The first panel of the first day of the Las Vegas Comic Expo got off to a bit of a slow start, as fans trickled in slowly for what was billed as "Superman Past and Present," featuring current "Superman" writer Scott Lobdell along with classic "Superman" writer Gerry Conway. But Conway was a no-show, so the panel turned into a spotlight on Lobdell, with moderator/sidekick Brian Buccellato, another of DC Comics' current crop of writers, calling Lobdell "the one man in comics who does not need a moderator."
After a bit of joking around, Buccellato asked Lobdell about his initial pitch for writing the "Superman" series. Before answering, Lobdell took the chance to fend off accusations that he's only working for DC because he's Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras' friend. "We're not even friends," he said, asserting that he didn't even know the names of Harras' kids. As for the pitch, Lobdell described a 25-page document he wrote, titled "This Is a Job for Superman," with thoughts on where Superman is now, how to refurbish classic villains for the New 52 and his takes on Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen.
"Superman is a guy who should do jobs that are for Superman," was Lobdell's main idea. "When things are really bad, and the only person who can help is Superman, that's when he will put on his S and fly into action." When humans like police officers, firefighters or paramedics could handle a situation, Lobdell explained, Superman should step aside and let them do their work. "There's this kind of infantilism that goes on when you believe that every problem you have can be solved by this guy dropping out of the sky and saving you. Let's get him back to the point where, when Superman does something, it's super."
As the current co-writer of "The Flash," Buccellato wanted to know Lobdell's opinion on the age-old debate of whether Superman or the Scarlet speedster was faster. "Flash runs faster, but Superman probably flies faster," Lobdell's answered, with Buccellato's subsequent audience polling proving inconclusive. "If it's a tie, then what's the point of having either?" Lobdell asked.
Getting back to Superman, Buccellato asked Lobdell about his first exposure to the character, which turned out to be reruns of the George Reeves "Adventures of Superman" TV series. Asked if Superman was a favorite of his growing up, Lobdell said, "I didn't know how much I liked Superman until I started working on the pitch." In the months that followed, that the character became a favorite of his. "I wrote Wolverine for seven years," Lobdell said, "and Superman could kick Wolverine's butt."
Buccellato asked if writing Superman was a challenge, since he's so powerful. "He has a lot more weaknesses than just the Kryptonite," Lobdell replied, citing magic and mind control as two examples. "He's also very easy to manipulate." Lobdell's approach is "not to try to depower Superman, but to give him threats that will challenge him."
As the panel opened up for audience questions, a fan talked about how much he had enjoyed "Superman Returns" and the movie's characterization of Lex Luthor, and asked Lobdell if he would be portraying Luthor as a ruthless villain. "I don't enjoy Lex as comic relief," Lobdell replied, adding that he had only used the character once so far in his run. "If somebody is giving Superman a hard time, he should be the most dangerous man on Earth."
Another fan asked Lobdell about his favorite Superman story of all time. When Lobdell seemed at a loss, Buccellato chimed in with his pick of "All-Star Superman," and Lobdell agreed. "These stories that get to end with the end of a superhero, they're very, very dramatic, and people are like, why can't all stories be this good?" Lobdell said. "It's this good because you get to write the ending of Superman or the ending of Batman."
When a fan asked about getting rid of the idea that Superman can disguise himself as Clark Kent just by wearing a pair of glasses, Lobdell took off his own glasses to demonstrate how he looked different. "People can't really fly," he said. "A lot of people can't run faster than can be seen." Superman's disguise is just another element of the heightened reality of superhero comics, he said, pointing out that another writer had come up with the idea that there's no reason for people to think that Superman even has an alter ego. "Why would anybody think that Superman was anybody other than Superman?" Buccellato mentioned that actor Hugh Jackman had walked around Comic-Con International in San Diego dressed as Wolverine, and no one had recognized him. "He was hiding in plain sight," Buccellato said, much like Clark Kent does.
The next question was about Lobdell's favorite current series, other than one he writes. "I got a text this morning that I got fired from 'Teen Titans,'" Lobdell joked as Buccellato offered his pick of "Forever Evil." Lobdell then picked Buccellato's creator-owned series "Foster."
Another fan asked Lobdell what he would write if he wasn't writing superhero comics. Lobdell said that after his initial stint writing the X-Men, he had the chance to write whatever he wanted, and he launched non-superhero series including "Monster World," "Ball and Chain" and "Mostly Wanted," but none of them succeeded. "I kept doing all these things that I thought were really fun, different properties, but there was no appetite for them at all." Now, he said, things might be different, and he'd consider launching a Kickstarter to fund a new, alternative project.
Asked specifically about "Hellhole," his creator-owned series with artist Adam Pollina, Lobdell said that he'd love to bring the series back, but Pollina, who lives in Belize, is hard to get in touch with, and changes the subject whenever "Hellhole" comes up.
Perhaps inspired by recalling "Hellhole," Lobdell decided to tell a story from when he was writing "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for Dark Horse, where he was told that he had the freedom to write whatever story he wanted. He conceived a story in which Sunnydale was entirely swallowed up by the Hellmouth, and even wrote the first issue, before being told, "You can do anything but that," because it ended up being the storyline for the final season of the TV show.
The next question was about the proliferation of negativity about Lobdell online. "They should have a panel with all the people on the internet," Lobdell joked. "I'd fly everybody who insults me to a panel."
A fan asked what Lobdell would change about Superman if he could. Again, Buccellato jumped in when Lobdell was stumped, saying he'd get rid of "the red shorts." Lobdell said he wouldn't want to change anything about Superman. "When you write a character, you kind of try to treat that character like it's a person," he said. "I don't think of the character as somebody that I can manipulate."
The panel ended with a series of questions about superhero movies. Both Lobdell and Buccellato approved of the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. "I would like to see Miley [Cyrus] as Supergirl," Lobdell joked. Lobdell picked "X-Men: First Class" as his favorite superhero movie, and Buccellato picked "The Dark Knight." Lobdell named Christopher Reeve as Superman as the best superhero actor, and Buccellato chose Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Lobdell said that Christian Bale doing his gravelly Batman voice was the worst superhero actor.
Lobdell then proceeded to answer the final question while doing a Tom Hardy as Bane impression. Asked if he would ever use the cellophane symbol from "Superman 2" in his comics, Lobdell/Bane replied, "If I put that in the comic book," Lodbell said, "the editor would say, 'That's the last issue that Scott Lobdell will ever write.'"