"Awake's" Kyle Killen Plots an Adventure with "Superman"

His twitter bio reads, "I wrote that show that got canceled and that movie you didn't see," but there's more to writer Kyle Killen than the self-deprecating statement would lead you to believe. Best known for the critically-acclaimed but canceled after two episodes Fox television series "Lone Star" and more recently NBC's "Awake" -- which ultimately suffered the same fate following the conclusion of its 13-episode order -- Killen has made a name for himself as a writer pushing the boundaries of network television. He also wrote the 2011 Mel Gibson film "The Beaver," in which the star plays a man unable to express his true feelings unless he wears a hand puppet modeled after the eponymous animal, which landed on the Black List in 2008 before receiving a limited release in 2011.

It's difficult to put Killen in any kind of box, and he recently defied expectations again by making his comic book debut in the pages of the digital-first "Adventures of Superman" #15 from DC Comics. The done-in-one story starts as tale of two teenage boys who want to meet Superman but ends up a fascinating look at the Superman-Lex Luthor dynamic and the challenges Superman faces on a daily basis. Drawn by "Y: The Last Man" artist Pia Guerra, the tale puts far more emphasis on the Man in Superman and serves as an impressive debut for the first-time comic writer.

As Killen prepared for his return to television with "Mind Games," a mid-season ABC series about behavioral psychology and manipulation starring Christian Slater and Steve Zahn, he spoke exclusively with Comic Book Resources about his first foray into comic books, how comics differ from writing television, his take on Superman and Luthor and which of his past projects might make its return in comics.

CBR News: You seem to be a real writer's writer, with work appearing in McSweeney's and other Reviews in addition to the film and TV work you're now best known for. Did you grow up reading comics and imagining the stories you could tell with your favorite characters, or did you come to the medium once you were already a working writer?

Kyle Killen: I came to comics late. I'd gotten a couple of graphic novels to consider for adaptation, but it wasn't until I was working on a project with Ed Brubaker that I really started to understand the mechanics and opportunities of that kind of storytelling. And when DC asked me to try to tackle "Adventures of Superman" I was very excited and very, very intimidated.  For someone who didn't grow up understanding the intricacies of the whole mythology it was a little overwhelming.  Which was really why I tried to focus less on Superman and the people he battles than on the world in which they do that and how the people who live there are affected.

Both "Awake" and "Lone Star" dealt with duality explored via the series' protagonists, and in many ways you have the same thing going on here. Luthor sees Superman as an impediment to his plans, and Mike sees him as a hero. Do you view this story more as an exploration of these opposing views on Superman or just a way to look at the Superman-Luthor relationship from Luthor's perspective? What is it about duality that you find so fascinating as a writer?

I don't know that I saw it as being specifically about any sort of duality so much as it was about the realization that Superman can't be everywhere all the time. Things still go wrong. Terribly wrong. And when they do, people have a tendency, a need, to assign blame. And so I was intrigued by this idea that experiencing tragedy could make Superman a figure of blame, and from that could come hate, and from that comes new foes.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the story was Pia Guerra's art, which depicted Superman not as the bulky, physically imposing figure he's become in both the comics and movies, but as much more human and grounded. It makes what he goes through in this story much more relatable. Was that all on Pia, or was that something you asked for in the script?

The art was all Pia. When we were looking for artists I looked a lot of incredible people, but it was Pia's simplicity and groundedness that really appealed to me. I felt like I was telling a really simple story and working with someone who approached the art in a similar way felt right. 

I know your TV work keeps you incredibly busy, and while I'm curious to see more of your take on Luthor, are there any other comic characters you want to take a shot at? Any original ideas floating around that you feel might work better as a comic than as a TV show or movie?

I'd love to write more. It was a fantastic experience and unlike anything I'd ever had a chance to do before. Unfortunately my day job makes it tough, but there's so many things you can explore in comics that I'd really love to find a way to make it work.  I'd love to resurrect "Awake" as a graphic novel.

I know that ABC picked up your latest TV series, "Mind Games." With the emphasis on psychology, it seems like it'll be right in your comfort zone while stepping outside of the duality I mentioned earlier. Was this a conscious decision to try and do something a bit more broad while still exploring themes that excite you, or was that not even a consideration when you were conceiving the project?

As for "Mind Games," which is a mid season show for ABC, I was just genuinely excited by the science and way these observations about human nature and the ways we're influenced without knowing it were coming out of the lab and being used to shape real world outcomes.  It's an incredible amount of fun, but as writers we're also constantly bumping into new and mindbending ideas about how people really work.

"Adventures of Superman" #15 is available digitally now from DC Comics; "Mind Games" premieres mid-season on ABC.

Doctor Fate
Yes, A Doctor Fate is Joining DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, Bendis Confirms

More in Comics