Greg Pak is giving Superman a foe he's having a tough time understanding — a dark, disturbing villain he's calling "Superman's Joker" — while also bringing an element of mystery into Batman/Superman.
Kicking off this month with a purposely new-reader-friendly issue, the "Superman's Joker" story features a brand new artist for the comic — Ardian Syaf. With Batman/Superman #16, the creators gave readers the first few clues about the new villain as Supergirl and Steel were taken out, and Superman turned to Batman for help hunting down the threat.
But wait…. is Superman's Joker a new villain? Pak seems to indicate there might be a re-introduction involved, as we talk to the writer about the current storyline, the hints from Futures End, what changes are coming up after Convergence in 2015.
Newsarama: Greg, let's start with Batman/Superman. Before we talk about the current storyline, what were you hoping to accomplish with the September issue, and how much of that issue should we expect to play out?
Greg Pak: The September issue was a way to explore how the relationship between Batman and Superman evolves in the disturbing world of Future's End. Without getting into spoilers, it was a blast to explore a very different dynamic between the characters. It was also a fun challenge as a writer to do a story that's all about Batman and Superman, without showing Superman.
Nrama: There was a hint about villains from Venus. Was that a tease for something you're doing soon in the book?
Pak: In the future, Metallo ends up on Venus. Is he imprisoned there? Does he head there on his own? There's definitely a story there — we'll see, if and when we explore it further!
Nrama: OK, let's get back to the present storyline. November's Batman/Superman #16 felt like a jumping-on point. Was that something you were hoping to do as the book gets back to its monthly shipping schedule? With the new artist?
Pak: Absolutely. We're thrilled to have Ardian Syaf on board as our regular artist. He's amazing — just killing it with every page, from the little character bits with the kids in the hospital to the big stylized splash page with the Joker face.
And yes, we wanted to launch a big, new storyline with Ardian with issue #16. It's entirely new-reader-friendly while carrying on the big themes we've been developing throughout the series.
This is also introducing (or reintroducing?) a huge new villain for Superman. A hidden assassin is attacking Superman's friends with an insane degree of ruthlessness and power — and the big question is "Who is Superman's Joker?"
Nrama: Oh, now you've got me wondering if this "Joker" villain is a re-introduction — interesting hint there, Greg. But I think what's most shocking about the first issue of the story were the deaths — of the Superman impersonator and the whale. What kind of a statement about the perpetrator of these crimes were you hoping to make?
Pak: This is Superman's Joker — meaning he's a horrifying, unpredictable psychopath who will do whatever he can think of to hurt Superman, maybe even just for fun.
The Joker is terrifying enough, of course. But this is a villain with the power to threaten Superman. He may be the most dangerous and unpredictable villain Superman's ever faced.
Nrama: It's interesting to think Superman has a Joker-type villain targeting him. Why do you think there's never been a villain like that in Superman's world, while there obviously are some dark villains for Batman, and the worst of them all in the Joker? What interested you about bringing in this type of "nemesis" for Clark, specifically in this book?
Pak: From the beginning, Batman was a darker character than Superman, with much more disturbing nemeses. Batman also debuted in a book called "Detective," which lends itself to mysteries and crime. Superman debuted in "Action," and his opponents have often been more colorful and out-in-the-open. The book has traditionally leaned a bit more towards heroic adventure than mystery.
But I'm writing Batman/Superman, where we have the glorious mandate to find interesting ways to shake things up with elements from both characters' worlds. So tapping into a Batman-like mystery vibe for a Superman story felt like a great direction to run in.
I also loved the idea of giving Superman an opponent he can't understand psychologically or emotionally. A big part of Superman is about trying to reach his opponents, giving them the benefit of the doubt. That's something we played up way back in issue #26 when he first met Baka. Everyone else saw a monster — Superman saw something else, and he was right.
But with this new opponent, that impulse won't work. And it's not because this villain's an animal-like force of nature like Doomsday. It's because his psychology is horrifyingly alien, and that presents a huge challenge for Superman.
Nrama: As we mentioned earlier, Ardian Syaf is now working with you on Batman/Superman. What does he bring to the title?
Pak: Oh, he's amazing. He lavishes detail on his pages with lines that remind me of Jim Lee. And he brings a muscular explosiveness to the action that reminds me of John Romita, Jr. And he teases out great character moments, expressions, and gestures that hint of Kubert.
In short, he does it all, and on top of everything, he has a real feel for the characters of Batman and Superman. There's a ton of subtle emotion in every panel he draws with those two — and he finds that great balance between some of Superman's innocence and some of Batman's brooding darkness that just sings.
Nrama: How would you describe what's coming up in the next few months before the break for Convergence?
Pak: Superman confronts his Joker. Huge revelations will break apart certain parts of Superman's world. Two very special guest stars will play huge roles. Supergirl gets some big moments. And there will be a massive pay-off to some things we've been building for a while that will continue to reverberate through Superman's life in the months to come.
Nrama: Are you continuing to write Batman/Superman after the Convergence break? Are there plans beyond spring 2015 and changes coming?
Pak: I've been talking, emailing and meeting with my editor Eddie Berganza constantly about what's coming after Convergence. We've got huge plans that will absolutely shock you — and create huge storytelling opportunities for our heroes. And who knows — we may be setting critical elements up even as we speak in both "Batman/Superman" and Action. Don't miss a single issue, my friends.