As Superman kicks off a new storyline this week from writer Gene Luen Yang and artist John Romita Jr., the character gets a new edge to this personality — a "roguishness" — as he goes up against the Information Age and the public outing of his secret identity.
Part of the "Truth" stories that are tying all the Superman books together this summer, Superman will tell the story of what led Lois Lane to publish the name of Superman's secret identity, exposing Clark Kent to the judgment of the whole world.
An award-winning writer and DC newcomer, Yang is taking over Superman after the departure of Geoff Johns, who (along with Romita) gave Superman a new power that, after he used it, left him depleted of his power. As a result, Superman is almost human — able to be injured and unable to fly.
Romita wrote and drew the last issue of Superman (April's #40), and he told Newsarama that the character's loss of powers allows creators to explore his humanity, while also giving the character a new look and haircut.
But at the end of #40, after Superman was shown on television bleeding, Lois noticed that Clark Kent was injured in the same place. Romita made it clear that Lois Lane had figured out Clark's secret.
As DC is preparing to release Superman #41 next Wednesday and tell the story of how Lois made her decision to publish Clark's name, Newsarama talked to Yang and Romita about their goals for their upcoming run, how they're exploring Lois and Clark's relationship, and what readers can expect from the Superman title.
Newsarama: Gene, we've read a few issues of the "Truth" storyline, and we know that Superman's identity has been outed, but what themes are you exploring in your Superman issues?
Gene Luen Yang: Superman is such an old character. He's an old character with this huge legacy behind him. And one of the awesome things about the fact that he's been around for these decades is that he's gone through these different phases.
The Superman that I think a lot of the public is conscious of is not the only Superman that's been out there.
So what we wanted was, we wanted to find pieces of his past and reflect those pieces through a much more modern storyline.
The one thing that I wanted to play with was this idea that he is the "Man of Tomorrow." So when he was created, when they first gave him that moniker, he really was an embodiment of that time period's conception of what the future was. Back then, the future was thought of in terms of physical ability — speed and strength and that sort of thing. Right? And that's what he embodied.
But nowadays, when we think of the future, we think more in terms of information. We think about how information flows freely.
So how does the "Man of Tomorrow" deal with today's information technology?
A huge piece of who he is is that he has this secret identity. The idea of a secret identity is contained information. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to keep information contained. So how is he going to deal with that?
Nrama: John, we've talked a little bit about the new power that Superman has, and how it led up to this. But now we're going to get the story of why Lois Lane told the world about Superman's secret identity. How would you describe what you're getting to draw as you show her decision-making process, and how are you visually portraying the strained relationship between Clark and Lois?
John Romita Jr.: That's a great question. You're alluding to what I was thinking, because I've actually been trying to make it a little bit cold between the two of them. Women that I know — especially my wife — would not be just fumbling all over themselves because of this guy, especially with the history of the character in the New 52. I don't think she should be in any way enamored with him.
But she's doing her job. This is what her job is. A strong-willed reporter of any gender would be doing this to better their career. And that's what it should be. I don't think she should just fawn all over him and say, "Oh! I'll protect your identity!" That's ridiculous.
To me, there should be a chill between the two of them. And we're approaching that in an upcoming issue. There's a conversation between the two of them, that I'm working on — Gene, as I speak, I'm working on that panel — and there's got to be a little bit of this coolness from her.
And I think that's the way the relationship should be at this point.
And [visually], he should be beaten up emotionally in this too.
Nrama: Gene, I assume though, that this is not that easy of a decision for Lois. Are you telling the story of what leads to her making the decision to reveal Clark's identity?
Yang: We are. That's a part of the current storyline. So if folks want to know, they have to read the book.
What I'll say is this — it's a big deal. Right? It's a big deal to reveal your friend's deepest truth, your friend's deepest secret. And for all of us, when we do these big things, there's a complexity of motivation that comes behind that decision. So we're hoping to bring that complexity out within the storyline.
We're hoping that it will be both surprising and satisfying when it comes out.
But if readers want to know what Lois is thinking, and why she did what she did, they'll have to check out the book.
Nrama: Is there any other specific threat in your issues? Or some overall threat that's hitting all the Superman books during "Truth"?
Yang: There are four books under the Superman group. We've all gotten together, and we want the books to interlock with one another. And we're hoping to introduce a lot of awesome new characters — both friends and foes.
I know that's really vague, but it's kind of an answer. [Laughs.]
Nrama: What I'm hearing is new characters, new threats, spread over four books, but not anyone you can talk about yet.
Yang: Yeah, that might be a better way of putting it.
Nrama: Is Mr. Oz, the figure who showed up in the last Superman storyline, going to show up in your book? Is that a thread you're picking up?
Yang: The Mr. Oz story, I think, will be picked up in another book by Geoff.
Nrama: Gene, you're one of several writers that DC is utilizing in June who are more well known for being indie comic writers — or at least, outside the superhero realm. Are you putting your own stamp on Superman? Can you describe why you want to bring to the world of Superman?
Yang: When I work on my own stuff — and I think this is true for anybody — but when you work on something that you just completely own, you are trying to stay as true to your own storytelling voice as you can.
When you work on a pre-existing character, when you end up getting invited to be part of a legacy character like Superman, I don't feel like it would be true to the character if all I did was go in looking to express my own voice.
What I really want is to find that overlap — that overlap between who Superman is and my own voice. And I want to work within that overlap. So I think that's my approach.
To prepare for the project, I went and I read a bunch of old Superman comics. I wanted to find pieces of who he was that resonated with me. And those are the pieces that I'm using as my launching point.
Nrama: What comics stuck out for you as you went back and read?
Yang: The old, old stuff, like his first appearances. There is kind of a roguishness to him. I think Grant Morrison tapped into it in his run in those early Action Comics, after New 52 debuted. But there's a certain brashness to him, like a cockiness and a desperation, in those early, early stories from the 1930s and '40s.
And I was really intrigued by that. I'm hoping to move things in that direction. I'm hoping that we will.
Nrama: John, we've seen a little bit of how you draw him in his jeans and T-shirts and cape wrapped around his fist. And his new haircut. You described the relationship between Lois and Clark, but will we see a new Superman, as far as the way you're drawing him? Is he a little more roguish, like Gene was saying?
Romita: I think there's a difference to him, his personality. That was the idea from the get-go, of the new power. It's not just a manifest visual, it changes him personally. So that's part of this. It's all attached.
I embrace that. I jokingly said once, when somebody asked me my opinion of Clark Kent, I said, he's boring. He's dull. We've got to put him in Brooklyn and give him a personality. And I was joking around. And they took it to heart and they tried to make differences in him. And I embrace that. I think it's great.
I like that it even lets him have a couple sips of light beer and get drunk.
But yeah, I embrace the change, and it definitely changes Clark's personality. And I look forward to that.
Nrama: Then Gene, to finish up, what do you want to tell potential readers about the book?
Yang: I think Superman has an appeal in and of himself. That's why he's such an enduring character.
What we want to do is take that appeal and explore what it means to be Superman in the modern world. So we're hoping for something that's both — that's true to his legacy and that's fresh and new. So if you're into either of those things, if you like old things or new things, I'm hoping that you'll give the book a try.