As Superman nears the end of his journey across America, he's been walking the last half of the trek with writer Chris Roberson.
The Superman title has the hero "Grounded," literally walking across America as he tries to get in touch with America while also struggling with his own depression after the loss of his father and other family on New Krypton. Roberson has also introduced the possibility that Superman's emotions may be under outside control as well.
And according to Roberson, the hero will come out of his funk soon, and readers will get to explore how he emerges.
For Roberson it's been a dream come true, getting to write not only Superman, but many of the other heroes of the DCU who have been encountering the hero on his journey in the storyline "Grounded."
Roberson, who's best known for his work on the Fables character Cinderella and Superman/Batman, took over the Superman series with issue #707, working with artist Eddy Barrows. He inherited the "Grounded" storyline after J. Michael Straczynski began it last summer, but left before it was finished.
Last week, Newsarama talked with writer Phil Hester about Wonder Woman as that series heads toward the conclusion of its "Odyssey" story, which was also left unfinished by JMS.
Today, we turn our attention to Roberson's work on Superman.
Newsarama: Chris, what's it been like for you to take over Superman and work within the framework of what JMS had already set up? And how much of what we read is your scripting?
Roberson: When I signed onto Superman, editors Matt Idelson and Wil Moss gave me a rough outline that JMS had turned in for the remaining issues of the "Grounded" arc, which amounted to a couple of sentences for each issue, spelling out in general terms where the issue would take place geographically, specific guest stars, things like that. But I was given a lot of latitude to add in new subplots, cameo appearances, flashbacks, and the like. And some of what was included in that outline had to be changed because of developments in other titles, and in some cases I was able to substitute other plot points or guest stars, since what was originally planned was no longer possible.Elements like the Superman Squad and the Fortress of Solidarity, the flashbacks with teenaged Lex and Bruce Wayne, the appearance of Livewire and Super-Chief and others, have all been things that I was able to add in as the scripts were being developed.
Nrama: Those have been some fan-favorite moments. How has the experience been for you as a fan and as a writer, getting to work not only on Superman, but other heroes of the DCU?
Roberson: The experience has been fantastic, and not least of which because editors Idelson and Moss have been such a dream to work with. As much as I enjoy working with my editor Shelly Bond at Vertigo and editors Matt Gagnon and Bryce Carlson at BOOM! Studios, the editorial relationship I have with Matt and Wil may be the most purely collaborative of any I’ve had so far. They’ve just got such a terrific eye for both the broad strokes and the telling detail, and their changes always make for a better story.
But getting to write for Superman? As a committed Superman fanatic since the age of six, it literally has been a dream come true.
Nrama: You introduced the possibility that there are outside influences on Superman's well-being. Can you give us any kind of hint about whether that's a possibility? Will we see any follow up to that?
Roberson: There is an outside force acting on him, but it isn’t manipulating him, as such. The doubt and uncertainty that Superman is wrestling with stems from his depression (caused by his grief over the loss of Jonathan Kent and the destruction of New Krypton), and is entirely internal. What’s happening, though, is that an outside force is reinforcing that doubt, in the attempt to cause Superman to remain in that state of uncertainty. By the time “Grounded” wraps up, we’ll find out why Superman is coming under that attack.
Nrama: As Superman has traversed the nation, what do you think he's learned about himself and the world that maybe he didn't understand before?
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: As a Superman fan, it's difficult to see him depressed. Is it difficult for you as a writer to write him that way? Will there be relief for all of us soon?
Roberson: It is difficult for me, certainly, both as a reader and as a writer. But at the same time, it’s understandable that the character would be going through this, given what he’s experienced in the last few years. But starting with #709 and going forward, we’ll be seeing Superman coming to terms with the losses he’s suffered, and getting over his depression sooner rather than later.
Nrama: You get to write Batman in Issue #710. Can you tell us anything about what we'll learn in that issue?
Roberson: Batman comes to find Superman in the middle of Utah, and they reminisce about the time they teamed up to save a mountain village in Bhutran from the forces of Vandal Savage, who was convinced that the natives knew the way to Nanda Parbat. This was before either of them had taken up their costumed identities, though, and so we get to see a teenaged Clark and Bruce who were just starting to come into focus, and we’ll discover what they learned from each other.
Nrama: What's coming up in May in Superman as he heads to Las Vegas?
Roberson: Livewire. Livewire blowing stuff up. And more Livewire.Oh, and Jimmy Olsen uses some science to help save the day.
Nrama: Did you create Sharif, the character in June's Superman #712? What can you tell us about him?
Roberson: I didn’t create Sharif so much as I salvaged him from the back issue bins. The defender of Los Angeles is a character who appeared as a teenager in the pages of the Superman titles back in the early '90s (and drawn by none other than Curt Swan, as it happens!), but we’re meeting him here a few years later, when he’s taken on a new costumed identity in his new hometown.
Like Superman, Sharif is a character with powers and abilities far beyond those of normal folks, who came to this country as a child and grew up dedicating himself to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But the fact that he comes not from an alien world but from another country here on Earth complicates matters for him, and he quickly learns that some people have a different idea of what “The American Way” is all about.
Nrama: What has Eddy Barrows brought to the title as you two have worked together on Superman?
Roberson: Oh my gosh, I have always like Eddy’s work, but seriously I don’t think his stuff has ever looked better than it does in these most recent issues. It’s like Eddy has leveled up or something, and every month I get to see my silly little ideas turned into these awesome images under his pen. It really is one of the high points of the assignment, getting to see new pages from Eddy in my inbox once a month.
Nrama: As we head toward the summer, is there anything you can tell us about what's coming for Superman? And are you staying on the title after "Grounded" comes to a conclusion?
Roberson: Superman reaches the end of his journey, both geographically and psychologically. He gets a chance to make things right with Lois (but does he?). We find out why a schoolteacher from Ohio has been dogging his heels halfway across the country, and why she’s so dead-set on him remaining mired in depression and doubt. And there will be a few more surprises along the way.
As for what happens after "Grounded" wraps up, I’m afraid that answer is above my pay grade! That’s up to "The Powers That Be." But I’d happily keep writing Superman for as long as they’ll let me.
Nrama: Will we see more work from you elsewhere at DC?
Roberson: Nothing else is lined up beyond the end of "Grounded," but I’d love to keep playing around in the DCU!
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Superman?
Roberson: I think the character of Superman may be the greatest fictional creation of modern times, and working on the book is for me a sacred trust. I’m just doing my best not to disappoint!