The Man of Steel has had a bit of a rough go with the New 52. After an interesting start with Grant Morrison, there were a lot of not-so-compelling and occasionally confusing things happening that separated Clark Kent from the supporting cast we knew and loved. Now, with Greg Pak doing great things with Lana Lang in Action Comics, Geoff Johns has taken over Superman to help re-establish Perry White and the Daily Planet in Clark’s life. What’s more, his art team is John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, marking Romita’s first DC work after decades with Marvel. This is the trio of people I got to speak with at San Diego Comic-Con today, and here’s what they had to say about righting DC’s flagship.
Related Link: Geoff Johns & John Romita Jr. Take On Superman
Crave Online: You’re the man of the book.
John Romita Jr.: Not quite, but one of them.
How did it come about that you made the jump?
Romita: The very first thought was that I would consider going freelance because I had some things I wanted to do, different from what I’d done before. Then, having a conversation with Dan DiDio, we broached a couple of subjects and I said I had an idea that might apply to Superman, and he said ‘well, wait a minute…’ He always assumed I wanted to do Batman, which is true. Every artist wants to do Batman. But he said ‘let’s talk about that.’ And from that point, we started working it, and he had me intrigued. The fact that we went from a finite series to the regular series was because I got the chance to work with Geoff. I discussed it with Klaus and said I wanted him to consider working with me again. We hadn’t been working together for a while and I consider him the best ink artist in the business, and I said ‘please.’ He said ‘that would be a great idea, let’s talk about this,’ and he actually helped reinforce the thought. My wife, Kathy, had something to do with it, saying she would like to see me try something I’d never done before, which is what I’d been bitching and moaning about for years. I’ve gotta try something I’ve never done before, because I don’t want to get stale – and there’s nothing more I’ve never done before than Superman.
Klaus Janson: You know, what John is not telling you is that he woke up one morning with a horse’s head. (laughs)
Geoff Johns: With a Superman cape on it.
Or is that what he did to you to get you on board?
Janson: No, that was not necessary at all. I’ll say this over and over again – when John asks you to go on a book and work with him, that is something that’s really tough to refuse. I would have been crazy to turn that down, and I’m glad I didn’t.
So what’s been your favorite part about the Superman art experience so far?
Romita: Going in, being intimidated by the fact that you’re working on the first character and the character has been around forever, and then working on it and finding out that you actually do have it in control and it’s fun. That was a revelation to me. I was actually nervous. Then working with Klaus, which is a comfort level in itself – but having the art come out well, and having Laura Martin color the hell out of it and who’s done a beautiful, beautiful job, and have the printing come out the way it did – I was so nervous about the first issue when it came out, but I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I was tickled to know that ‘wow, it worked!’ I was unsure. I’m very excited now.
Janson: I like working with these guys. I like doing something that’s memorable and something that we can be proud of. Something that I can be proud of. I think that’s my pleasure, and the opportunity to work on Superman for the first time. I’d done a short story of Superman like 20 years ago, which I penciled and inked on one of the annuals that Julie Schwartz was doing…
Janson: Yeah, that gives you an idea of how long ago it was. But this – we’re actually doing a whole story that’s much more complicated and much more involved, and the opportunity to work with Geoff and John is not something you pass up. There aren’t that many opportunities to get a team like this together and succeed and have fun at the same time.
So, are you all in it for the long haul, or do you have a specific end point planned and then you’ll be done?
Johns: No, we’re on our first story and we’ve got a lot of stories, and obviously, we’ve laid a lot of seeds for what we want to do. We’re telling a story and we’re trying to world-build at the same time, and kind of bring back The Daily Planet. We’re bringing back a lot of the supporting cast people know and Clark connects with, and we’re introducing on the other side things like The Machinist and Ulysses because we want to create something new, too. I think when Brainiac shows up, people kind of know what to expect what the story’s going to be about, or Doomsday, and we wanted to surprise people. Although there are some ideas for some of the characters who have been around for a while, our main goal is to take the best of the personal side and then also add new to the Superman side.
That is one thing I wanted to ask. One of the first things that happened in the New 52 seemed to be the separation of Clark Kent from his supporting cast when he left the Daily Planet. Did you see that as an interesting new thing that maybe went a bit too far and now you need to bring his roots back?
Johns: I don’t take anyone’s thought process into account except what I read in the book. So I just look at what happens to Clark as a character. If he experienced all these things in the New 52, and this is his life and his timeline, I saw a guy who started to push everyone away from himself. The book started to feel to me a little bit colder and more alien, and Superman, to me, is not an alien character. Then, when I started to think about what would the scenes or the story be, every time I thought ‘well, Clark’s got to talk about something,’ I didn’t want to do narration, because it’s one-sided and you don’t really get a lot of subtleties there. But with Clark, every time he was going to talk about anything that mattered, that was real that he was experiencing, he had to talk to Batman or Wonder Woman or Flash or something. He didn’t have anyone he could interact with that felt like one human talking to another human being with no costumes. So one of the first things we talked about was ‘let’s get some of the supporting cast some more face time and reconnect Clark with them, and explore them a little bit deeper.’ Perry White has been in the background a lot, so let’s bring him up and see what he can really mean to Clark Kent and what role does he play in his life. Perry’s the one that zeroes in on Clark in that first issue and says ‘this is what you’ve been doing,’ and that all comes from exactly what he’s experienced in every story he’s done in the last three years. This is what he’s doing and why is he doing it, and is it the right thing to do? That doesn’t mean we’re going to rewind and he’s suddenly back at Clark Kent: Daily Planet and everything’s back to 1965. We’re not doing that, but we want to explore him as a real human being and a real character, and part of that is getting to connect back with people. That’s where the Ulysses story originally came from. Who could he connect with more than anybody else? Someone who experienced something that he did, in kind of a different fashion, and ultimately, you see in the first two issues, Clark is able to help this person, and he’s really helping himself reconnect with Earth, with people, with his parents, and all these are opportunities for Clark to help himself by helping this guy.
Was there any concern at all with Ulysses, being a mirror image of Superman in a way, encroaching a little bit too much on what Scott Snyder had done in Superman Unchained and the Wraith character, or did you figure this was much different than that dark reflection of him in that book?
Johns: It’s so different. Ours is more of a human story than the alien side.
Romita: Ours is better. (laughs)
Janson: It needed to be said! (laughs)
How have you gone about differentiating Superman from Clark Kent artistically?
Romita: The first time, I remember thinking and giggling that Superman doesn’t look like Clark Kent because the glasses are off. That’s the last thing I wanted to happen. We’ve come so far away from that to where we are with Geoff. I didn’t know, honestly, how that was going to be handled. I didn’t read enough Superman to know how that dynamic was handled, and just by going with what he’s done, it’s a comfort level. It’s great. There’s no pretense that ‘wow, it doesn’t look like Superman.’ Well, it’s not Superman. It’s Clark Kent. He doesn’t look any different except he’s got street clothes on. In his costume, he looks like Superman, in regular clothes, he looks like Clark Kent. It’s handled well in dialogue, it’s handled well in the story, and I don’t have any question about it. I did have questions about it going in, I was just curious, wondering how it was going to be handled. It’s handled perfectly.
So do you have the teamwork clicking like clockwork now? How many issues have you gotten finished so far?
Johns: Oh yeah. We’re just about to start #4.
Romita: The fourth issue, yeah, and actually, for the first time in a very long time, I can’t wait to get back on. I finished the previous issue three, four, five days ago, and I’m having a craving. I gotta get back! I’ll wait until Monday, though.