H'El is back for Villains Month in September, and this time around, readers will get some answers about the mysterious villain's powers and past, as well as getting a glimpse of the New 52 version of Krypton.
And the September story will lead directly into the next Super-books crossover in November, titled "Krypton Returns." The crossover, which promises to send the Super-characters back to Krypton, will start in Action Comics Annual #2 in October, then cross through Superboy #25, Supergirl #25 and Superman #25.
Although the story spins out of Lobdell's Villains Month issue, Superman #23.3: H'El, the Super-book writers have been laying the groundwork for "Krypton Returns" for months now, not only in the "H'El On Earth" story earlier this year, but even in the #0 issues in September 2012.
Readers of those one-shot #0 issues will remember that Superman, Superboy and Supergirl were all shown in scenes from the past of Krypton, before the planet was destroyed.
How did they get there? What does H'El have to do with it? And who is this H'El guy anyway? Readers should start getting answers during Lobdell's Villains Month issue.
Newsarama readers will also remember that last time we talked to Lobdell, he told readers to look for the "clues scattered throughout Action, Superman and the Annual this year, as well as the issues #25 for all four Super-books." He promised that it will all lead toward plans he has to write the "Most Ambitious Superman Story Ever."
"They will gasp at the sheer audacity of it all," he said.
Newsarama talked to Lobdell about his September H'El issue, the "Krypton Returns" story, and what else readers can expect over the coming months in the Super-books.
Newsarama: Scott, it's been said that H'El was originally meant to be the New 52 version of Bizarro. What was the original idea behind H'El, and how did you evolve the idea for the character into what he is now?
Scott Lobdell: I have this annoying habit of looking at characters in a whole different way (to the chagrin of some) — like, H'El for example.
When I was first pitching for Superman I looked at his villains who hadn't yet appeared in the New 52. First among those was Bizarro. In examining the character I realized that "Here is a character who is the exact opposite of Superman — the guy should be frightening: just imagine someone with all of Superman's powers but he's completely crazy." Too often, I felt, here was a character who was too easily dismissed as a goof with his "Me ams".
Look no farther than Batman for the ultimate Opposite Number, Joker. Why should Batman's polar opposite be terrifying, and yet Superman's polar opposite is almost always played for laughs. That's not very respectful to Superman, is it?
So I thought "This version of Bizarro is going to be scary. He's going to come by his reverse 'S' organically — tragically. (We've seen hints, of course, but in H'El #1 we are going to confirm that the "S" on H'El's chest was self-inflicted. We'll learn what drove him to such a sense of self loathing that he'd scar the El family crest into his own chest!)
By the time I was done re-examining his origin, his motivation, his powers... it became clear to Editorial: This was no longer a new version of Bizarro — this was a brand new character all together! I fought the idea as long as I could — until it became clear H'EL ON EARTH was solicited and I had no choice!
And they were right. At the end of the day there is more than enough room for H'EL and Bizarro — and never shall the twain meet!
Nrama: H'El's abilities (and his true origin) are still somewhat of a mystery. How will the September "H'El" issue reveal more about his story?
Lobdell: We learn everything. Every. Thing. His real origin. How his powers are different from every other Kryptonian... and why. We even explain his name!
We (and he) will understand that pretty much everything he has ever believed about himself has been a lie — lies that he's told himself, to be honest, in order to keep a hold of a last tenuous grip on reality.
By the end of H'EL #1 we — and he — learn it all.
Nrama: How would you describe H'El now, after the events of H'El on Earth? What's his mindset?
Lobdell: Bittersweet? Imagine if all you wanted to do was to save your entire world, and two of the last survivors of that same world were telling you "No!" Now, yeah, that sounds pretty bad — but that's just how H'El sees Superman and Supergirl's interference with his plans.
But you and I know better. We know that H'El's planned was predicated on the death of Earth's solar system. To H'El, he's like "So? What's the big deal? It is self evident that if you have to chose between the glory that is Krypton and the ball of mud that is Earth, there isn't really any choice at all, is there?"
It kills him — and it almost did — that these people would side against Krypton to preserve Earth.
Nrama: How does he currently feel about each of the Super-characters: Superman, Supergirl and Superboy?
Lobdell: Superman he mostly feels sorry for: the Last Son Of Krypton having been raised in the Hell that is life on Earth. What chance did Kal stand?
Supergirl's betrayal was devastating to H'El. Yes, he might have started off by manipulating her — but I think he eventually fell genuinely in love with her. (Who wouldn't?!)
Superboy is a curiosity to H'El. It would be if you or I went to a family reunion and someone bought a gibbon and insisted he be seated at the main table. You and I think of Superboy as human — H'El sees him as a creature.
Nrama: During the runs of the Super-books so far in the New 52, we've learned bits and pieces about Kryptonian history. How does the September issue play into that?
Lobdell: It is a prelude to a huge epic story that is going to take place on the streets and skies above Krypton — from its earliest days until their own end of days.
We have had 75 years worth of Krypton stories and very few glimpses of Krypton in the New 52. As everyone who has seen the movie knows, there is a lot of gold in the hills of Krypton that has yet to be mined. This one-shot is something of a primer for that world.
Nrama: In his first appearances, H'El seemed to be motivated by his desire to return home, which was somewhat sympathetic, although it was hard to like his methods. Now that he's returned home, what's his new motivation?
Lobdell: That's one of those questions where the only answer reveals the plot point on which the story revolves. Let me say this, when confronted with the truth of his origin, H'El is going to have to readjust his entire view of the universe and his place in it. This will lead to dire consequences for everyone.
Nrama: Do you think there's anything sympathetic left in his character?
Lobdell: Oh, for sure. Years ago I was talking to Stan Lee and mentioned who Spider-man's origin could have just as easily been an origin for a super villain: the same Death of en Parker could have taught Peter that even the nicest guy in the world can end up dead in a gutter... so why bother trying to be that nice guy? ("Uncle Ben always looked out for other people. I am not going to make his mistake!")
Just because a character makes bad choices doesn't mean they are unsympathetic. Who do you know has always made the right decision?
So yeah, I certain feel bad for H'El. So many times I want to shake him and say "Stop!" or pat his head and say "it's going to be okay... we'll find a way through this."
Nrama: Is your September issue at all related to Forever Evil, or is it really just a Superman-related issue?
Nrama: [Laughs.] OK, how about we say it's "just" a super cool Superman-related story. You've certainly got a couple great artists working on the Villains Month issue. How has it been working with Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund?
Lobdell: Dan rocks and Norm rocks even harder! (In San Diego I kept teasing Dan that I was so thrilled at the chance of working with him because I used to read his comics as a child. Which, is silly because we have always basically been contemporaries — but it was fun watching him insisting to anyone listening that I was not a kid when he started out. Gosh, what is it about me that enjoys annoying people? I should have that looked at.
Nrama: You seem to have a lot of things spinning at the same time, building toward the future of Superman. What can you tell us about how the story in H'El leads into "Krypton Returns?"
Lobdell: I think at 27-ish years of age, Superman has this sort of history book version of what Krypton was like before it died. Because of H'El, all of Superman's fantasies about the place are going to run smack into the reality of the world that was. That can't help but inform Clark's life when he makes it back to Earth... eventually.
Nrama: In the issue #0 comics last September, we saw Superboy, Superman and Supergirl in the past. And solicitations for October's issues imply that the Oracle sends Superman, Superboy and Supergirl back to Krypton's past. So I assume the events in September's H'El issue, and the "Krypton Returns" crossover, ties directly into what we saw in the issues #0?
Lobdell: Do they ever!
Nrama: The last time we talked, you told us that Superman #25 and the #25 issues of the other super-books would be, "if it all comes together, unlike anything anyone has done at either company in the history of comic books." Did it "all come together?" Is that what we'll see in "Krypton Returns?"
Lobdell: Yes! With the slight adjustment that the story starts in Action Comics Annual #2 and then leads into Superboy #25, Supergirl #25 and Superman #25. We needed a few more pages to tell the story so we took advantage of the Annual to start this epic!
Nrama: H'El is on the cover, so this obviously involves his return — and the title says that "Krypton Returns." Can you tell us whether this is literally the return of Krypton? Or if your prediction of "unlike anything" is referring to the story, or the structure, or what?
Lobdell: No. All the hints are already there.
Nrama: But the last time we talked, there was also talk of "the Most Ambitious Superman Story Ever." Was the "Most Ambitious Story" related to the "Krypton Returns" crossover in the #25 issues?
Lobdell: It certainly has its origins in the #25's. But it also has its origins in the "Twenty" story that has been weaving through the books. It is a slow burn but we'll see all the "random" threads coming together over the few months.
Nrama: You said the "Most Ambitious Story" involves evil entities. Is one of them H'El?
Nrama: OK, it sounds like there's something bigger coming down the road after the H'El story. Since you're being so cryptic about all this, let's just ask a general question about what's coming up. Anything you want to reveal that you haven't before?
Lobdell: Yes! I was so blown away by Aaron Kuder's Parasite one-shot that I begged to be able to use the character for a future story involving that energy coursing through Lois Lane (post Superman Annual)... he is just one scary villain! I love putting Superman against threats that make him privately say "Ulp!" And I'm working on a story that is going to see an exciting and frightening new direction for Steel in coming months: I am loving Lois, Jimmy, Perry and Cat — but there is so much to explore in the Super-verse!
In fact, just yesterday I was in the backyard pitching Eddie Berganza on a way to bring Supergirl's Comet back...before he pretended it was a horrible connection and was gracious enough to "hang up" before he had to tell me no way in H'El...