Hold the Fortress Part 1: Robinson & Gates on "Last Stand of New Krypton"

Bubbling like the Gold Volcano, DC Comics' two-year long "New Krypton" saga erupted today with the release of "Last Stand of New Krypton" #1 by James Robinson and Sterling Gates.

Illustrated by Pete Woods, the three-issue miniseries features an epic battle between 100,000 angry Kryptonians led by General Zod and Commander Kal-El and Brainiac, the supervillain who bottled Krypton's former capital city of Kandor, long before the destruction of the Superman's home planet, and held its inhabitants captive for centuries.

"Last Stand of New Krypton" spins out of the recently completed "World of New Krypton" 12-issue miniseries and ties in with a larger Superman crossover event entitled, "Brainiac and The Legion of Super-Heroes," which also runs in the pages of "Adventure Comics" (written by Robinson, Gates and Eric Trautmann), "Superman" (written by Robinson) and "Supergirl" (written by Gates) in March and April.

In May, the Superman books will go on hiatus for one month to make space for the four-issue weekly miniseries, "War of the Supermen," also written by Robinson and Gates, or as DC's publicity manager Alex Segura calls it, the 100-Minute War.

As the two writers will be the driving force of all things Kryptonian these next few months, CBR News spoke with them about their overall plans and more specificzlly what lies ahead for favorites including Zod, Superman, Brainiac and Supergirl and Mon-El. Yup, Mon-El.

In this first interview, we discuss "Last Stand of New Krypton" and in tomorrow's interview, we'll tackle "War of the Supermen."

CBR News: Maybe we should start with a bit of an overview for people who are coming late to the party. What's the story you'll be telling in "Last Stand of New Krypton?" 

Sterling Gates: "Last Stand of New Krypton" is a massive story running through the Superbooks in March and April.  

Essentially, Brainiac invades New Krypton, the planet that Superman's been living on for the last year. It's New Krypton's worst nightmare, and it's the second time Brainiac's come after these people. 

If you'll recall, Brainiac's Bottle City of Kandor is what eventually became New Krypton. Now, all of those Kryptonians are looking up at the sky, and they're terrified to see Brainiac's ship reappear.  Will he bottle them again? Or will 100,000 Kryptonians, all with the powers of Superman, kick the hell out of the alien despot? 

So this is where New Krypton makes its stand against Brainiac. 

A character that has played a central role throughout the "New Krypton" saga is General Zod. I wouldn't say that we're rooting for him just yet, but he's certainly become a character that we understand better and can see, maybe a little bit clearer, where he's coming from. 

James Robinson: That was something that Greg [Rucka] and I were very conscious to do, which was, from Day 1, we knew that Krypton and Earth were going to war. And making Zod into this arch villain couldn't have sustained itself for the time that we've been doing this story. So one of the things that Greg and I set out to do was to make him a more believable, real person where you sort of understand his insanity or his commitment to being who he is with the military and everything else.  

And then slowly, over the 12 issues of "World of New Krypton," you could hopefully see that there's hope that Superman isn't just a completely deluded, naïve fool thinking that he can win Zod over and make him into the person that he once was before everything turned to shit on Krypton and he lost his faith in the council and everything else other than his military mindset. And I think we did a pretty good job of it, honestly.  

As we go into "Last Stand," I think you do get more of a sense of who Zod is as a person, and you don't necessarily like him, but you at least, enjoy him when he is on screen.  

SG: Y'know, you mentioned Zod's insanity. I don't if it's so much insanity as it is his drive. He's not an insane, megalomaniacal villain. He's very calculating and cold. And he's very smart. Once he sets his mind to something, he will follow that through. When Geoff Johns and Richard Donner so wonderfully introduced Zod into the modern DCU, they really made him an interesting villain in that regard. 

To me, the tragedy of this whole "New Krypton" saga is that Zod's developed to the point where we can see him in a semi-sympathetic light. Zod and Superman might've someday been friends, and it's Zod's own drive that sabotages that relationship, and it's that same drive that comes to the forefront in "Last Stand" and creates the permanent rift in his and Superman's relationship. 

And that's interesting about their relationship to me. Just like Superman and Lex, Zod and Superman could have been friends once upon a time. But because of fate and circumstance, along with Zod's beliefs and actions and Superman's sense of honor, they'll never be friends.  

Yes, because not unlike Superman and Lex, or even Luke and Darth Vader, with the two of them fighting for the side of good, they'd be unstoppable.    JR: Well, the irony is that you're going to see a little of that in "Last Stand of New Krypton," and then you're going to see the reverse of that in "War of the Supermen" that follows.  

The return of Brainiac was the big reveal at the end of "World of New Krypton" and his arrival is obviously what kick starts the events of "Last Stand." Can you speak about the differences between Zod and Brainiac and if possible, perhaps some of their similarities? JR: I actually don't think Zod and Brainiac share any common ground, to be honest with you. I think Brainiac is actually more hated by Zod than the House of El or the council. Zod was planning on bringing down the council, and his punishment was being exiled to the Phantom Zone, so he sort of knew the risks. But Brainiac's first attack on Krypton is Zod's greatest failure. I think it still stings him to this day. He thinks about it all of the time.  

SG: And Greg [Rucka] wrote a really great scene in "Action Comics" Annual where Chris Kent sees a room within Zod's fortress in the Phantom Zone that is all Brainiac stuff. It implies that Zod has been collecting pieces of Brainiac's equipment and studying them for years. Zod's been thinking about his failure and plotting against Brainiac so that, if he ever gets the opportunity to go up against Brainiac again, he knows exactly what he'll do.  

In "Last Stand," you'll see Zod's plan play out...and it may or may not be successful.  

OK. So if there are no similarities, give me the Tale of the Tape. What does Zod bring to the fight and conversely, Brainiac?

JR: Brainiac has pure logic and he also has the ability to analyze his past failures and create new devices and strategies that can help him in the future.  

SG: And Zod is calculating but he is not devoid of emotion. And sometimes, as with all military figures, emotions will play a part in his decisions.

 JR: Absolutely.  

SG: The other thing the Kryptonians have going for them now is that before it was 100,000 people at Brainiac's mercy. Now, it's 100,000 people with freaking heat vision [laughs].  

And I will say this about Zod and Brainiac: both of them are very, very good at improvisation, just as all military leaders have to be, and as all evil alien despots have to be.   

We should probably talk about Superman, as well, at this point, as he, no doubt, will have an impact on the outcome of "Last Stand," right? 

JR: Absolutely. Huge impact. One of the things that happen in this series is that Commander Kal-El of the Kryptonian military becomes Superman. It actually happens in the first issue. He is very much in his costume and he is the hero that everyone has been waiting to see. He's back to being that guy. So, that's an important transition that we're going to be dealing with early on. And because of that, it is Zod and Superman.  It isn't Zod and his subordinate officer Kal-El, so that makes the playing field quite different for this story.  

SG: Zod draws the line pretty early on in issue one, saying that this is how his military is. And Superman, being Superman, says, "I'm above that line. I'm Superman." And Zod says, "I have no patience for you anymore, El. I am worrying about Brainiac and I'm worried about saving our people." And Superman says, "Saving our people is all that I'm about. We're more alike than you think, but I'm Superman." Obviously, I'm paraphrasing that dialogue! [laughs] 

I think it's a really great scene and I think, hopefully, when you get to the scene immediately after that, you're going to sit up and pump your fist. It's an exciting thing to finally see that confrontation play out and see what happens afterwards. 

JR: And the way Pete Woods draws it is amazing. He's really kicking ass in terms of the art work. When you see Kal-El become Superman again, it's fantastic, fantastic stuff.  

SG: We get a lot of really cool art working on the Superman books and when I opened the file with those pages, I actually yelled. It's that awesome.  Pete's the "New Krypton" guy. He designed all of Kandor - every building - for "World of New Krypton." He built it up, and in "Last Stand of New Krypton," he spends a lot of time taking it all apart [laughs]. He's been a godsend on this project, and I think people are going to be blown away by the work he's done on this. 

And I know our other artists are very thankful because he is so intricate and detailed with his designs and his 3-D design work that everyone can have a ton of beautiful New Krypton reference at their fingertips in seconds. While we're talking about them, all of the artists involved in this crossover - Jamal Igle, Travis Moore, Pier Gallo, Eduardo Pansicca, Julian Lopez, Bernard Chang, Javi Pena - they've all done some massive, wonderful artwork. 

JR: With that, anybody reading this, I would urge them to go to YouTube because Pete Woods has put his animated conceptual designs for Kandor and Metropolis online and they can check all that out themselves.  

SG: They're animated and annotated, and they're incredible. 

You're both obviously huge fans of Superman. Has it been difficult to have him take kind of a back seat to some of the other players on New Krypton these past 12 months, in some cases even deferring to Zod and some of the other leaders of New Krypton? 

JR: Actually no, it hasn't, because if you notice, he's always respectful to his rank but we always made great pains to make sure Superman would outthink Zod by being Superman. Every single situation, even though he's wearing that uniform, he's thinking like Superman and where that comes from, and I think this, honestly, he thinks like the son of the greatest, most honorable farmer from Kansas, who raised him to be a great America. That is the epitome of that character and that is what he brings to a situation that Zod has no conception of, being both alien and such a militaristic guy. 

SG: And James, you and Greg wrote a scene very early where Zod orders Superman and Red Shard to go out and kill some rampaging Kryptonian Thought Beasts. Rather than do that, Superman teaches his unit how to overcome the Thought Beasts' powers, as well as how to herd them and keep them safe. And Zod comes back and says, "What the eff do you think you're doing, El? I gave you an order. Anybody else, they'd be up on charges!"  

Superman says, "This is how I am and you're going to deal with it." And it's the first time that their personalities clash and two panels later, Zod says, "You're right, Commander. You made a good call." And it's the first time you see the personalities click. I really liked that scene.  

JR: Thank you. Greg actually wrote it.  

SG: Ah. Greg, if you're reading, that was a great scene.  

JR: It was.  

From the solicitations and what's been building all along, the Legion of Super-Heroes plays a role, as well, in "Last Stand of New Krypton." The team is massive. Do you focus on a core few? 

SG: It's funny, but I never really liked Tellus and Quislet. They were Legionnaires I just never really got into. Which is fine, that's one of the brilliant things about the Legion, there are so many characters to like, there are bound to be a couple you don't like.  

When we sat down to figure out this story, I looked at the fact that James and Geoff had been using Tellus a lot - whether it was "Adventure Comics" or "Superman" or "Guardian Special" - and I set out to use Tellus in such a way that would make me like him. And I wanted to use Quislet in such a way that would get me to enjoy Quislet, so that was my goal.  

Between the scenes I did with Tellus in "Adventure Comics" #9 and the scene I did with Quislet in "Adventure Comics" #10, I really grew to enjoy those two, and now I want to use those characters even more. 

Brainiac 5 was another character that I was very interested in, but very nervous to write. He's a character that whoever writes him falls in love with writing him, and with good reason. He's a blast to write. He's an extremely smart man, and his snide, know-it-all attitude sings out from the page. I've known some exceptionally smart people in my life, and all of them struggled with their emotions from time to time, so that's how I'm approaching Brainiac 5. Especially in regards to how he is around Supergirl in "Supergirl" #52.

Fans of Supergirl and fans of the Legion know there's something there between them, and it's gonna be a lot of fun to see the rapport between those two. We're not reestablishing their relationship that issue, per se, but instead, we're going to...

JR: You're giving too much away. 

SG: Oh. Yeah, you're probably right. Well, uh, Supergirl/Brainiac 5 fans, give "Supergirl" #52 a read! [laughs] 

And will you be exploring the Brainiac/Brainiac 5 relationship in "Last Stand of New Krypton?" 

JR: Sterling had way more of a hard on to work with Brainiac 5 than me and I was the one that said, "You have to write the ultimate Brainiac vs. Brainiac 5 battle of wits and intelligence" And you'll see that play out in "Supergirl" #52.  

SG: And what I think the best thing about that is that, in that equation, Supergirl is the X factor. I took what James said to me and said, "That would be awesome, but what happens when Supergirl is in the mix?" And you'll see that play out. It becomes a battle between Brainiac 5 and Supergirl versus Brainiac, and it's a big Braini-hullaboo. 

James, you've featured Mon-El in "Superman" for the past year. Does he play a role in "Last Stand?" 

JR:  "Last Stand of New Krypton" and the issues of "Superman" that are part of the over-riding story clue us into one of the things that is part of Mon-El's destiny in the 21st Century. Ultimately, although he has a part in the war, his story is over by the end of "Adventure Comics" #11. I've already written the end of it, fans of Mon-El and the Legion of Super-Heroes will love the last page.  

And does the end of Mon-El's story have anything to do with the solicitation for "Last Stand of New Krypton" #3 that states: "But a victory for New Krypton means a devastating loss for the Legion?" 

SG: Our response is a very big "No comment."

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