Max Landis, the Chronicle screenwriter and son of director John Landis, is being "experimental" as he reinvents the first meeting between Superman and the Joker for DC's digital-first series, Adventures of Superman.
"I've always found the Joker, like Superman, to be a somewhat 'blurry' character," the writer told USA Today of the two-part story, which begins this week. "The insular nature of the story made me want to get a little bit experimental, and when you're working with an artist as powerful as Jock, there's a great freedom to really explore the medium and use 'visual art' in an interpretive way that would just get people confused if you did it in a movie."
Landis is working with artist Jock, who tweeted one of the story's pages last month, featuring various depictions of Joker in the media over the years.
The story, titled "The Sound of One Hand Clapping," might be the first time Landis has written a Superman story, but it's not the first public airing of his interpretation of the Man of Steel. Among his many YouTube short films was the 2012 "The Death and Return of Superman," in which he directed actors like Elijah Wood and Mandy Moore in a 17-minute interpretation of the famous storyline.
But for Adventures of Superman, Landis said he's treading a little more lightly, doing "more of a portrait than an actual issue."
"This was my first time ever officially writing a character that's very important to me, so I didn't want to just insert myself as an authority," he said. "I wanted to play a little bit and see how it felt to put words in his mouth, to put him into action."
He also was happy to avoid working on a comic that was in continuity (since Adventures of Superman exists outside those constraints). "That aspect of it gave me a breadth of opportunity I wouldn't normally have," he said.
But that doesn't mean Landis isn't desirous of more work with Superman. He talked about his vision for a graphic novel called Seven Stories that "documents, in short-comic form, just six random moments in Clark Kent's life, from age 7 to 44: a haunted barn, a smart cop, a vacation gone wrong, first time being shot with a gun, a verbal fight with Lois intercut with a very physical fight with Lobo, a talk with Lex Luthor about the nature of humanity, and then the arrival of Doomsday.
"I don't know if I'll ever get to do those," he said. "It was sort of an idea about 'exploring the Man side of Super Man,' just sort of Tree of Life-ing through this very spectacular dude's existence and really investigating how someone grows up to be this way, and what they are when nobody's watching. Who knows if I'll get the opportunity to do it. But, yeah, this Joker story would have been in it."
Landis mentioned several writers as influences — including Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis — and supported the idea of writing stories that "reinvent" a well-known character. Pointing toward this story of Superman, as well as his new script for a film adaptation of Frankenstein, he said "reinvention" is his "strongest ability as a writer."
"I'm a fanboy, and it springs from that," he said. "There's a video online of me pitching new James Bonds, and this 'adventure movie' that ends up being a new take on an old property. I've got a Winnie the Pooh, I've got Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, Where's Waldo, Super Mario World, Moby-Dick, the list goes on and on. I'm obsessed not with 'rebooting,' but with finding different emotional dimensions to established story.
"I don't try to make things 'cooler,' just more interesting. What's cool should already be there. You should just be able to build outward," he said. "I think a lot of these reboots destroy what they're rebooting, and that's painful. That's really painful for fans who know what's wrong, and it's even worse for people who've never seen originals who now just think that that idea sucks because they've seen some bullcrap version of it.
"As you'll hopefully see in Frankenstein, it's not 'dark and gritty.' I don't do 'dark and gritty.' I just try to take things and really blow them up and play around. No 'rebooting.' Just putting different prisms over the same vision. That fascinates me."