Don't Mess With The 'S': Jeph Loeb talks 'Superman/Batman'

2003 is the year that Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee made "Batman" the #1 comic in all the land. But isn't 2003 the year that DC Comics decreed the "year of Superman?"

Enter Jeph Loeb. Again.

The scribe behind "Superman" for three years is tackling one of his most ambitious projects yet, a modern day re-launch of the beloved "World's Finest" series that teamed Batman and Superman together in various adventures every month, under the banner of "Superman/Batman," (though Loeb says he doesn't mind which character's name is put first, IE: 'Batman/Superman' is fine with him). Loeb is quick to point out that readers won't see a series name on the book, but rather a symbol that is a mix of the Bat and the "S." Jokingly, he refers to this as the series, "Formerly known as 'The World's Finest'," playing off the concept that a symbol replaced the name of musical artist formerly known as Prince (now known as Prince again) for a while. With the series' debut in August and fan anticipation steadily rising, Loeb spoke to CBR News about this sure to be successful comic and explained the basic premise behind "Superman/Batman."

"It is a monthly title starting in August," explained Loeb. "Each storyline will be in arcs, the first being six issues, with artwork by Ed McGuinness who is doing an outstanding job. It is our hope that other arcs will be done by equally high profile artists (rotating in and out of MC2's schedule) since these are the two biggest guns in the DCU and arguably in comics. These are stories of conflict- stories that, at least to my mind, would require the world's greatest hero and the world's greatest detective. It's about their friendship, their working relationship, and hopefully, stories that have stakes that exceed the confines of either one of their books. It will focus mainly on just Superman and Batman and then other heroes in the DCU. If Lois or Catwoman appear, it will have more to do with the story itself, then with the ever-expanding cast. Those are things they can do in the monthly. This is more like JLA, in that the heroes are the focus of the stories."

Fans have been waiting a long time to see their two favorite superheroes in a series together and Loeb is aware of the high anticipation, so he says approaching this comic with the same personal mandate as he approaches all his projects. And if his instincts are correct, as the last year has proved them to be with the help of some top art talent, fans ought to be quite pleased. "My mission statement is what I always strive for -- to tell the best stories I can and hope that folks like them. Currently, folks seem to ... and I am very grateful for that."

It's not often that a comic book can be dictated by the wishes of fans, but "Superman/Batman" is truly a case of fans demanding the series happen- namely the fans in the comic shop and the fan who's writing this series. Loeb says that "Superman/Batman" was brought to life by two things: his own passion and fan reaction to, yes, a crossover. "This came about after the success of 'Superman #168' and the crossover with 'Detective.' The readers really responded to McGuinness' take on Batman. I also believe (and I hope that I am right) that much in the same way that there was a yearning for Green Arrow's return; Hawkman's return; that the readership wants to see a book that features these two heroes. It's good stuff that has a history and while I have the challenge of making that not seem like a rehashing of the historical, having both of them in one book allows for a great deal of heroic fun. It came about quite quickly. I was planning on leaving 'Superman,' the monthly, and DC wanted to know what I wanted to do next. Many of the stories I had in mind to tell in future in that monthly worked better with Batman and it progressed into this pitch. I happened to be in New York and Superman Group Editor Eddie Berganza said let's go discuss it with (then) Editor Supremo Mike Carlin. Mike loved it immediately. It took some planning, and by that time Dan Didio had come into the picture and he really championed it. So, here we are."

One concern of fans is how to keep the Superman and Batman dynamic fresh, with the constant interaction each month and the opinion of some that what makes their relationship special is the lack of team ups. It's also daunting to be tackling two characters whose defining moment is considered by many to be a boot in the face as depicted by Frank Miller in "Dark Knight Returns" and Loeb has a definite answer. "The reaction that Frank Miller got -- i.e. The boot in the face -- can be seen as a direct reaction to the enormous emotional attachment these two icons have. Let's face it, they are icons and when you put them together, they create a certain unspecified magic. We've probably long passed the days of, 'Well, Old Chum…' but it doesn't have to be 'In another time we probably would be friends' either. These are two men who do their jobs better than anyone and have entirely different approaches. Much like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, and to a certain extent and done far more comically in the Lethal Weapon films. I tried to address some of this in the end of 'Batman #612' that did start out as Batman Vs. Superman and ended up with them re-evaluating their relationship. That issue is pivotal to the series -- mostly in that they can be honest with each other. I was quite startled by some fans' reaction that I gave Batman the edge in that fight, since I felt I was very even handed in Batman's narration that if Superman wasn't holding back, Batman would be dead. In any event, we'll see the other side that battle -- in a most unexpected way very early on in 'S/B.' I just have too much respect for both characters not to continue to ask the 'Who would win?' question repeatedly."

Something else that Loeb sees himself as is one of the luckiest people working today- because this doesn't feel like a job! "I don't see this is as hard work. Hard work is tarring roofs in the hot sun. That's hard. What I get to do is incredibly lucky and I try to have fun with it."

Having fun involves writing the biggest comic book characters ever- Batman and Superman. So what's Loeb's approach to writing Big Blue? "Big stories! Big heroics!" he exclaims. "A powerful hero set on saving the day and solving the problem at hand using both his incredible powers and his big heart."

But when it comes to Batman, and as readers have seen, he admits his writing changes. "[My writing style is] Very different. Everything is personal to Batman. He can only see the world in his eyes ... not in a world view. The Detective in him allows him to be unattached to the problem at hand -- that's why being with someone who cares so much about everything around him as Superman does makes for a wonderful dynamic."

With such a firm grip on who he believes Superman and Batman to be, Loeb says he wants to keep the heroes front and center, but understands that people like Robin and Jimmy Olsen play a vital role in defining the titular characters of "Superman/Batman." "Any cast is best as a counterpoint to the hero. Since so much of 'Superman/Batman' will be about their counterpoint, we've decided that for a while, the supporting cast will be background players (Lois, Alfred) to the bigger story. I know originally I said I wanted to use all the different folks, but as it progressed, it seemed like this was (hopefully) the better way to go. The monthlies can deal with those characters in a much more efficient way -- much in the same way that Ed Brubaker does a wonderful job with the Gotham City Police Department and I tend to stay away from all of that with the exception of Jim Gordon."

But, if some petty fan bickering is to believed, aren't Superman and his cast just the lamest characters in the history of comics? "I couldn't disagree more about the weak supporting cast," responds Loeb. "Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Pa and Ma Kent, Lana Lang, and Perry White are not just supporting casts -- they are icons. They exist in every retelling of Superman in movies, in television, in animation. It is a remarkable group of creations and I'm honored to use them when it fits with the tale."

Every good hero needs an even better villain and what better way to start than with the President of the United States (in the DCU of course)? "We start with Lex Luthor," says Loeb of the villains appearing in "Superman/Batman." "Since I was integral to putting him into the White House, the time has come to see what can be done about getting him out of the White House without bringing down the entire U.S. government. We have to try and go up from there ... it'll be pretty wild. Edge of the seat, end of the world stuff."

It's common for many comic books these days to have story arcs that run for 6 issues, end, but have elements that continue on into the next, requiring readers to know what's gone on before to really appreciate the tale. But Loeb says that this series will be all about bringing the fun and accessibility to comics, with every story ready to read for any fan, of any age or familiarity with comics. "Arcs. Self contained," Loeb reveals of the story setups in the series. "Hopefully, they will allow the readers who jump on (we get the benefit of the first Superman #1 in over ten years) and enjoy the ride each time. One of the lessons I think I gleaned from 'Hush' was that you could pick that story up and not have to know anything about Batman that you probably don't already know. That's why I am avoiding too many intimate details about continuity. Again, I'm not against continuity, but I believe in continuity through omission. I never said in 'Superman For All Seasons' that Clark didn't play football, but you never saw him play football. That's how I approach that 'problem.'"

It wouldn't be a Jeph Loeb interview without some teasers for future issues of a Loeb project and the scribe hints at what to expect in "Superman/Batman." "In the first 6, Superman and Batman will be in every issue. As for guest stars ... well, by the time we get through with the first six, an awful lot of the DCU will be there! Poor McGuinness!!!"

Before departing to work on the hit WB series "Smallville" (where Loeb is a Consulting Producer) and the #1 selling comic book, "Batman," Loeb has closing comments for fans. "If we're lucky the Batman fans and the Superman fans will both pick up the book (these folks often don't crossover). We're trying to tell a fun, accessible story that you'll be able to share with everyone who reads comics and with a little luck, a whole new generation of readers who haven't -- but always thought either Superman or Batman were really cool."

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