In Convergence, comics creators are getting to combine greatly divergent versions of the DCU in one giant, action-packed story.
Nowhere are those worlds more contractive than Convergence: Action Comics, where writer Justin Gray bringing the bright, hopeful America of DC's former Earth-2 into conflict with their Soviet Cold War counterparts from the Elseworlds story Red Son.
The Eisner-winning Superman: Red Son is based on the idea that Superman's rocket crash landed in Russia, and he was raised to become the Soviet Union's greatest weapon.
In contrast, Earth-2 Superman (from the pre-Crisis Earth-2) harkens back to the days when superhero comics portrayed a carefree America where good and evil were black and white.
Joining Superman from Earth-2 will be the Power Girl from that world, and the Red Son characters Lex Luthor, Joseph Stalin and Soviet-serving Wonder Woman.
Newsarama talked to Justin Gray about Convergence: Action Comics, as well as getting the writer's thought-provoking ideas on why comics are frequently turning to nostalgic stories these days, alongside a slew of revamps and reboots.
Newsarama: Justin, what point in DC's history were these heroes taken from?
Justin Gray: I’m working with the pre-Crisis Earth 2 characters and the Red Son characters, which is a pretty cool dynamic where I get to take the bright sunny dream of America and contrast it with the Cold War paranoia of a Soviet Russia where Superman became a proletariat hero.
Nrama: How would you describe this Earth-2 Superman? What are his powers and his personality like? And his world?
Gray: These are two of my favorite incarnations of Superman. The Earth-2 Superman is older, wiser and soulful, probably because he existed in a much more hopeful time. The Metropolis in this story has unwavering faith in their protector even when he is struggling with self-doubt.
I love Superman as a character, but I am drawn to the aspect of an incredibly compassionate alien of immeasurable power brought up on early 20th Century family values.
That said, the majority of this story is focused on Power Girl.
Nrama: OK, what about Power Girl? Who is she to Superman and what's she like?
Gray: "You can call me Power Girl, Wildcat. It's as good a name as any other, and it won't confuse you with my cousin. His name you already know — it's Superman." That is one my favorite PG quotes from this era.
Nrama: You're well aware of the new Superman and Power Girl that we've seen recently. What are the main differences between these Superman and Power Girl characters and the ones we might be more familiar with now?
Gray: Superman has been around a long time and he has… I wouldn’t say evolved beyond his core values, but I would say he has had to adapt to cultural and social shifts and sometimes that creates nostalgia for the time period each person was exposed to.
For me Superman is always going to be Truth, Justice and the American dream. I say "dream" because I think that’s more fitting than "way." "Way" implies a set path and America has always been about millions of different paths.
There is an ideology that gave birth to Superman, it is ingrained in his identity and — like it or not — that ideology is 20th Century American.
We have seen plenty of stories where Superman is introduced to a different ideology, as is the case with Red Son, but those are Elseworlds, or more currently multiverse stories.
I thought Mark Millar did a brilliant job of presenting a Soviet Superman without being insulting or disingenuous to the character. I think that also shows you what kind of power these characters have that you can literally change their entire culture and they still hold up.
Nrama: You said these were your favorite versions of Superman. Is that what interested you about writing these characters in particular?
Gray: I think when choices are offered, people gravitate toward material they love and respect. I’m obviously a big Power Girl fan and I really enjoyed what Mark and Dave Johnson did with Red Son.
Nrama: Are there elements of these heroes and their world that you miss? Or that you think fans miss?
Gray: This isn’t a case of me missing anything on a personal level. Like I said, these characters have an incredible strength of consciousness; they’re iconic no matter how they’re represented. I know there are readers that miss the sense of lightheartedness and shameless joy of pre-Crisis superheroes, but a lot of readers are far removed from that as well.
Nrama: How does the dome affect these characters and the story?
Gray: It's essentially life in prison. I can’t go into too much detail, but some interesting developments are brought on by having this dome in place.
Nrama: How much time are you speeding with Lex Luthor and Stalin of Red Son Moscow?
Gray: Not a lot, but enough to make it fun. I saw a unique opportunity that might only be of interest to me, but it seemed like a great chance to show what kind of enduring character Lex Luthor is even if he’s on the “right” side of a conflict. I think Mark Millar’s interpretation of Lex in Red Son was one of the most layered and interesting.
Nrama: We've seen the cover of issue #2, where Power Girl is going up against Red Son Wonder Woman. Did you get to pick the Red Son characters as the villains for this story?
Gray: There are no villains in my mind… well Stalin is, but this is comic book Stalin. Every single character from the guy looking for an autograph from Superman to one of the many Soviet tank drivers in the story, is a victim. They’re all pawns in a much larger game and they’re all trying to survive.
Nrama: But aren't Lex and Stalin technically on different sides in Red Son?
Gray: They are still on opposing sides, but the situation dictates some cooperation.
Nrama: I see. OK, so let's talk about the overall Convergence story. What do you think of the idea?
Gray: I think it is this wonderful love letter to every fan of DC Comics over the last half a century. No matter what age you are or at what point you came into the fandom there’s something in this event for you.
Nrama: Why do you think superhero companies tend to be looking back now, highlighting stories and timelines from the past while concurrently rebooting and relaunching and revamping their characters?
Gray: Well, Vaneta that’s a loaded question.
Nrama: I didn't mean it to be. Surely you've got an opinion on what's happening.
Gray: Some of it is obvious. There’s a huge rebranding effort going on for various reasons largely driven by money. I don’t mean that in a negative way either. We are Capitalists — our culture and economy is built on consumerism and I like money.
The legitimacy comic book fans craved for decades is in full swing and pop culture has willingly embraced what we have known and loved for decades. Comics, that is the material, is no longer the domain of a maligned sub culture. The fan that is enraged by Johnny Storm not being white or stories being changed when they hit the big screen has become irrelevant. The right to complain exists, but no one cares because you can’t argue with the staggering financial success brought on by film and TV based on DC and Marvel superheroes. Now if the movie is bad then it doesn’t matter what creative choices were made.
Part of the rebranding is an essential need to reinvent, particularly if you want to remain relevant inside a pop culture sphere where people believe Kanye West discovered Paul McCartney or are shocked to discover the Titanic was a real ship. It might be funny, but nobody wants to be Kodak, the company that infamously scoffed at digital cameras and refused to adapt in the obvious face of disaster. At this point I do not believe you can have it both ways. You can’t keep producing the same product the same way and use the same delivery system you used in the 20th Century. You can’t continue to covet one audience and ignore the others.
This doesn’t mean you should abandon the loyal customer, but you should strive for universal appeal. Massive multinational entertainment corporations become massive multinational entertainment corporations because they understand this.
Nrama: They understand change?
Gray: They understand change and how to cultivate a generational audience so that today’s seven-year-old Frozen fan or Harry Potter fan or Batman fan will hand that cultural tradition down to their children.
That’s a successful and sustainable pop culture business where, providing you stay focused on what each new generation is drawn to, will keep these beloved characters fresh, alive and relevant. It also keeps a steady flow of new business year after year.
One of my favorite stories and examples of building a generation product base is when Andy Mooney took over Disney Consumer Products in 2000. Early in his tenure, he went to a "Disney on Ice" performance where he witnessed hundreds of little girls in homemade princess dresses. From that experience, he created the Disney Princess line to the tune of 4 Billion dollars. I’m sure, based on the fact that I have a seven-year-old daughter, the line has made considerably more by now.
The other thing, the really difficult thing, is you need to tell great stories that are relatable to almost everyone. You have to get away from this mentality where people sit in a room and ask each other, how do we get more women or Hispanics or African Americans or whatever demographic to buy our product? The real answer is to create engaging content that appeals to human beings regardless of race or gender.
Nrama: And on that note, Justin, I think we've covered everything. Is there anything else you want to tell fans about Convergence: Action Comics?
Gray: My hope was to tell an entertaining, action-packed superhero story within the framework of a much larger event and yet support that event in hopefully a unique way. You get to see two of DC’s greatest heroines square off in an incredible battle that also exists in a realm of nostalgia for fans that grew up in the '80s or fans that enjoyed the 2003 Red Son. And yes Lex Luthor torturing Joseph Stalin because…dictators.