SUPER-Stars (Part 5): Editor Eddie Berganza; the myth and the man

With all the SUPER-Stars interviews at CBR News (Mark Waid, Ivan Reis, Jeph Loeb & Chuck Austen) thus far, and those soon to come in celebration of the greatest superhero of all time, one can't forget the driving force behind the Superman comics for the last few years and the man who played a big role in bringing the big guns to the table: DC Comcis Editor Eddie Berganza. He's faced his share of criticism but has nary a negative word to say about fans critical of his editorial tenure because, quite simply, he's a fan at heart too and like those reading the comics, he wants everyone to know that Superman is the best. In a rare interview, Berganza spoke with CBR News about his work and why 2004 is the year of Superman.

"I think whatever Jim Lee is drawing, it becomes 'the year of…' be it Superman or G'Nort," says Berganza. "It's just an awesome thing. And when you see his pages you'll agree. And overall there's a real effort to re-establish the Man of Steel as the greatest hero in comics. He's the original, the one. We're going with a more classic approach to him as well as taking him to a whole new level."

While that has been Berganza's goal in years past, there was one man who helped him bring all the pieces together. "I blame Dan DiDio," smiles Berganza. "He helped get the pieces in motion. He had a vision of what Superman should be, and it was not unlike what fans were demanding. He got Brian Azzarello and Jim, and this then gave me the leverage to assemble a new team for the books.

"There wasn't anything particularly wrong with any of the previous teams that came before, they had their major hits like 'Our Worlds at War' but like with anything you need some change at some point to keep things interesting.

"Superman is a character that can quickly burn you out, and you have to be passionate and believe in what Superman is to make it work for any length of time. Batman is easier, in that we can all have some sort of revenge fantasy, but to actually rise above the natural human instinct and be better… that's tough, especially when you're doing it every month, and on more than one book."

With many fans keeping their eyes on April's Superman books, the month when the big "relaunch" begins, Berganza is happy to shed light on the direction of each series, but also wants to praise a currently available Superman series. "I just want to give a quick shout out to Jeph Loeb and Mike Turner's run on 'Superman/Batman' beginning with #8 this March (on sale, now, actually). They are making history with the return of a very important part of the Superman legend. You'll be sorry if you miss it. It's gorgeous!

"Now onto April:

"In the order that they will become available: 'Action Comics #814:' Like the title says, action. Lots of it! I've asked Chuck Austen to give artist Ivan Reiss the room to show Superman's muscle. So it will be minimal on words and panels, but fully loaded with action. It's the summer blockbuster movie of the books. Chuck takes a lot of lumps, but he has done fine work for me and you have to check out what he's doing along with Ivan, who's a new guy that will be a big deal after a couple of his issues come out. And I have some real nice Art Adams covers to contain it all and interior colors by Guy Major.

"'The Adventures of Superman,' this is what I'm referring to as my pulp fiction book in the sense that it has a more gritty feel to Metropolis. It has a femme fatale in the lovely Lupe, the new head of the S.C.U. She's gonna butt heads with Superman, even though she'd love to date him given a chance. It's also got a sinister villain in the shadows and some crazy old villains from the past that will be suped up to take on Kal. Coupled with 'Action,' 'Adventures' will also give you a glimpse how difficult Clark Kent's life can be. Sure, he's Superman, but Clark Kent can have a bad day too. We plan to give him at least 350 bad ones.

"And Matthew Clark (and he's a natural with that last name) is perfect at humanizing the Last Son of Krypton. What he does with Clark Kent is great. It's the equivalent of what Chris Reeves did with his acting out the two personas. The posture and everything is all different. You buy into Clark and Superman being two different people.

"Of course, it all starts with Greg, and he's doing an excellent mix of action, mystery and suspense. He's really good at fleshing the characters out. You'll believe Clark Kent will fall.

"This will be wrapped in a very cool Gene Ha cover with interior color by the super-veteran color team of Tanya and Richard Horie.

"Now, the big show stopper is Brian and Jim on 'Superman' (which is being co-edited by one of our best Vertigo editors Will Dennis). Do I have to sell you on that? It's a great vision of the character, which will help define what Superman's all about for the 21st century. It's Brian and Jim (plus the super-inks of Scott Williams and colors of Alex Sinclair)!"

Despite rumors to the contrary, all three Superman series will not feature different characters versions of Superman in different timelines. "'Action' and 'Adventures' take place in present time, and will reflect events as their own timelines allow, ie Lois is going on assignment in 'Adventures,' thus she'll be out of 'Action.' 'Superman' takes place a year later. You'll see characters from all three making appearances in all the books. The Lupe character from 'Adventures' for instance has a connection to a character in 'Superman.'"

Now Eddie Berganza doesn't just love Superman because he edits Big Blue's comics (in addition to Superboy's adventures in "Teen Titans"), but he became a Superman fan when he believed a man could fly. "I've said it before, it all stated with the first movie. I believed a man could fly. I think he's the best. He's noble, selfless, and the very best that we could be. What we should aspire to be. Done right, Superman is a sign of hope. You hear that John Williams score rising, and you feel like there's nothing you can't accomplish. Even edit all the Superman-titles."

Though many of the more "critical" fans seem reticent to do so, those who do speak with Berganza at conventions are greeted with a friendly demeanor and a man who will talk to you about anything Superman related- even the aspects of the current Superman books that you dislike. Being such a positive individual, Berganza says he conveys that passion in editing through hiring. "I try to hire people who feel the same way, and are able to get that feeling out. Naturally, everyone has a different way of expressing their feelings. For the most part it's to produce a piece of work that is inspiring and positive. If at the end of a read, there's a smile on your face I couldn't be happier."

Regardless of Berganza'a intentions, the Superman books haven't connected with readers in terms of sales and he's come up with a solution to tackle that problem. "Superman as I've said concerns the human spirit and of course the American Way," explains Berganza. "After 9/11 both took a major beating. It was hard to get a grip as to what Superman should be. We were all lost, maybe a little afraid of what to do next, and the fans know when you blink. We actually needed a real Superman, and the books (most obviously in art) were very removed from reality: A futuristic city of the future, weird villains and not much Clark.

"So this year, Superman will be more grounded. Not so much in terms that all the books will be about flushing out world terrorists, but in attitude, motivations and his actions. This is the year were we get a more proactive Superman that you don't want to mess with. If you're a little lost girl, he'll be there to save you, but if you're a guy with a gun or an alien armada attacking Earth, then look out because he's not going to go easy on you. This is not like Batman's revenge scenario, but more of an empowering fantasy. We all want to have the power to make a difference. Superman does, so he should. This year, he will."

Though Superman isn't considered "cool" by many, it isn't something that concerns Berganza, who says, "He's timeless, so he should be above that."

With Mark Waid's announcement that the "Superman: Birthright" maxi-series is the new official origin of Superman, it begs the question: why change things at all? "Superman was being ignored in a very crowded market, and sometimes you have to shout to be heard," responds the editor.

But what about the quiet rumor that the "Return to Krypton" storyline a few years back was meant to change continuity and re-introduce a silver age like Krypton- would "Birthright" still have happened? "A lot has happened, and one would not exist if the other did," answers Berganza.

A quick reading of the DC Comics Superman Message Board will reveal a lot of anger from fans, over various issues, and much of it directed towards Eddie Berganza, who is verbally attacked in ways not appropriate for reprinting. So, CBR News had to ask: Eddie Berganza, are you Satan? "Well, honestly if I was Satan, I wouldn't be doing the Super-books. There's a lot of souls on the Internet I'd be going after," he laughs. "But really, I'm the easy person to blame. After all I hire the people who you either like what they do or you don't. But speaking theoretically for a moment, if you like what's happening on a book, let's say Beppo the Supermonkey, 'yay for writer of Beppo,' but I don't think my name would ever come up in regards to its success. And this is not to take anything from anyone, but it's easier to insult an editor than a creator, and you don't get much out of praising one. Talk to the creators I've worked with, they'll tell you what I'm like. But if a fan wants to speak their mind to me, I will listen to you in person. I may even apply your constructive criticism."

To help better understand his point of view, Berganza explained what he feels to be the duties of an editor and where he feels his responsibility lies. "The editor gets to decide what direction a book will have and who is best suited in the talent pool to do that-hence it's perfectly fine to blame or praise them. Of course, all of that's done with the executive editor's approval as well.

"Once a team's in place, the best thing for an editor to do is let them go and do their job offering support and criticism as they go along. An editor has to know when to speak about how a book is moving along and also know when to shut up as well. We're not there to write or draw, but to challenge those creators to do the best they possibly can… even when they think it's all done. We're supposed to be the like tough coach you see in those team movies."

Berganza isn't quite sure what the single most offensive comment he's heard is, but he says his previous comments sum it up. "And the idea that they have both me and Chuck Austen on one book must be mindblowing to [online fans]."

Never say Berganza doesn't listen to criticism, as he is willing to admit there is specifically one area where the changes are due to listening to the fans. "Art style. And not in the umbrella 'manga-style' that is used so often because that doesn't even account for Ed McGuinness's success. Rather on Superman, the demand for a certain hyper-realistic style was being called for, and they are getting that with Jim, Matthew and Ivan."

There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes at DC- events which fans and even CBR's Rich Johnston will never know- and while Berganza can't single out any of those events as his favorite, he does say, "That's a hard one because I work so collaboratively with my guys that we can never decide who came up with what. But on just things I'm happy with is getting Ed McGuinness to have come and done Superman in the first place with Jeph Loeb."

With so many complicated aspects of the current Superman mythos, Berganza says that for 2004, "Keeping it simple is the goal. Continuity of 10-plus years only speaks to the converted. I don't want to contradict it, but I also want to make it very basic. If you are enjoying 'Smallville' on TV and that brings you to a comic shop, I don't want something in the books to send you screaming away from it because you have no clue about a convoluted piece of continuity."

One suggestion that many fans have put forth is the idea of collecting more Superman stories in trade paperback form, especially those with the popularity of the recent "Godfall" storyline. "If there's a demand for them we will make them," says Berganza. "It really helps that they be good."

In over five years of editing the Superman line of comics, among others, Berganza can easily pick some of his favorite moments. "From working with some extremely talented people like Jeph, Ed, Stuart Immonen, Mark Schultz and Joe Kelly when I first got this job, and feeling that we were working with the comic icon to most recently doing things with Michael Turner and his whole crew at Aspen, which has proven to be one of the most enjoyable experiences ever. But in real world terms, it comes down to my kids being able to say I'm Superman's boss [laughs]."

With a bright future ahead as a DC editor, Berganza knows he isn't done with Superman yet, but has an idea for what he'd like to be remembered for contributing to the Superman mythos. "Y'know, if I had left after 'Our Worlds At War,' I could have easily said revitalizing the Superman franchise, now I have to do it all over again, so I think that there may be stuff yet to come. At least, I have the comfort of having reintroduced Krypto into the mix. Now… to work out how to bring Beppo back… I think Jim likes monkeys…"

REVIEW: Miller & Romita's Superman: Year One is Big, Bold and Weird

More in Comics