SDCC: Superman Soars at Comic-Con International

The creative teams behind the Man of Steel kicked off Comic-Con International 2014 to a good start on Saturday, bringing one of DC Comics' iconic heroes to the forefront for the Superman: The Man of Tomorrow panel. Ready to discuss all things involving the Kryptonian hero were new "Superman" artist John Romita Jr.; "Action Comics" artist Aaron Kuder; "Superman/Wonder Woman" scribe Charles Soule; "Superman: Doomed" artist Ken Lashley and DC editor Eddie Berganza.

Following introductions, moderator Bob Wayne kicked things off with the main "Superman" title drawn by veteran Romita Jr. "I didn't change countries, I just changed characters," said Romita, who said it was an adjustment. "I was finishing up 'Kick-Ass' and was overlapping with the first two issues of this, and it went from doing the wrinkled costumes and the little skinny kids to doing this guy. It took a couple pages, but I got back into it."

Romita is still adjusting the jawline and the hair for Clark Kent, and said he used "The Wall Street Journal" for reference in a page for "Superman" #33. Once Romita got used to working with the characters, it was easier for him. He also designed new character Ulysses, whose costume is black and gray and white. "The costume design came and went through everybody -- Klaus and Geoff, everybody. It's as good a character as I've worked on in a long, long time." Romita said the ponytail on Ulysses came from him seeing a "500-pound version of Hulk Hogan" on a motorcycle who had a similar hairstyle.

According to Berganza, "Superman: Doomed" helps explore what the concept of Superman means. "Coming down to this story, it's about what he treasures the most: his humanity," said Berganza. "We had great stuff with guys getting stuff going, like Ken Lashley. ... It's been a team effort."

"It's been amazing," said Soule.

"We had Charles, and Greg Pak working on the story, but the visuals were just as important," said Berganza. "You can pick up any issue because the thing that we really worked on was coming up with a Daily Planet introductory page."

"You have this big, huge story that's great, but you can also pick up any part of it," said Soule. "No matter what kind of Superman reader you are, there's always something for you to read." However, he noted that it's best to read all the parts to get the full encompassing effect of the story.

Kuder discussed the recent "Action Comics" #33, and discussed the process of designing a Doomed-virus ridden Superman. "When he left Earth, he was holding it in. He looked like Superman, but he had spiky stuff coming off," he said. "He leaves the planet and he's like, 'Raaaaaaar!'"

"Greg and I can write things like 'Superman is smashing through planets' and you guys have to sit there for a week [and draw it]," said Soule.

"I really love the fact that it's space. It's awesome," said Kuder.

According to Soule, a lot of characters go through changes in the story, and the idea is to see transitions for the characters. "We want to see how they react to each other as they go through these changes," he said.

The writer went on to say the team was trying to go "really big" with this event, not only in the real world, but in the DCU as well. "Brainiac starts coming in in a big way," said Soule, noting big things for Lois Lane. "We wanted to make it the biggest attack of Earth that we could." With two annuals coming at the same time, there's essentially an 80-page connected "attack of the Earth battle sequence," drawn partially by Lashley.

"I've done a lot of things, but this is Superman. It's not like any other thing you've ever worked on," said Lashley. "The page at the end of 'Superman: Doomed' where he gets infected probably took me three days to do. There are very few books that you work on where it's bigger than you, and Superman is one of those books."

Soule went on to discuss "Superman/Wonder Woman," a series that looks at the romantic relationship between the duo. "Writing a book where he's dating Wonder Woman feels pretty historic and pretty fun," he said. While the first arc was about them getting to know one another -- the honeymoon phase -- the second arc coincides with "Doomed" and Superman is changing into a Doomsday monster. "They fought so hard to be together, and now he's got this infection that's changing him into a monster, which you're always about with the person you're with. He's literally becoming one and he has to zip off into space. Wonder Woman stays on Earth and all of this is churning before this impending Brainiac invasion."

The writer said the Brainiac-touched Lois Lane is one of the characters that gets a big change -- and there will be a pretty direct confrontation between Lois, Superman and Wonder Woman. "The way I approach the title is to look at the huge super heroic things that they do ... through the lens of character relationships," he said. "You have a relationship between Superman's friend Lois Lane and Wonder Woman. They're not fighting over Superman, but Superman is very present in both of their lives."

In terms of how "Doomed" connects to the core "Superman" title by Geoff Johns and Romita Jr., saying "Superman" is like a down-the-line epilogue for "Doomed."

With that, the Q&A session of the panel began, with the very first question asking about how the film versions of the character -- specifically "Man of Steel" -- affects the direction of the books.

"The movie was a thing of discussion amongst us," said Berganza. "Even with the choices in 'Doomed' -- killing is not something that Superman does lightly. You'll see in the 'Doomed' story that -- once you cross that line, it's not something you easily come back to. You saw the reaction that the movie got."

Romita said Ulysses will slightly change due to the work the team has done with him so far. "I know what's going to happen, and it's just as good as it gets. I think the way the character plays out visually. Geoff didn't like the way I did the boots and the gloves originally, so I changed it," said Romita, also calling out colorist Laura Martin and inker Klaus Janson, and noting he thought it would be one of the best characters of the era.

The artists on the panel spoke briefly about the current design of the Superman costume. "Everyone makes it their own anyway," said Lashley. "There are certain things you can't change -- I'd love to say you can do whatever you want, but you have to stay in the bounds of what's acceptable. I can take some liberties here and there, but it has to follow certain things."

"I was thinking a red cowl," joked Kuder, making bat-ear symbols with his fingers.

The subject of Steel came up, and the character is "all over 'Doomed,'" according to the panel. "The cool thing is now liquid covers him up," said Berganza. "He has this unique ability and we're definitely going to be playing with him beyond the 'Doomed' stuff."

"What's really fun about Steel and Lana is that they're kind of teaming up," said Soule. "Greg Pak came up with that and it's really cool."

Soule said the key to writing a good Superman story for him was about getting into the character's head and putting him into moral dilemmas. "One of the things I did when I was getting ready to write 'Superman/Wonder Woman,' I talked to firemen, I talked to surgeons, I talked to some cops -- I wanted to talk to ... my brother's in the Navy," he said. "I talked to people who have the ability to save lives. That helped me get into a Superman mindset. We have Supermen and Women on Earth that have the power of life and death over people and hopefully use it for good."

At that point, walking onto the panel, was writer of "Superman" and DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns, who kicked off his appearance by saying Lex Luthor was his favorite Superman villain to write. "He's everything Superman isn't," said Johns. "He's been a lot of fun to write in 'Justice League.' John and I are creating a new villain called The Machinist. You'll see him in the next issue [of 'Superman'] as well."

Romita and Lashley shared stories about drawing blood and guts -- Romita on "Kick-Ass" and Lashley on "Doomed." "[My daughters] wouldn't come into my office for a week," said Lashley.

Johns discussed the role of Wonder Woman, saying in "Justice League," she's the best fighter on the team, the strongest warrior on the team. "The fact that she and Superman maybe connect on a deeper level than some of the other characters -- it's part of the ongoing saga," said Johns. "Although they're kind of on the surface -- they're almost too similar that they would really connect. I really find Superman has an element of loneliness to him. There's that slight element of loneliness to her, too. ... These two people are both a little isolated right now, so if they connect in that isolation, something might happen."

Soule agreed, saying that in a relationship, you sometimes step back to let people shine, referencing the encounter between Superman and Apollo in "Superman/Wonder Woman" #2.

Johns said the edict for "Superman" #32, his debut issue on the series for the New 52, was about "doing the best issue that we can." "He means so much to so many people. Our story has to be a story that you can't just put another super hero in," he said. "We're out to just tell the best possible story we can, and with John's artwork, it's just beautiful."

"There's so much more to the character than I assumed," said Romita. "It was a simplified assumption, and then I hear all of this -- I'm sitting back listening just like you guys are. I'm entranced, and it's a better character than I thought, even at this point."

"John and I talked a lot about tone and character and story," said Johns. "We talked about long-term story so we knew exactly what our plans were for this character. We really did want to make that accessible."

Finally, the panel discussed the lasting nature of the characters -- and the lasting debates on which character could beat other characters in a contest.

"I would sit here all day and argue with you that Superman would win, and tomorrow, I'd do the same thing for Batman," said Johns. "None of these characters can be perfect. It's what's the story going to be about and what's going to serve that character. They're so lasting. Batman could be for kids or for adults. There's not going to be any story that lessens the impact of that S-Shield. It's so powerful."

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