You might have heard the name Greg Rucka before. It could be from his beloved work on “Detective Comics” in years past or his current status-quo shattering writing with Ed Brubaker on “Gotham Central.” It might even be from “Wonder Woman #195,” the hotly anticipated comic that shipped this week.
Or it could be those huge ads that DC Comics has been running everywhere, touting Rucka’s writing skill and reminding people what they already know- with Greg Rucka, you never get what you expect and you’re in for a hell of a ride.
It was also recently announced that he’d be taking over the writing of “Adventures of Superman” next year, the second longest running Superman comic of all time (originally named “Superman”), and the artist on the series would be “Felon” artist Matthew Clark. But if you’re wondering what exactly “Adventures” will be about under Rucka’s guidance… well, let’s just say that’s not the question you should ask, as CBR News learned when they spoke to Rucka.
“No,” laughs Rucka. “I don’t want to answer that. Anyone who wants an answer to that question should pick it up and take a look. It’s gonna about Superman. It’s gonna be about Clark. It’s gonna about Lois and it’s gonna be about finding the balance between being a reporter and being the Man of Steel. It’ll be about trying to balance the search for truth with the search for justice. It’s gonna be about the small things as much as the big ones: everyone knows Superman can, y’know, catch a missile, it’s a little different to see him on street-level as a crime reporter and working there, dealing with for instance, the intentional cruelty of people. I think that still somewhat flummoxes him.”
Perhaps Rucka would rather say how his book will be different from the other series that fans will see- “Superman” by Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee & “Action Comics” by Chuck Austen (Interview) and Ivan Reis – but the writer isn’t going that route either. “I’m not sure that it is a better question, because every writer is doing their own thing and every artist brings their own interpretation. What [Matthew] Clark and I are going to do on ‘Adventures’ is going to be nothing like what Lee and Azzarello are going to do, just as a given, and I think everyone understands that. Everybody follows these characters and has questions they want to answer, drama they want to see or explore it all the way they want to explore it. But how’s it going to be different? That’s not for me to say. Come April 2004, people will get three different books and be able to answer that question themselves.”
For better or worse, Rucka’s been known as a writer who creates stories based around darker characters from “Batman” to his own critically-acclaimed “Queen & Country” series from Oni Press, so one might wonder what attracted him to a bright character like Superman. “Well, he’s Superman,” says Rucka emphatically. “It’s kind of a simplistic answer, but he’s Superman. And I was finally in a place where I felt I could write him well, which is something I haven’t felt in the past, so everything sort of came together at the right time for me. But you know, at the end of day, why do it? It’s the same reason if DC offers you the chance to write Batman or Wonder Woman, you’re kind of a fool to pass it up [laughs]. It’s Superman!”
That love for Superman is felt by a lot of creators and fans, but not reciprocated by their wallets in recent years, with Superman comic book sales fairly low. “You know, I think one of the things that’s going on is that people have a problem relating to what they see as, it’s been used time and time again, ‘The Big Blue Boy Scout,'” contends Rucka. “They rebel against the implied simplicity of character and I can understand that. If you look at him a certain way, that’s what you get- where’s the drama there? I was reading the ‘Birthright’ interview you did with [Mark] Waid and he said that you’re not supposed to relate to Superman and that you’re supposed to relate to Clark- I think that’s a very valid point. I think one of things that happened, recently, is that Clark has become very difficult to relate to. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times best selling novelist and you look at him saying, ‘Yeah, I know lots of people like that!’ [laughs]”
Rucka pauses to laugh when CBR News compares that description of him to Clark Kent and then continues where he left off, saying, “There’s distance there and people find it hard to relate to him, whereas with a character like Batman, there’s a root tragedy that people can very easily empathize that. Superman does not come out of that crucible- he comes out of a very different place. Whilst one can say, ‘planet being destroyed and race being annihilated kind of trumps Batman’s parents murdered in front of him,’ you can’t relate to it. Certain things in the Superman origin go against them- he never knew his parents to lose them in a way. He can mourn Jor-El and Lara abstractly, but he can’t mourn them sincerely, because the emotional connection isn’t there. It’s like an adopted kid who knows he has biological parents somewhere feeling an intellectual connection with them, but it’s much harder to feel the full depth and breadth of the emotion, and that’s the motivating factor. We look at Superman and then we look at Batman or even Wonder Woman, and their motivations are easier to get your hands around- Batman’s certainly is. We see Batman’s motivation very easily. Superman’s motivation at the end of the day is entirely altruistic – ‘I just want to do the right thing.’ People are kind of bored by that [laughs]. It’s not as sexy as ‘I’m gonna make criminals pay for what they did to me.’
“I think those are all reasons of perception and they may all be valid at the root, but they certainly don’t carry forth into the character – the character works on the basis of his portrayal. If you can a find a link to Clark or Superman, you have a story that people will hold onto and people will find themselves in it. They’re there for the story.”
When Rucka explains characterization like that, it probably seems really simple to some, but the trick is conveying that through the writing in the series. “It’s just all in portrayal. It’s in what he says and more importantly, what he does, in the situations he finds himself in because there are certain universals. I’ve talked about this in other places, but we all know what it’s like to be in love with someone who doesn’t love us back. To be frustrated in a job perhaps and to have to do something you don’t want to do, to make a very difficult decision. We all know what it’s like being lied to and discovering it. We all know those kinds of hurts and those kinds of responses, and those are touchstone moments. Those are things we all share. It doesn’t matter if we’re from Krypton or not. Those are the ways in for me.”
Of course, the Superman mythos isn’t complete without Lois Lane, the wife of Clark Kent, and while it’s true that certain creators and fans aren’t enamored with her, Rucka says he sees her as an indispensable part of what he’s doing in “Adventures of Superman.” “I’m not in the ‘gold-digger bitch’ camp. I think Lois is amazing and it comes down to portrayal. She’s the woman that Superman falls in love with- think about who that woman has to be. It’s not the most beautiful person in the world, but that’s somebody who can so shake his view and once again – I have to quote Waid – and ‘surprise’ Superman. This is a man who can fly around the planet and for Lois to do or say something that sets him on his ear – this is a guy who’s seen wonders we’ll never see and Lois is to him, one of those wonders. The biggest thing that gets me, and one of the reasons that Lois gets tarred with the ‘bitch’ appellation, is that we assume rightly that Clark would be attracted to a woman who is strong, passionate and capable. But those very positive traits can be portrayed – if you’re not careful – as very negative things, especially when issues of gender get involved. It’s very easy to go from strong and outspoken woman to ‘bitch.’ A lot of that’s societal, there’s a sexism involved that allows that kind of self-confidence can be read as arrogance. Consequently, that’s one of the landmines you have to dodge when you work with Lois, but I don’t mind – she fascinates me. I actually think that one of the reasons that Lois is there, one of the secret brilliances of Siegel & Schuster’s work whether or not it was intentional, is that we see not only as a love interest for Clark, but through Lois we see the wonder of Superman. It’s easy to take for granted that bullets bounce off Superman. When Lois sees this as a reporter, she says, ‘Wow! Bullets bouncing off him!‘”
The marriage between Lois & Clark to this day causes a divide among many Superman fans, not to mention some creators, but Rucka’s approach to this union is to make it the best he can and he sees a lot of potential in the relationship. “Well it is what it is, so I won’t waste time complaining about it. There are some things I couldn’t change even if I wanted to – that’s one of them, so it doesn’t matter what I think. There’s plenty of drama to be told in a relationship without breaking them up. Anyone in a relationship will tell you it’s more than just, you know, sugar and roses, or racing home for a ‘quickie.’ It’s more than, ‘the bills are piling up, I hate you!’ A marriage is hard work. If you’re Lois Lane, who is hailed as one of the finest investigative journalists working in the world today (at least in the DCU), and you’re married to the man who moonlights as Superman, or the other way around, there’s tension in that marriage already. But that doesn’t mean the marriage isn’t valid or good, or that it should be discounted or removed.”
The supporting cast found in Metropolis- from Jimmy Olsen to Perry White to Ron Troupe- is important to fans and Rucka.
“We’re all kind of getting our own domains and getting our own niche carved out. I’ve been told I have these characters and that’s it. I don’t really want to list them all. There will be new characters brought in and I was told specifically by editor Eddie Berganza to create a specific character for Metropolis and create a certain infrastructure. Something else, and this doesn’t give anything away, is that Clark is no longer a super star at the Daily Planet- he has a crap beat relatively speaking. Lois is jetting around the world and it’s Lois who gets the big ticket items. Clark works out of ‘The Shack,’ which is where the crime beat reporters work, at the equivalent of Metropolis’ One Police Plaza. He’s working with 3-4 other journalists, working nights, following cops around. Also changing and insulating him is that he no longer reports to Perry- there’s a new editor that Clark reports to with his work and this is an editor that isn’t going to cut him much slack. Again, we’re talking about emotional touchstones – how many times have you told someone something that you know is true, only to have it absolutely denied to your face? You’re called a liar and you have to prove it. How do you prove something you know as Superman when you’re Clark? There are things that Superman would be able to know that Clark is going to have a very difficult time finding corroboration for. If five different reporters follow the story they think happened because that’s the evidence they see and he, because he’s Superman, knows that’s not the case… Clark Kent has to find a way to back it up before he can write it up. Getting back to the first question, Superman can do so much and face down so many threats, and Brian [Azzarello’s] talking about the fact that Superman’s not going to deal with black and white, he’ll deal with grays, so I want him to deal with the lies, because that’s the one thing that’s going to get him where he lives. And the people who work in lies, that’s a harder battle, especially if Superman won’t simply resort to ‘fear of God’ tactics like Batman would.”
As far as villains go, Rucka’s going to have Superman facing a unique assortment of characters and plans to create his own foil for the Man of Steel. “I’m going to bring in some new enemies. There are a couple of classic bad guys I have my eyes on, but first things first, I want to get things on track and give Superman a new rogue.”
None of the above should be interpreted as Rucka being restricted by DC and while in the past, some creators have said they’ve felt creatively confined on the Superman series, this DC exclusive writer isn’t ready to comment on that yet. “I can’t answer that yet, because I’m not deep enough in to know. One of the things we’re working out is getting the balance between the three books and what they all are. There’ll be things done in ‘Action’ for example that won’t be done in ‘Superman.’ I want to be able give Chuck and Brian their room to work. I don’t know yet. There are more constraints on Superman than probably any character at DC. That doesn’t mean you’re handcuffed – you just have to remember who you’re writing. You don’t just walk in and say, ‘he’s getting rid of the ‘S’ on his chest,’ knowing you’ll be going to war and you better have damn good reasons for wanting it removed.
“I’m sure someone’s going to pick it up as an Internet rumor that Rucka wants to remove Superman’s ‘S’!”
Earlier in the interview, Rucka mentioned that he felt he was in a better place to write Superman and explains why, revealing some very personal reasons. “I’ve reached a point, at least with my work in the DC Universe, where I have a better grip of his place in the universe and I think I finally have an entry point into the character, which was always the big thing- I didn’t think I could get into his head. It was relatively easy getting into Batman’s head and relatively easy getting into Wonder Woman’s head. As I’ve said before, people may not agree with what I thought was going on in those heads, but with Superman, it was always much more difficult and really in the last six months or so. Really, I think it comes in large part from my son, Elliot, how he sees the character. He’s 3 ½, has spent much of the last week in his Superman PJs, and it did give me a new POV. So Rucka’s Superman is going to be written by a three and a half year old [laughs].”
That place in the universe that Rucka mentions is often interpreted by fans as having to represent the “mightiest champion” position or “best hero” role, but this writer is loathe to ascribe such names to Superman, but not out of a lack of respect for the character. “Every hero needs their superlative, which tangentially is one of the Wonder Woman problems because she’s had them all taken away. She’s almost always represented as ‘almost’ or ‘second best’- she’s almost as strong as Superman, not quite as fast as the Flash, not quite as smart as Batman. But Flash gets ‘fastest man alive,’ Batman gets ‘world’s greatest detective’ and Superman gets ‘man of steel.’ Superman is the prototypical superhero. What’s the superlative there? For me, it’s not the fact that he’s the strongest and it’s not the fact that he can fly, it’s the fact that, perhaps, at the end of the day he’s the purest [laughs]. His motivation is the most unpolluted. It is essentially the most heroic motivation, not to diminish the heroism of everyone else. He is the hero they all look up to. Raymond Chandler wrote an essay called ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ and in it he talks about who the private investigator has to be in that P.I novel, who that character must be for the story to work. Whether or not you agree with it, you have to answer it- you either have to fall in line or refute it- you can’t work in a vacuum. It’s one of those things that says ‘these are the rules’ and you can break the rules, you can follow the rules, but you have to know the rules – there is no middle ground. Superman is kind o that. He is the superhero- you are either a superhero in the vein of Superman or you’re not. You’re either hero or anti-hero in that sense. You can color it however you want, using the Batman example, shading it down and make it darker, but at the end of the day, Batman is essentially the same superhero, doing the same superheroic things. All that comes out of Superman.”
Next year, fans will find a time when they’ll be able to buy “Wonder Woman,” “Batman: Death & Maidens” and “Adventures of Superman” all in the same month- a pretty important event for a writer. “Man, sometimes I wanna go, ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! How’d that happen?'” laughs Rucka when asked about writing such well-known characters. “I can’t think about that. I just have to work. It sounds clichéd but it’s such an amazing privilege to be working with three of the biggest icons in history at the same time. At the end of the day, it comes back to the base line that has governed these things, whether it’s at DC or Marvel- how can I best serve the character? I want to do right by them and in those moments that I realize I’m going to have books with Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, all bearing my name, in the same month, I want to jump off the deep end. It’s fear. Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure and that’s why I try not to think about it.”
Speaking of Superman and Wonder Woman, Rucka has made it known that he’s not a big fan of romantic entanglements between the two and CBR News decided to get the final word on the writer regarding his perspective on the two. “They’re friends. They have the potential to be very close friends given what’s going on at any given moment, but they’re also exceptionally busy people. But the implication that there’s something romantic going on or that something romantic should be going on is something I don’t like. It pisses me off and I think it’s unfair to both characters, particularly Diana. He’s married! If nothing else, he’s married and she’s Wonder Woman. Let’s think about that one. Number one, I don’t like the fact that there seems to be a need to partner them up. While sexual tension factors into almost every relationship between women and men in some way shape or form, we’re not heroes, we’re not these guys. I think Diana and Kal are buddies, good friends and they’ll be there for each other when they need each other. But it’s not romantically viable and I really don’t like it. I think it says bad things about both the characters and at the end of the day, I don’t think it is wisely done. Look at it this way, it takes killing Lois in ‘Kingdom Come’ for any relationship between them to really blossom. Miller did the same thing [in ‘Dark Knight Strikes Again’]. You really have to get Lois out of the equation in such a way that she’s never coming back, it’s not like ‘we’re having difficulty.’ Neither of them- Diana or Kal- would risk the damage that could be done to their friendship and that’s if we even entertain this idea or the impropriety of it. I honestly don’t think they consider it. I don’t think Superman looks at her and thinks, ‘hey, if I wasn’t hooked up…’ or Diana looks at him, thinking, ‘If only Lois was out of the way…’ That’s not what happens! That’s not how they interact! That’s how I feel about it, but I’m in the minority.”
Writing “Gotham Central,” “Wonder Woman” and “Adventures of Superman,” Rucka has books that could conceivably share a story if he so desired, but don’t expect to see a big crossover between the books anytime soon. “I don’t see ‘Gotham Central’ and ‘Adventures’ crossing over, though one of the things ‘Central’ is about is the view from the ground for these people, which is why when Batman appears, he’s sort of like deus ex machina, he appears out of nowhere and you’re kind of powerless in his presence. If that’s the kind of impression Batman leaves on the cops, imagine the impression that Superman would leave [laughs]! It’s far more likely that Superman and Wonder Woman will appear in each other’s books. I don’t think I would ever write a triple-cross and Wagner’s doing a terrific job, so no need to do anything like that [laughs].
“It would be interesting to have Superman meet Maggie again [in ‘Gotham Central’] but I don’t think they exchange Christmas cards, y’know? Maggie’s relationship with Superman was akin to Gordon’s relationship with Batman, but I say akin and not the same. Maggie’s now in Gotham and Gotham’s Batman’s beat, and she has no relationship with Batman. He has yet to meet face to face with her as far as I know.”
If you’re interested in “Gotham Central” or perhaps even read the interviews with Ed Brubaker, artist Michael Lark and Rucka himself last month, the scribe offers a teaser for the future of the series. “The Joker and a rifle,” he says. “The Joker, a rifle and the week before Christmas- that’s really all you need to keep it rolling there.”
There’s also “Wonder Woman,” with Rucka’s first issue on this series released this week and he implores fans to give the most famous fictional heroine a chance with issue #195. “[You can expect] The best work I can possibly do, the best work Drew Johnson can possibly do, the best work that Ray Snyder can possibly do and Ivan Cohen, Trish, Todd, and everyone’s breaking their backs on this. Adam’s [Hughes] covers, Phil Noto’s covers, J.G Jones’ covers. Look for issue #200 to throw things upside down and have some fun backups- 64 pages of comic goodness including the 22 page main story and all sorts of extras. We’re not just talking pin-up galleries- nothing against pinup galleries, pin-up galleries are great- but issue #200 will be more bang for your buck.”
When it comes to “Adventures of Superman,” fans can look forward to a characterization of the Last Son of Krypton that will be inspiring and fresh, hopes Rucka. “I believe really strongly in the roots of characters. To me, the root of Batman would be Frank Miller if you’re looking at the revamp. With Wonder Woman, I go back at the start, wanting to honor everything that’s come after it, but really wanting to go back to the start. With Superman, the heart of the character is at the beginning and trying to bring that 70 years up almost, I want the core of Superman to be Superman. It’s those traits, trying to make it clear why the book is still around and why the character is so amazing, maybe in a way that people haven’t seen before, and to do it with passion and energy and respect.”