Last week’s “Superman” #51 from DC Comics revealed a terrible truth: Superman is dying. Originally solicited as part of the “Super League” storyline, “The Final Days of Superman” by Peter J. Tomasi and Mikel Janin will find Clark Kent dealing with this news and saying goodbye to his family and friends. Additionally, over the course of eight issues, the Superman family titles lead directly into DC Comics’ “Rebirth” event, which Tomasi promises will definitely be something new for the character and the DC Universe.
Tomasi spoke at length with CBR News about the shocking reveal in “Superman” #51 and its follow up, “Batman/Superman” #31, which explored more of the fallout from Superman’s sudden mortality. The writer discussed Superman’s impending death, the character’s legacy and what fans should expect in “Superman: Rebirth,” which kicks off on June 1.
Superman is dying, which came as a pretty big shock in last week’s “Superman” #51. Considering killing the Man of Steel is no small feat, how did this storyline develop?
Peter J. Tomasi: Well, we all knew what “Rebirth” was, in terms of a launching point, and we obviously had specific story details we all needed to get to prior to the “Rebirth” launch. We knew that we had to build towards this storyline through the course of “Truth” and “Savage Dawn” — all those things were puzzle pieces. The building was being constructed up along the way. Each floor had a specific purpose: even in another book, like “JLA” — where he battled Rao, and then we had him in the A.R.G.U.S. Kryptonite chamber room, and then of course in “Justice League” when Superman was on Apokolips and what happened there during the Darkseid War. The identity crisis — and all these things — were affecting Superman in ways that were not completely obvious. We saw him, we saw his identity problems, but — little-by-little — we were chipping away, so that something was terribly wrong with him, so that by the time we got to this eight-part storyline — “The Final Days of Superman” in April and May — it was the top of the building. Right after that… is “Rebirth.” We’ve all been working toward this.
Though this is very much a first for New 52’s Superman, it isn’t the first time the character has realized he is dying in DC Comics history. Did you draw any influence from past series that dealt with this topic, like “All-Star Superman?”
I had read “All-Star Superman,” obviously, and loved it — I actually didn’t want to look at it again after reading it when it first came out. I didn’t want to look at “Death of Superman” or any of the stuff [Dan] Jurgens had done, because all of those guys did these great stories — these mythical stories. I wanted to make sure I didn’t try to copy any of it, and at the same time I wanted to just make this my own, so I didn’t look back on any of it, because it’s already sort of in my DNA after I first read it. It was key to make this my own and steer away from a lot of the action aspects of it. I really wanted to make this a story that really dealt with character and wearing our hearts on our sleeve, so that the action didn’t overpower the journey that Superman was going on — his last journey, specifically. It was important to really embrace the humanistic approach, rather than the big action overload approach.
Over these last two issues, Superman appeared to have a real sense of serenity about his situation, though he’s recently dealt with a lot of inner turmoil. What helped him find peace with his impending death?
He knows he’s leaving people behind that are able to handle any situation that comes up. He trusts the people that are there; he knows that they’re just as good soldiers as he is, that they’ve got Earth’s best interests in mind, and humanity’s best interests [in mind]. From what I’ve seen in my personal experience, people sort of fight back at first, not understanding or accepting that something like death is coming at them, but then they realize they’ve left behind this great family and friends. This diffusion — this acceptance — starts to happen a little bit, and knowing that he’s done all he could, he’s glad he’s been able to do as much as he has. Now he’s passing the baton to the next generation, like Supergirl, and knows Batman and Wonder Woman are there for the world itself. He knows everybody’s in good hands, and that sort of allows him to take a breather and step back and understand everything he’s done and move forward and try to make sure his death is meaningful.
“Batman/Superman” #31’s conclusion teased the return of Supergirl. How does she fit into the Super League?
I don’t want to give away too much, but — if you think about what I mentioned earlier, about the humanistic aspect of it — it’s Superman reaching out to his cousin, making sure the other Kryptonian on Earth who can handle stuff… not every Leaguer can handle. He wants to reach out and make sure that relationship and that bridge are strong before he has to go. He wants to really make sure Kara’s plugged in and really zeroed in to be the next Super Person on Earth.
So far, we’ve seen Lana, Lois and Batman on Superman’s last tour. Can you tease any other characters we’ll be encountering?
No, I can’t — I don’t want to give away too much, as they come out weekly. I figure I might as well keep some of this as a surprise! It’s one of those stories, too, where I’m not going to go too far afield and bring in somebody that’s like going to make readers go, “Wow! They brought in that person!” I wanted to really focus on Superman and not have to start explaining too much about these other characters. I wanted to really stay with the core Superman cast as I see it and work from there.
In “Batman/Superman” #31, Batman had a very visceral reaction to the news that Superman is dying. Does this come from a personal place, or is it more about the stakes of the world at large?
I think there is a combination of both, as you just mentioned. It’s about personal — along with obviously bigger — stakes. Batman/Bruce is losing a friend, and obviously one that’s in his own community, so to speak. When you look at veterans, they can just sit down and talk about stuff that regular people are not able to plug into right away. When you’re dealing with certain experiences, it puts you in a certain club, like being an astronaut or being a solider. You lose something special when you lose someone close to you who’s gone through the same experience you have. Seeing someone as strong as Superman — someone who seems as invincible as Superman — takes you out of the deed, sometimes. For example, when a young kid sees their father get ill, suddenly they realize there’s a mortality there you hadn’t noticed before. It’s a combination of factors — you can see it’s eating away at [Bruce]. At the same time, of course, Bruce being Bruce, he doesn’t want to accept that death is something you can immediately wrap your arms around and accept. He’s gone to the ends of the earth and beyond to get Damian back. He wants to convince Superman that there may be something, but — when Superman tells him it’s not happening — Bruce has to accept that fact too in his own way.
You’ve been at DC Comics for a long time and been intimately involved with a number of major character events like “Blackest Night.” How does “Super League” and the lead up into “Rebirth” differ from your past experiences?
It’s not very different! It’s really just about a bunch of people sitting a table, talking about story and character and really figuring out where the spine of the next story goes. As we knew “Rebirth” was coming, it was really a question of making sure we really hit all the beats we wanted to. It didn’t differ much from all the other events that I’ve been involved with, starting from “Kingdom Come” and onward. There’s a very similar template in certain things, from “Blackest Night” to all these stories. You just really try to talk stuff through and move forward as you slowly start putting the building blocks together on a bigger story, which of course plays into even bigger stories. You just want to make sure you get your i’s dotted, your t’s crossed and — at the same time — not lose the human focus of the story as you move into these big, uber events.
I realize you can’t say too much on this topic, but can you tease “Superman: Rebirth” by describing it in three words?
Definitely something new.
“Rebirth” is going to be exciting. Again, it’s got a lot of heart. I’ve seen a bunch of art from the first issue from Doug Mahnke. It’s pretty cool and spectacular. People should also realize that “Superman: Rebirth” has a different approach than a lot of the other “Rebirth” [stories], based on everything that’s happening and has come before. I’ll leave it as cryptic as that. It’s definitely a bit off-kilter from some of the other “Rebirth” books. I think people will hopefully appreciate it and enjoy it.
Tomasi and Doug Mahnke’s “Batman/Superman” #31 is now on sale. “The Last Days of Superman” continues weekly from DC Comics.
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