As Brian Michael Bendis began to consider how to distinguish his Superman run from the one he’ll be kicking off later this month in Action Comics, his artists on the two books defined the difference between the two series.
For Action Comics with artist Patrick Gleason, he’ll be focusing on relationships and street-level stories. But with artist Ivan Reis on Superman, Bendis will be writing a story he calls “very big, with big stories and big villains and big goings-on in the DC Universe, the kind of things only Superman can handle.”
In fact, Bendis is using Reis’ art fo 2007's "Sinestro Corps War" crossover as a “template” for how big to go with the first storyline on Superman, which takes the character - and the whole Earth - into the Phantom Zone.
Newsarama talked to Bendis to find out more about the Phantom Zone, whether Lois and Jon are off the table for a while, and how this story begins the writer’s planned year-long epic story for Superman.
Newsarama: Brian, you've got two concurrently running Superman books, with two different stories. Now that you're a few months into writing these books, how would you describe the difference between them?
Brian Michael Bendis: They're completely different storylines, but they mirror and breathe next to each other like all good comic books should.
Whereas Superman, the title, is very big, with big stories and big villains and big goings-on in the DC Universe, the kind of things only Superman can handle, in Action Comics, it's more the world according to Clark Kent, which of course includes Superman but is The Daily Planet and truth and justice and the American Way and what’s going on in the streets of Metropolis and with Lois Lane and all of that.
So we have one book that takes Superman to the farthest reaches of everything DC has to offer and one that has him at his desk trying to figure out what the truth is.
Nrama: You mentioned that Action Comics features Lois. Yet Lois and Jon are currently missing from Superman’s world. I know you’ve answered this question from me before, but you didn’t clear them off the decks to start your run?
Bendis: No, no. This is funny, and I kind of played with this a little bit, but people assume, “That’s it for Jon and Lois! That’s it for them!”
But it’s hardly the case. Lois is back very, very soon. And Jon is not far behind.
What happened with Lois and Jon, which you’ll find out very quickly, is very big for the Superman family and very big for the DC Universe.
But if Lois is back so fast, why didn’t she come back to Clark? All of this will be answered in the pages of Action Comics.
Nrama: OK, let’s back up a little and talk about your goal with this character. As you came to DC and chose the Superman books, what were you specifically challenged to do with the character?
Bendis: It was like, “Here, take a look. What do you see?” I think that’s what they were looking for from me - a new perspective.
So yeah, I look at the relationships, and the pieces of the DC Universe, and if I have a unique take that takes them into new storylines and new stories - that’s always the goal. Where can we find some new, honest story?
Nrama: How does Ivan Reis’ art fit the tone of what you’re doing on Superman? I know you took his art into consideration on this…
Bendis: Yeah, everyone knows that one of my great goals in life is to write for the artist. Like, I don’t write what I want. I write what I think would make the best Ivan Reis comic. Right? Like, if I was a fan of his, what would I want to see on these pages? And I try to write that.
And in return, I get these amazing pages back. And now you’ve seen some of them. They’re absolutely gorgeous.
What was amazing to me was that Ivan, though he’d been on so many awesome books, he had not really been on a character book that was, like, here’s the #1 issue, and this is your book, and you own this character, and let’s go.
And he told me, in our first conversation, I have not had this opportunity to really roll up my sleeves and own an era of a character.
And I’m like, well, let’s do it, buddy.
And that’s been my goal in the scripts is to create a situation where he owns every page and gets to make this run something in his life that he’s very proud of.
I just know, from all of my experience at Marvel, that doing just that will create beautiful pages that go to the reader and everybody wins.
Nrama: What kind of story do you write for Ivan? Lots of characters? I think he’s known for that, isn’t he? He can draw, like, a million characters on one spread.
Bendis: Very big. Yes, he does very big landscapes. I mean, you read "Sinestro Corps War," it is staggeringly huge. And it’s on his pages where it seems the biggest.
So I’m using that as my template as we dive into the first storyline of Superman, which takes us right into the heart of the Phantom Zone, which is filled with literally every Superman nightmare you can think of.
Nrama: So like you said, while Action Comics is kind of street level, this one is based in space and in other worlds and realms and such?
Bendis: Yeah, it’s big. It’s cosmic. It’s epic. This is as big as it gets.
But you can read this and Action Comics and it’s the same guy. And he’s in both stories. And it totally makes sense.
And that’s the best part of comics to me.
Isn’t that the best part of comics?
Nrama: It’s definitely one of the best parts. But Brian, when DC has the comic books about the same character, that come from two different perspective, it’s not usually written by the same guy. You’re doing a lot here.
Bendis: I know, but …. I mean, I hate to be morbid, but when I was in the hospital, I sat there and just thought about how this can be done. And I was really hoping I could get it done.
Nrama: Well, it’s been your M.O. before…
Bendis: Yeah, it’s not that dissimilar to me when I was writing Mighty Avengers and New Avengers.
They were very different in tone and perspective, yet going on at the same time. So I have done similar.
It’s actually easier when it’s from the perspective of one lead character versus a team.
And this is how big Superman is. He needs more than one title to tell that story.
Nrama: Let’s talk about this trip into the Phantom Zone. He’s getting Earth out of there, which does sound very big.
Nrama: Yeah. But I mean, you’ve spoiled a couple things that are in there. But I was trying to remember what characters are in the Phantom Zone now, in this continuity, because it’s just since the beginning of the "New 52," and I was surprised at how little we know.
Bendis: Yeah, we don’t know everything that’s in there!
Nrama: So you’ve got the opportunity to build this somewhat?
Bendis: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. There are some things that we absolutely know are in there - some Kryptonian monsters and villainy that 1000 percent would be in there. And Rogol Zaar is now in there.
And I’ve already spoiled that Nuclear Man from Superman IV: Quest for Peace is in there.
Nrama: Which is wild.
Bendis: I’m very, very excited about that.
But yeah, there are some surprises in that Phantom Zone, including the entirety of the Earth and all the superheroes.
And how long can the Earth exist as a planet in the place it’s not supposed to be?
So there’s a huge ticking clock. The Earth can’t stay in there for much longer.
Nrama: And he’s also separated from his family, wanting to search for them.
Bendis: Yeah, absolutely. He does not have a way to contact them, to tell them, I don’t know where you are and I can’t contact you.
For Superman, it’s a very unique feeling of being lost and not having the answer. But it’s a very relatable one.
But it’s not going to define the entire series. I see online that people are like, oh, that’s it. Lois is in the fridge and she’s never coming back. It’s so not the case.
They are in a story that completely reflects what’s going to happen in the books.
Like, for people who think that I would brush Lois off into a story that doesn’t matter, or she’s just not in a story? I’ve never done that in a million years.
She’s going somewhere and coming back with a giant pile of story.
Nrama: Does Jor-El continue to play a role?
Bendis: Absolutely. Jor-El is playing many roles: Disappointing father, pain in the a$$, mystery antagonist, annoying grandfather who doesn’t listen to what his son says, all of these things and so much more.
Nrama: It sounds like you’re writing that from experience?
Bendis: I have no idea what you’re referring to. [Laughs.]
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about Superman?
Bendis: Two things. Number one, it is by all people’s reactions who have seen it, the best thing Ivan has ever done.
To once again be there for an artist who has just decided this is the book I’m going to show people in my life and show people in my life and say this is what I do, it’s an amazing experience. I think this means a lot to Ivan and Joe Prado, who’s doing an exceptional job, and Alex Sinclair. You can just see the care they’re giving this book on every page.
What you’re seeing in Superman #1 is very big. And it’s the first chapter of a year-long epic that will deliver big stuff for Superman, for the DC Universe itself, and we’re going to have new things to play with that I’m so excited about.