New 52. I’ve beenÂ trying to give something that kind of satisfies both camps.
Snyder: He looks great.
Lee: [Laughs] Yeah, you like how he looks? Good, that makes me happy. I was trying to do something that spoke of the things we’ve already seen in New 52 and also kind of get at, I think, the core elements of Clark that [Scott] wanted to come to the surface. I think when you see Clark in “Superman Unchained,” you’ll know it’s him, it’ll feel like him and it’ll feel like it’s part of the New 52 at the same time.
There are often debates on whether or not to make Clark a complete disguise for Superman or another aspect of the same persona. Where do you fall?
Snyder: I really feel like Clark isn’t a mask. Clark wears a “mask” with the glasses, but other than that, Clark is Superman walking among us. It’s just that no one looks closely enough at him. His mission as a journalist is the same as Superman’s mission as a superhero. Their morals and their lives are complementary. That’s one of the things that’s so interesting about the character; his greatest super-power is that ethical compass, and in that way, he’s Clark through and through. That morality was given to him by the Kents. He teaches us how to be better, how to do the right thing, even when doing the right thing is really hard to do in a world that doesn’t necessarily reward it.
Scott, will this story be as dark as your work on “Swamp Thing” and “Batman?”Â
Snyder: I really like stories where characters are challenged by their worst fears. Superman is facing someone new and it’s going to shake him. It’s not horror, and there’s humor between the characters, but it’s definitely about dealing with something that frightens him. This is basically the Superman story I would tell if I could only do one. It’s got the full cast and Lex Luthor, but also new psychological elements that I don’t think people have really seen with Superman before.
Lee: This is a pretty self-contained story, so you don’t have to have read the New 52 “Action Comics,” “Justice League” or “Superman” in order to understand what’s happening. We want to welcome new readers. And even though it’s coming out around the time of the new movie, we’re telling our story and they’re telling their story.
Lois and Lex are featured, but are they major players, or are they more on the sidelines while Superman faces the mysterious new threat?
Snyder: I love Lex and Lois, and I definitely wanted Lois to be more in the focus of the story. She’s so fun, so she definitely is part of the main action. Also, the fact that there’s a new character makes it interesting because you’re going to see how people like Lois and Lex react, it’s not just about how Superman reacts. Metropolis and the Daily Planet are just such fun worlds to play with, I’m having a great time exploring them and their themes of good and evil.
Snyder: It’s definitely global and Earth-shatteringly big. It’s grounded, and in some ways it’s meant to sort of position Superman in our current world. But at the same time, it will be larger than life.
“Superman Unchained,” by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, debuts in June from DC Comics. For more from Synder & Lee talking all things DC Comics, watch their CBR TV interviews from WonderCon below