New Heroes, New Mission: Greg Rucka on Action Comics

Greg Rucka on Action Comics

Action Comics #876

Superman is out of Action.

And that’s just fine, as far as Action Comics writer Greg Rucka is concerned. In his and Eddy Barrows’ first issue (#875), he set up an entirely new tone and cast for the venerable DC Comics series, placing two Kryptonian heroes, Nightwing and Flamebird as the title’s leads, and giving them a mission that will keep them quite busy.

But to talk more about it...

Spoiler warnings for Action Comics #875

In his first issue, Rucka revealed Nightwing and Flamebird to be Chris Kent (from the “Last Son” storyline) and Thara Ak-Var, a childhood friend of Supergirl’s who was in Kandor. Together, the two are hunting down Kryptonian sleeper agents who have (with varying degrees of success) insinuated themselves into human culture and positions of varying power.

But how did they get to where they are, and what’s going on?

For the scoop, we spoke with Rucka.

Newsarama: First off Greg – as you’ve said, you came on to the Superman books when things were already in motion and Geoff Johns and James Robinson's plans were starting to be worked out. So where does Chris Kent reveal play in all of that? Obviously, he epitomizes the idea of “hide in plain sight” as both readers and characters in the titles have been looking for him, but was it your idea to have him be Nightwing, or was it something that was already set?

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Greg Rucka: Actually – Chris as Nightwing wasn’t in the notes that Geoff gave me originally. It came up in a conversation after that when I asked who Flamebird and Nightwing were, and he said Thara and Chris. I said, “How does that work?” and he said, “I dunno yet.”

“You don’t know yet?” I said. And Geoff said, “No.”

“Then what was the deal with the tactile telekensis?”

“That was a red herring.”

“So I have to justify that now?”

“Yep.” And then he gave me that big Geoff Johns grin.

That was when I almost turned down the offer to write Action actually.

NRAMA: Really? It was that serious for you?

GR: I didn’t see how to make it work. If I couldn’t make it work, I was going to be just slayed by readers and, well, by myself, because I would know I wasn’t doing a good job. But yeah, it made a certain amount of sense to me – it was logical, but on the flipside, the last time we saw Chris, he was six. That kid in the Nightwing costume ain’t six.

NRAMA: Was the age thing something else that Geoff handed off to you to figure out?

GR: Yeah, that was another, “You figure it out” (laughs). Honestly though, that makes it sound far more callous than it was. He had a couple of ideas, and he mentioned them, and I could see some of it working, and I asked him about a “down the road” with the character, and he said he hadn’t gotten that far yet, so I went to

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NRAMA: But with all of this uncertainty, did you have any say in the earlier appearances of Nightwing and Flamebird in the “New Krypton” storyline?

GR: Not really. If you look at the timing actually on the issues, you can see that they were really hedging their bets. If you look at those appearances, they were teaser appearances – they’re not plot appearances. That’s because they were still working things out, and weren’t sure where they were going to take it.

NRAMA: So it all falls upon you to make them work in the present, as well as explain how they got to be where they are, right?

GR: Right. I was working on the Annual that’s coming out in June today, and the original thought was that it was going to be all about Chris and Thara and that’s it. It’s going to be the backstory – you don’t need it to read Action Comics at all. It’s entirely value-added content. It’s the Caprica to Action’s Battlestar Galactica. But over time, the Annual has turned into developing Chris and Thara and play with Zod and Ursa, which is really kind fo cool. The first couple of pages of the Action Annual are all Ursa, and I kind of like that. It’s riffing off of some of what we’ve seen. It begins with a retelling of Brainiac’s attack on Kandor, which is the single, most defining moment for everyone in

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NRAMA: Right – you said at the panel in New York that everyone in Kandor, as you see it, is still feeling the effects of that abduction in some way or another…

GR: Exactly – they were attacked and abducted horribly by an alien, and then spent how many years believing that one day, they’d be able to go home again, only to discover when Argo was incorporated, oh, no – there’s no “home” anymore, and you guys are here forever, enjoy!

That’s going to mess with your head. There’s nobody in Kandor who isn’t suffering from post traumatic stress, as far as I’m concerned. They’re all suffering from it. They have to be.

One of the things I really try to do in the Annual is to go into how horrible and how horrifying it must have been to have been there that day. From the military’s side, from Zod and Ursa on the one side, to the side of the 100,000 people on the other side being taken…it’s all just a rich, rich area in which to tell stories. I just find that gives you an incredible insight into characters like Thara and Alura and Ursa, not to mention Zod. Once you start thinking about that, their motivations start to become very clear in a lot of ways.

NRAMA: As we saw in your first issue of Action, Thara and Chris’ mission is to find these Kryptonian sleeper agents. Let’s talk about them for a minute. The first one that they took out, Tor-An, was posing as an Australian media mogul – so these agents are escapees from the Phantom Zone dating back to “Last Son,” right?

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GR: Yeah, and we talk about that in the Annual. We’re positing that there’s been about 18 months between “Last Son” and “New Krypton.” Again – we’re always going to use time very loosely, because we don’t want anyone getting older – so, if you imagine about 18 months have passed since the end of “Last Son” and the start of the “New Krypton” arc – that’s about how the characters see it. So somewhere in that period, Ursa, acting on Zod’s orders, was able to seed sleepers. Those sleepers then went about establishing themselves in different ways. Carter/Tor-An took one of the more aggressive routes – he acquired a lot of money, and acquired himself a media corporation. And now he’s gone missing, and there are people who have noticed…

NRAMA: And of the remaining five sleepers that are left – Jax-Ur stands out as being…really bad.

GR: Yeah, any guy who blows up a populated moon…you need to be really careful around (laughs). But yeah, Jax-Ur is going to prove to be a problem, and he’s going to be a late find by Chris and Thara. Some of them are doing a better job than others at being sleepers, and some of them, you could say, are not going out of their way to be true “sleepers.”

Look at it this way – on one side, you’ve got Nightwing and Flamebird who are looking for the sleepers, and on the other side, you’ve got Ursa, who’s this military professional working on Zod’s orders, but she’s only got 27 people to work with in Fort Rozz when they get back into the Phantom Zone at the end of “Last Son.” She’s only got that many people, and that’s it. She knows she’s got the best of a bad lot. Of the total, she probably believes that there were about two who would be able to competently execute the mission, and the rest, we’re going to put in place and pray.

And that’s not counting the ones who never made it out of the Phantom Zone, because getting out of the Zone, as was established in “Last Son,” is not an easy thing to do – and they lost a couple people in the experimental phase.

NRAMA: Ouch.

GR: (laughs) Yeah, but the mission objectives must be achieved. But yeah, there are at least two of them who went through, and if Ursa knew what they were up to, would go through the roof, because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

NRAMA: So they’re not following the mission?

GR: Oh hell no. They’re criminals who’ve found themselves on a playground. “We’re invulnerable to their most common weapons, we can fly, and if we avoid being captured – which is easy – we can have whatever we want and do whatever we want? This is great! Let’s kill some puppies!”

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NRAMA: So when readers see these sleepers in Action as Chris and Thara find them, will we be seeing characters that are showing up for the first time, or have some of these sleepers been active in the DC Universe, albeit hiding their identity and not letting it be known that they’re Phantom Zone escapees?

GR: Hmmm…I can’t answer that. I will say that all the names but one are established names, and some of them are Silver Age names, but to define the characters with their Silver Age name will be a mistake, as these are criminals. But yeah – they’re sleepers, so they’re not only in Action. They’re hiding in other books too.

NRAMA: When Flamebrid and Nightwing captured Tor-An, how do they secure him in the Fortress?

GR: Yeah – that’s my fault, not Eddy’s on the art. I told Eddy the image I wanted, and figured it would be self-explanatory, and apparently, it hasn’t been as easy for people to understand as I hoped.

They’re basically using a piece of Brainiac tech that they’ve adapted, and have created a micro prison, just like Kandor was in a micro bottle. Put the guy into the prison, and then you can carry your prison around with you. So when they get back to the Fortress of Solitude…

NRAMA: They shake him out of the bottle like an ant?

GR: (laughs) Yeah, that’s basically it. There’s that panel there where you see Thara putting him into the prison, which is essentially a teeny, tiny little version of the Fortress of Solitude. And he’s in there with maybe two dozen Superman robots that are saying, “Don’t do that” every time he makes even the slightest move that could be considered as trying to escape or threaten them. So Tor-An’s not a really happy guy. But that won’t be bothering him much longer.

NRAMA: Getting back to the larger mission of Chris and Thara as a whole. The fact that they have this mission implies that they knew of these sleeper agents, and perhaps even that someone gave them the mission to do it, even though it’s at their great risk…it’s been implied that Chris knows about the sleepers…

GR: Uh…yeah. Kinda, but yeah.

NRAMA: That image in the issue of Action, of Ursa looking at images of Chris and Thara – is that involved in it some way?

GR: Well, I should explain that she’s looking at two pictures at the same time, not at one, which would imply that Thara had something to do with the torture of Chris. The scene with Chris is something that will be shown in the Annual, and the picture of Thara was from Kandor before it went full-size.

As for who they are working for, and how they knew about sleeper agents – again, it’s in June’s Annual. They clearly aren’t working for Alura, because if they were, why would she tell Zod that Thara is still on earth?

But really, there’s no need to be coy – they’re working for themselves. How they found out, how they began working together, and why they feel the need to do this, in this way, with these identities will become very clear.

NRAMA: And headed toward the next issue which hits next week – it’s the big fight when Ursa tries to stop them?

GR: Yep – issue #2, the big showdown, and nothing for issue #3 (laughs). It’s a lot of riding along inside Ursa’s head as she hands out a whole lot of hurt, and you get to see of just how dangerous she is.

NRAMA: And being inside her head – is she relatable at all?

GR: I think you get great insight into her motivation. As to how she became motivated like that, again – it’s the value added content in the Annual. But come on – she’s Ursa. For me, the definitive Ursa is still in Superman II – what else is there to draw on? Of all three of the Phantom Zone villains, she was the one who was the most actively sadistic.

NRAMA: Right, right – Geoff’s always explained it that way, that Zod is disciplined and controlled…

GR: He’s clinical. He’s a general. He gets the battle plan, he gets the data, he analyzes and operates based on his conclusions. Ursa’s the one who gets the job done, and does it exceptionally well. But remember – go back and look at the backstory, and what we know about the canon: we know that Ursa, Zod, and Non tried to overthrow the Council in order to save the planet. We know that Ursa was clearly with Zod in attempting to defend Kandor. Neither of those are things that you do if you’re a wacked out crazy sadist. Somehting happened. Whether that’s being condemned to the Phantom Zone not once, but twice after you were doing what you felt what was, in all sincerity, what was necessary in order to save your people, or something else… I mean, do you think, after Zod and Ursa were sent into the Phantom Zone that they were able to watch the destruction of Krypton and just think, “We told you so,” or that they watched it with a deep anguish that I don’t think anyone can really understand?

Zod is a bad guy – don’t get me wrong, but not in his eyes. By the same token, Ursa was clearly at one point a hell of an officer, and clearly an officer that Zod could turn to and she would say, “Yes, I’ll get it accomplished,” and not in a “Mwahahaha” way. She did the job.

Something that you get to see in the Annual is that you get to see the Unit – Black Zero, and you get to see her as Black Zero’s leader, and you get to see what happened to Black Zero when Brainiac came a’callin. That kind of messed with Ursa’s head – they were the best of the best, and Brainiac waded through them like they were tissue.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up Greg – hearing you describe Action and what’s coming up…it’s pretty clear that this series has become something that’s right in your wheelhouse, that is, an ensemble book with characters that are grey and rich in their complexity…

GR: Oh, I’m loving it. We didn’t even get to Lois’ role in it, or that General Lane’s going to be a player, or the new character who’s going to show up in #877 that James, Sterling, and I created by committee and are having way too much fun with.

The book is about Chris and Thata and it follows them primarily, but nobody is in it just to fill a seat. There’s a character who was introduced in the first issue named Lieutenant Hollister, and he’s got his own thing too. It’s funny – I’ve been spending an awful lot of time writing military – I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 months working on military characters or stories of one sort or another. It’s an interesting opportunity to see how each of them view what they do and how they approach it.

Thara is Military Guild, but I’ll give a spoiler for #876 – she gets hit where it hurts by Ursa: Thara was young enough to be best friends with Kara when Argo was taken into Kandor. Guess what, you don’t see a whole lot of active duty between then and now. So how do you end up as head of security for Alura and Zor? And incidentally, where was the head of security when Reactron killed Zor? If she’d been doing her job and was there, Zor-El might not have died. And if I was Kara, I’d be kind of ticked about that.

But yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these characters and their world, and I’m really digging telling their stories.

Action Comics #876 is due in stores next week.

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