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Sam Humphries Travels the DCU with Green Lanterns… and Bugs Bunny

by  in Comic News Comment
Sam Humphries Travels the DCU with Green Lanterns… and Bugs Bunny

At WonderCon 2016, DC Comics announced its full “Rebirth” lineup — disclosing the titles and creative teams for its current DC Universe publishing push, which puts an emphasis on legacy and something of a more back-to-basics approach to the company’s iconic superheroes. One of the more surprising revelations from that event was the news that Sam Humphries — who for the prior several years was a high-profile writer at Marvel, with stints on “Star-Lord,” “Uncanny X-Force” and “The Ultimates” — would be the writer of “Green Lanterns,” starring the two Green Lanterns of Earth: Relatively new characters Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. A few months later, DC announced that Humphries had been signed to an exclusive contract with the publisher.

Earlier this year, news broke of what may be Humphries’ most tantalizing writing assignment yet: June’s “Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special,” one of several upcoming one-shots pairing DC heroes with classic Looney Tunes characters, this one to be illustrated by veteran Superman artist Tom Grummett.

With “Phantom Lantern,” the second collected edition of “Green Lanterns” — featuring art by Julio Ferreira, Ronan Cliquet, Eduardo Pansica, Ed Benes, Jay Leisten and Cam Smith, and collecting issues #7-#14 of the series — out this week, CBR spoke with Humphries about his first year at DC Comics, bringing real-life anxiety to the sci-fi adventure of “Green Lanterns,” redefining Doctor Polaris for the Rebirth era and why Bugs Bunny is the hero we need in these complicated times.

"Green Lanterns Vol. 2" cover

“Green Lanterns Vol. 2: Phantom Lantern” cover by Robson Rocha.

CBR: Sam, I’m curious to hear what this last year has been like for you — this convention is the one-year anniversary of you being announced as the writer of “Green Lanterns.” Subsequently, you’ve made DC Comics your exclusive home. What’s the experience been like for you?

Sam Humphries: Being back here has been a trip, because it was one year ago that we had the big announcement. I had known that I was going to be on Green Lanterns for a while, but it was a big secret, and I couldn’t tell hardly anybody — nobody even knew I was going to DC. It was a big move. The whole WonderCon experience last year was such a trip, being exposed to a whole new set of fans — a whole new set of comic book fans, superhero fans, movie and TV fans, who love DC Comics. Of course, I love DC Comics, and I know that the love is there, but it’s been an amazing year — this whole entire year — being able to understand and experience that love that the fans have for DC Comics.

It’s not that different than fans of Marvel Comics, but it’s like, I was at this really awesome vacation resort on the east coast, and it was amazing and I had a great time, and then I went to the west coast — and it was still awesome. And all of a sudden, you’re like, “The world is a big and beautiful place, with a lot of amazing fans out there, and the love is strong and huge.” It’s been an amazing, fantastic year for me.

Let’s talk about Green Lanterns , what you’e been working on for the past year.

A lot!

Twice a month!

It’s crazy, right? We’re in the late 20s behind the scenes now. It’s wild. I was talking with Dan DiDio about it, and he’s like, “You had a two-year run.” I was like, “Good golly, you’re right!” It’s incredible.

The two lead characters existed before this book, but you’ve now gotten to drill down on them as main characters more than any other writer has. How have you enjoyed that aspect? Rebirth as a whole is focused more on the iconic characters, which puts you in a different position — you’re getting to define these newer characters more.

Absolutely. To me, that’s two of the greatest things about Rebirth. One is taking a fresh look at the DC Universe, and having characters that have not been in the limelight before, have not been in the spotlight, have not had their own title before, being able to see the DC Universe through their eyes has been a blast. I think it’s one of the things that has made Rebirth so much fun in so many titles.

The other thing that I think makes Rebirth so special is the focus on the characters. That is something that I love, and I will always remember about writing this book — the focus on the characters, and the support we have from DC to focus on the characters. Not just in “Green Lanterns,” but across the DC line, you can see the love and the emotion that we’ve been investing in these characters, and the fans are really responding to it.

Jessica Cruz, one of the Green Lanterns in my book, she has anxiety. I have anxiety — I’ve been putting my experience into her, and the response we’ve gotten back from that has been huge. It’s been massive. I really didn’t expect people to respond so deeply to Jessica Cruz on that level.

It’s been very rewarding to put these characters first, and to really explore them, and to show the world why Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are the Green Lanterns of Earth.

"Green Lanterns" #22 cover

“Green Lanterns” #22 cover by Mike McKone.

Jessica Cruz’s anxiety is significant, because something like that can be lost in superhero comics — and at DC specifically, as sometimes the characters feel a little more untouchable. Did that seems like something that had been missing a little bit?

DC tends towards the grandiose, the mythic, the iconic. You have characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, but when you put Simon and Jessica in the mix, it gives you permission to do something that’s a little different — something that you may not be used to in the DC Universe, which is to really put the focus on some of their internal struggles. For Jessica, it’s been her struggle with anxiety. I think it really has introduced — not just in our book, but the work Bryan Hitch has been doing in “Justice League” and across the line — a nice note of humanism in the DC Universe.

On that same note, you’ve reintroduced Doctor Polaris. There’s a class of older DC villains who feel like they’ve become undervalued over the years, and he fits right in there. He’s figured into Rebirth in a couple of different ways — what have you liked about that character and getting to define him for the current era?

I just love the challenge. They said, “We’d really like for you to do a Doctor Polaris arc. He’s coming out of ‘Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,’ he’s going to be a big part of that book, but in terms of redefining the character for the Rebirth era, there’s not going to be a lot of opportunity for that.” It’s a big event book, Josh has 90 other characters to run — totally understandable.

The way DC approached it with me, they were a little sheepish about it. I didn’t really understand why. They were like, “No one’s really been able to understand Doctor Polaris. No one’s really being able to dig into Doctor Polaris and come up with an emotional core to the character that’s really stuck, and that people really related to.” I said, “Challenge accepted.” Can I swear in this? I said, “Challenge motherfucking accepted.” [Laughs]

In my head, I’m like, “I will succeed where Geoff Johns has failed! I will succeed where Scott Snyder has fallen! I will succeed!” Really talking myself up. I really like the challenge. To me, all the pieces were there. He’s bipolar. When you can just come out and say, “This character is bipolar,” not only do you take him away from the one-note, mustache-twirling villain, but you also give him something for people to relate to. There were some Silver Age trappings that were a little weird, where he’d do little magic shows with magnetism, and that’s not entirely relevant anymore, but he had a tech background. Good heavens, everyone’s obsessed with tech right now. Elon Musk, and Silicon Valley, apps and everything — it rules our world now.

I was Immediately like, “We’re going to let him tell his story in a Ted Talk. But because it’s the DCU, it’s going to be a Lex Talk.” [Laughs] Just having that opportunity and latitude to redefine that character with the pieces we already had, to make him relevant, I was just like, “How can I make him relevant to me?” If I do that, other people will find him relevant, too. It really seems to have worked. It’s been an incredibly gratifying process.

I’m also really excited to talk to you about the one-shot you’re doing —

Oh, yes.

"Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special" #1 cover

“Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special” #1 cover by Tom Grummet and Karl Kesel

The “Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special” out in July. How did that come to be for you, and how much fun have you had writing that comic?

I was having lunch with Dan DiDio, and he was like, “I’ve got something I want to talk to you about. It’s really crazy.” With that kind of introduction, I am all ears. He told me about the project, he said he had an idea in mind — Legion of Super-Heroes with Bugs Bunny, because of the Super-Rabbit connotation. I said, “I’m in! Is it continuity?” “No, so you can have fun with it.” Great, so we can do some of that crazy Silver Age stuff I love with the Legion.

I’m a huge Legion fan. I’m a huge Bugs Bunny fan. And not in my wildest, craziest fantasies would I ever imagine being able to write a book with the two of them together. The other joy of writing this book is Tom Grummett — living legend Tom Grummett, co-creator of the ’90s Superboy — is drawing the book. He is killing it. He’s knocking it out of the park. It’s been amazing working with him.

What’s it been like writing dialogue for Bugs Bunny?

It’s awesome. I write, and I’m just having so much fun — I think it’s funny, but you guys will be the judge of that when it comes out. I’m like, “Man, where is Bugs Bunny today?” I feel like somebody could really do a good take on him. He’d really fit in with the zeitgeist in our culture right now. He’s quick-witted, he hates a bully, he just likes to chill and really only gets aggressive when people mess with him. But he will stand up for what’s right. And he’s sarcastic. I think we need a lot of all that these days, you know what I’m saying?

Oh yeah. And is it the Silver Age Legion readers will see in the one-shot?

It’s not strictly the Silver Age Legion. It is the “Convergence” Legion, which is patterned after my favorite era of the Legion, which is the ’70s, Bronze Age, Mike Grell, Dave Cockrum run of the Legion. I really went back and loved every minute of going back to those issues, and I really did play it like, this is a lost “Legion” issue from the ’70s that did not make it to the printer for some reason. It truly is a Legion of Super-Heroes story guest starring Bugs Bunny, and not the other way around.

I really had a blast and leaned into it. Not just the characters and how they relate to each other, but the abundance of editor’s notes, the chapter headings, the Legion drama, the Legion angst that we love so much is all in there. And then Bugs Bunny comes in, and essentially his role is to be like, “Why are you all so serious all the time?” It’s great. It’s a blast.

“Green Lanterns” #22, by Sam Humphries and Ronan Cliquet, is on sale May 3. “Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special” #1 is scheduled for release on June 14. “Green Lanterns Vol. 2: Phantom Lantern” is available now.

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