Jeph Loeb footloose and fancy-free with Fatal Five, talking 'Our Worlds at War,' 'Yellow'

Fans of DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes book at WonderCon two weeks ago snapped to attention during DC's panel highlighting their upcoming comics when a slide appeared on the screen during the discussion of the upcoming "Our Worlds at War" crossover event. The slide featured Superman taking on classic LSH villains the Fatal Five, despite the fact that the two are normally separated by a thousand years of time.

"That is 'Superman' #171, June," "Superman" writer Jeph Loeb told the Comic Wire on Tuesday, "the return of [artist] Ed McGuinness for all 22 glorious pages -- and it involves Superman solving the mystery of what happened to the planet Pluto (yes, folks, we do remember that stuff! From 'Superman' #159). How the Fatal Five come into it ... well, that would be telling!"

As for the inevitable questions Legion fans have about the encounter -- How? Why? When? -- Loeb is answering sparingly at this point.

"Without giving too much away, the story, as part of the 'Prelude to War' - Chapter 1 of 4, takes place in the present. How that affects the Fatal Five remains to be seen. I hope that Legion fans who are not reading Superman give a try. Ed McGuinness' Validus -- wow."

Villains from the Legion of Super-Heroes comics have been bleeding over into the present day DC Universe for some time now -- the LSH's archfoe, the wizard Mordru, was the villain in the first story arc of "JSA" -- and Loeb thinks that's the way it ought to be.

"Good characters are good characters. One of the things about using a combined universe should be to combine the characters. Personally, I thought Phil [Jimenez] using the Batman villains in 'Wonder Woman' was brilliant. If we can make it work and it doesn't interfere with someone else's core book, have at it! And in the this case, we were lucky that Mike McAvennie and [Superman editor] Eddie Berganza have such a good working relationship (Mike is the LSH editor) that it was fairly easy to put together. I was surprised someone hadn't done it sooner."

This isn't an example of a casual reader deciding to borrow cool-looking characters from another book. Loeb and the Legion go way back.

"Oh, huge fan. That and 'Superman' were the books I read as a kid. I didn't know at the time I was being sucked in by Neal Adams covers who I worship at the altar of and have told him so -- but I think the appeal of the Legion remains to this day -- they were EVERY superhero you could think of in one book. And the Fatal Five -- man, great designs, great powers -- I've wanted them in OUR timeline forever. 'Adventure Comics' #365-366 [which introduced the Fatal Five and now-moved-to-the-modern-timeline Sun-Eater] are two of my all time favorite comics."

[Daredevil: Yellow]But while Legion fans wait to see exactly how it is that the Man of Steel tangles with the 31st century's most ruthless criminals, more superhero fans are awaiting Loeb's first collaboration with Tim Sale at Marvel Comics, this summer's "Daredevil: Yellow."

"I'm very reluctant to talk about something before it has come out, but in this case, I only want to say that I don't think people are prepared for the level of craftsmanship which Tim Sale has put into this book. It is, in a word, extraordinary. And that in turn as has elevated my writing, Richard Starkings' sterling lettering and the new kid on the team, Matt Hollingsworth's stunning colors. Everyone who has seen the book just stares and smiles and stares and smiles at it. It is a very emotional experience.

"Of course, none of it would be possible with the watchful eyes and exceptional care of Nancy and Stuart and Kelly in the Marvel Knights office and the big cheese, Mr. Quesada who arranged for the entire project even before he was the EIC.

"My single concern is that Marvel isn't going to print enough copies (with their new [print exactly to order] policy) and the book will be sold out in a day. Gone. The first issue is 24 pages, card stock cover, and wonderful. But, you can tell I'm not proud," he smiled.

The previous Loeb and Sale miniseries at DC each garnered more advance notice from critics and fans, the shift to Marvel hasn't put more pressure on him to perform at a new company clearly hoping for the same sort of acclaim.

"No, I don't think so. I just try and tell the best stories I can and hope folks like them. I think my collaborations with Tim have been exceptional and I can't really point to any single reason other than ... er ... Tim. He is a world class illustrator. Me? I'm just a monkey with a typewriter!"

And while Loeb's been in a bright spotlight before, especially with his projects with Sale, this is the first time he's at the helm of a major DC Universe "event." If he actually is at the helm.

"I don't know if I'm at the helm. In fact, yeesh, I hope not -- cause I'm looking at Eddie Berganza and praying that he's driving the bus! The Superman writing team is made up 5 guys -- 3 of them happen to be named Joe (inquiring fans will remember that Jeph's real name is Joseph), Mark and Eddie. If anything, I have the lead only because Imperiex was created by Ed McGuinness and I -- so, we lit the fuse, but after that, the entire gang and truthfully, everybody at DC have worked really, really, hard to make it the best Superman story we can do."

As for what "Our Worlds at War" actually is, Loeb describes it thusly:

"It's the story of how one person can make the difference in the creation or destruction of the universe. You'll have to read the story to find out which man (or woman) that is."

The advance publicity for "Our Worlds at War" makes the story sound bleaker than those starring the brightly colored heroes of the DC Universe usually are.

"We are trying to do a realistic depiction of the heartbreak of war. It is a very emotional story. That doesn't mean it won't have some very cool BIF! BAM! BOOM! (and I'm a big BIF! BAM! BOOM! fan), but at its core, it's about Superman being pushed to limit on his beliefs, his powers, and his abilities.

"This grew out of a conversation at the Superman Summit about Pearl Harbor -- the anniversary of the event and the event of the movie. It is our hope that we can ride that 'epic feel' into a truly good story. And I'm really proud of the other books and the work that Joe Casey and newcomer, superstar Mike Weiringo; Mark Shultz and Doug Manke; Joe Kelly and Kano have put into every issue. And as an added bonus -- as if that weren't enough, Ron Garney's first work for DC in the JLA OWAW #1 special is worth the price of admission alone. It's a WOW story line for a WOW summer."

Some wags have pooh-poohed "Our Worlds at War," saying they saw this a decade ago, during the "Invasion!" crossover event at DC. Loeb says the similarities don't run as deep as those critics contend.

"'Invasion' was about that -- an alien invasion. I felt, and I haven't read that story in a very long time, that it was the kind of story which was a 'When' story -- meaning, we know that Earth is going to win, we just want to know 'when.' Don't get me wrong, Schwarzenneger has made a career out of being in 'When' stories -- so they can work really well! But, this is as opposed to a 'How' story which is about 'How the heck are they going to get out of this one?'

"I've said it before, once DC approved Lex Luthor winning the presidency (like we had a choice, right, Mr. Luthor?) and sent Pluto off gosh knows where, all bets are off. All I know is, there are certain cities on this planet I wouldn't want to be living in this summer.

"This time, the aliens are on our side against a single foe -- Imperiex. The aliens play a critical role, but we focus on OUR heroes. It's like telling the story of World War II from the American perspective. No one can discount the value of England, France, Russia, etc., but for us Yanks, it's our tale to tell. Only, with OWAW, the Yanks are the DCU heroes, and in particular, Superman.

"Imperiex's true nature, other than as a Devourer of Galaxies hasn't even been revealed yet. Also, 'Invasion,' at its core, had a wide field of focus on the entire DCU. This is a Superman story that has a ripple affect across the DCU. We'll see some heavy duty post-War trauma caused in all those titles. Let tongues wag -- the proof is in the storyline."

"Our Worlds at War" isn't the first high-profile story shared between the Superman creative team members. How does this one compare?

"Better, I hope. We're getting better at it, I hope. And I don't want to discount the addition of Joe Casey. The Superman writers were like a rock band and we replaced our lead guitarist. It makes an enormous difference in the sights and sounds of the music or in this case, the stories. Yay, Joe C.!"

Don't ask Loeb to pick out any particular bits he's excited about the comic reading public getting their chance to read: He's excited about all of it, he says.

"Just bring it on. I haven't been this excited about any storyline in ... well ... it just feels good. I keep asking Eddie 'Am I crazy or is it really good?' I hate everything until it's out there, so bring it on!"

With "Yellow" and "Our Worlds at War" off his plate, one might think that Loeb is already contemplating his next big project.

"Nope. Looking forward to going out to the farm and watching the sun set and ... wait, that's Pa Kent. What was the question?"

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