While Superman fans may have been shocked by the news that star writer J. Michael Straczynski was leaving the character's flagship title, nobody was more surprised than writer Chris Roberson.
Of course, that's because he was asked to take over writing the series.
Roberson is jumping right into the big league of superheroes thanks to the unexpected departure of Straczynski, who announced a one-to-five year sabbatical from monthly comics. Straczynski, known as "JMS," will leave his highly publicized runs on both Superman and Wonder Woman as he concentrates instead on writing the sequel to his hugely successful DC book, Superman: Earth One.
DC readers may not be familiar with Roberson's writing, but he's a rising star in the Vertigo and indy worlds, breaking into comics after previously establishing himself as a science fiction novelist. Thanks to a friendship with Fables writer Bill Willingham, Roberson wrote the tie-in mini-series Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, which was so popular with fans that Vertigo gave him another comic for the character, next year's Cinderella: Fables are Forever.
Then earlier this year, Vertigo launched Roberson's series iZombie, and the sales figures have made it one of this year's success stories. After landing a few projects at Boom! Studios and an upcoming two-issue Superman/Batman story, Roberson's now jumping feet-first into the DCU as writer on Superman.
How did Roberson get the gig? And how will he approach writing Superman after JMS leaves? Newsarama asked.
Newsarama: Chris, I know we talked in detail about the story you did for Superman/Batman that's coming out now. Did the opportunity to write Superman spin out of your work on Superman/Batman?
Chris Roberson: It did indeed. Matt Idelson and Wil Moss, the editors on the Superman titles, had offered me the chance to do a fill-in for Superman/Batman a couple of months ago, and I jumped at the opportunity. They apparently liked my first script enough that, when it came time to find a replacement for JMS, they gave me a call.
Nrama: How did you hear about the opportunity to work on Superman, and what did you think of it? And why were you attracted to it?
Roberson: It was October 22, 2010, a date I’ll remember for a long, long time. Matt and Wil gave me a call, and asked if I would be interested in taking over Superman from JMS with Issue #707. As a Superman fanatic since I was six years old, I didn’t have to think about it for a single second, but immediately took the job.
Nrama: This is quite a change from the Vertigo and Boom! titles where we've seen your work, and most Fables fans don't think of you as a superhero guy. It sounds like you're actually a closet Superman fan?
Roberson: Readers of my novels and of my work for Vertigo and Boom! Studios might not be able to figure out my leanings, but anyone who visits my blog or reads my Twitter feed or meets me in person will realize right away that I am a huge superhero fan, and a fanatic about Superman in particular. Superman has been my favorite character since I was six years old, and I have more comics featuring Superman than any other single character.
Nrama: Had you been reading Straczynski's Superman? What did you think of it?
Roberson: I’d been following “Grounded” since the beginning, and right away I realized that it shared the same central idea as one of my favorite Superman stories of all time: Elliot S. Maggin’s “Must There Be A Superman.” The question of what Superman’s role in society should be has always been a crucial one, and is itself a reflection of a problem that religions have always struggled with: “If there is a merciful god, why is there suffering?” And it makes perfect sense that it is a question that Superman would be asking himself, in the wake of his father’s death and the destruction of New Krypton.
Nrama: What is it about your skill set that you think made DC want you for this project?
Roberson: I have no idea! You’d have to ask the "powers that be" at DC. I’m just glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to put my encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU to good use! I can finally justify the countless thousands of hours I’ve spent reading DC comics as “research.”
Nrama: Have you viewed notes from JMS yet? How do you plan to utilize that guidance? How restrictive is it?
Roberson: When I signed onto the book, Matt and Wil sent me JMS’ outline for the remainder of “Grounded." It maps out the places that Superman will visit on his cross-country journey, and in terms of story, spells out a very definite end-point that he needs to reach. But along the way, there’s lots of room for side-trips and improvisation.
Nrama: How do you hope to approach Superman's character?
Roberson: I hope to do the best job I can! Seriously, Superman is the archetype. He is the superhero. And I honestly view the job of writing the flagship Superman title as a sacred trust.
Nrama: What's Superman's status as you start your run? Where is he as a character and how has he grown — and what are his next steps as a character?
Roberson: At this point in the “Grounded” storyline, Superman has pretty much completely lost faith in the things he’s always stood for: Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Physically, he’s just as powerful as he’s always been, but after the death of his adoptive father and the destruction of New Krypton, he’s an emotional wreck.
The way I see it, what he’s really doing in this walk across America is revisiting the kinds of places where he had his earliest formative experiences, and trying to answer one crucial question: “Must there be a Superman?”
Nrama: Wil your run extend beyond the initial story arc planned by JMS?
Roberson: That’s for the "powers that be" at DC to decide. For the moment, I’m just delighted to be writing this story.