Later this month, Scott Lobdell — already one of the most prolific writers at DC — will take over the Superman title, launching the second year of the iconic hero's New 52 story with a new villainous threat.
Working with Kenneth Rocafort on art, Lobdell will start his run with this month's Superman #0, then will take the title into November's "H'el on Earth" event with Supergirl and Superboy. The three "Super" characters will deal with a new Kryptonian supervillain named H'el, which Lobdell is introducing.
Lobdell was already a signficant part of DC's "New 52" reboot last year, launching Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans and Superboy. He has since left Superboy, which is now written by Tom DeFalco.
In the first part of our discussion with Lobdell about his DC titles, we talked to him about Superman and what readers can expect from the new villain named H'el.Superman #13 Newsarama: Scott, let's start by talking about your hopes for this Superman run overall. How would you describe the overall tone you've achieved in Superman as you delve into writing the first few issues of the series?
Scott Lobdell: If I had to sum it up in one word? I'd have to say, "Lots."
As in lots of action, lots of drama, lots of fun, lots of horror, lots of insight, lots of battles, lots of 'family' interaction, lots of awesome.
When I was writing for another company a few years ago, when comics were 22 pages, I used to feel like I had at least 10 pages more that I'd want to fit into each issue. And so I would — and that's why there was always something happening with each book month to month.
Since I started Superman, I've discovered that he's returned me to those days where so much is happening each issue that after I send it off to the editors, I'll re-read it and be surprised by how much has happened in that story. So far, each issue is bursting at the seams — and I couldn't be happier.
We are at a time in the industry where I think we really have to look at the notion of the "decompressed story" and re-evaluate. DC has had tremendous success with their Superman and Batman [Earth One graphic novels], and I think that is the perfect place for a story that is 100-plus pages to let out a deep breath and for the creators to take their time telling the story.
But I feel strongly that in the monthly books, we have to get back to the place where every issue is bursting with story, with characters, with subplots — and Superman, the first superhero, the flagship, is going to be drawing that line in the sand.
Yeah, so "lots" is what I want to do.
Nrama: You wrote last month's Superman Annual #1, after Keith Giffen wasn't able to complete it (as he explained to Newsarama). Did you finish the story Keith had already started, or was it taken in a whole new direction?
Lobdell: Re-imagining Teen Titans and Red Hood? No problem. Writing Superman? An honor! Trying to complete a story that Keith Giffen started...? Even I don't have that much hubris! It would be like me trying to finish Beethoven's 9th symphony. It would be like me trying to adjust the smirk on the Mona Lisa so we could see her braces!
Let's be serious... Keith is a master, and the story he had in mind should be told by him when he has the opportunity.
Nrama: Let's talk about the story that did show up in Superman Annual #1. You gave a lot of attention to Helspont. How would you describe what we saw from that character in the Annual, and can you give us any hints about his future?
Lobdell: We saw Helspont stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. Here is a guy who has enslaved entire worlds — so if he hasn't kicked Earth's ass yet, it is for a very specific reason. That said, he learned upside his head why Helspont is really good at what he does.
It was great to be able to include cameos by Martian Manhunter, Starfire, Hawkman and Grifter — and if you think I'm secretly trying to plant the seeds for super team made up of displaced aliens on Earth, you'd be right!
Nrama: So then the story from the Annual ties into your run on Superman?Superman #13
PencilsLobdell: Well, everything that happens in it is going to have a direct effect on the ongoing series (as Annuals so often do), but to be honest, Superman and company are going to be so busy in the next six months battling a new threat, he's not going to have a lot of time or resources to put towards Helspont's machinations.
Also, (a little inside baseball for you), I don't mind introducing a character or concept on the front burner, only to turn it on simmer for a while. Like with Harvest, he created N.O.W.H.E.R.E. which led to the creation of the Teen Titans, but now he's off doing other things and that's okay. Helspont is playing a long game.
Nrama: Before we get to that new threat, you've got Superman #0 coming later this month. It tells the story of Jor-El learning about Krypton's destruction. Why did you choose to start with that story? And what does that choice say about your run and Krypton's importance to it?
Lobdell: Ah, but you only have half the story, V! Yeah, it tells the story of his realization that Krypton doesn't have long to live, but it also explores the fact that on that same night, Jor learns his wife if pregnant. It is the night that the clock starts ticking for the House of El — even if he can't save his planet, can he at least save his son?
Now, everyone who has ever heard of a comic book knows that, yes, Jor saved his son. But the story of how one man fought impossible odds — how he battled back an entire movement dedicated to stopping him? We're going to realize that while Jonathan Kent helped him be a man, he got all his super from his biological parents.
There is a lot of Krypton coming up in the next few months — and I'm confident in saying that after several decades of stories, we've found a way into a Krypton epic that has never been examined before. Talk about a job for Superman!
Also, as can be seen in Supergirl #0, as brilliant as Zor-El is (and he is), the man’'s genius came at a serious price. He'’s a bit mad, carrying a grudge against Jor-El right up until the dying breath of their planet.
Nrama: As you've mentioned, we've been seeing quite a bit about Krypton in Supergirl, and some hints in Superman and elsewhere. What are you hoping to bring to this New 52 "revamped" story of Krypton?
Lobdell: I want it to feel more real.
It seems to me that we've spent a lot of time on Krypton at that moment when Jor and Lara were saying good-bye to Kal before sending him off into this great black void. That and the scene where he addresses what has always seemed to me to be a very close minded Science Counsel.
It is true that in Supergirl we have seen the planet, but we really haven’t seen the people. I would love to know what it was like to be a teenager on Krypton. What were her friends like? Did she have a boyfriend? A best friend? How did they spend their free time? Is “school” there the same way we experience it on Earth? Are marriages arranged? Are they limited to just one man and one woman? I am fascinated by the concept that even on Krypton something as “human” as babysitting exists. I am so intrigued about seeing this in Supergirl because it speaks to me about what Kal would have been like had he never left for Krypton as an infant.
Krypton, the planet, has always been a big part of Superman's story. I want the people of Krypton to be just as important going forward.
Nrama: Is #0 important to the upcoming crossover? And does it introduce H'el?
Lobdell: Yes and no. Yes, it is vital (as are the Supergirl and Superboy zeroes) to the big picture, but no, it doesn't introduce H'el.
But it does have the "Most Unexpected Cameo" of the month of September! I can say that much at least.
Nrama: After the #0 issue, you dive right into your first present-day story with Superman #13. The solicitation for the issue was pretty cryptic. Now that we know about H'el and the coming crossover, can you describe what's coming in #13?
Lobdell: Alas, the solicitation was written at a time when I was writing another story entirely — and as I plan on telling that story in the future, I can't really discuss it here.
But the story that did make it in, as I said earlier, is chock full of twists and turns. We get to see a heretofore unrevealed ally of Superman, we learn more about his powers than we have in the past, Clark gets two major body blows (one sort of self-inflicted) that are going to leave him reeling for the next few months, he finds himself entwined in the life of a Daily Planet co-worker in a way he could not have imagined, he takes a pretty severe beating from a completely unexpected enemy, he learns something staggering from his cousin Kara and he almost meets H'el.
Phew! I'm exhausted just hearing about it!
Nrama: The "H'el on Earth" storyline that we're seeing in the Super-books in November features what appears to be a new villain, but he's got a Bizarro look about him. Is H'el a new take on Bizarro, or something new that you guys created for this story?
Lobdell: In my effort to re-imagine Superman's villains, I went so far afield in re-imagining Bizarro with Kenneth, that editorial started saying "Um, Scott — this character is so not-Bizarro any more; he's a whole new character, with new motivation, new history, new look, new origin. You're at the point where it doesn't make any sense to call him Bizarro any more."
And they were right.
And for everyone who wonders about the "S" on his chest? It is so far removed from Bizarro or Prime or anyone else that you can relax: By the time this story is over, you'll see that H'el and Bizarro can exist in the same world.
Nrama: How would you describe H'el?
Lobdell: Unfortunate. Misunderstood. Not quite omnipotent.
Nrama: Was H'el a story idea first and you realized it was big enough for more than just Superman? Or was it a crossover first, and then the threat was developed? How did the idea for a crossover evolve?
Lobdell: I'll be honest — I didn't know it was a crossover until the solicits came out last week! That isn't me taking a dig at marketing or editorial; I can completely see why someone would look at the coming events between Superman, Superboy and Supergirl and say "A crossover!"
But to speak to the heart of your question... the story came first, and the enthusiasm between me and [Superboy writer] Tom and the Mikes[, Supergirl writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson,] as we started to explore the impact of H’'el on Earth followed. So in that way, I think it is the best type of “crossover” because it resulted organically from the story.
Nrama: How involved are you in the future of the Superboy title you launched, now that Tom DeFalco is working with you on yet another crossover (having done the "Culling" crossover with your Teen Titans title earlier this year)?Superman #14 Lobdell: It spells the end of our decades long friendship as we start arguing ferociously about all the details of our shared Super-verse!
Actually, we're having a great time working together and bouncing ideas off each other. It's funny because Tom and I both come from a time where "Not Every Idea Is Precious." We'll generate a story idea down to the last detail, and editorial will come by and say "Nope. Not going to go in that direction." And we just pick up our posts and and go plant a new story somewhere else and nurture it and see where it goes. If editorial says "Awesome!" we're on! If they say no, it's off to another story!
Nrama: Will Superman continue to grow closer to Supergirl and Superboy over the coming months?
Lobdell: No and yes. That is, he'll be growing closer to one and more adversarial to the other. Just like most families, things are complicated.
Nrama: What has Kenneth Rocafort brought to the Superman title as you've been developing the story?
Lobdell: Imagine being trapped on a deserted island and all you had was a pen and piece of paper and a bottle. You scrawl "Help!" on the paper, stuff it into the bottle, and toss it into the ocean. Then you wait.
Four weeks later, the same bottle floats up and it is 22 of the most gorgeous art and amazing, fresh story-telling imaginable... that's what it is like working with Kenneth.
Nrama: Then to finish up our discussion of Superman, Scott, what's the one take-away that you hope people have about your run on Superman as you begin?
Lobdell: "What the -- ?! What was that all about?!"