When DC gave Neal Adams the chance to write and draw a new Superman story, he was offered what he calls "a box of toys" to play with for six issues.
Superman: Coming of the Supermen is a classic take on characters like Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, as well as the New Gods. The title also features a focus on the Middle East and a young Arab Muslim who befriends Superman.
Last time we talked with Adams about the upcoming story, he teased that his next project might be either Kamandi or Deadman. But with his Superman story starting this week, Newsarama talked to the legendary writer/artist once again about his take on Kal-El, who the "Supermen" are, and why he decided to spotlight the Middle East.
Newsarama: Neal, we've talked a little about this story in the past. The "Supermen" are actually from a new version of Krypton on the other side of the solar system, right?
Neal Adams: Yeah, if you go on the internet — and if you've read any of the awful stuff from the '50s — there's this belief that there's a planet on the other side of the sun, but it's so much on the opposite side of the sun that we can't see it because we have to look through the sun. And there are people who take it very seriously. There are conspiracy theories and all kinds of stuff.
I just took the idea and put it into this a fictional story, applying it to Superman. This is close enough and far enough away to be a perfect place for New Krypton to be settled.
It's also a good place for Apokolips to be settled, which underneath it all is really the theme of the story.
Nrama: Interesting. You also spend a lot of time in the Middle East. I don't want to spoil the ending of the issue…
Adams: Oh spoil it. Go ahead. Who care?
Nrama: Well, let's just say there's some time travel involving the Middle East. And there's also this boy in that region who Superman meets and befriends. You told me the last time we talked that he was an "Arab Muslim." Were you interested in that area of the country specifically, involving that part of the Earth in this story that is otherwise so big and other-worldly?
Adams: Right near the end of the Iraqi war, I did a cover that had Superman blocking a bomb blast in front of a little boy and his dog. And I handed it in. There was a different editorial at DC Comics. And although they liked it and they were very flexible and nice about it, they said, hmmmm… no, that won't do right now.
And I thought, you know what? One day, I would like to do that as a scene.
I think it's important. I think in the middle of all the things that we're doing nowadays, that are going on in the world, that we have to show that America's bigger than that. Yes, we don't accept terrorists or all the rest of that, but human beings are human beings.
And I think somebody has to take the first step. I don't want to put that on myself, because I think there are lots of people doing that.
So it's a part of this story because I had done that cover so long ago and it got put aside. So now it's kind of come back. And I want people to know that Neal is out there still thinking of them, about everybody.
That said, that kid has a little bit more to do with the story later on than just the Middle East.
And that little dog has a lot to do with the story as well.
Nrama: Wow. The little boy's dog too?
Adams: I plant things everywhere. There's stuff planted for five years of Superman comic books even in that first issue.
Nrama: You're playing with several toys from the DC Universe, particularly Lex Luthor and the New Gods and Darkseid and Kalibak…
Adams: I'm playing with Jack Kirby's stuff!
Nrama: Yeah you are.
Adams: I'm playing with Jack's stuff! You know, I'm not fooling around.
I am such a Jack Kirby fan. And I'm not a Jack Kirby fan because I love the way he drew, or whatever it is that people think. I love Jack Kirby's mind. He can come from Marvel, and after having created the Marvel universe, come to DC Comics and create all of that New World stuff that we have just barely scratched the surface of.
I mean, you remember watching the Smallville show, and right near the end, Granny Goodness shows up. And you go, "Oh my God they're going to do Darkseid! And they're going to do all those characters!" And then the show ends.
And you're like, "Oh no! Really? You give us Granny Goodness to whet our appetite and then everything's gone?"
And then I watch the Man of Steel movie and Zod gets recycled. Zod! "OK, I'm sorry — I've already seen Zod. I want to see Darkseid! I want to see Orion! I want to see all that stuff."
So this is a call-out to the guys who are making the films and all the rest of it — let's get into that stuff! I mean, this stuff is the greatest stuff in the world.
I did this partially to remind everybody that, in my six issues, this is also the Jack Kirby universe, and c'mon! Get on board! I've got Steppenwolf and I've got Mr. Miracle. And I've got Big Barda. And I've got Granny Goodness.
You kind of have to imagine the kid and Granny Goodness.
Oops, I think I gave something away there.
Nrama: Well, you said the kid was an important part of the story.
Adams: Yes, yes.
But really, all I"m saying is all that stuff is there for everybody to play with — and not change, but do what Jack Kirby did. You can draw it better, but you don't change it. You make it what Jack did, and its great stuff.
Nrama: All these villains are a lot for Superman to deal with in this story, but he's got help. And it's these three Kryptonians who have come to Earth.
Adams: Yes, they're here to be his replacement while he goes off and helps New Krypton.
Let me just say this — I don't know if you're a movie buff. Do you remember Gunga Din?
Adams: And do you remember those three sergeants played by Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen, I beleve it is.
Nrama: Yes, and you're putting Superman uniforms on them.
Adams: That's right! Exactly right! That's who they are. The big tough guy and the good looking guy. I mean, that's them. I can go ahead and try to create those characters, but why should I do it? It's so implanted in my memory. I love those characters from that movie.
And so that's my three Supermen.
And underneath it all, you have Luthor, who seems at the beginning like a victim. But Luthor, as you know, is never a victim.
Nrama: So is Kal-El heroic to the people of New Krypton?
Adams: Yeah, Kal-El is heroic. Half of them are related to him. That El family is a pretty good family. I goes back to — what does it go back to? Hmmm. Oh, did I just leave a little clue.
Nrama: Well are we going to see New Krypton? It's not in the first issue, but you're implying that Superman will go there while these three new Supermen fill in. Are you getting to play with Krytponian technology?
Adams: That's right. And Apokoliptian technology, if you'll excuse the phrase. I get to play with it all. It's like handing me a box of toys, and I get to play for six issues. I get to do all of that stuff.