SPOILER WARNING: The following interview discusses specific events and plot points from “Divergence,” DC Comics’ Free Comic Book Day offering.
In “Divergence,” DC Comics‘ Free Comic Book Day offering released across North America on May 2, Gene Luen Yang makes his debut as the new writer on “Superman” with the eight-page story titled “Exposed.”
Yang, who earned his latest Eisner Award nomination last week for 2014’s “The Shadow Hero,” joins living legend John Romita, Jr., who continues his run as artist on “Superman” that he started on “Superman” #32, written by Geoff Johns.
With Clark Kent back working for the Daily Planet, the title “Exposed” would make sense on a number of levels, but it’s not our bespectacled reporter doing the exposing. It’s Lois Lane, and she has one doozy of a scoop this time — the kind that leaves Superman hiding out in a hotel and under a hoodie.
CBR News connected with Yang and Romita to discuss the events of “Divergence” and what’s to come in their first arc starting in June, which is titled “Truth.”
CBR News: Has the Man of Steel changed in “Divergence” and “Superman” #41 since we last saw him battling Ulysses in the “Men of Tomorrow” arc?
John Romita, Jr.: I don’t think he’s changed. I think he’s progressed with a nice, little nugget that we grabbed from [previous “Superman” writer] Geoff Johns and the editors. It played out so nicely, there was no drastic jump or change or anything like that. We took this little bit and we’ve run with it, and it’s affected the character in a certain way. Again, I don’t think it’s a change as much as it’s a natural progression. And I’m damn proud of it. The way that Gene is handling is outstanding. I’m very excited about it.
Gene Leun Yang: Thanks, John. And I agree; I think “progression” is a better way of describing what’s happening, and it’s definitely a team effort. There are four different Superman books, and we all got together as the Superman team and came up with this story idea. Superman has been around for so long that he’s actually gone through different stages, and anything that you do will harken back to one of those stages that he’s gone through. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at his history and trying to take pieces of history and push him in a new direction.
What about his look? He’s rocking a crew cut on the cover for “Superman” #41.
Romita: My expectation was always to not mess up. [Laughs] I was concerned with that, and I struggled a little bit getting used to it. As far as how [Superman’s design] looked recently, I’m not conscious of the character looking different, but I think maybe because I am getting more familiar with him, it’s improved. I’m always improving as I get older, and hopefully that will continue. My expectation was to do as well as I could. I was a little bit nervous about the attention it was getting, and plus, I realized that I was with a character that’s been around forever. And then I was working with Geoff Johns, so this was the big time.
Obviously, the big change in your first story together is the fact that Lois has outed Clark Kent as Superman, which dovetails nicely into the title of your first arc, “Truth.” We saw a tease of what’s to come in “Divergence,” but what can you tell us about what that reveal means not only for Superman, but Clark and his relationship with Lois?
Yang: There has always been this tension with Superman. He fights for the truth, but then he has this big secret so he never really tells the entire truth about himself. Even beyond that, as a profession, he chose to be a reporter, and the whole point of the job is to be deeply committed to the truth. That tension, that dynamic, is something that we really wanted to play up in this arc. Lois, of course, plays into that. She’s one of the best reporters in the world, and she’s deeply committed to the truth. How that plays out with her relationship with Superman, I think, is interesting. I think it will bring up a lot of different tensions and a lot of different issues. That’s what we’re hoping for, anyway.
“Divergence” features a Kryptonite-charged tough guy as an adversary for Clark while he’s laying low with Jimmy Olsen. Will he be facing off against Superman in your first arc?
Yang: I hope so. We’ll have to see how things go. I really like the way that John designed him. He turned out awesome.
What’s his name?
Yang: It’s never explicitly stated in the eight-pager in “Divergence,” but it’s Snakepit.
Romita: Very cool character, by the way. I like how he progressed. Again, it’s a microcosm of the working relationship. You start slowly, and then you hit your stride. And then we run off to greener pastures after we hit our stride. [Laughs]
What else can you share about your first arc? If not Snakepit, who is Superman up against?
Yang: We wanted to use a villain that deals with that idea of Truth and that tension that I talked about. Superman is committed to the truth, he fights for the truth, and he himself has this big secret. He himself doesn’t tell the whole truth about himself. Hopefully, it all works. We tried to present a villain that would really play up that tension.
Is it Mr. Oz? Do we see more of him and Miss Janet?
Yang: It’s a separate thing. We took some pieces of what Geoff did with Joh,n and we’re trying to push it in a different direction.
Are you planning to stay on “Superman” beyond “Truth”?
Yang: We have a progression that we worked out as a team that we’re hoping will push the character in new directions that again resonate with his history.
Got it. You’re being very guarded about an arc called “Truth.” [Laughs] That’s okay, I understand! In “Truth,” will you be spending as much time with Clark as you will with Superman?
Romita: Yeah, and that makes sense. I remember something that Stan Lee told me when I was younger: Balancing the fantastic with the real is the key. If you spend too much time on one, you pine for the other. You have to make the private life of Clark as interesting as the superhero stuff. Too much of one is boring, either way. Clark is being affected by this change, and the way that we’re going to depict that is going to make that as [important] as the Superman stuff.
Who has the secret identity and who’s real? He’s an alien. He was Superman first, so am I going to pick a chicken or the egg? I am going to pick the chicken. He is an alien, so Clark is the secret identity — but we’ve changed that in this story arc.
Yang: I couldn’t have said it better. But it might not even be that he is actually Superman or he is actually Clark. It might just be that he is actually that tension between those two identities and throughout his history he’s gone more one way than the other at different times.
Gene, you actually wanted to do a superhero comic for a long time, which is why you did “The Shadow Hero.” Did you ever think your next superhero comic would be Superman?
Yang: No, I think it’s just nuts. One of the reasons why I wanted to do “The Shadow Hero” was because I found this character from the 1940s, from the very beginning of the superhero genre. He was this hero called the Green Turtle, and as a superhero fan, the beginning of the genre really fascinates me. So for me to go from that character to the character that started it all, that established the genre, has been a thrill.
Beyond the obvious do-gooding, are there any similarities between Green Turtle and Superman?
Yang: I think every single superhero derives from Superman. Superman established all of the genre conventions. The one thing that Green Turtle was missing was that he didn’t actually have an established identity. He wasn’t a very popular character — not like Superman. He only lasted five issues. The artist that created him never got around to telling us his origin story or his secret identity. That was the piece of the convention that was missing, and that’s what “The Shadow Hero” is. You get to play with the origins of those conventions with Superman.
One of the things that I’m really excited about is, when DC made the offer to me, part of what they said was that they wanted me to play with these conventions in a new way. That’s what John and I have really gotten to do, and that’s what we’re excited about.
John, you have worked with lots of different writers over the years with some legendary runs on characters ranging from Spider-Man to the X-Men. What has it been like working with Gene that is a new voice to superhero comics?
Romita: The adjustment is minor and it’s only between the two of us working together. This is our first script that I’m working on so it was a minor amount of adjusting the formula, the process of pacing. Gene gave an awful lot that he didn’t have to. And that’s it. He just has to dial back. He doesn’t have to give a tone every time that he gives a script to me. [Laughs]
Yang: [Laughs] Yeah, I think in any working relationship, there is a period of time when you are trying to figure each other out. And I think that’s what John and I are doing now with “Superman” #41. What I didn’t know about John before, but what I realize now, is that he is kind of like a fight choreographer for an action film. Had he not gone into comics, that’s what he would have done for a living. When I am working on #42, I am definitely going to take advantage of that strength.
Romita: Oh, I appreciate that.
Yang: It’s been awesome. He hates it when I say this, but when I was a teenager, I would line up to get his autograph, so to actually be working with him now is nutty. It’s like a dream come true.
Romita: Little does Gene know, but I was a teenager also. [Laughs]
Yang: [Laughs] I was going to mention that. When I was 16, he was 18.
Romita: No, I was 14. [Laughs] No honestly, Gene jumped right in with both feet and the script is outstanding — everything is there. All it was an adjustment of the process between the two of us. And it happens with every writer and every artist.
Gene, I know you want to explore the immigrant experience during your run on “Superman.” Realizing that you grew up in California, how does your family’s experience relate to Superman and what was your introduction to the character?
Yang: That’s right. I’m not the immigrant — my parents are the immigrants. I think a lot of immigrants’ kids grow up between cultures. I spoke one language at home, and another one at school. I had different expectations that were placed on me at home versus those at school. Sometimes I look back on my childhood fascination with superheroes and I wonder if I was drawn to that genre specifically because all superheroes have this dual identity. They have to negotiate between two sets of expectations.
In the case of Superman, he really does have to negotiate between two cultures: the American culture, which he was raised in and his Kryptonian culture, which he kind of knows through echoes. It’s the same thing. I think immigrants’ kid would feel the same way. We grow up in American culture, and then there is also this other culture that we’ve only experienced through our parents.
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