Some fans might be thinking Superman is at an all-time low. The Man of Steel has lost many of his powers, has been driven out of Metropolis, was fired from his job, was outed to the world as Superman by the villainous Hordr organization, and has even changed his secret identity — he's no longer Clark Kent, but is now wearing the name Archie Clayton.
And if all that wasn't bad enough, at the end of Superman #46, it looked like the hero's best friend Jimmy Olsen might have actually been killed.
Yet Superman writer Gene Luen Yang tells Newsarama that Superman hasn't quite hit rock bottom yet — that's yet to come in the next few months. But Superman fans shouldn't lose hope — Yang indicated that everyone bounces back from hard times, particularly Superman.
With all the Superman books heading toward the culmination of the storyline they've been exploring since June — all set to finish in March — Newsarama talked to Yang about the reasons for Superman's tough times, the apparent death of Jimmy Olsen, and what's coming up next.
Newsarama: Gene, I want to get to this surprise about Jimmy Olsen in a minute. But since last time we talked, you've really stripped away much of what people might expect from Superman — he's not only without his powers, but he's without most of his supporting cast, without his Clark Kent identity, and even far away from Metropolis. Why take him so far away from those things? Was the idea to strip him down to nothing but the man behind the "S?"
Gene Luen Yang: Yeah. What we on the Superman team wanted to do was strip Superman down to his essence. Nowadays, we think of him as this all-powerful character, but when he started, he wasn't. He had a very limited power set. He couldn't even fly. When they'd talk about him leaping tall buildings in a single bound, he was actually doing that. He was actually just leaping. He wasn't flying.
So we backed him up to his original power set. We stripped him digitally, so all he has is his shield, his emblem. And even that, we backed it up to a Fleischer era-esque look.
What we want to do in all these issues, in all the Superman books, is talk about what Superman is at his core — even apart from his normal supporting cast, even apart from the power set that modern audiences associate with him. What is he at his core?
That's really what I want to get to in this next issue that's coming out, in Superman #47.
Nrama: But at this point in the story, am I wrong to get the feeling that even he isn't sure who he is at his core?
Yang: I think he's confused about it. He really is confused about it. I mean, all of us go through these tragedies in our lives where we're really tested, and we get to see what's at the soul of who we are. That's what's happening to Superman right now.
But, I think Superman is always going to be Superman. Right? No matter how confused he gets, there are some things he will never turn away from. Like even it seems like he's giving up on something, in a temporary way, ultimately, he never gives up. And even if he seems like he's being selfish, in a small and temporary way, ultimately, he will always put his own needs second to the needs of others.
So I think the core of him will never change, regardless of whether or not he has on the cape.
And that's the driving ethos behind everything we're doing in all the Superman books.
Nrama: OK, but let's talk about what happened in the last issue. Jimmy Olsen either died or came very close to death. Sure this is a bit of a wake-up call for Superman, isn't it?
Yang: Absolutely. Superman has always thought of himself as justice as opposed to vengeance. That's what kind of separates him from Batman. And there's an argument out there that the reason why he can be a little bit more idealistic is because of his power, is because, when you're the strongest man in the room, you get to dictate what ideals you follow, right?
And that's one of the things that's running through this storyline. We want to see, is that really true? Is that really why he has the ideals that he has, just because of his strength? Is it simply because he's the strongest guy in the room?
Nrama: And that was brought to the forefront for him when Shahrazad told him his "story." Right?
Yang: Yes. Exactly.
Nrama: And she revealed that people loved him not because he was good, but because he was strong.
Yang: Yes. I mean, I think that's just the dynamic that's actually out there in the real world. Right? People love people who are strong, whether or not they're good. We love people who are winners, no matter how they do their winning. Even how we look at sports figures and that sort of thing. It's not always the more moral athletes that get the most attention. It's always just the best, the strongest athletes that do.
I think with Superman, we're talking about that as well, whether people love him because he's strong, whether people love him because he's good, and whether that actually means something to him.
Nrama: Let's talk about what's coming up. As we agreed at the beginning of this issue, you have stripped away a lot of the things around him. I understand the idea of getting to his core. But over the next few months, heading to Superman #50, will we get to the culmination of all this "stripping away" for Superman?
Yang: Yes, all of this is going to come to a head. All these villains he's been facing in all the different Superman books are all connected in this grand conspiracy. And the conspiracy will be revealed as we move toward issue #50.
We'll see who it is behind everything — behind his power loss, behind the exposure of his super-identity.
And then he's going to reach the end-point of all this. He's going to bottom out. And at the very bottom, we're going to find out who he is, and then we'll go from there.
Nrama: Wonder Woman got a mention in the last issue. And in other Superman books, he's dealing with their relationship a little more than in this book. But you've got a team-up coming up in Superman between him and Wonder Woman. Does that address his relationship with her?
Yang: Yes, absolutely. Wonder Woman and Superman's relationship is obviously central to the Superman/Wonder Woman book. Pete Tomasi is a great writer, and he's taking the bulk of that. He's dealing with most of that.
But Wonder Woman is such an important character to Superman, both as a colleague in the Justice League and as a former romantic partner.
But yes, she'll be showing up in Superman, and she'll play an important role as we move forward.
Nrama: You mentioned the story heading toward Superman #50. Is that a special issue for the series? Is this storyline, "The Savage Dawn," going to culminate or end there?
Yang: Yes, that will be the end. That month's issue, including Action Comics #50 and that month's Superman/Wonder Woman and Superman/Batman will be the culmination of everything we've started since issue #41.
Nrama: And this title, the "Savage Dawn" — I think we all understand the savage part, because this is a horrible time for Superman. But does "Dawn" indicate better times to come?
Yang: [Laughs.] Well…
Nrama: It can't get much worse.
Yang: You'd hope so, right? You'd hope so.
Well, I mean, he can't stay at the bottom forever. Just like us. We can't stay at the bottom forever. We have to get back up. And Superman even more so.
Nrama: Are you continuing as the writer on Superman past issue #50?
Yang: I signed a contract for a certain number of issues, and I'll be doing that number of issues. After that, we are still figuring things out. I know that's super-vague.