In 1938, arguably the most popular superhero of all time, Superman, made his DC Comics debut in the pages of Action Comics #1. To celebrate the Man of Steel's 80-year anniversary, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio sat down with Superman and Action Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis and Superman: Year One writer Frank Miller Saturday at New York Comic Con to discuss all things Superman.
"I'd love to think you're all here, but I just know that's not the case," DiDio said to the massive crowd before welcoming Bendis and Miller to the stage.
"We're here as comic book fans today," DiDio said. "Let's approach this the right way."
DiDio then asked Miller about the rumors that he hated Superman.
"Well, Batman did knock the snot out of him," Miller joked. "But Superman was the first superhero I ever fell in love with. I used to watch the Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1940s. I would wear a Superman costume under my school clothes."
"The first Dark Knight ending I came up with didn't really go over with DC," he continued. "It ended with Batman dying in a police shootout." He then explained his decision to make Superman "deluded" and Batman "radical," in order for "Batman to kick Superman's butt, just once."
DiDio then asked Bendis about his path from Marvel writer to Superman writer.
"Even though I hadn't been back to Cleveland in a few years, unrelated, I go back to Cleveland to the public library and they had put together this Superman exhibit," Bendis said. "I stood there and I was saying, 'Do I go to DC? Do I stay at Marvel?' And I was like, I have to do Superman. I have to."
"When I came in, the guy who's presence was most felt was Neal Adams," Miller said about his entry point into DC Comics. "The New Gods stuff was stuff I enjoyed from afar."
"I had small bits and pieces jobs to do for the horror comics," he continued, noting how a poor offer from Paul Levitz at DC led him to Marvel and Daredevil.
When asked why it took so long for Miller to do a Superman story, Miller said, "Dan... it's because I thought you'd never ask. No, it's because everyone just assumed I was the 'dark guy.'" He also noted that when he told Dan he wanted to write Superman, "you could hear a pin drop."
"[Superman] really had the best girlfriend in all of comics," he continued. "Batman, he falls, he has to grab a rope. Superman, he just stays up. There's no reason Superman shouldn't be, essentially, the sexiest man around. When you look at the first Superman movie, when he flies around with the beautiful Lois Lane, it's one of the most sensual and erotic scenes." He also noted that in Superman: Year One, he's "pushing for a certain Amazon to get involved."
"One thing in terms of storytelling is just putting you in the rocket ship with the kid and witnessing the destruction of Krypton from his point of view makes it scarier," Miller added. "What was the first heat vision like? I wouldn't want to be Ma Kent."
Bendis then compared Superman to Daredevil in the sense that both of them "beat the shit out of everyone" so everyone else can have a nice day.
Miller added that both men are an agoraphobe's nightmare, comparing Daredevil's enhanced senses to Superman's.
"His powers don't matter," Bendis said about Superman. "He's just a good guy doing good things. He's Superman, there's always gonna be something in front of him that only he can handle, but he always climbs those mountains."
"There's been a real effort in the Superman books to make more sense of that," Miller said in regards to Superman being perceived as overpowered. "He is Superman," Bendis added. "But much like a tweet isn't the best way to handle a situation, sometimes punching isn't the best way to handle a situation."
DiDio then noted how Superman isn't quite as "elastic" as Batman, saying "a darker version of Superman just doesn't feel right."
"With Batman, you've got a guy who's permanently traumatized by the loss of his parent," Miller said. "With Superman, you've got a guy who's traumatized by the death of his family and his entire planet. BUT, he has good step-parents."
Speaking of Batman, Bendis mentioned that Miller's introduction in All-Star Batman resonated with him because no matter what you do with him, everyone will still generally accept it as Batman. Miller cited Bat-Mite and the Rainbow Batman as examples of this.
When asked what he drew from for inspiration for Superman, Miller said he looked at "some of the Joe Shuster strips. Superman's wonderful in many ways, but just when he needs a lift, it seems like history provides one. Superman was good, but when WWII hit, he grew astronomically."
"By the time I was first reading him as a child, he'd become a status quo hero," Miller added. "What I want to do is help bring him back to being this iconic force, and maybe bring up the truth and justice, and just not be so noisy about the American way part."
"Those things sounded so cliched as a child," Bendis said. "But nowadays? Truth, justice? Superman."
"As much as Superman does, he never thinks it's enough," Bendis added.
DiDio then asked Miller about the expectation that his work will shock people, and how he manages that when working on Superman.
"It's your job to reconcile it," he joked. "I absolutely adore Superman. I'll do my very best. And, well, you don't know where I live."
DiDio also asked what kinds of things the two writers avoid with Superman.
"Lecturing," Bendis said. "No one wants to be lectured any time about any thing. Superman should teach you by his actions."
"He's mythic," Miller added. "My Superman is not going to be the Superman from Dark Knight. Superman is a mythic character, he's supernatural in a certain sense. He's not gonna tell you how to vote. He's going after much larger truths, and they're going to be truthful, and moral, not political."
Bendis and Miller than joked that they should bring back Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. The two also cited their love of Lois Lane, as well as their love of Richard Donner's interpretation of her.
Regarding taking Lois out of action and bringing her right back, Bendis said, "she's come back. We don't know what her deal is, but we're gonna find out."
As for Jon Kent, Bendis said, "When you're a father and you see your little kids, you realize they're looking up to you. When you see someone looking at you like this, you can relate it to the Superman story. It's this man trying to be for this boy what he needs you to be. His relationship with Jon is very special. We're gonna dive right into that."
DiDio then asked Miller about Superman's villains.
"Batman got all the good villains," Miller joked. "Done properly, Lex Luthor could be the coolest."
Bendis reiterated how shallow Superman's rogues gallery is when compared to some heroes. "I'm happy Scott is so busy with Lex Luthor in Justice League so we can bring in some new antagonists."
"I can't wait to bring Lex Luthor in," Miller immediately added. "Luthor and Brainiac are both great villains. And having Brainiac, he robbed the bank when Krypton was about to blow up. He's really the worst villain in the universe. He didn't just cash in on Krypton's death, he's holding a city hostage."
Regarding Superman's origin and the changes he made, Bendis said, "The idea that Krypton was cleansed instead of destroyed changes Superman's perspective from survivor of a natural disaster to the last survivor of a cleansing."
"That makes it even more biblical. The entire myth of Superman is Moses," Miller said. "Superman is the survivor of a huge genocide."
"He's the ultimate immigrant, and thereby, the ultimate America," Miller added.
"When I look back at Dark Knight, I go, 'Whoo! Was I pissed off back then or what?'" Miller continued. "Things have become much more free, and it becomes silly to play the rebel. Instead, what you do is enjoy the opportunity you've got and focus more on quality instead of simply doing things that shock."
"This series is introducing him as if he's a brand new character," Miller added about Superman: Year One. "Much like Batman: Year One, it's supposed to be the kind of book you hand them."
Bendis then asked if Miller would ever consider doing a monthly book again. "I'd imagine," said Miller. "But I'd letter," he joked.
"I'm in the middle of a very long and epic Superman story called the Unity Saga," Bendis said regarding his own Superman run. "And in the end, we're establishing where the United Planets came from."