Brian Michael Bendis recently made comics news when he announced that he was joining DC Comics after many years at Marvel, where he penned a slew of popular titles and acted as the architect behind the “Ultimate” universe. Bendis is kicking off his DC tenure by getting his feet wet with a bunch of lesser-known heroes…okay just kidding, the dude’s tackling Superman head on. With the six issue miniseries The Man of Steel now completed, his new ongoings have big debuts this month in Superman #1 and Action Comics #1,001. I asked him about his upcoming projects and, um, SPOILER ALERT — he spilled the beans on the end of Man of Steel (out yesterday) and the end of the first issue of Superman. And the end of Action #1,001. Enjoy.
Brian, let’s just start with you. You’re obviously a well known name in comics, and very respected, but the bulk of your work has been for Marvel. So I guess my first question is: What do you know about Superman and what made you want to write him?
Well listen, Superman is part of the public consciousness so everyone knows about Superman. But I’m also a little Jewish man from Cleveland who spent his entire life dedicated to the art and deity of comic books. So I am completely immersed in all things Superman, literally from my DNA to every single adult and rabbi who I have ever met who said “Hey you know, Superman was created by Jewish boys”. And so it was always part of who I was and I was always told that “you can make comics too” because of Superman. So it was always part of me.
Side note: Cleveland…are you a Browns fan?
Haha, no. But listen, there are only so many things you can be geeky about. No, in Cleveland it’s the home of rock and roll and it’s the home of Superman. That’s all you hear over and over again. [About LeBron leaving the Cavs] And from what I hear now, Superman’s about all we have left in Cleveland. So it’s a big big deal for us and you’re asking my connection to it. So, funny, even me coming to DC had a big Cleveland connection. I had actually moved away from Cleveland years ago, I live here in Portland, but I went back to Cleveland for my brother’s wedding around the time that this offer was seriously on the table. And we seriously had to think about – do you want to change everything about your life at this stage of your life, you know? And I walked into the Cleveland public library where I had a meeting — a friend of mine from years and years ago worked there — and I go there and it had this huge Superman exhibit: “The History of Superman through the eyes of Cleveland”. And it was like, if I may be arrogant for a second, it was almost like it was put on for me. Because I’m sitting here with my head swirling whether I should do this and I walk into this place I grew up in and it’s just this huge exhibit to the history of Cleveland and it was like “Oh my god, I get it. I’m doing it. I get it.”
That’s awesome, I’m just going to write down that you’re a Browns fan. Let’s talk about legacy. I’ve always found Superman amazing — it’s this story that’s been told basically unbroken for like 80 years…What does it feel like to inherit something like that and what do you hope that you’ll accomplish before you hand it off to the next person?
Well you certainly hit that first part of the question, it’s something that really hits you. Because when something is a part of your life that you’re just a fan of, that you just love for your whole life…and I’ve lived a life. I have years under my belt, and now at this stage to then readdress all of this material not just as a fan but as a co-author, you know what I mean? As the baton holder. It’s such a unique experience. It’s hard to describe to people that you’re reinvesting into one of the greatest mythologies of all time, with the job to then keep it going, and to keep it honest and to find real truth, and to find that truth and justice in the world we live in now, just like Superman always has. And it’s been amazing that Superman and Batman have been able to reevaluate themselves with the times and over and over again. Pop culture doesn’t really do that and yet these characters do. Because they so often live in the moment. They live in the now. They don’t look back, they look forward, and to have that job – to then take Superman and then have him look forward in this world and in this DC universe. What a great opportunity! And so I feel, not only was I given this great character but I was given him at an amazing time to be writing him for the world outside and what’s going on in the DC universe. So these things I wasn’t fully connected to when I agreed, and when I got here it was an even better job than I had hoped because Scott and Tom and Geoff had already set up so many amazing things, and then what Dan and Peter had done in the Superman book was so deep and such a revitalization of what the Superman family could mean. I just felt like, almost like I was cheating. I was given so many good pieces, like who couldn’t…like it was almost impossible to mess up. I was grateful for all that was handed to me, moving forward. So my job is to make the person who is going to have this gig after me in seventeen years, make them feel as good as I feel at this moment. Which, this challenge in front of me, I have all the tools for.
You bring up the world we live in. Superman is Truth, Justice, and the American Way. In The Man of Steel, you had Rogol Zaar concerned about Krypton’s trade policies and the expansion of their footprint into space. And then in the upcoming Action issue (#1,001) there’s a great conversation between Superman and Martian Manhunter about being leaders in the galactic community. So is it fair to say you’ll be exploring themes of America and its place in the global community? Maybe a little talk of nationalism in there?
Yes and no. Not nationalism in the way that people consider it as far as “us”, you know what I mean? But in the sense that, what’s going to be best for the earth in general twenty years from now? And some of these things I was hitting on in Guardians of the Galaxy as well, that we live in a world of such deep science fiction becoming science fact. And I’m talking about the world we live in, the real world, that the DC and Marvel universes are a reflection of. That we do live in a science fiction world that we imagine that has become science fact. And if that continues along the line we have to be prepared. I love futurists and futurist thinking, looking at a problem that doesn’t exist yet and solving it before it even becomes a problem. I like proactive heroism. The heroes so often are putting out fires or solving crimes that have already happened. I like the idea of creating a world where crime might not be such a great idea. Being proactive in it is something I like. Having the heroes take a minute and ask are we doing enough? Because doing what we do takes a lot of time, sometimes you don’t even get a moment in a day to think: did I do enough today? So having Martian Manhunter have this idea — and saying as a friend — are you doing enough? But not knowing that his father had already said “you’re not doing enough”. So now you’ve got this Superman who has these voices in his head propelling him into this story we’re going to tell in Superman the series. Is he doing enough? And by the way, this storyline is a year long storyline. It’s very epic in scope and landscape and big stuff’s going to happen. This is the book where the big stuff happens. And by the end of the year we’re gonna have some new stuff in the DC universe because of the choices that Superman and his family have made. And one of the things, even Geoff Johns said “Oh yeah we haven’t done that” and oh that’s so great that I could get Geoff Johns to say that!” That was probably the highlight of my year so far.
I guess that having the Daily Planet as such a big part of the story gives you a chance to tell some related stories about the role of media…the slow death of print media and what it’s transforming into. Is that something that you’re really sinking your teeth into?
Oh yeah, I used to work at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in my younger days. I have a deep passion and love for journalism and for newspaper journalism in particular. And people who have been reading my work know that. There’s not a book I do that I haven’t found some way to express my love for what would have clearly been my job if I had never grown up. So this opportunity, particularly this year, when people have more of a vested interest in the truth that journalism comes up with than they ever have before. Not since the days of Watergate have people been so tuned into the machinery of journalism and what it means and how delicate it is. On every level. And it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum or what you believe in, you damn well can tell this is a very important time for the idea of free press and journalism, right? So then it got me thinking about Clark Kent. And it got me thinking about how he is a character that has had greatness thrust upon him. Like he was sent here to be great and told “You’re going to do this”. I mean it’s one of those…like King Arthur, you get a predestination story. But in those stories, characters still make choices. And the biggest choice Clark made for himself was to be a journalist. And he could have done nothing. He doesn’t need money, doesn’t need a place to live, he doesn’t need a gig. But he chose this of all the things he could do and you start to unpack why. Because you’ve got the Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Clark can get to truth in ways that Superman can’t. Because you can’t always punch or x-ray vision your way to the truth. And even if Superman can find the truth, Clark Kent’s the one who can tell the truth. Who can tell people, this is how it happened. So there’s a lot of truth that Clark can get to that Superman just can’t and that excites me to no end. It makes the character of Clark more interesting in a lot of ways. More really him in a lot of ways. So this is all stuff that I got very very excited about writing, right away.
So let’s talk about some of the things in the comic. Before we even get to Superman and Action, you’ve already destroyed the Fortress of Solitude, you’ve destroyed Kandor (an entire Kryptonian city). You’ve taken his wife and son off the board. I want to know, were the major changes needed to make room for the story that you want to tell? I guess I’m asking are you removing all of the trappings so you can focus on the character, or is really more that these are the central pieces of the story that you want to focus on?
Well number one, every once in a while it’s time to freshen up. You know, just freshen things up. And I’m happy to say, right away, in Superman #1 we are already introducing the brand new Fortress of Solitude. And it’s got a bunch of cool new stuff, it’s got a cool new look. And it’s very inspired by what Scott Snyder did with the Hall of Justice in Justice League. We’re going to really turn it into a magical, cool place that you imagine Superman would live. You know, building on all the cool stuff that people have done with the fortress over the years. So that’s just being added in as fun to the mythos of Superman. The new Fortress of Solitude will be in the Bermuda Triangle and it will dive deep down into the ocean where a lot of cool stuff will happen where the Kryptonian crystal technology merges with the environment as uniquely as it did in the Arctic. Does that make sense?
It does make sense. It’s very exciting.
So that’s just being cool and additive. Jon and Lois, though, were sent away in Man of Steel. Lois shows up already in Action #1001. She’s already back. And we’ve already hinted on the cover, that Jon comes back in just a couple issues. They’re not gone for the duration of my run or anything like that. They are gone, and Superman can feel how much he misses them and loves them and then they come back with a whole lot of story. Jon’s coming back saying “Oh my god, Grandpa’s crazy” and Lois has a lot going on with her too. So in the next few issues, right away, we’re not going to be throwing out the Superman family but reestablishing what that family unit means and how they interact with each other. And if I can overly answer the question, it’s a very special thing to me. I’m very engaged in Superman’s very special family and how they can love and relate to each other. It’s something that I think a lot of people in our own world can relate to, their special family they’ve created for themselves. We all have special family. And taking that idea into the future for Superman, it’s something that I am probably the most excited about.
Yeah, I love the talk that Clark had with Jon in that last issue of Man of Steel when he said don’t worry about other realities. His message was basically just focus on what’s inside of you and keep that at the forefront. How does having kids affect your writing of the Kent’s and their family and their super-powered boy?
Only entirely. Completely. Absolutely. I’ve been parenting…I have four children, aging from 15 to 5. And for those who don’t know, I have two adopted and two biological. So I have quite a super team here at the house. And all of them are unique and different and exciting and vivacious. Also in my house no one is below a type A personality so there’s a lot of show going on here all the time. You’d think one of them wouldn’t talk. Just like one of them would be the one that wouldn’t talk, but no. All of them have a lot to say, which I love. So taking what I have learned as a parent or trying to imagine the best version of myself as a parent to assign that to Clark, absolutely. That absolutely happens.
Is that a version of a talk that you had with one of your kids?
Um no, my son hasn’t worried about other dimensions yet. I think the Lego Dimensions right now is confusing him. I think we were lying in bed and he goes: Is Lego Dimensions happening at the same time as our dimension? And I’m like oh great…
Well as his powers develop, you’ll have to start having those talks with him.
[Laughs] Yeah I know. He’s great. Listen, my son is the perfect age also for this job change that I’ve had. He was so little, but he quite enjoyed Spider-man and then Groot. I actually did a comic book where he was teamed up with Groot, that I got Marvel to publish. And so just as he’s kind of finding what he likes about stuff, daddy joined the DC universe and he just loves Teen Titans and just loves Robin and how daddy knows about Nightwing. It’s really great. It’s really the perfect time to be doing this at the house too.
What about powers? How are you approaching the use of superpowers in the story?
What I’m using his superpowers for is to describe how he sees the world. I think when people have a hard time relating to Superman they think, oh he’s got all these powers. But everything he experiences is just an amplification of what we do. There’s a bit I have coming up where he describes how Oliver Queen once asked him “Oh my god how do you stand it when all you hear is people being awful and screaming and on fire?” Even while hiking, say, can you turn it off, just you know, like billions of people screaming? And Superman went, “Yeah it’s a lot of that but I actually hear people screaming out for help and then people immediately helping them before I can even do anything about it. Like I can hear billions of people really trying to help people. That’s most of what I hear.” And he sees the world’s a great place and it’s just about using his powers to figure out why you like him so much. And it’s also to remind people that, you know, most of the news is good. You just don’t hear it.
Rogol Zaar, he was a heck of a bad guy. But we don’t know a lot about him. The Quintessence recognized him for his service and they mentioned his sacrifices for the galaxy. That’s pretty high praise. But his past, his motivation…we haven’t learned a lot about it. What’s coming up for him? Are we going to learn about all his ugly secrets pretty soon?
Yeah. Part of the storyline in Superman the series is that we’ll be having a rematch with Rogol as the entire planet Earth will have accidentally stumbled into the Phantom Zone, which is the place where all of Krypton’s most horrible monsters and criminals have been banished. It’s a monster universe and the entire earth has been pulled into it. So Superman has to protect the entire planet as it gets surrounded by all the worst criminals in Kryptonian history, including the mystery that is Rogol and what he’s been doing in the Phantom Zone since they banished him there, surrounded by all these Kryptonians and Kryptonian problems. In these chapters we will be doing some flashbacks to what happened to him and the Guardians of Oa, why no one’s ever heard of him, why he looks so unique, why there’s no species of him. So all of this will be revealed as part of this big storyline and the secrets (and why they were kept) will then trigger a choice by Superman that will reveal this big thing that even Geoff Johns was surprised we hadn’t done yet.
What about Supergirl? Will she remain central to your story? And what is compelling about Kara?
The story we just told in Man of Steel involved the destruction of Kandor and this really intensely dedicated villain that truly hates and may have already genocided the entire Kryptonian species. If you remember, Superman was rocketed to Earth as a baby. Kara lived there. She remembers it. She can smell it. The losses, the power of this man’s hate toward her is more intense to her than it is to Clark. She’s felt it. So there’s that. So that is going to compel this amazing new series by my dear friend and old collaborator Marc Andreyko with whom I did Torso many years ago. He’s teaming up with Kevin Maguire who did Man of Steel #4 and is one of the great artists of DC of all time. They’re going to launch a series where Kara is going to take the staff of Rogol into the galaxy and start to really unpack the clues of what happened to Krypton. She’s a major major part of this story.
Time for just one last question. Why is this an exciting time to jump back onto the Superman titles or to check them out for the first time?
Quite a few things. Number one you see right away these books are gorgeous. These are the best artists working in comics today. Of all the things that have happened to me in my life, the fact that I have been able to receive the same amount of collaboration and beauty at DC that I had at Marvel, is amazing to me. I’m working with all these new people, all of whom have really dedicated themselves to making these books the best things they’ve ever made and the best things they can put on the market. I think people have seen Ivan [Reis]’s work on Superman already and what Pat Gleason has done in Action. It’s the best work they’ve ever done. I couldn’t be happier. I’m trying to write for them scripts that are as truthful to the character of Superman, which is as truthful to the idea of hope, as you can get. What Superman offers the world is hope. That’s what he’s selling, that’s what he’s trying to fight for, that’s all he cares about. Hope for the future, hope for love, hope for friendship. When he’s at his best, it is the most inspiring thing. And it’s been going on for decades. Every culture, every society has been inspired by Superman. And when we find ourselves, and again no matter where you are on the political spectrum, I think things are pretty shitty right now. It’s really hard sometimes to look at the news and just see everyone struggling; struggling for their identity, struggling to be heard. And there’s Superman who is going to remind us that there is hope and that if we just stop and listen to each other we can get stuff done. So writing a character like that, I can tell you personally, I woke up this morning and I saw the news and I was like jittery and then I was like “Oh good I get to write Superman today”. I really felt that, I really felt “Oh good I get to spend time with a person who’s really trying to be the best version of himself for us” and that just makes me personally want to then spend my day trying to be the best version of myself. Because how can I sit and write Superman all day if I was a lying little weasel all day? Now I have to be the best version of myself, for my kids, for my wife. And now for the character in my hands. So that’s how I feel writing it and I know that’s how some people feel reading it because I hear from them all day long. It’s the most beautiful thing. You can go to my Twitter right now. People have deep love for these characters. Like the deepest of any franchise I’ve ever worked on. And it’s because what they’re talking about, what they’re emoting, it’s this pure beauty, love and hope. And how can you argue with that? So when people ask why I’m excited to be writing Superman right now? Because it feels good. It is a good person trying to do good in a world that needs it. And I’ll just tell you — in Superman, the good guy will win.
Superman #1 is on sale next week, July 11th! And then two weeks later, Action Comics #1,001 hits on July 25th!
Louie is a freelance writer, editor, and desert dweller. He manages TimeIsBroken.com where he writes about comics, meditation and football. When he’s not reading Green Lantern, he is likely to be found crying over the Cleveland Browns.