When you think of the greatest icons in comics the first two names to come naturally are always Superman and Batman, both unique and archetypal characters. They're known the world over, recognized by people in regions you might not think their influence could penetrate, but they do. And every comics fan has their favorite. For writer/artist Scott McCloud, he certainly seems to be leaning in the direction of Superman.
This January, McCloud gets to spend some quality time with Superman in the three-issue, prestige format series "Superman: Strength" from DC Comics. McCloud wrote and laid out the series and is joined by Aluir Amancio on pencils and Terry Austin on inks.
"It's a story about what I think is the source of Superman's strength," McCloud told CBR News by phone from his home outside Los Angeles. "It's not just about Krypton or red sun radiation. It's more about that moral compass he has and that sense of right and wrong and the kind of calmness that comes from true strength. Superman is interesting because he really is powerful enough that he doesn't have anything to prove to anybody. I think a lot of strength, or so-called strength in super-hero comics, often expresses itself through anger. Anger, as I've always understood it, stems from weakness. Batman's an angry character because there's nothing he can ever do to get his parents back or to turn around that tragedy. With Superman, despite what he's been through and the things that have taken him down in life, in a lot of ways he's one of the most centered superheroes and I'd like to express his strength through that certain knowledge that nobody is ever going to really take him down a peg."
Superman's strength comes in many forms. There's the obvious physical strength and power he has, but there is a strength of will and character that's in many ways stronger than his physical being.
"I think that a lot of Superman's strength comes from his earth born parents," said McCloud. "One of the subtexts in this story is that the villain of the piece was born into a very different world. I keep coming back to when the capsule was landing on Earth. I think that one of the most interesting things about Superman's origin is the fact that it starts essentially with a roulette wheel. That capsule is just spinning around the planet and could have landed anywhere. It could have landed with any family. In a lot of ways, that's true about all of us. The one thing we can't choose is our parents. So, the kind of family that Superman landed into is contrasted in the story with the family the villain of the piece just happened to have landed in."
The villain in "Superman: Strength" is known as Fido. He's young, smart, but something of an underdog according to McCloud.
"You see some of the story through his point of view and I hope that he's likable enough that readers might find part of themselves actually rooting for him," said McCloud. "Superman's this incredibly distant, powerful and almost inaccessible character and what I'd like to do is to get inside of Fido's head enough so that we really understand where he's coming from and how he sees Superman. Superman represents to him all of those big, powerful, unattainable authority figures and all the people who have pushed him down over the years. In a way, you can kind of understand why he would want to come after Superman and in a way it's almost heroic what a good job he does inspite of the odds. But then, things take a turn and you realize what the story's been about all along. It's not that Superman just has super-strength or that he can smash through walls, but the strength he has is a bit more profound than that."
Fido's the kind of guy who never quite fit in. He was never a jock, wasn't the most popular guy in school or anything of that sort. He just never quite fit in.
"He's definitely an outsider, but he's an outsider that's making something of himself and he's doing it on his own terms. He has his gang following him and they're pretty loyal to him, too. That loyalty comes from the fact that he really is a good leader, he's smart and he has all this potential. That's one of the things about this, too, is how do you use those gifts. Superman was given all this power just like some of us are given all this potential, smarts and resources, but the question is how do you use them?"
The name Fido is a nickname, one of those that you may have been given as an insult early in life that later in life you take on as something of a badge of honor. Fido's the son of an older super villain who went by the name of Pit Bull Pollock who used to brag around the neighborhood that he was the guy that once broke Superman's arm. Check out the accompanying preview pages for a look at that story.
McCloud actually completed "Superman: Strength" almost a year and a half ago ("Right now I'm gradually excavating memories from a story I quite some time ago!" exclaimed McCloud.) and it all started with one simple scene.
"The way I frequently write stories is I'll just have a couple of moments in my mind or I'll see something in my head and it will start to gradually grow. In this case, the image I had in my head is a scene with a ten year old Clark who, through a freak astronomical occurrence, is temporarily given super powers and is seen running across the plains of the mid-west for hundreds of miles. I just thought that was such a fascinating image, I couldn't get it out of my head. Part of this story is a flashback to this incident that has never been spoken of before, of course because it hadn't happened before we wrote the story, but there was a solar eclipse and for the space of a couple of days, the powers came prematurely and then went away. This is about those couple of days and what happened when young Clark broke the rules. This is one of the defining moments of Superman's childhood."
McCloud is joined on "Superman: Strength" by penciller Aluir Amancio. McCloud and his editor Joey Cavalieri decided that McCloud would handle the layouts and needed someone who could do a good, dynamic job over them. That's where Amancio steps in.
"Aluir has a great style with lots of detail," said McCloud. "One of the things I was hoping to do with this is to have the backgrounds a bigger part of the environment and story. Metropolis, Smallville, the cities Superman goes to, these are interesting places. Frequently, a lot of super hero artists love drawing the pinups and the figures, but when it comes to the background it comes as an after thought. I didn't want it to be that way. I wanted you to really feel like you were there with the wheat fields rushing past at 300 miles per hour. Aluir does that."
Fans of McClouds work might be surprised to discover that one of the biggest proponents of digital comics work did his layouts the old fashioned way - with pencil and paper.
"The only reason I do that is because paper is still the best display device," said McCloud. "Some times it's important when you're doing layouts to be able to look at the big canvas."
McCloud the artist is someone who spends a lot of time on the details. He's something of a perfectionist and works tirelessly on his pages, so we asked if it was ever hard to step back as an artist to let his penciller run with the work.
One of the important conditions of doing this was Joey and I felt it was important that Aluir have some latitude so that in places where he felt strong about a particular storytelling decision that he could divert from the layouts I gave him. There's one place where he restructured a sequence and we talked with him about his reasons and said we understood and to go for it. There were certain places where it was more important than others where I'd ask Joey to pass along a message that this particular one was done for a particular reason. It varies. There are pages that look nothing like the layouts and some that absolutely do."
In our opening we spoke about how if forced to choose between Superman or Batman, McCloud would choose Superman and he explained where that comes from.
"Superman seems to be a little more me. I don't have a lot of anger at the world. I'm not even all that nocturnal anymore. I don't know why it is exactly, but I feel like Supes is a bit more me than Batman. Everyone wants to write Batman and I guess I've always been something of a contrarian. I'm always routing for the underdog, so in a way, strangely enough, when it comes to comics assignments Superman's almost the underdog!"
Each issue of "Superman: Strength" is 48 pages long and ships to comic shops this January.