SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Action Comics" #875.
Writing "Action Comics" - the DC Comics title synonymous with the most iconic superhero in the history of superheroes - is no easy task.
But try writing it without Superman!.
Greg Rucka calls the scenario a Gordian knot. And yet, the fan favorite writer kicked off his run on "Action Comics" this month with a high-octane adventure featuring Nightwing and Flamebird as the new defenders of Metropolis and never missed a beat.
On sale now, "Action Comics" #875 revealed the DC Universe's newest superheroes as the alter egos of Chris Kent and Thara Ak-Var. Chris, a.k.a. Lor-Zod, is the son of General Zod and Ursa, and was first introduced in "Action Comics" #844, by Geoff Johns & Richard Donner and Adam Kubert in 2006. Thara Ak-Var was the Chief of Security on Kandor and now New Krypton, and is childhood friend of Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl.
CBR News checked in with Rucka to find out what makes Nightwing and Flamebird think they can fill the big red boots of the Man of Steel while he's off-world, and what else we can expect from a World Without Superman in the pages of "World of New Krypton," which Rucka is co-writing with James Robinson.
CBR: Last time we spoke, you said we'd find out who Nightwing and Flamebird were right away, and there Chris and Thara were, chatting in the Fortress of Solitude midway through your first issue, "Action Comics" #875. You weren't lying.
Greg Rucka: Their real names are Lor-Zod and Thara Ak-Var.
Right, of course, sorry. Lor-Zod and Thara Ak-Var. So now that they're out there, what can you tell us about them?
No, no, no, no, no. That's the annual [laughs]. "Action Comics Annual" #12 is where you find their back-story. We know about Chris, but the immediate question is, "Wait a second. Last time we saw him, he was six. What is this? Soap opera aging or what?" And no, it's not soap opera aging. It's comic book aging. There's a reason for it. And as seen at the start of the issue, he's roughly 15 or 16. And clearly, he's been that age long enough to be zipping around as Nightwing. At the end of the issue, he suffers from what we are referring to as "burst aging." And he goes from 16 to, well, his body accelerates about seven years, which is an exceptionally draining and painful process.
The thing that people have to remember about Chris is that he is the only Kryptonian who isn't native Kryptonian -- as far as we know. He is actually native to the Phantom Zone. He was conceived and born in Fort Rozz in the Phantom Zone. So you take that and add a yellow sun, you're going to get some screwed up DNA [laughs]. So, Chris has a problem. Right now, it's very convenient. Twenty-three is a very functional age.
That begs another question for readers: Okay, great, his body is 23. But why is his brain not 6?
That will be answered. There is an explanation for all of this. You may not like the explanation, I can't speak to that, but there is an explanation. And the explanation is forthcoming in "Action Comics" and then we go into far greater detail in "Action Comics Annual." The annual actually covers a number of things. It covers the start of Thara's journey in Kandor. It actually explains a little more of Ursa's backstory. It picks up for Chris when re-enters the Phantom Zone at the end of "Superman: Last Son." And you see how Thara and Chris came together. You see why they take on the Flamebird and Nightwing identities. You see the genesis of their relationship.
I guess writing Chris as a six-year-old would be a difficult storyline to carry. Have you written a child before in one of your comics or novels?
I have and I also have to young children. It's a hard age to write well. And then on top of that you add in all of the superhero stuff, and what you end up with is a precocious Franklin Richards. And that's not to bash Franklin Richards, but hey, that's been done by the other company.
And frankly, when this was handed to me, he already 16. More to the point, you've got to understand when I was brought in, there was a Flamebird and a Nightwing. And there were ideas that Geoff [Johns] and James [Robinson] had about who they were. A lot of what Nightwing was, Geoff had set up because he told me who they are. And I said, "How? What? Why?" And he said, "Nyuh." It was like, "Got get 'em, tiger!" It really was.
We talked about this before, me being offered the book and the conversation I had with Geoff where he said something, and I was like, "Okay. I've got it. Now I can do this." The thing that I haven't talked about is the part where every single conversation we had until that part I was like, "Are you kidding me? No way in hell am I doing this. It is unworkable. You guys are handing me a Gordian knot and you're not giving me the knife. I can't cut this." And then of course, he hit me with this other thing and I'm like, "You bastard. That's too good. Now I want to do it. How am I going to figure it out?" And that took a lot of time and a lot of conversations with James and Geoff and ["Supergirl" writer] Sterling [Gates] and Matt Idelson and Wil Moss and Liz Gehrlein and Sean Ryan and everybody in the editorial staff.
There was a document that I kept reworking and reworking. And I kept sending it around and saying, "Will this work? Will this work?" And even now, I can't guarantee it will work because this is a fairly sticky continuity situation. I am doing the absolute best I can to respect the readers' intelligence. The problem is, there are a lot of them and they are all pretty smart. So the odds of me getting by with a free pass are pretty low. And I acknowledge that and hopefully they will forgive some of liberties I have taken in the face of the better story.
Ttraditionally, you are known as a guy who writes street-smart characters working in the underbelly of the DCU. Now you are writing this big, massive sci-fi storyline with "Action Comics" and "World of New Krypton" with James Robinson. Are you having fun?
Sure. It's fun to play in a whole new zone. One of things that is so cool about writing "World of New Krypton" is that James and I will have a conversation and we'll go, "This leads to this which leads to this which leads to this, culturally." And then we will realize that's all in good but there is no design for it. There's nothing. We don't know what the baseline, state-of-the-art infantry weapon was for Krypton prior to the abduction of Kandor. So we write a script going, "This is what we think it is" and we hand it to Pete Woods and 30 seconds late, Pete is back with like, "Here we go. I've done eight designs." And we're like, "That is so cool. That will work. That's good." So that's a hoot and a holler.
And one of things I love about the medium is that you are almost universally working with really talented people, who have really great ideas. And that kind of engagement is energizing.
James, Sterling and I had a great conference call today with editorial, we had a call amongst ourselves yesterday, we're going to have another one in the next three or four days. And prior to the call yesterday, I talked to James separately and Sterling separately. And the Sterling conversation was like, "Oh. Let's do the 'Secret Files.'" We've got this story idea for the "Secret Files." There are so many ideas and there is so much to work with now, we have to start making decisions. It's not a question of what material we are using. The question is how do we make sure we are using the right material from what we've got? And that's a luxury problem. If that makes any sense. Should every writer have this problem?
You've been writing them for a few months, so can you tell us if Nightwing and Flamebird have what it takes to follow Superman and headline "Action Comics?" Do they have the chops?
It's not turning around and saying, "Oh, 'Action Comics' now starring Batman." I recognize it. Do I think they have chops? Yeah. We're doing it. And frankly, I think the first issue gave them a really good start. And the second issue doesn't dilly-dally. A lot of time is spent with Ursa kicking the snot out of them.
Do I think it will carry? I like the characters. I think they are compelling. I want to read their stories. That's why I'm writing them. I hope I do a good enough job that other people will want to, as well.
So you don't see Nightwing and Flamebird as placeholders while Superman is off on New Krypton? This is a launch of two new DCU heroes?
Nothing is created with the idea that one day they will be forgotten. We want them to fly. There are plans. There are long-range plans. And God willing, everything will execute. The hope is when the story, people will be happy for being taken on the ride.
"Action Comics" #876, with art by Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose, is on sale April 15.
"Action Comics" Annual #12 , with art by Pere Perez, is on sale June 17.