While the stories in DC's print Superman comics are somewhat limited by New 52 continuity, Adventures of Superman — the one-year-old, digital-first series — has been giving writers and artists the freedom to explore unrestrained plotlines with the Man of Steel since the series. The 99-cent, weekly releases come in a variety of lengths — from one-shots to multi-chapter stories — and they get collected in print each month in anthology form.
This week's digital release of Adventures of Superman #46 begins a three-parter by writer Joe Keatinge that epitomizes the spirit of Adventures — taking Superman on a journey that encompasses all his time on Earth, from his Golden Age days to the very end of all times.
The first chapter of the story, titled "Strange Visitor," kicked off this week with some cool Kamandi art by Ming Doyle, then flashes back to retro Superman and friends by Brent Schoonover. Next week's part two features more of Doyle's art, with a 2013 Superman drawn by David Williams and Al Gordon. Part three features 1926 Clark Kent drawn by Tula Lotay, and Jason Shawn Alexander drawing Superman at the end of all time — all under a cover by Jon Bogdanove.
Newsarama talked to Keatinge, Doyle and Schoonover about the story they're creating, and how it spans Superman's lifetime.
Newsarama: Joe, I've seen some of these retro Superman sketches that Brent's drawn for Adventures of Superman. What's the basic premise of the story?
Joe Keatinge: With Earth exploding around them, Old Man Kamandi tells the Last King of America the 75-year parable of Superman, from 1938 to 2013, leading to humanity’s final damnation or salvation, concluding with a look at the end of all existence, with Superman’s final act in the universe’s entropic death rattle.
Nrama: Wow, a story that spans all of Superman's time. How did you come up with the idea for this story and its setting across time? What inspired it?
Keatinge: Alex Antone, editor of the series, called up with the offer of being able collaborate with whoever on whatever we wanted to do on Superman. No constrictions of continuity or crossover or anything. I think he originally asked for a done-in-one story, but I had this idea I couldn’t get out of my head — it’s a rare thing to be handed a character of this iconic status and be told all bets are off. You can do whatever you can imagine.
So I pitched the idea for this three-parter, spanning centuries of time, starting in 1938 and ending with reality’s collapse, bookended by the Earth exploding, telling a Superman story encapsulating everything I’ve been fascinated about him, whether it’s the Fleischer cartoons, weird Silver Age comics where he’s got a lion head or even modern classics like All-Star Superman or Evan Shaner showing folks how it’s done in the last Adventures of Superman story. Who knew when I’d be given the opportunity to mash this all up again?
The mythology of Superman is an obvious inspiration, but basing superhero comics only off of other superhero comics generally leads to boring comics. Like anything you draw from life, your own experiences, interests — things ranging from Joseph Campbell to Fritz Lang to Homer to Jack Kirby.
Even more so, I liked the challenge of telling a huge story in the span of only 30 pages, and getting the right artists to collaborate on this was essential.
If it wasn’t for Ming Doyle, Brent Schoonover, David Williams, Al Gordon, Tula Lotay and Jason Shawn Alexander, this thing wouldn’t have worked. Alex was amazing at curating a line up who could make something fairly immense in scale execute it flawlessly on an art-level. I feel very lucky to be part of this team. Getting Jon Bogdanove — a guy who drew one of my favorite Superman single issues, Superman: The Man of Steel #37 — on the cover made this experience as good as it could ever get. Seal that up with colorists Jordie Bellaire, Nick Filardi, Jason Wright, Lee Loughridge and letterer Wes Abbott making this whole thing cohesive while still retaining everyone’s individual artistic identity. Again — I feel lucky to be part of it.
Nrama: So the artists are each drawing different eras? What does that add to the story?
Keatinge: I don’t think the story would have had the same effect if one artist did it. Having multiple people drawing different eras helps really sell the scope of the overall timeline. Then having Ming Doyle’s Kamandi sequence in parts one and two helped really sell the leap to what happens in Part Three, which opens up with a single page in 1926 Smallville by Tula, which really sells the massive leap to the rest of the issue, featuring the end of all things drawn by Jason Shawn Alexander.
Nrama: What other characters from Superman's cast or the DC Universe will show up? Are you introducing any new characters?’
Keatinge: The three-parter covers centuries of time, so there’s a fairly large pantheon of characters — with Superman at the center, of course. Parts one and two have Kamandi, like I mentioned. Part one is in 1939, featuring Professor Potter from Superboy’s days. Lois Lane makes an appearance there, but gets a much bigger role in part two. 1939 Batman with long ears and little gloves punches out a Frankenstein monster alongside his buddy Dracula. A bunch of others.
Rathotis, the Last King of America, is wholly new. There’s a take on Superman in part three that I’m confident no one has seen before. Essentially it’s what he evolves into after billions of years. The finality of Superman.
Nrama: You mentioned that you felt free to tell whatever type of Superman story you wanted. Do you think that's one of the benefits of writing Superman for digital? Or are there also constraints, because of the format?
Keatinge: It was interesting. Alex passed along this guide to writing for digital and there were a lot of things to consider from a formatting perspective — making sure it worked on an iPad screen full screen, then in comiXology’s Guided View and Print. It lead to a lot of challenges which were a little awkward at first, but I shortly grew to love it. I’d definitely do so again sometime.
Nrama: Ming, you just got a bit of praise from Joe on this story for how your art introduces the story of Kamandi. Can you talk about the techniques you're using to create the pages for this Adventures of Superman story? Do you start digitally as you create these pages?
Ming Doyle: I draw all my sequential pages entirely digitally in Manga Studio and Photoshop. However, I wanted to capture more of a Golden Age, retro aesthetic for this particular sequence, so I also scanned in some custom cardboard/paperstock textures and used them to add shading to my line art for extra grittiness. I told Jordie Bellaire to go primary and bold on the colors, and she took it from there.
Nrama: Can you explain a little more about your choices to go with this look?
Doyle: In a lot of ways, my favorite incarnation of Superman is still the guy we see in the Fleischer Brothers cartoons, so even though I didn't get to draw the man with the big red "S" himself all that much, I still really reveled in the opportunity to portray him as an earnest, hunky, honest, and true dude. In general, I like that both my art and Brent's calls back to an earlier era for this story, because I think it helps tap into the primordial sense every reader has of who Superman is as a person and an entity. Very fitting for this ride Joe's taking us all on!
Nrama: Brent, since you're drawing the flashbacks in the first chapter, what's it been like to develop the look for Superman in this early time period? And what did you base the look on — research? Or a little of your own ideas about the story?
Brent Schoonover: This was such a dream project for me. I would say the incarnation of Superman that I have always responded to the most was the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the early 1940's. I had an old VHS copy of them as a kid that lasted till high school when I finally wore the tape out. They are just everything I love about the character perfectly executed in these 7-10 minute cartoons. And I feel like Joe's script kind of has that sense to it as well.
I did end up designing the emblem and Superman's look on the earliest design I could find, and I had reprints of the original appearance and also a great book designed by Chip Kidd called Superman: Complete History- Sixty Years of the Man of Steel, which was great for seeing old rate sketches of the character.
Nrama: Joe mentioned that Batman is showing up — what other characters in their old costumes are you getting to draw?
Schoonover: Batman with long funky ears, purple gloves, and guns! I poured through my copy of Batman Chronicles volume one and really tried to bring the fun and crudeness of the early interpretations of The Dark Knight, and make it my own. I could draw that Batman forever. On top of all that you throw in Dracula and some Frankenstein monsters, and Joe managed to somehow get all my favorite things from my childhood in one short story.
Nrama: It sounds like you got to draw a lot of favorite characters, but was it a challenge to set the right mood, from the past?
Schoonover: It was a challenge in a sense that the story has three very different locations in the first chapter. Ming Doyle starts us off and then I do the flashbacks. Mine goes from a love letter to the Universal Monster films to a merger of late 30's society thrusted into the space race. So there's this fun sci-fi feel to it that mixes and mashes with specific time periods. What would an early space suits look like in the late 30's? Or ships that can fly to the moon? It really had a Flash Gordon movie serial vibe to it. So I watched a lot of those while working on the pages.
It was a pleasure to be on the ground floor working on this really fun story that takes the reader all over the place. I think every artist on this one was selected perfectly for the chapter's they were asked to do. It's going to make for one fun jam piece when it's all finished. The Adventures of Superman series has easily been one of my favorite titles over the last year, and to be able to contribute was a real honor.
Nrama: Then to finish up, I'll just ask Joe — as the first chapter hits digital this week, is there anything else you want to tell fans about this Adventures of Superman story?
Keatinge: I’m thrilled to be part of Adventures of Superman, which is the most clichéd thing you could ever say in any interview, but man — it’s so damn true here. Alex really kicked butt at putting together a lineup since day one with Chris Samnee drawing Superman! I hope folks who dig this storyline check out my upcoming series from Image Comics, Shutter, which also tells one gigantic story over huge periods of time, but in a completely different way. It debuts next month, but be sure to tell your comic shop right now that you want it pre-ordered to ensure you don’t miss out and be saddled with a soul-crushing regret in not pre-ordering.