From Smallville to Metropolis: Verheiden Talks "Superman"

This May, "Superman" gets a new creative team to help guide the Man of Steel through the shadowy and dangerous Post-"Countdown" DC Universe. Mark Verheiden, the new writer, is well acquainted with Clark Kent. Joining Verheiden is artist Ed Benes. CBR News spoke to Verheiden about Superman and what he has planned for The Man of Steel's never ending battle.

Verheiden got the job as new "Superman" writer because he's been figuring out what makes Clark Kent tick for many years now. "I worked on 'Smallville', the TV show, for three years," Verheiden told CBR News. "While I was there DC decided they wanted to do a 'Smallville' comic. I had worked for DC back in the late 80s-early 90s. I did 'The Phantom' and actually had written an issue of 'Action Comics' with Superman and a variety of other things. But, I hadn't worked with them for quite awhile. Jeph Loeb would have been the obvious one to do it, but he wasn't on staff yet. So, they asked me to do one of the comics. I wrote a comic for them. It turned out really well and I started talking to Eddie Berganza at DC more and more."

DC called Verheiden after he finished chronicling the teenage years of Clark Kent's life. "When I left 'Smallville' last year, Eddie called me up and asked if I'd be interested in taking over the 'Superman' book after Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee were done," Verheiden said. "I was incredibly flattered and said, 'yes.'"

Verheiden feels that unlike his partner in the "World's Finest," there aren't many variations on Superman's character. "It feels like Batman can have many different permutations. You have the Frank Miller version, the Steve Englehart version, the kind of goofy version back in the 60s and he still survives," Verheiden explained. "But, it feels like Superman is Superman. There's really kind of one version of him. He changes, but he's very steadfast. He doesn't change dramatically. He changes in interesting emotional ways. He goes through a lot of emotional dilemmas. The core character that he is has remained pretty much the same."

Superman's immutable core is characterized by a number of traits. "He's sort of the rock solid center of the DC Universe. The core characteristics of him are the fact that he's just sort of always there. He's really the guy you turn to when all else has kind of gone to pot."

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Verheiden feels another essential trait of Superman is the importance of the marriage between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. "She's great for Superman because where Superman is I think a tad on the reserved side, which is interesting given that he's a guy who can look to the end of the universe, she brings a sense of humanity to him," Verheiden explained. "Their marriage is what grounds him to humanity and mankind. Without that he's basically an alien on Earth."

Lois will play a significant role in the book. "She's headstrong where Superman may not be. She is willing to go to places that Superman may not," Verheiden said. " In a lot of ways she's a much better reporter than Clark Kent. Not because Clark Kent is a bad reporter, but because I think Lois is willing to go that extra mile and ask those embarrassing questions."

Other supporting characters Verheiden has plans for include Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, and some other Daily Planet staff members.

The villains appearing in Verheiden's initial "Superman" issues include Braniac and Black Rock, a villain from the '70s who Verheiden updated. The writer will be examining Superman's rogues' gallery for villains to use in future arcs. "It does seem that Superman's gallery of villains is not as densely populated as says Batman's," Verheiden said. "There's really no Joker. I suppose it's Lex Luthor. Lex is a great villain. Once we get past him though there are the reoccurring villains like The Toyman and The Prankster. It's interesting that these became reoccurring villains in Superman's universe because Superman is so powerful and its sort of silly that you're kind of like, 'How did that come about.' No plans to use those guys in the near future."

There is one villain fans should expect to see in upcoming issues of "Superman". "One character I'd really like to use, I'm not sure he's classified as a villain, is Bizarro," Verheiden told CBR News. "Bizarro has always been a favorite of mine. So I think at some point he'll pop in."

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Verheiden's initial "Superman" story arc has the Man of Steel plagued by some doubts. "The first few issues I've done focus a lot on Superman and Lois and Superman and his relationship with Earth," Verheiden explained. "He's having some questions about his place on Earth and finds himself questioning his role here."

Superman may be invulnerable, but he has been deeply affected by recent events in the DC Universe. "With 'Crisis' and 'Countdown' there's a lot of nasty stuff going on in the DC Universe," Verheiden said. "He's really facing some pretty dark challenges; challenges his friends in the superhero community have sort of thrust at him by people being killed and people doing things that are morally on the sketchy side."

Another element of Verheiden's run will be an examination of Superman's abilities. "It really seemed to me that with Superman, we were taking him a little bit for granted, the truly immense nature of his abilities" Verheiden said. "What I want to do is really explore his powers in ways, that when they've done 2,000 issues of a character it's hard to say ways that have never been done before, but in ways that I think are a bit unusual. What do those powers really mean? What are the extremes of those powers? What does it mean if a guy can see to the end of the universe? What does it mean when a guy can fly faster than light? What does it mean when a guy can turn on his heat vision to a point where he's essentially a walking nuclear reactor?"

By examining his powers Verheiden hopes to bring a sense of astonishment back to Superman. "It's asking sort of questions about the nature of his powers and I think trying to get a sense of the awe back when this guy uses his abilities," Verheiden explained. "Book like 'Kingdom Come' were great because they sort of brought back that sense of awe. Or in the Marvel Universe it would be 'Marvels' where you go, 'Wow! Those are really different folk.'"

The tone of Verheiden's "Superman" run will reflect the current state of the DC Universe, deadly serious. "Mine has for a lack of a better word a pulp feel to it," Verheiden told CBR News. "It's a tad grittier. To me it's strictly in the DC Universe but it's more the feeling you had from him way back in the early 40s, when he taking on gangsters and stuff. It had a serious edge."

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With four mini-series spinning out of Countdown there's a lot going on in the DC Universe. Verheiden's "Superman" will reflect that, but you won't need to have read any of the mini-series to enjoy the book. "The way I'm approaching it is the mini-series definitely inform what I'm doing in the book, but they don't control what I'm doing in the book," Verheiden explained. "I think the only way you can do a book like this is to have that back text. Understand what's going on in the universe and make sure that you're not violating that. Then you got to do your story. We're definitely not trying to do a thing where you need to buy 10 books to understand what's going on in 'Superman'."

Verheiden cites two big influences on the way he writes Superman. The first is one of the most acclaimed Superman stories by one of comics' most acclaimed writers. "I always though that Alan Moore's 'Man of Tomorrow' story back in the 80s was a great Superman story," Verheiden said. "What I liked about that story was it really sort of brought back the idea that there's a majesty to this guy. Alan Moore's writing is definitely an influence on anything I've done in comics."

The work of one of Verheiden's former co-writers on "Smallville" is his other big influence. He said, "Jeph Loeb's work on 'Superman for All Seasons'; I think Jeph is a fantastic writer."

Verheiden has loved the work of his collaborator, new "Superman" artist Ed Benes. "I've seen Ed Benes' work on the first issue. It's really quite amazing," Verheiden told CBR News. "He's doing a really, really spectacular job taking stuff I wrote and punching it out about ten steps further."

Moving from chronicling Clark Kent's teen years to his adult ones has been creatively fulfilling for Verheiden. "It's not for me to say its fun. It's for people to read it and say its fun," he said. "I hope people give it a shot. It's been a challenge, but I'm really excited about it and I think the people at DC are excited about it."

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