John Romita Jr. admits that when he joined the Superman creative team, it took him awhile to get the character's face looking just right. But as important as the small details are in the artist's approach to the character, it's the recent big changes to Superman that Romita is most proud to have helped accomplish.
This week marks the release of Superman: The Men of Tomorrow, a collection of Romita's first story arc on the title with writer and DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. The story added a superpower to Superman, one that actually made the hero less powerful — and more human — and led directly into Romita's current "Truth" storyline with new series writer Gene Luen Yang.
Before Romita started working on Superman in June 2014, he was best known for his work at Marvel Comics over the last 30-plus years on titles like Thor and Amazing Spider-Man. During his initial eight issues on Superman with Johns, Romita not only gave Superman a costume change, but the pair crafted a new superpower for the hero called the Super Flare.
Newsarama talked to Romita to find out more about his run so far on Superman, what he's learned about Clark Kent, and how he adjusted the character's face after DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio pointed out that 'Not every character's an Italian.'
Newsarama: John, the collection of your first on Superman is coming out this week. What's the biggest thing you learned about Superman in this first arc?
John Romita Jr.: I realized there's much, much more to the character than just the bombastic power. I like the way that was expanded by Geoff Johns and now with Gene Luen Yang — all of us, actually; we all had some input.
I thought the character was superficial when I was on the outside looking in. And now I've learned a lot more about the character. I didn't expect it to be a learning effort. I thought there would just be an adjustment for art. And here I am finding out there's more to the character.
I think, if I had to pick something, it would be the behind-the-costume part of the character — Clark Kent. There's more to the character than just the simple powerful character.
I enjoyed finding that out.
Nrama: When you say there's more to Clark Kent, you mean he's not just the stereotypical small town boy? That you're learning more facets of his character?
Romita: Because of the change to the character — I guess it's the "New 52," but I'm not sure how it was just before — he's not the hometown, Midwestern boy. I think Geoff Johns allowed us to discover something about Clark Kent, and now Gene has done it. We're coming up with things about Clark Kent that weren't there before. Maybe it's the new power that's helped.
But I'm enjoying the character more, the interaction with the Daily Planet people. It's easy to be a fan of the big, powerful stuff you do with Superman, the big fights and the battles.
But it's a combination of that with the melodrama and the backstories that make it even more fun.
I'm learning things about the character as we go that apply more to Clark Kent.
And yet we have a new power for Superman that's really fun. I'm so happy with that.
Nrama: Yeah, the new power is very cool, but it also makes him very vulnerable afterward because it depletes his powers for awhile, right? Exposing more of his humanity?
Romita: Yeah, that's a good point. Exactly what you said is the very thing I was expecting wasn't going to happen, and here we are.
I had something to do with it, so I'm proud of it. But of course, it was developed moreso with the brains — Geoff Johns and the editors — and it's worked out so well that I can't be more happy with it.
The DC people allowed this to happen when I never thought they would. To do something really outside the box with Superman. The new power, and how that's changed Clark Kent in a way that's made the character much more interesting.
Nrama: Was the new power, and his vulnerability, something you were specifically wanting as you came onto the Superman series? That you asked DC for? Or was it something that developed as you worked with Geoff?
Romita: A little bit of both. The conversation pretty much went — I asked Geoff, and maybe there was an editor listening in — is there a chance that we can manifest a power that hasn't been used? What I was thinking was, he's got so many powers that there was maybe something we could play with. And they hesitated. But I asked, can we come up with something new that he hasn't done before?
And that's when Geoff stepped in and said, "Wait a minute. I've got an idea."
And It expanded. And now it's become a large part of the character and the development of the character going forward.
So I'm very happy with it. And very proud of it.
But again, something like that can't happen unless somebody says, "Let's allow it."
I admire the DC editors and the hierarchy for allowing us to play with the character like this.
And Geoff took it and ran with it, and now we're running with it with Gene. And I'm very proud of it.
Nrama: Let's talk about your visual approach. How did your ideas about drawing the character evolve since you've been on the book?
Romita: Oh boy, that's a good question, and it was such a long, agonizing process.
The very first promotional sketch I ever did was so bad. I had changed the face a little bit — it wasn't good enough — and interestingly enough, that first poor image got onto the internet. And I got such hate mail over that that I couldn't even get a chance to explain, that was just the very first thing I ever did! Calm down! I made a mistake!
And then I did another version, and Dan DiDio said, "Straighten his nose out! Not every character's an Italian, Romita! Give him a straight nose — this is Superman!"
So it was growing pains with the character. And I laugh now in retrospect. But yeah, I had to adjust a little and learn that the character had to look a certain way, but without copying anybody.
The adjustment period was just that. It wasn't drastic. I had a couple of bad sketches when I first did it, and then I got better as I got going.
Now I feel more comfortable. I'm getting used to it, and I'm actually having fun with it. The shape of the face… his nose is a little bit less perfect, because he got his clock cleaned by Ulysses.
I'm really enjoying the character much more.
Nrama: Yeah, Ulysses was a huge part of the first arc, but you set up so much for the current Superman story. The building blocks where there from the beginning of your run, leading right up to the challenges Clark's facing now in "Truth."
Romita: Yeah, it all traces back to that new power and how it affects Superman adversely and positively. I love the fact that we're able to play with it in that respect. We happened upon this new power, and it's affecting the story in a lot of ways, and I'm really happy with it.
I know what's going to happen down the line and it's fascinating. And I can't be more thrilled to have been a part of it.