In the third volume of Superman: Earth One, writer J. Michael Straczynski is putting the final puzzle pieces together that have been hinted about since the graphic novel series launched in 2010.
One of the central missing pieces is an element of Superman's origin that Straczynski changed for this alternate world take on the hero — who blew up Krypton?
With General Zod already teased for the graphic novel and Lex Luthor a persistent part of the story, the answer may lie in the established villains from the Superman mythos. But, as evidenced by the plot to destroy Krypton, Straczynski also isn't shying away from changing Superman's history to update and modernize the hero's story for new audiences — the goal of DC's Earth One line.
And although Straczynski said the third volume of Superman: Earth One is accessible to new readers, DC Digital is offering the first two volumes for $5.99 next week, making it easier to get up-to-speed on the story in time for the book's wide release.
Newsarama talked to Straczynski in a spoiler-free interview to learn more about his approach to Clark, Lex and Zod, why he kept an eye on the Man of Steel film as he wrote this volume, and whether there will be a Superman: Earth One, Volume 4.
Newsarama: Superman has experienced both successes and tragedies in volumes 1 and 2. How would you describe the evolution of the character and who he is today?
J. Michael Straczynski: Those four words -- "who he is today" -- are kind of at the very core of the story: If Clark Kent, early 20s, arrived in Metropolis for the first time, who would he be?
These books are about showing his growth and how he integrates with the world, with the Daily Planet, and his own dreams and ambitions.
It's easy with 70 years of history to say, of a given situation, "well this is how Superman would react." But there's always the process of figuring that out for the character the first time he's in that situation. We know it in retrospect, but he has to figure it out in the moment...because there's no amount of prep in the world that will prepare you to be Superman.
Nrama: For people who've read the first couple volumes, how would you describe volume 3's story in comparison?
Straczynski: To pick up also on the question above…Volume 1 was about introductions on all sides, about the decision to become Superman and reveal himself to the world, and what that means to everyone involved. Volume 2 was about power...how far should he use his power, in what service, and what kind of choices should he be making about the condition of the world?
Volume 3 is about the consequences of those choices. Some readers expressed concern that in volume 2, Superman engaged in a bit of regime change, and "Superman would know better than to do that." Well, at the moment, he didn't, because again, he doesn't have those 70 years of experience.
In volume 3, he learns why that's not a good idea, as the fallout of that action turns the world against him in a profound way. He has to learn it's not just about power, it's about wisdom, and using that power, even in a good cause, in a way that doesn't scare the crap out of the human race.
Nrama: The mystery of "who killed Krypton" has been continuing since Volume 1. What interested you about pursuing that angle for the destruction of Superman's home world?
Straczynski: It always puzzled me, even as a kid, that a planet would just up and explode after millions of years of geological stability. There had to be a reason, and that led me to the notion that the planet was deliberately destroyed.
But then you have to ask: if so, by who?
In reviewing the canon of Superman's nemeses, one name floated to the top as the most likely suspect given his background, so I went with that and began retrofitting the motivation and opportunities to make this happen.
Nrama: You also teased elsewhere that people should brush up on their knowledge of British history and Shakespeare characters.
Straczynski: I kind of tipped my hand to the structure of the three books to anyone who might have been paying attention, putting a clue or two in front of anyone who might recognize the name.
Without giving too much away: the name of the being sent to kill Kal-El in Volume 1 was Tyrell. James Tyrrell (sometimes spelled Terrell) was a knight in the service of Richard III who was sent to kill the princes at the request of their uncle Richard.
So Tyrell, in my story, was sent to kill what one might consider the last surviving prince of Krypton, which raises the question: If he's Tyrrell, then who's Richard?
In volume 3, we find out who Richard III is for the purposes of our narrative.
Nrama: I think most readers can guess who that might be… but let's talk about Lex Luthor. You've been showcasing Lex Luthor in the series, and there's quite a twist on him in volume 3. How would you describe your Lex and his wife Alexandra?
Straczynski: Before they met, Lex and Alexandra shared one common quality: they were always the smartest person in the room. Which is an elite but also a very lonely position to occupy. Then, one day, they discovered each other and suddenly they were no longer alone. Equals but with different specialties, they fell madly in love and got married. Now their orbit begins to intersect with Superman's trajectory, and that may not end well for them.
The other threat in volume 3 comes from our Richard III metaphor, but that requires spoilers.
Nrama: And we're avoiding those. But in a preview that was released awhile ago, readers saw Lois using a Superman symbol. What were your thoughts on adding that to the mythos?
Straczynski: Much got made of that because it was in the preview, but it's really more intended as humor than anything key to the mythos. In my initial draft, Lois even makes a derisive comment about that caped nutbar in Gotham...but DC felt it was a little too far inside, so I altered the line. (That was the only change DC requested.)
Nrama: Looking back on the three volumes, how much did the story change from what you were originally planning, and what caused those changes?
Straczynski: Aside from the note above, the only ongoing reality that I had to keep an eye on was the progress on the Man of Steel movie, which drew a bit from volume 1. I was still in the process of writing volume 3 when I heard that they were going to use Zod in the movie, and was worried about what I was doing having any overlap with that film.
Finally DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio said to just write what I wanted to write and not worry about the movie. So in the end, it looked like it might have to bend, then finally arced back to what I had in mind in the first place.
Nrama: Is Superman Earth One Volume 3 an ending for the series of books? Or will it continue?
Straczynski: It's just the end of this three-volume arc. DC has said they want me to keep doing these books as long as I want (and, presumably, as long as they continue to sell), so I suspect this won't be my last incursion into Earth One.