In April, DC Comics writer J.T. Krul gets to write Superman in a whole new way.
Superman Beyond, which will be drawn by Howard Porter, is a new ongoing series aimed at both digital and print audiences. The stories will debut as shorter digital comics, but then will also be printed as part of the monthly Batman Beyond Unlimited series released to comic stores.
The characters in the Batman Beyond universe were first introduced as part of an animated TV show set in the future of the DC Universe. Batman had aged to an old man, and many of the characters familiar to DC fans had been replaced by new, younger heroes, but in a future version of the familiar DC. Among them was the older animated version of Superman.
The Superman of the future has also appeared a couple times before in DC Comics, first in the 2010 Superman/Batman Annual that introduced the Batman Beyond characters to the DCU, then in last year's one-shot Superman Beyond #0.
Now the futuristic Superman gets his own ongoing series, joining Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond as part of DC's trial with the Batman Beyond Unlimited series. The stories that are published in the monthly comic will be first available digitally in new installments every week, but in shorter chunks than their print counterpart.
Krul, who's also writing Captain Atom for DC's New 52 initiative, was recently announced as the writer on a new "The War That Time Forgot" story for May's debut of G.I. Combat.
Newsarama talked with Krul to find out more about the stories he'll be telling in Superman Beyond.
Newsarama: J.T., this is a comic that has digital chapters, right? That are available separately from the other "Beyond" comics?
J.T. Krul: Yeah, online, it's available in individual chapters. But when they do the print version, it will be printed with both Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond, in the Batman Beyond Unlimited title.
Nrama: What's the overall premise?
Krul: This story is set in the future, when Superman is on his own. So this story is about Superman kind of taking stock and figuring out where he belongs in the world.
All his connections to Earth are, quite frankly, dying. It seems like in the Beyond universe, the only person he really has in his life anymore is Bruce Wayne. And we all know how friendly Bruce is. He doesn't provide that much support for anybody. So for Superman, his connection was to the world, but it was also the people, like his parents and Lois. With those people gone, he's trying to figure out, what's his connection to the planet and to humanity now?
As he's confronted with his own internal decision about where he belongs in the world, he's going to come to find out that there's still pretty big threats out there that the Man of Steel physically and mentally is the only one prepared to deal with it and do what needs to be done.
Nrama: So there's action? And villains?
Krul: Yeah, I don't want to give too much away, but it's a pretty big story. It gets pretty epic pretty fast. You're going to see kind of a new villain threat that pops up in the story and carries forward.
Nrama: How did you get involved?
Krul: I actually started working on this project a long time ago. This was the book that I left Green Arrow for. The one I couldn't tell anybody why I left Green Arrow and what the project was that I was jumping onto.
Getting a chance to write Superman is pretty cool. He's definitely one of the most iconic characters. And being able to do it in a different way, with a different take that I'm guiding as part of the Beyond universe was just something that I really wanted to tackle.
So when the opportunity presented itself, it was a really easy decision to say that I wanted to do the project.
I get to work with Howard Porter, who's the nicest guy, and of course he's done fabulous work over the years.
Nrama: Oh yeah, like Grant Morrison's Justice League and Geoff Johns' The Flash.
Krul: Yeah, and he's wrapping up the DC Online Universe book now, so he's jumping onto this. I've seen the pages for the first issue, and they just look great. I'm really, really happy with it.
Another big draw for me was getting to work with Kwanza Johnson, our editor, and Ben Abernathy and Hank Kanalz and the people out of the digital department out on the West Coast. That's been a lot of fun too.
Nrama: We've seen a little of this character before in the one-shot this summer, and a hint of him in Paul Levitz's Superman/Batman story. Is it the same character in this story?
Krul: Yes. You met him in the Superman/Batman story, and then Tom DeFalco did the Superman Beyond #0 that came out right before DC's relaunch.
Nrama: Does it pick up where that #0 issue left off?
Krul: It doesn't really pick up from the Superman #0 that came out, but it really holds true to everything you saw in those appearances. The world's the same. I mean, what you've seen before is how we're presenting him.
Nrama: So he's got the black and white costume?
Krul: Yeah. The black and silver costume. And obviously, he's older.
Nrama: Do you feel like this type of story is something you enjoy?
Krul: Yeah, I'm drawn to the internal struggle in characters anyway. So it's a great way for me to dig into Superman and what makes him tick. In the present day, life's kind of perfect for him. He's indestructible, he had great parents, he lives in a great town, and he grew up and became part of this civilization where he works at the paper and has a woman he loves. There are all these elements that help support him. Sure, he has this strong moral fiber that will always be part of the character, but in the present day, he also doesn't have too much difficulty making the right decisions because of this atmosphere around him.
In a weird way, Captain Atom prepared me for this book. It's not exactly the same thing, but there is a sense of detachment from the world. A lot of Superman's life was spent recreating or trying to bring back elements of Krypton in the Fortress of Solitude, and we find out that he's kind of doing the same thing in the Beyond stories. He's almost creating a little museum of what Metropolis used to be for him, and what it used to mean. The current Metropolis, in the Beyond universe, doesn't hold that same kind of connection for him.As he tries to do that, not only is he grappling with whether or not he's still connected to Earth, but also whether Metropolis even needs him anymore. Does Metropolis need a Superman anymore? With the technology that exists in the Beyond universe, there's a police force that has enhanced abilities. So they can do a lot of the things that he was able to do before. So his question is, "Does the world need Superman anymore?"
So Superman Beyond enters his life at a different time, with a completely different situation, and it presents him in a little different light. It's been a lot of fun for me.
It's the Superman we all know and love, but the story is different because of what he's going through.
Nrama: Is it a challenge to do this for digital chapters?
Krul: It's a little different because they're coming out in 10-page chunks instead of the full 20 pages, when they come out digitally. They'll actually appear as "20 screens." So I have to keep that in mind and structure it so that there's a break there. It doesn't necessarily have to be a complete ending to the story like you often have with 20-pagers, but there should be a beat that serves as a cliffhanger or a moment that you can end that chapter on to lead into the next one.
So I've formatted it so that I know where the last page falls, and I put an ending that will leave the readers wanting more. And then on the 20th page, you'll see an even bigger ending.
In that regard, yes, you have to write it a little differently for digital.
You also have to keep in mind that the digital presentation is a little different than the print book. Originally, you would write the comic like a regular print book, then they'd look at the finished page and figure out how they can do the panel guides, how they should showcase the panels and the page in a digital format.
But here, I'm kind of thinking digitally first, so the way I structure the panels and the way I have certain cut-off points. It just works a little differently.
So yeah, it's a little bit of a challenge, but I actually thought it was kind of fun to think differently about story and kind of stretch a different muscle. It forces you to be smarter about your panel choices and your story structure, because you have to present it in a slightly different way.
But it's not so different that you can notice when you see a printed version. Nobody's going to see the printed version and say, "oh yeah, this looks like a digital comic." There are still full pages and it's still presented in the same way in that regard. It's just a matter of, when you break things down, there are certain splits that you just want to be aware of.
Nrama: What do you think of the idea of having the Beyond series in digital chapters in a weekly format?
Krul: I think it's worth trying different formats. Having the 10-page format feels right for digital, but especially for mobile devices. Mobile content seems to work best in smaller chunks. When you look at the media that people enjoy on mobile readers, it's usually in shorter bursts. People aren't really watching full-on television episodes on their phones, but they're watching two- or three-minute shorts on Funny or Die or something like that. So I think there does seem to be a preference for shortened content length. It's just kind of indicative of a lot of what we watch digitally from mobile devices.
But I think it makes sense to present the Beyond universe as its own anthology, and putting Batman Beyond and Superman Beyond and Justice League Beyond together for the print format. I think that's really cool, because even though the stories are all self-contained, it brings a cohesion to the universe and makes it feel like it's a little more special. You can go and get this one book and you've got all these different stories in it. They're all running concurrently, and with this one comic, you get a little bit of everything. It's the same way that G.I. Combat is putting two different stories in each issue.
I still think the digital frontier, in comic book publishing, is still a bit of a mystery, because everyone's still trying to figure out what that model is and what works the best, and where you get the most bang for your buck and what's the best way to present something creatively. But also, from a financial standpoint, what makes the most business sense — how you release stuff and how many pages it is and what you do. Does it come out day-and-date digital, or do you try something like what we're doing with the Beyond universe? A year ago, day-and-date wasn't even a possibility, and now most publishers are doing it. So I think it's going to be a progression of trying different things and seeing what works.
It's exciting to be able to not only write such an interesting Superman story, working with a character I absolutely love, but also to be part of DC trying something new with their digital material. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Superman Beyond?
Krul: Superman is one of the most iconic comic book characters in all of the comic book world. And this is just a great alternate way to tell a story about Superman in a little different light. It's still the Man of Steel, and he's still the greatest hero in the world.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!