So Long Superman: Gail Simone talks leaving "Action Comics"

Last week, fans were shocked to learn that the popular creative team of DC Comics' "Action Comics," writer Gail Simone and artist John Byrne, would be leaving the series at the beginning of the new year. While Byrne posted his feelings on his message board, CBR News caught up with former CBR columnist Simone to learn more about why the team was removed from the series.

"First, let me say that there's nothing malicious or punitive in this," Simone explained to CBR News. "Dan DiDio's got an idea to keep creative teams on Superman for around a year, to keep the books fresh, which is a perfectly valid approach that will probably make for some great stories for Superman readers.

"The fact that we weren't told directly is just an oversight. The Super-office is one of the busiest in comics, we're right in the middle of all this 'Crisis' stuff, and I think it was simply a matter of people working their tails off to get the books out, and accidentally omitting this piece of the deal. It's not intentional or in response to anything, as far as I'm aware of.

"That said, during the writing of these issues, I so utterly fell in love with Superman and his supporting cast that saying goodbye so soon is just a very big fat, Krypton-sized bummer."

To say the least, John Byrne is a comic book creator whose personality often divides fans into two camps: they love him or hate him. For those in the latter camp, you might be surprised by Simone's feelings regarding Byrne, who was quite well-received on "Action Comics." "Yep. I know I'm going to be mocked for this, but you want to know what working with John was really like?

"It was a blast. He's been funny, gracious, professional, and dedicated. Despite all his talk about being an 'art robot,' I think his 'Action' work has been some of the best art he's done in years, and some of the best Superman pages in an even longer span of time, by anyone, period. In my short career, I've had the bizarre good fortune to work with people like Michael Golden, Jose Garcia Lopez, Ed Benes, Dan DeCarlo, Udon, Jill Thompson, Dan Jurgens, Bruce Timm, Dale Eaglesham, Joe Bennett, and lots lots more of the best people in this industry, so I'm no stranger to great artists. And I can say that working with John was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in comics. We never had a cross word, not one, and he's always, always gone way out of his way to make sure what's in the script is on the page, usually far better than I'd imagined it.

"The great thing is, I think John's run on 'Action' (and 'Blood of the Demon') turned around a lot of his detractors. The message boards are full of people who changed their minds once they saw the pages coming out, and I think that's terrific. I love the variety of body shapes and faces he's been doing.

"Beyond that, John's storytelling is second-to-none. I can ask for any crazy thing, and he'll find a way to make it work.

"So people looking for trash talk and sob stories will have to look elsewhere, I'm afraid.

"While I'm at it, John's art in the upcoming two-part 'Queen of Fables' story is, I think, the best work of his excellent run. I printed out some of the pages to have by my desk to inspire me."

Simone and Byrne's tenure on "Action Comics" may have been marked by a lot of positive fan feedback, but it also featured a lot of tie-in issues to "Infinite Crisis," and Simone admits that part of it wasn't optional. "We had what I consider one crossover imposed on us, the 'Sacrifice' issue, and I agree it was awkwardly (but unavoidably) placed. The other two-part story with Black Adam and Dr. Psycho was 100% my idea, and it was there simply because I think the readers really enjoy those two characters, and it was good solid fun to send those two against Superman, instead of yet another Mxy appearance, for example. Who doesn't like the idea of Black Adam vs. Superman?

"I realize some of this is our fault, in the industry, labeling cameo appearances as crossovers or tie-ins, so that the readers get a bit skeptical. But I try to go the other way, and if a great story presents itself, I like it to stand on its own. You don't need to read 'Villains United' to get that Dr. Psycho's a slimy little creep, and Adam is a conflicted anti-hero. I don't even think they were labeled as crossovers. Just a fun story featuring characters who also appear in other books.

"Most everyone knows I'm a huge Marvel family fan, and Black Adam vs. Superman is just something I'd like to see, as a reader."

The idea of working on a Superman story, let alone the Superman series, is pretty daunting for a lot of people, and more than one creator has said that the pressure affected their enjoyment. In the case of Simone, she's happy to have been given the opportunity and has a few important highlights. "Well, again, working with John was just tremendous fun, but even beyond that, the reader and critical support was insane. I don't think anyone was prepared for the response we got...nearly all of the issues so far have sold out, sales went up, critics have been amazing, and the readers really embraced our approach. For such a short run, I think that's fantastically rewarding.

"The thing is, I'm a latecomer as a Superman fan. I always liked his appearances elsewhere, but rarely bought his book. After writing the first issue, it was like a revelation-- like, 'Okay, I get it now.' I just absolutely fell in love with Superman and his supporting cast. They're the best there is in comics, bar none. They don't need reinventing. They don't need to be made grim and gritty. So in a big way, our whole arc is about why Superman chooses these people to love.

"Like I said, leaving is very, very hard. But Dan D. says it's obvious people like John and I working on Superman, and hopefully we'll be able to continue to do that on some other Kal El project, and soon, I hope. "

Long time comic book fans will have already made note of Simone and Byrne's ability to break a trend, namely that of Superman comics being the butt end of jokes. It's rare that there's a general positive consensus regarding a Superman comic book and these two bucked the trend, though they weren't sure if it'd happen at first. "I don't think any of us expected the response. There was virtually no hype about our run, very little advance notice, and yet, bam, sellout after sellout, and there was just a deluge of reader email that frankly surprised everyone. I think there's a lot of readers out there who dig this approach, and a huge group of people who love John's Superman.

"After the first issue came out, we sort of looked around and were slightly befuddled by how powerful the reader response was. One of the most gratifying things I've ever been part of in comics. It's been genuinely an honor and a pleasure to write Superman...most new writers don't really get that opportunity, and I have Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza to thank for that, and the readers to thank for the overwhelming support.

"Even though our run does have an overall theme, I'm very proud of the accessibility of the book. The stories are all one or two issues, with very little knowledge of other books required."

Simone fans need not fret, as the scribe promises that she'll be spreading her wings even further and affecting areas of the DCU you never imagined. "Lots of stuff, most of which can't be announced yet, but some really fun, surprising stuff I hope people will like. We definitely have a 'Villains United' special coming out, and I'm telling you, this thing kicks ass, in all sincerity. It focuses much more on the Society than the remaining members of the Six, and features a story I don't think has ever been told in comics. I'm really jazzed about it."

It's an honor to work on a Superman comic book, but "Action Comics" will always hold a special significance: not only is it the series in which Superman debuted, but currently is one of the longest running comics ever. So how will Simone remember making her mark in history? "With a lot of joy, honestly. I got to write the best superhero there is, and John Byrne drew it. That's pretty thrilling. A huge thank you to the readers who have been supporting us so adamantly."

Simone would also love to hear your opinions on her "Action Comics" run, so visit her forum here on CBR and let her know how you feel!

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