Action Comics is getting a new writer in June, just in time for DC's big summer event, War of the Supermen.
The series' new writer is Marc Guggenheim, who's been on Amazing Spider-Man most recently, although most DC readers probably know him for his run on The Flash. Guggenheim is also part of the writing team that scripted the upcoming Green Lantern film and has written for television on series like FlashForward and Eli Stone.
Beginning in June, the writer will begin his run on Action Comics with a five-issue story that ties into War of Supermen, which will be its own mini-series event book. After those five months, Clark Kent's new status quo will be established, and Guggenheim will continue as the ongoing writer for Action..
We talked to Guggenheim about taking over the title and got to talk to him about how the challenge of writing Superman relates to the difficulties in writing Captain America. And along the way, we found out the writer hopes to not only introduce some new villains into Superman's world – but maybe re-introduce some of the old, lesser-known villains with a new take.
Newsarama: Marc, in your comic book career, you've already written both Spider-Man and Superman. That's got to feel pretty good.
Marc Guggenheim: Yeah, it's weird. I've been doing this for, I guess, about five years now, writing comics. I've written a little over 100 comics. But it all still feels incredibly new to me. And I still feel very inexperienced, and the notion that, with my level of experience, I could actually get to write two of the big boys is humbling.
Nrama: You're getting to join the Superman team during the War of the Supermen?
Guggenheim: Yes, that's correct. And it's very exciting because I'll be coming into Action in June, which will be the first month of War of the Supermen. So I'll be doing a five-part tie-in to start. And then War of Supermen will be over, and I'll be left to my own devices.
Nrama: Since you're coming on board with War of the Supermen, are you coordinating already with the Superman team?
Guggenheim: Oh yeah. My first act, once I took the gig, was I flew to New York for the Super-Summit, where we broke out the broad strokes of the event itself. So I got to be involved in the breaking of War of the Supermen. And I've been involved in the weekly conference calls that the weekly Super-writers do. So I'm already neck deep in it.
It's really nice to have this much lead-in, actually. I accepted the offer about a month-and-a-half ago, going on two months now, but my first issue won't hit the stands until June. So I even have a little chunk of time before I have to write my first script. It's nice to have the time to think about the book in just abstract terms before having to sit down and immediately turn around the script. Usually, you take on a book and it's like, OK, script due in two weeks. Whereas here, I've got a nice chunk of time to really think about the character and research and catch up on old Superman comics and immerse myself in the character. That's a luxury you don't usually get with a monthly gig, but that I'm really happy to have.
Nrama: When you take over Superman, he's in a little different place, isn't he?
Guggenheim: Yeah, and one of the fun things for me to do is to explore the ramifications of the whole World of Krypton/War of the Supermen storyline. That's the thing. It's been a very epic storyline in terms of its scope and its length and its ambitions by the time I get onto the book. So I get to play around with that.
My goal is to approach the book with a new-reader-friendly philosophy, because that's how I believe all books should be approached. So you won't have had to have read all the different issues of Action or the other Superman titles leading up to my run. And I know we've taken pains to craft War of the Supermen to also be new-reader-friendly. It's starting off with a Free Comic Book Day issue. It would be foolhardy to expect that every reader coming to it would be familiar with New Krypton and everything. I'm trying to approach things from a ground zero/square one level. All you need to know is that he's a visitor from another planet with powers far beyond those of mortal men, and take it from there.
Nrama: After the five issues that tie into War of the Supermen, you'll have a chance to establish Superman and what your take on the character is going to be. Can you tell us anything about what type of stories you're hoping to write at that point, post-War of the Supermen?
Guggenheim: You know, I've realized there's almost no way to answer that question without spoiling the end of War of the Supermen.
The one thing I can say is that I really do want to take a back-to-the-basics approach to the character and tell really good, solid Superman stories. I don't want to just come in and upset the apple cart and put a different Superman in the costume or something. For me, it's all about trying to tell stories that really get at the essence of who Superman is, and what makes that character fun.
Nrama: Which of Superman's villains are you hoping to get your hands on?
Guggenheim: In the case of Superman, I find his rogue’s gallery a little anemic. Lex Luthor is a great character. He's terrific. But he's almost been such a regular presence in the Superman universe that he's practically a supporting character. In TV terms, he's a series regular.
Brainiac, I'll just say that by the time my Action run starts, it will be time to take Brainiac off the table for a while. He'll have done so much.
Then there's Metallo, and he falls into the same category, because we will also have seen plenty of him.
You start to go down the list, and you realize a lot of the villains are in the category of, OK, we've really seen a lot of them in the last year, so it's time to put them into the box for a bit. Or they fall into the category of, like, Mxyzptlk, who is a great character and a really interesting concept, but just isn't where I want to go with the book, at least initially.
So sort of by process of elimination, I've been thinking of creating some new villains. Not exclusively, but playing around with introducing some new people into his rogues gallery, and sort of re-introducing some of his old villains and give a new take on them.
Nrama: We've seen a lot of development lately of the supporting cast in the Superman world. Are there any characters you'll be paying particular attention to during your run? Or any new characters you're looking to add to the supporting cast?
Guggenheim: I'm not planning on adding anyone, at least initially. Superman's already got a pretty well-rounded supporting cast. I really appreciate with James Robinson, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka and Sterling Gates and Eric Trautmann have done, particularly at the Daily Planet, with the characters. They've assembled a nice dream team of characters from various different eras of the Daily Planet and Superman.
Again, I'm trying to come into the Superman books as a very polite guest. I'm not saying a guest who isn't staying long. But certainly someone who isn't going to jump right in and start kicking things over. So I just want to play with the pieces that are in place.
Nrama: Were you a Superman fan growing up?
Guggenheim: Oh yeah. There were a lot of different runs that stick out in my mind. I was a huge fan of the work Marv Wolfman did in the pages of Action Comics. I have a great, enormous affection for John Byrne's run. I love the depiction of Superman in the second Superman/Spider-Man crossover.
Nrama: Why that story?
Guggenheim: I think the reason I enjoyed it was more the depiction of Clark Kent than it was Superman. Clark Kent gave a little bit back to Steve Lombard. I enjoyed him showing a little bit of a spine there. I think in many ways it was the precursor to how Clark Kent became depicted in the era of John Byrne and beyond. He wasn't as slap-sticky. Just a little bit more of someone who could stand up for himself.
And I've always really enjoyed the Superman just going back to before I could read. One of my earliest memories was flipping through a copy of, I believe, it was Action Comics. It was at least a Superman comic. It was on the floor of my room before I could read, just flipping through, looking at the pictures.
So I'm a very long-time Superman fan.
Nrama: You mention Superman seeming less slap-sticky. One of the things fans cite a lot, particularly Marvel fans, is that they can't identify with Superman because he's this hero who's looked up to as a perfect icon. You hear even creators saying the Marvel heroes are so much more down-to-earth, citing Superman as an example. How do you approach that challenge of making Clark Kent and Superman a character that people can identify with?
Guggenheim: In all honesty, that's the challenge. That's the question. But I don't think it's a Marvel/DC divide. I always viewed the challenge of writing Superman the same as writing Captain America. It's not so much that DC's characters are less ground level than Marvel's. I mean, you don't get more ground-level than Batman. But the nature of Superman is that he's the guy that everyone looks up to, the same way as, in the Marvel universe, everyone looks up to Cap.
When you have a character that even the heroes worship, it's kind of tricky to show that character as flawed and fragile and having qualities that make them vulnerable. I think the challenge is to get into Superman's head and make him a character who you feel for, and you see things through his eyes, without making it some kind of psychological or post-modern analysis and examination of the character.
I think one of the things Ed Brubaker did so well with Cap, before he killed him [laughs], was he allowed the reader to get into Steve Rogers' head a bit. And this icon became more accessible. And I think that was, in large part, a good chunk of the initial success of the book.
Nrama: When you say that you want to get back to classic Superman stories, do you also have a goal of getting into his head similar to what we saw in Cap?
Guggenheim: Uh... cue up the Internet. [laughs] "Guggenheim's going to try to out-Brubaker Brubaker on Captain America?!!" Ah! Like I don't have enough problems.
No, my goal is to approach Superman as any other character. You know? Obviously, I'm treating the character with respect. I've been given the keys to the car. I don't want to put dents in it. But my goal is to try to, as I write him, take him down off the pedestal so I can write him like a regular character, so you can relate to him like a regular character.
One of the things I would love to do is write some scenes between Clark and Lois as a married couple. I don't think we've seen enough of that in all the years they've been married. And just explore that relationship. That's one of the great love affairs of comics. And I really want to play around with that.
Nrama: So the marriage is safe?
Guggenheim: [laughs] There's this rumor spreading that my first Action arc is that Superman makes a deal with the devil and undoes the marriage. That's not true.
Nrama: And for the record, you didn't do that to Spider-Man either.
Guggenheim: And in all honesty, there's a huge difference between Superman and Spider-Man, especially in this regard. I've said a lot of times that I started out really agnostic on the whole Spider-Man marriage issue. But when I was writing him, he was just a much better character when he was single. Peter Parker is different from Clark Kent, though. And I'll probably get into trouble for saying this, but I like an unmarried Spider-Man. But my instinct with Superman is the opposite.
When my run is done on the book, if people said, wow, he really injected a lot of life into that relationship with Lois Lane and spent a lot of time with the ins and outs of that marriage and what it was like, I'd consider my job very well done.