Yesterday DC Comics held their Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego. The panelist were Superman writer Geoff Johns and artist John Romita Jr.; Action Comics artist Aaron Kuder; Superman/Wonder Woman writer Charles Soule; Superman: Doomed artist Ken Lashley and DC Editor Eddie Berganza.
The panel was moderated by Bob Wayne, DC’s SVP of Sales and after the introduction of the panelist they kicked things off with the main Superman title. Romita Jr. talked about how transitioning from Kick-Ass to Superman was for him.
“Like getting on the freeway on a tricycle. I didn’t change countries, I just changed characters. 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.”
While images from Superman #33 were displayed on the screen, Romita Jr. talked about how he is still struggling with the jawline and the hair for Clark Kent. He then shifted to his love for the newest addition to the Superman mythos, Ulysses, a character he designed.
“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.”
The topic then flowed into the current event running through Action Comics and Superman/Wonder Woman, Superman: Doomed with creators from both titles and Berganza talking about what it means to the character and how it explores what the concept of Superman means.
“Coming down to this story, it’s about what he treasures the most: his humanity. We had great stuff with guys getting stuff going, like Ken Lashley. … It’s been a team effort. We had Charles, and Greg Pak working on the story, but the visuals were just as important. You can pick up any issue because the thing that we really worked on was coming up with a Daily Planet introductory page.”
Soule added his praise to the Superman: Doomed story letting everyone know how there is something for everyone in each individual title, but how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“It’s been amazing. You have this big, huge story that’s great, but you can also pick up any part of it. No matter what kind of Superman reader you are, there’s always something for you to read.”
Kuder went into the process of designing a Doomed-virus ridden Superman in the recent Action Comics #33 (on shelves now), while images from the issue were displayed on the screen.
“Kinda ‘roided out, he hasn’t had his coffee. When he left Earth, he was holding it in. He looked like Superman, but he had spiky stuff coming off. He leaves the planet and he’s like, ‘Raaaaaaar!’ I really love the fact that it’s space. It’s awesome.”
The Superman/Wonder Woman and Action Comics Annuals were advertised, Soule described his goal to go “really big”, doing something that hasn’t really been done before, not only in the real world, but in the DCU as well. The coming Brainiac invasion was also teased.
“Brainiac starts coming in in a big way. We wanted to make it the biggest attack of Earth that we could.”
Soule described the oversized annual as a huge pain to coordinate. Given that it is essentially an 80-page story with a huge “attack of the Earth battle sequence.” But he does add that he was also quite happy with the end result. They displayed some interior art that was in part done by Lashley, who gushed over it.
“That looks awesome, that’s amazing.”
The discussion then shifted to the legacy and iconic nature of the character which they all agreed was a big task. Lashley described spending days finishing his issue’s final pages, dedicating the extra time to “get it right.” While Romita Jr. echoed the sentiment, he then noted that you can’t let the pressure of what others have done previously effect your work today. Kuder added an amusing anecdote regarding this subject that stemmed from a tweet about the expectations that comes from working on a character that was so revered in Action, to which Jim Lee replied, “Don’t forget about the 70 plus years of history!”
“I’ve done a lot of things, but this is Superman. It’s not like any other thing you’ve ever worked on. 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.”
With everyone in agreement on the huge responsibility that comes with working on Superman, the panel shifted back to the Superman: Doomed event with Soule talking about how it affects his book, Superman/Wonder Woman, a series that looks at the romantic relationship between the duo. He describes his run so far like a marriage, the first arc was the “Honeymoon Phase” where they were getting to know each other. The second arc, that ties into Superman: Doomed which sees Superman literally changing before her eyes.
“Writing a book where he’s dating Wonder Woman feels pretty historic and pretty fun. 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. I hope they work it out, I hope they can stick together.”
The writer said the “Brainiac-touched” Lois Lane is one of the characters that will see 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. 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.”
How does the Johns and Romita Jr. Superman title connect to the Superman: Doomed story and the other Superman titles right now? Superman is like a down-the-line epilogue for Superman: Doomed.
From there the floor was opened to fan questions.The first of which was about the controversial and polarizing killing of Zod in the Man of Steel film, and how that choice might have affected the tone of the comics. Everyone agreed that the choice wasn’t made lightly as are any of the moral quandaries he has and will face in the comics.
“The movie was a thing of discussion amongst us. 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.”
The new character Ulysses took center stage for the next question as a fan wondered what it was that made him unique. Aside from being written by Geoff Johns, also calling out colorist Laura Martin and inker Klaus Janson, Romita Jr. carefully answered the question without spoiling anything and noting he thought it would be one of the best characters of the era.
“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,”
Another fan asked why writers seem to be hesitant in having Superman unleash his full powers. Soule brought up the epic fight between Superman and Doomsday in Superman: Doomed #1, with Lashley adding his thoughts on the subject.
“Superman ripped that dude in half. What do you want him to do, put him back together?”
The artists on the panel spoke briefly about the current design of the Superman costume. Romita Jr. and Lashley discussed the difficulty of re-designing Superman’s costume and how there are some things you can’t change.
“Everyone makes it their own anyway. 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.”
The subject of Steel came up, and how the character is “all over Superman: Doomed,” according to the panel.
“The cool thing is now liquid covers him up. 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. Greg Pak came up with that and it’s really cool.”
Soule then agreed and expanded on the iconic stature of the character, and adds that he believes that it’s not the powers that make him long-lasting, it’s how he chooses to use them. He told the audience how got into Superman’s mindset.
“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. 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.”
It was at this point that writer of Superman and DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns joined the panel. Johns kicked off his appearance by saying Lex Luthor was his favorite Superman villain to write.
“He’s everything Superman isn’t. 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 Jr. and Lashley shared stories about drawing blood and guts — with Romita Jr. on Kick-Ass and Lashley on Superman: Doomed.
“[My daughters] wouldn’t come into my office for a week.”
Johns then discussed the role Wonder Woman plays, 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. 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.”
Johns and Romita Jr. talked about their goal for Superman #32, his debut issue on the series for the New 52, was about “doing the best issue that we can.” Their plan is also to bring back the philosophy of Superman as the Man of Tomorrow, with Johns’ definition being that he represents being the best you can be.
“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. 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. 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. 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.”
Soule and Johns also talked the importance of having Wonder Woman not feel like a sidekick, Soule noting that in a relationship there’s a give and take in who gets to shine, 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 did have one recommendation, joking that the title should be changed to Wonder Woman/Superman.
The final topic the panel discussed was the lasting nature of the characters and the never-ending debates on which character could beat the other 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. 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.”
Finally Johns fielded the final question about how Superman is able to do his quick costume changes no matter where he is and how inconvenient the situation.
“He has the power to create clothes.”
The panel for me what most of them have been like this weekend, talk about the character with some discussion on their thoughts of the characters and little to no discussion on what’s to come. While I do enjoy hearing them talk about the impact of Superman, I would have really enjoyed to find out what is coming out beyond the Doomed and Ulysses story arcs. I selected that image of Perry for the main picture for a reason, in it he asks, “Do you know what would make this surprisingly well-written and articulate article even better than it already is?” For me the answer is simple, the announcement that the Superman I know and love is coming back. How about you?