When Scott Snyder first started plotting Superman Unchained, he realized that Superman isn't a know-it-all Boy Scout at all.
According to Snyder, Superman's actually deciding what's "right" as he goes along.
The writer loves that about Superman, and it became the core idea behind Superman Unchained, the nine-issue story Snyder wrote for superstar artist (and DC Co-Publisher) Jim Lee over the last year and a half.
The story concluded this week (after several schedule delays) with Superman Unchained #9, finishing up the storyline that introduced readers to a new alien anti-villain named Wraith, who confronted Superman's approach and made the hero question his own tactics.
In the end… well, we'll let Snyder explain what the story accomplished "in the end," and whether he's done telling Superman stories.
Newsarama: Scott, I know how important your artist as a collaborator is to you on all your project. Now that Superman Unchained is done, how would you describe working with Jim Lee?
Scott Snyder: Working with him is a huge honor, obviously, and a huge thrill. I've been a fan of his sine I was a kid. I still have, like, all my X-Men #1 and all that. As a joke, on Thanksgiving, I actually took pictures of all of them at my parents' house and sent them to him, being like, will you sign these?
But he couldn't have been a better partner, in terms of how invested he was in making sure the pages were really right.
One of the things that was really interesting working with him was how many times he re-does pages — for himself, I mean, without any prompting from anybody else. He'll post online, sometimes, different versions of a page.
For example, for the last page, of Clark jumping off the silo, there are at least three different versions of that. And the first one, I was like, wow! I want that for my wall! And then the last one is even better.
He's so meticulous and such a perfectionist, for himself, that it was really inspiring in that regard.
It was really nice to get to know him too. I mean, he was somebody that always loomed very large in my imagination, and he still does. I have a tremendous regard for him. But getting to know him a bit more as a friend and getting to work with him closely, and seeing what a great guy he is, was a real treat also.
Nrama: OK, you and I have talked a lot about the themes you were hoping to explore about these characters. So, now that the series is finished, I want you to complete this sentence: In the end, Wraith learned…
Snyder: I think, in the end, Wraith learned that to be a real hero, you have to make your own decisions and risk failing.
Nrama: In the end, Superman learned…
Snyder: In the end, I think Superman learned that the course that he's on might not end well, and he's been reminded of the dangers and the foolishness of the course that he's on, but ultimately, what he learns, for me, is that he's doing the thing that he has to do to sleep well at night.
He's doing the right thing, as what he knows it to be in that case.
Nrama: You told me in a previous interview that in this story, you were confronting Superman in a way that puts his whole mission into question, trying to make him choose a "right side." But in the end, he becomes content with this idea of deciding his path on a case by case basis?
Snyder: Yeah, that's the thesis of the whole story, to me, honestly. It boils down to a single thought — it was always about how, on paper, people think Superman always knows the right thing to do, and that he's a sort of anachronistic character, because he's such a "Boy Scout." But once you start writing him, what you realize, when you start thinking about him, you realize he doesn't know the right thing to do at all.
He's constantly making it up as he goes, and instead of being a symbol for us or trying to lead the way (saying, "This is how you act"), he's trying to figure it out for himself, case by case.
And that, I find 10 times more inspiring than someone who thinks he knows what he's doing all the time.
For me, that's incredibly admirable. He's doing the best that he can, on this global stage, with these consequences hanging over him that are massive all the time.
And case by case, he tries to do the thing that allows him to sleep at night, because that's what makes him proudest of himself.
That's really what it was about for me, in a big way. Sort of reframing Superman.
The situation, the story, was basically saying, by being Clark Kent, you're doing something really stupid, because everyone's going to age faster than you, and by not aligning yourself with any military, you're doing something really stupid because they're all going to bring you down. Superman can only last for a moment in time the way you've constructed it.
Clark learns that, and he learns that might all be true, and it really hits him hard. But in the end, it just confirms the fact that he does what he does by his own compass. And it's up to him, case by case.
Nrama: OK, then what did Lex Luthor learn in Superman Unchained?
Snyder: I think Lex Luthor learned a little more admiration for Superman. For me, Lex Luthor hates Superman because he thinks Superman is a know-it-all and is trying to guide humanity to a higher state, to the essence of consciousness.
And when he learns, by tracing Superman's history, he learns that Superman's making it up as he goes along, the best he can, I think he would admit, maybe, not only does it mean Superman's not a bad guy, but it makes him like him just the tiniest bit.
Nrama: OK, then what did Scott Snyder learn by doing Superman?
Snyder: That's a really good question! I mean, I think… what I learned writing it, I think, is what a deeply vulnerable and human character Clark is.
When you come up with a story like this, you — for me at least — I have that idea in mind. "I'm going to show how Clark makes it up as he goes along, and how he's not this symbol that stands for everything." But then you start to put him in situations and you start to write him, and you realize how incredibly harrowing that is.
So honestly, it made me love Superman, really, even more than I did before.
I'd love to write him again. It was very shocking writing him and realizing how terrifying it is to be Superman all the time.
Nrama: I know you said recently that you'd like to write Wonder Woman someday, but I just heard you say that you'd love to write Superman again. Do you think you might return to Superman in the future?
Snyder: Yeah, sure, I'd love to write Superman again sometime! I had a lot of fun!