NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Giffen & Jurgens Make the Leap to "Superman"

After scripting and creating the art breakdowns for the first six issues of DC Comics' relaunched "Superman" comic book series, artist and writer George Perez is stepping away from the book, handing the title over to writer/artists Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens as announced today by DC Comics at New York Comic Con.

One of the many comic book series that came out with a new #1 issue last month as part of DC's company-wide 52 title relaunch, starting with issue number #7 Giffen and Jurgens will be the full time creative team on "Superman." This is not the first New 52 book the duo has come in to write and draw, as Giffen and Jurgens are also the team taking over the story and art for "Green Arrow" until writer Ann Nocenti begins her run with issue #7. The two writer/artists are also busy on their own books for the New 52. Jurgens writes "Justice League International" with art by Aaron Lopresti while Giffen draws "O.M.A.C." written by DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan Didio.

Speaking exclusively with CBR News about the switch, Giffen and Jurgens divulged their plans for "Superman" touching on everything from their take on the younger version of the Man Of Steel to how their partnership on the title is actually a collaboration ten years in the making.

CBR News: So, you guys are taking over "Superman" with #7!

Dan Jurgens: That's the plan!

Keith Giffen: I don't think "Superman" is going to be unique, I think most of the books will have new teams coming in on #7 because these are almost built to be six-issue story arcs. When it comes to "Superman," as far as I'm concerned they can pry my rotting fingers off of it before I'll leave! [Laughter] It's kind of weird; in my career I've never been offered the big guys! I've never in my career been offered Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman -- I got the Justice League, but keep in mind it was coming off the Justice League Detroit, it wasn't a premiere book back then. So I'm kind of thrilled about the idea of being able to take on the character who, I don't care what anyone says, is the flagship character at DC.

Jurgens: I would say the flagship character in comics.

Giffen: The single most recognizable culture icon, maybe only second to Mickey Mouse, worldwide. You've got to be excited about that!

Dan, since you have worked on Superman extensively before, how is it coming back and revisiting the flagship character in comics?

Jurgens: It's fun, because even if you use the phrase "coming back" that's only partially correct right now. Obviously, just by working with Keith, he and I are going to bring a different sensibility to it and a different mix in terms of stories. But even in terms of coming back it isn't quite the same Superman. This is a Clark Kent whose parents are no longer with him; that changes the character and that changes Clark. I think the way Superman exists in the DC universe right now and how he's perceived is changed. So it's sort of like coming back, but it is not the same because the parameters around Superman are certainly different now.

Both of you can write and draw. For "Superman," what's the division of labor? Are you guys working together co-writing and co-penciling?

Giffen: It's a lopsided partnership, but we're always going to have our fingers in each other's business here. We tend to co-plot, we talk on the phone extensively about Superman -- who is Superman, who is Clark Kent, where do we want to take the book -- and we kind of bang out a loose structure for the villain, the first issue, where we want to go. I write it up in script form. Dan then does -- he calls them breakdowns but everyone else calls them full pencils -- but he goes in and as far as I'm concerned pencils the book based on the script. He knows and I know he has the liberty to alter a scene, open something up to make it more dynamic, shift the paradigm around. Then when the pencil pages come to me I take a final spin through. Lots of time I'll be deleting word balloons because an expression on a character's face means that word balloon is not necessary, and then it goes off to the inker. So it's a real homogenous process.

Jurgens: People will ask me sometimes, "Do you prefer writing or drawing?" and I have never seen those as two distinctly separate jobs. It's sort of like one creative process of putting together a comic book. By the same token, when you have a couple of people putting together a story like this there isn't a clean cutoff line where one person's creative contribution begins and ends. Were bouncing it back and forth quite a lot. The art on a page doesn't occur without a conversation with Keith first and something written along the way and all that stuff. This gets back to a bit of an idea how comics used to be put together. I mean there did used to be a much greater collaborative effort before we went to more of a full script process where the writer sends it in and never receives it again 'til it's printed kind of stuff. We're trying -- I think DC in general is trying to bring that back to the industry somewhat. We in particular are really having a good time getting back to that style of working.

Giffen: It's our comfort zone; it's the way we came up in comics where everyone was vested in the book and everyone had input and no one ego got in the way. The idea is to put out the best product possible, and if that means killing one of your darlings because it doesn't work when it's pointed out to you, you do so.

As you said, this is a new Superman for the New 52. For you two as co-plotters and writers, how does this new Clark Kent without his relationships with the Kents and Lois Lane really differ from before?

Giffen: One of the criticisms that was always leveled at Superman across the board was that he's such a boy scout, he's such a goody-two-shoes. Clark was always portrayed as almost this innocent abroad, the kind of guy that when a girl breaks up with him she goes, "Yeah, he's too nice!" This Clark is more an ordinary guy; he reacts to things the way people would react to a given situation. He's more effective, he's more confident, he's not putting on the milquetoast identity to disguise the fact that he's Superman, because as Dan put it, who on Earth is going to think this is Superman? Who is going to think that the guy who can fly around is going to put himself through a nine-to-five grind at work and put himself through what we go through? So I picture Clark as being less a put on personality rather than a fully developed personality of his own. He's not a Boy Scout, he's not a goody-two-shoes. He's just like anybody else, he can be conflicted, he can have moments of weakness and moments of incredible strength.

Jurgens: The other thing I would add to that is, I think it's pretty clear now we are also dealing with a Clark Kent who is younger than he was portrayed previously and I think with youth comes less certainty. When I was twenty-five years old I was a different person that I was when I was thirty-five, for example, and a lot of that is because you have to go through some trial and error and make some mistakes. You don't necessarily at that age decide what type of people to surround yourself with, you're more open to that mix. I think one of the surprises that we want to build into this is a bit of a different cast around Clark because he's still at that process where he is learning more so than what we saw previously.

Giffen: He's a work in progress.

Since he is a work in progress, do you also have plans for developing new villains for this younger Clark Kent?

Giffen: Absolutely! Our primary focus is on new villains, new big concepts, new adventures. I know I'm much less interested in doing the re-jiggering of Mentallo than I am in introducing a new villain who will give Superman a run for his money. My goal here is to really stock his rogues gallery with kick-ass characters. New villains, definitely supporting cast -- we have a lot of supporting cast. George [Perez] introduced quite a few in the first issues of "Superman" so we have those to play off of, but we aren't above introducing one or two of our own.

Jurgens: Right, and I think it's a question of changing up the mix as well; the most glaring thing we see right now is the relationship between Clark and Lois obviously is not what it was before and it doesn't mean it has to be right away or anytime soon. There's a lot of different things we want to explore within the context of Clark and his relationships, be it Lois, Perry or anyone else who happens to be there. The beauty of this is that a lot of the stuff that's been on the chalkboard has been erased and we get the chance to write some new stuff up there.

Giffen: Always remembering that even though Superman is starting from number one he is still Superman. He's not going to show up with blonde hair in a green costume.

Jurgens: Well -- maybe! [Laughs]

Giffen: Also, red kryptonite exists! [Laughter] No, no it doesn't!

Keith, on "O.M.A.C." you've been working in a more Kirby-esque style -- is any of that going to bleed over on "Superman?" Or are you guys trying to establish a new look for the comic?

Giffen: I'm not going to tell Dan Jurgens how to draw; that'd be insane, and the artwork is completely Dan. I don't provide little breakdowns or anything like that. Dan and I have discussed trying to figure out a new visual vocabulary for Superman. He has certain iconic poses that maybe they'll have their place but you don't fall back on all the time.

Jurgens: I think the key with Superman is, and I think this is one of those things that never change, Superman has a presence. It's just like if you're at a party and Tom Brady walks into the room -- he has a presence, everyone turns and looks.

Giffen: Not if you're a Jets fan!

Jurgens: [Laughs] That's a good point! But it's not that Superman seeks that out but Superman has a presence, there's a way he carries himself. There is a certain nobility to it, though it's not one he's looking to convey, it's just there. Some of those points in terms of what Superman is visually never change or they shouldn't change. I think that is a constant with the character the same way that Batman in the night in Gotham is a constant with that character. The idea is that it transmits the essence of who Superman is, body-posture and all that other stuff, and the way he exists in a scene with other people. If this Superman is younger, which he is, he's going to have a less chiseled look, I think he's going to have a bit of a fresher look, I think he'll be more emotional. Again, a twenty-five or twenty-six year old tends to be more emotional than someone who is eight, nine, ten years older than that. That's what we have to capture visually.

Giffen: Yeah, and the dynamism will come as we go along. In "O.M.A.C." I'm taking a certain form of dynamism and stretching it to its limit, which works for "O.M.A.C." It might not work for a lot of other DC books. I think Superman does have a certain gravitas when he shows up but that doesn't mean we can't have a lot of fun by having him swing from the shoulder. We're looking forward to a nice surprising run on the book and we're hoping we can surprise the readers with some of the intensity of the fights he's going to be involved with.

Jurgens: I think one of the things I want to get to here is Keith and I have known each other a long time but we've never worked together much. What we do have is a shared sensibility about what makes a good comic book, and there is that sort of sensibility that we want to bring to "Superman." I think both of us share the idea that "Superman" has to be a bigger than life, sweeping adventure, really big scope kind of a book because that's what Superman has power wise, that's who he is. That's not to say that Superman is so powerful that every foe he fights has to be able to duke it out with him for twenty pages. It's to say that Superman is a product of imagination that I think warrants that kind of big sweeping concepts and stories.

Giffen: And of course used as a point-counterpoint to the moments where he's Clark Kent. Clark Kent will build character and Superman will hopefully just build excitement.

The only other Superman book coming out is Grant Morrison's "Action Comics" and he's got an even younger version of the character than even the one you guys are working with. Have you had conversations with him to make sure your two versions sync up? Or is your take that he's doing the Golden Age Superman with limited powers and you are more the Silver Age template, with Superman flying around space and having big, epic adventures?

Giffen: To be honest with you, I emailed Grant the minute I found out we were getting the "Superman" book to say, "We can get along, really!" "Action Comics" and "Superman" have run side by side practically ever since there was a DC, and for a while there Dan was even involved with there being three Superman titles. As long as you respect what the other person is doing and don't go out to completely contradict them, I don't foresee much of a problem. I worked with Grant on "52," I worked with some of his ideas he left on an "Authority" run. Plus, I'm not really that interested going back and saying, "Here's Mentallo, here's Luthor, here's the Kents, here's this and that." I'm kind of interested in saying, "OK, we've got Superman five years into his career -- lets look forward and just go full speed." I'm sure we'll be going back and forth with Grant at one point, but it'll be a pleasant creative experience, I don't think there will be conflict.

Jurgens: There's no reason there should be, first because right now you are primarily seeing a Superman sort of in a foundational stage from five years earlier. We're going to be working very much in the present and I think what we're trying to do along with DC overall, it's not like Keith and I and Grant make up all these decisions. There's a hierarchy at DC that's involved in this as well, and all of us together, it's our job to build a vital, interested character. That's it, that's what we're all setting out to do.

Giffen: A lot of people seem to think that when they define continuity, which I've very publicly made a stand against, it means that everything has to be handled down to the minutiae: how can Superman be out in space fighting the Khund when in the other book he's on Earth having dinner with Lois? That's not the definition of continuity. Continuity is something that basically the fans and the readers bring to the book. People always cite Marvel [Comics] as having this shared universe with continuity. Yes they have a shared universe -- it meant that Thor might meet Spider-Man, but if Thor was in the Avengers in Red China beating up people in "Avengers" and he's off with Peter Parker in his book, they're just stories being told, they're acceptable, they're parts of his life. There is no need to consult with everybody over every little move a character makes unless it's a major change that could affect the entire line. I don't foresee any of that happening.

DC's been quick to point out that this is a relaunch and not a reboot, which seems to be along the lines of your thinking, Keith, where some characters are being re-jiggered more substantially than others.

Jurgens: Right, and I think "Green Arrow" is a perfect example of a character that did get a much larger reshuffling of the deck than a lot of other characters did. It accumulated a lot more of those barnacles that weighed the ship down and it needed that. "Superman" clearly wasn't at that level. Obviously the wedding with Lois is gone and that gives you the chance to do a lot of stuff that exists within the parameters of who Superman is and the character. But it's still going to be something that is fresh and accessible to new readers.

Giffen: If the idea here is to just clear the decks the bit, calling it barnacles is just perfect. There were so many barnacles hanging onto these books and there was just so much back history and different writers coming in and doing different takes and trying to reconcile them, it is so refreshing to have a clean start. To say, these are the things that worked about these characters, these are the things that weighed these characters down. Let's get rid of those, see what we can do with what works and make it fresh and exciting for both new readers and the constant readers -- lets not forget them, they're keeping us in business and I'm glad to see they're embracing what we're doing.

When you guys come take over "Superman" with #7 will you be picking up any threads from Perez's first story arc or do you regard the first six issues as establishing the world and you are telling your own stories from there?

Giffen: A little bit of both! Again, there [are] going to be certain things George does in terms of subplots and characters or threads left dangling that are going to be too tempting to ignore. By the same token he has provided us with a foundation from which to build. So, mission accomplished George, thank you very much for giving us something to work off of that's exciting.

Going along with that, had you guys talked to George Perez about the switch? Did he always intend to hand off the baton after his first six issues or so?

Giffen: I have talked to George and he's excited to see what were going to do with the book. I don't know the circumstances under which he decided to leave as of issue #6, but it's not like he was pushed, because I wouldn't take a book where another creator was pushed off the book because I don't poach other people's jobs, I never have in my career. But talking to George I got the feeling that he did what he was hoping to do with the book and it was time to move on for whatever reason. And it's perfectly acceptable, it happens all the time. I mean, I told DC point blank I never want to do Justice League International or Ambush Bug again. Doesn't mean I failed at them, just means it's time to move on.

Jurgens: And it should be noted that the three of us are friends and we are all currently working together on "Green Arrow!" [Laughs] So this was all amicable, and I want to make sure everybody does understand that.

Giffen: If there [were] problems there'd be no way on Earth we could keep them quiet and there aren't. On "Green Arrow" I'm just thrilled I'm working with Dan Jurgens and George Perez. It's like the sunshine boys! We're back! [Laughs] There's a comfort level in working with people like Dan and George in knowing that what you're going to get back is better than you expected, that if you fumble the ball and miss something they will pick it up and jot a little note on the side. It's so easy to slide into the creative process that way because I know the guys with me are not going to let me down, and that's rare. I'll tell you something, I really think that one of the reasons Dan and I wound up on the book together and it wasn't a one or the other deal was, and I mentioned this to Dan, Dan has a history with Superman. Dan knows Superman. He killed Superman for god's sake! He's got that history with the character to draw on and a certain amount of respect and reverence for what has come before with who Superman is and the place he has in the DC universe. I just come on and I just start thrashing around wildly and see what we can do! I think between the two of us, my wanting to jump off the cliff and Dan's determination not to go even close to the cliff's edge will bring us together and give DC a Superman who is the best of both worlds. I'm looking forward to it.

Jurgens: Along that line the reverse is equally as true. I'm not here to rewrite or rehash or redo what I've done before; it is to find the new stuff that can be said with the character, the new adventures he can be put in while maintaining the core aspect of who Superman is. I've told Keith straight up, and the book's editor, Matt Idleson, that it is certainly not my or DC's intention to redo what I did before and if I even start to go down that particular sidewalk, pull me off it. I think it is the combination that we are bringing to this thing that is going to make it work.

Giffen: Yeah, it's like what Dan said if he goes down that sidewalk he wants to be pulled off it. I live on that sidewalk! I really think what we're going to have is a weird kind of dynamic synergy that's going to end up, and I think the best kind of collaboration ends up this way, a better book than either one could have done alone.

I know you guys have been trying to work together for about ten years or so.

Giffen: Oh, longer than that! We've been trying to work together for, man -- at least ten years!

Jurgens: The problem with being a writer/artist is you end up drawing your own stuff! That makes it harder to clear time in the schedule to work with someone else. If you're just writing you are capable of doing two, three, some guys four, books a month. Most guys who draw can do one book a month. But if you are trying to write and draw a book it is remarkable how time consuming that is, and it really does make it harder to go anywhere else and do anything or even to find that time to do a miniseries. For us who had worked together before it meant we both had to free ourselves up from that writing/drawing aspect and get to the point where we had simultaneous openings in our schedule so we could make that happen. I do think that's one of the beauties of the New 52 thing, that in addition to trying to build a more collaborative environment for creators we also all had our schedules open up together. I wasn't making a fifteen-issue commitment to "Balloon Boy" the same time Keith was coming off of "Popsicle Man" for example. So it was finally able to work out.

Giffen: About time!

While this is a new Superman, as you've said the core aspects of the character are still there. For you, is there a specific Superman story or run that you point to as quintessential, really defining the core character?

Giffen: I'm going to sound like I'm blowing smoke up somebody's ass here, but the entire "Death Of Superman" sequence to me is what I would point to if you want to know what Superman is all about. You can really learn a lot about a guy when he dies. And I go back much farther, I go back to the Siegel and Schuster Superman and the early days of the character. Certainly Curt Swan was the one who nailed Superman's visual language. John Byrne certainly had a lot of interesting things in his "Man Of Steel," but if I had to point out two periods of Superman for a new reader to read I would say read the first two or three years of "Action," if you can afford them, and then read the sequence of stories ten issues out on either side on the "Death Of Superman" to find out the essence of the character. Now it's time for Dan to blow smoke up my ass, but I never worked on Superman! [Laughter]

Jurgens: Over the years there have been any number of people who have done a real good job of defining aspects of Superman, how he is and what he is. As Keith said you can go all the way back to the early issues of "Action" where Superman was much more the vigilante, which is what Grant has captured very nicely starting in his run of action right now, all the way up to and including the stuff which I refer to as the mega-powered Superman where that sense of character was still there. There's a lot of definitive material to draw from here.

Giffen: Again, not that we're going to go back and revive that Superman, it's just nice to know that there are so many sign posts along the way to guide us as we move Superman forward. Mostly thou-shall-nots; I look at the history of Superman as, I may want him to do something but it just won't fit. Sometimes you just got to put away something you want to do for the good of the character.

To wrap up, what are you most excited about for fans to see in your "Superman" run?

Giffen: Not so much see as feel; I'm hoping they'll feel a palpable sense of excitement. The term has been overused but Dan and I have talked about it and we want to bring the sense of wonder back to Superman. You're going to see great looking stuff, that's a given. But I'd like to think we're going to bring back that excitement, that, "Oh my god, what's going to happen next issue because I'm not sure!" unpredictability.

Jurgens: The thing I'll add to that is making it about Superman again. I think for a long time now we've been treated to a bunch of stories that were not necessarily about Superman. It was Superman out of his element here, Superman out of his element there, that didn't quite come in sync. What we really want to do is drive a book that's about Superman and about Clark and what one means to the other. Batman had sort of gotten to the point where Bruce Wayne simply isn't that big a part of who Batman is, and I hope I'm not stepping on anybody's toes when I'm saying that, but you know Bruce Wayne is in the background and it's really a Batman story. For Superman, the life of Clark Kent and who he is and what he is and what that means to Superman has to be very much a part of this story. Like Keith said, that sense of wonder that goes along with that, but it's also got to be about that sense of character, and that's what we're working very hard to capture.

Giffen: We're trying to keep in mind just because he puts on the Superman costume doesn't mean he's not still Clark and vice versa, when he takes it off it doesn't mean that Clark's not still Superman. If we can nail that, we're set!

Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens begin their run on "Superman" next year with issue #7 in March.

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