When it was first announced at Wonder Con nearly two years ago that fan favorite writer J. Michael Straczynski (“Thor,” “Amazing Spider-Man”) was bringing his epic-sense of storytelling to the DC Universe – after ending his six-year exclusive deal with Marvel Comics – many thought he would be automatically working with one of DC’s Big 3: Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. However, the writer’s first assignment ended up being a series of one-shots starring the recently acquired Red Circle superheroes from Archie Comics, and his follow-up was his current, ongoing run on “The Brave and The Bold.”
But during last week’s “DCU in 2010” marketing campaign, the publisher announced that JMS has been tasked with taking the Man of Steel to new heights in a new ongoing, series of original and re-imagined graphic novels, entitled “Superman: Earth One.”
JMS, a life-long fan of the Last Son of Krypton, will deliver a 128-page story once or twice a year, beginning with the release of the first volume on September 7, 2010, which will be illustrated by rising star, artist Shane Davis (“Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns”).
CBR News spoke with JMS about landing his dream gig in comics, and the man named one of the “Top Ten Screenwriters to Watch” by “Variety” for his script for “Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie, revealed that “Superman: Earth One” has been in the works since he arrived at DC Comics and he’s been painfully biting his tongue for the past 18 months.
CBR News: First off, knowing what a huge Superman fan you are, this project must be a dream come true for you. Does the assignment come with any fears or nervousness because you’ve been waiting so long for this, or are you just pumped up and ready to go?
JMS: There was a moment of that to be sure, sort of the deep breath before the plunge, but I was excited to get into it. From as far back as I can remember, my creative bucket list has consisted of four things: creating my own SF series [“Babylon 5”], reviving “Forbidden Planet,” adapting “Lensman,” and writing Superman. Now all four of those things have either happened or are in process. For a kid out of the streets of New Jersey, that’s just remarkable – and vastly unlikely.
Your collection of Superman memorabilia is the stuff of legend. As far as you are concerned, who is the quintessential actor who has played the Man of Steel on film or TV? And conversely, what do you believe to be the definitive comic book run with the character?
I grew up with George Reeves in the TV series, and Curt Swan drawing the character in the books, so for me, those two will always be Superman. There was something profoundly human about both renderings, despite the powers they contained. I was also a big fan of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. My very earliest memory as a kid is of watching one of those cartoons.
Was this Superman project in the works from when you first started working with DC, or did the idea grow organically once you arrived?
It was there from the get-go, I just wasn’t allowed to talk about it. It was kind of crazy making when people would say, “Why is JMS doing ‘Brave and the Bold’ instead of writing a book for one of the Big Three characters?,” when I was, it was just classified. But it was a nice balance. In “The Brave and The Bold,” I’ve been able to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and it is right in the middle sales wise, so there’s no pressure on it. The rest of the time, I get to write for Superman – though I’ve told DC that by the end of 2010, “The Brave and The Bold” will be somewhere in the top 20 or 30 books. They look at me like I’m nuts, but I have a plan. It’ll be slow and gradual, but we’ll get there. Marvel had the same reaction when I said I’d get “Thor” into the Top 10, so we’ll see.
In what we know so far about the project, “Superman: Earth One” sounds like it’s equal parts “Ultimate Superman,” “All Star Superman,” “Superman: Rebirth” and an Elseworlds story. How was it pitched to you…or how did you pitch it to DC?
They came to me. Basically, they said, “We want to introduce Superman more thoroughly into the world of mainstream bookstore publishing, and we want this to be the vehicle to do that. You’re going to have a clear field to handle it however you want. You don’t have to worry about continuity or other characters, just tell a good story.”
You’re working with Shane Davis on this project. What do you view as his primary strength in drawing Superman?
I was peripherally aware of [Davis’ artwork], but it’s been great to see him really doing some extraordinary stuff on Superman. The stuff I write is very emotion-centered, so it all needs to be there on the faces of the characters. I live or die, not so much by action scenes, but by what you can get of the character’s feelings and reactions. So it’s been great to have him doing this.
From what information that was released when “Superman: Earth One” was announced, it sounds like one of these OGNs is going to come out about every six months. Are you on board for multiple issues/episodes/installments, or will you be handing this series off to someone else after the launch?
I’m on for the long haul.
Can you share any details about the story you’re going to tell? Any major changes or re-imaginings from the current, in-continuity, Superman mythos?
Yeah, in terms of the Daily Planet, I want it to feel more like a real newspaper. As a former journalist, I’ve always been able to tell that those who wrote about the Planet and its staff had never actually been reporters. So I want that environment to feel real since it’s a supporting character for the Superman mythos, but it so often gets shunted over into something he has to escape. As for Jim Olsen, as a photojournalist, he’s always willing to put himself in harm’s way for the right picture. That’s how they roll. So that will be a big change for his character – he’ll be tougher and smarter than we’ve seen traditionally.
The Superman part of the equation is, as noted in the other stories, really the story of Clark’s coming out as Superman, and his decision to essentially enter a life of service when he could have been anyone, could have been rich as an athlete, researcher, any number of things. I’m also taking time to really think through elements of the mythos that we’ve accepted without maybe really sitting back and saying, “Why?”
For instance, there’s a flashback scene to when Martha Kent finishes his uniform and gives it to him as a gift, hoping he’ll go that way. He looks at it and says, in essence, “Shouldn’t there be a mask?” She says no, that “when people see how powerful you are, all the things you can do, they’re going to be terrified… unless they can see your face, and see there that you mean them no harm. The mask… is what you’re going to have to wear the rest of the time.”
Geoff Johns has revealed that the first villain he would be exploring in his “Earth One” Batman OGNs will be The Riddler. Can you share which Superman villain we’ll be seeing in the first volume?
The Big Bad in this first volume isn’t someone we’ve seen before. It’s someone who hearkens back to the destruction of Krypton, as we ask another question: “We know that Krypton was destroyed, but do we really know why?”
Isn’t it odd that a planet would so suddenly just up and blow up like that? Do planets generally just blow up one day? Or is there perhaps more to that story than we’ve seen before?
My understanding is that this book exists in a shared universe with Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s “Batman: Earth One.” Have you had many discussions with Geoff about what he’s doing in his book and how the two will dovetail?
There will be no dovetailing for about the first year or so. We’re all free to do our own thing, then start bringing in the other characters when and as we feel appropriate.
Finally, can you speak a bit about the format and why this particular line is best explored in OGNs as opposed to traditional 22-page single issues?
It’s about 128 pages, and the thing about moving out of the 22-page format is that you don’t have to be constantly moving toward a cliffhanger every 22 pages.
You can structure the book as you would any novel: introduction, rising action, complication, climax and denouement. I want this to feel like what it is: a novel, which will be attractive both to fans and casual readers.
“Superman: Earth One,” by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, is set for release on Sept. 7, 2010.