In 2008, the DC Universe suddenly had 100,000 new Kryptonians flying around, wielding sun-boosted superpowers. Occupying a planet called "New Krypton," the Kryptonians didn't get along with the humans on Earth and gave Superman and Supergirl a unique set of new conflicts and supporting cast members.
Almost two years later, tensions between the two worlds are culminating in a decisive battle in Superman: War of the Supermen, a special weekly mini-series being released every week during the month of May. The event kicks off with an Issue #0 on Free Comic Book Day, followed by a four-issue mini-series that ships each week, written by Sterling Gates and James Robinson.
And as DC announced last month, the entire saga only adds up to a 100-minute war, with each issue covering approximately 25 minutes. Newsarama talked to the writing team about the event to find out more, and what the future holds for Superman as a different writing team takes over Superman and Action Comics this summer.
Newsarama: Sterling, now that we're into the Last Stand of New Krypton crossover, how does the official War of the Supermen event kick off?
Sterling Gates: The War of the Supermen kicks off on Free Comic Book Day with War of the Supermen #0! It’s written by James and myself, and features some stunning artwork by Eddy Barrows, Gary Frank, CAFU, Diogenes Neves, Julian Lopez, Aaron Lopresti, and a few other big names I can’t reveal yet.
We wrote the zero issue to be a really open issue, so that it would be both a good jumping-on point for new readers, as well as a really exciting issue for people that are reading the Superman books right now.
Nrama: We first heard about the War of the Supermen event months ago, but only recently was it announced that this is now a 100-minute war. Where did that idea come from?
Gates: The way I heard the story was Dan DiDio and DC Comics Publicity Manager Alex Segura were talking, and Dan was telling Alex about the war. Alex said, "New Krypton versus Earth? That’s going to last, what, like 100 minutes?”
And Dan said, "Oh, wow!" He called us up and said, "Hey guys. We're doing this thing in a few months. I know you guys have started talking about it and plotting, but what if we frame it around the idea of a 100-Minute War? A war fought so quickly that most of the heroes of the DC Universe have no time to react, so it's a pure Kryptonian-human skirmish."
James and I thought it was a great idea, so here we are.
James Robinson: Also remember, War of the Supermen is a weekly book, so we're taking advantage of that. It won't be a monthly thing where there's a huge wait between issues. This is very fast and big. So it's really a roller coaster once this thing starts.
Nrama: You've started the Last Stand of New Krypton story within Adventure Comics, Superman and Supergirl, so we've seen some of the motivations the characters have and how the war is set up. What can you tell us about what's behind Brainiac's role in the story?
Robinson: In Last Stand of New Krypton, Brainiac has a revenge-based agenda against the planet and its people. And Superman. Kandor is the one bottled city that got out of his grasp, that he once possessed and he no longer does. So his attack on New Krypton is based on that. However, there are more factors at work that we reveal along the way, which further will fold into the war. There's definitely more going on than you first think.
Gates: Last Stand is very much both a prelude to the war, and it's acting as sort of an Empire Strikes Back to the war’s Return of the Jedi. Things will play out and heroes will stand triumphant, but a lot of bad stuff will come down the pike as a result of Last Stand.
Nrama: We've seen that the Legion of Super-Heroes has a pretty significant role in the war's prelude. Why was it decided to give them a part to play in this war?
Gates: Our goal with using the Legion was twofold: First of all, James and I both have a love for the Legion, so we wanted to do this big Legion story before the war. Secondly, we wanted to cap off all the different Legion elements we've seen the last few years – since The Lightning Saga onward – and clear up everything in the present. That way, when Paul Levitz starts his run on the Legion [in Adventure Comics], he'll have a clean future, so to speak.
Robinson: As you've seen in Adventure Comics #8, Last Stand #1 and Supergirl #51, the Legion’s goal is to get the bottled cities out, because it's not only the right thing to do, but in the future, they have an importance to the Legion of Super-Heroes. We'll reveal why that is within the story. So it's important for their future in the 31st Century that they do what they have to do now in the present.
One of the things the Legion has been doing is waiting for this moment where they have to spring into action. And the reveal that Control is Chameleon Boy is something I've been keeping a secret since I introduced her. It was always my intention, when I introduced her at the start of the Atlas arc, that she was actually Chameleon Boy. And we've found out Mon-El and Superboy were surrounded by Legion members.
So they've been waiting for this moment when Brainiac revealed his hand, and now they have to go get the bottled cities out of his ship.
Nrama: Are we going to see as much of the Legion in the future, or is it sticking with the present? Solicitations mentioned the Legion of Super-Villains...
Gates: You know, solicitations are sometimes written very, very far in advance, and some elements that are in solicits don't always make it into the comics. Unfortunately, the Legion of Super-Villains is one of those elements.
Ultimately, we felt that Brainiac and Lex Luthor working together presented such a huge threat to New Krypton, we didn’t have the room for other supervillains.
Nrama: But you didn't lose Superboy, right?
Robinson: No, he's playing a huge role. While the Legion of Super-Heroes has been waiting for this moment to happen, they've also been aware that Mon-El is in the present and Superboy has just returned to life. So they've been squiring the pair of them in order to ensure they’re ready and prepared to be part of this thing they have to do. They were told by R.J. Brande – in what Brande refers to as his “Last Will and Testament” – that they have to do this, and they have to involve Superboy and Mon-El.
Gates: And as for why R.J. Brande has that knowledge and why R.J. Brande left that knowledge to those specific Legionnaires and sent them to the past, you'll find out. It's a big part of our story.
Nrama: Sterling, what can you tell us about the meeting between Brainiac 5 and Supergirl?
Gates: Legion and Supergirl fans both know that Brainiac 5 and Supergirl, historically, had a relationship. Time travel and love and relationships can be very, very tricky. This is sort of the first and the last time Brainiac 5 and Supergirl meet, depending on your point of view. Does that make sense?
Nrama: In a time travel way, yes.
Gates: Yeah. To steal a phrase from Doctor Who, it's “wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey”…uh, “stuff.” [laughs] It'll make sense within context of the story. But again, fans of Supergirl and fans of the Legion know that there’s classically a relationship between them. I play with that in Supergirl #52 in a really big way.
Nrama: James, how is Brainiac's attack affecting the relationship between Superman and Zod?
Robinson: The actions of Zod at the very beginning of Last Stand #1 is what brought Superman back to being Superman. He's back to wearing the costume and being Superman. He sees that Zod is an irredeemable person and realizes he's made a mistake trying to change things and change Zod. So there’s some very tense stuff between them in the course of this series, obviously playing into the fact that they'll be on opposite sides of the 100-minute war.
Gates: The relationship between Superman and Zod is really, I think, a tragedy. They’re two men who, under other circumstances in some other place, could understand each other and be friends. But here, now, on New Krypton, knowing what Superman knows about Zod and vice versa, these men are at odds. Superman has a code that he lives by, and it’s in conflict with Zod’s way of thinking, so they can’t be friends. They could’ve been. But they never will be.
And in Last Stand #1, you saw that begin to play out. Readers saw Superman give up his spot on the Kryptonian military and return to being the hero we all know and love.
Nrama: How important is the "war" for these Superman supporting characters that you guys have been exploring for several months? Is it an ending for some?
Robinson: Literally, everything is going to be turned on its head by the end of the war.
Gates: Yeah, there's a phrase, "life-changing events."
Both Last Stand and War of the Supermen are life-changing events, one right after another for Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, the people of New Krypton, even Lois. You'll see a lot of characters change before your eyes as events shake out.
It's going to be a hard war. War is not easy and war is not pretty. To quote a phrase that Ian Sattler came up with on the panel last weekend at Emerald City Comicon, “Super-War is Super-Hell.” I don't want anyone to think we're pulling punches because this is a Superman book. It's going to be tough on Superman and Supergirl and Superboy. It will also be hard for Nightwing and Flamebird, particularly Flamebird.
Nrama: And Steel gets involved? And the Justice League?
Gates: Steel is involved; the Guardian is a big part. Mon-El has a role. The Justice League is involved, but this war is occurring with such speed, most of the DCU doesn't even have time to mobilize and get punches in. You'll see brief glimpses here and there, but for the most part, this war is focused and is a purely Superman story... Well, that’s not entirely true. Just like the first “New Krypton” story, this war is both a Superman and Supergirl story.
Nrama: I'm sure Supergirl fans will be happy to hear that. But Sterling, even when New Krypton first appeared, did you guys always know that it was going to culminate with this big showdown, and have you been planting seeds for the War of the Supermen all along?
Gates: Absolutely. If you go back and look at the original document James and Geoff [Johns] put together, this war was always the end game.
And as for seeds, I've been planting seeds in Supergirl all along. Things that you don't even think are seeds are going to play out in a huge way in the war.
Same with James’ Superman run, same with Greg Rucka’s Action Comics run. There’s even stuff in Geoff’s Superman: Secret Origin book that’ll play a part in this war. The Superman books have been building towards this sequence of events for the last two years.
Nrama: James, we've just found out that War of the Supermen is the end of your run.
Robinson: It is? What are you telling me?
Gates: …annnd this just got awkward.
Robinson: No, I'm serious. What are you talking about, Vaneta?
Nrama: Uh oh.
Gates: [laughs] Oh, cut it out.
Nrama: James, it's been two years in the making, and Sterling just talked about this original document you had when you started your Superman run. Do you feel like you've accomplished the goals you set out to do when you started on the title?
Robinson: Despite the fact that having him as the star of Superman hasn't necessarily been a resounding success with fans – because they want Superman in the Superman book, and I think they'll be happy when he returns – I think I did a pretty good job of turning Mon-El into a real character. I think his arc, from the moment he comes out of the Phantom Zone until, you know, he goes back into the Phantom Zone, has developed him into a real character. It might have been viewed more favorably if it had been published in a book other than Superman. But I'm very proud of it, and I'm very happy with it.
And also, I was able to explore the feel of the world of Metropolis. I think the fact that Superman wasn't front-and-center allowed the city to shine a little bit more. And I'm happy with that too.
I mean, it will be strange to be the writer that, pretty much, his entire run of Superman didn't involve Superman. That's a kind of weird thing. But I'm very proud of the time I've spent on the book.
Gates: But that isn't to say you weren't writing Superman stories, because between “The Coming of Atlas” and 12 issues of World of New Krypton, you were pretty deep into Superman.
Robinson: Well, that's a different thing. The World of New Krypton was more like the "Adventures of Kal-El." Without the costume, he's... well, I guess I was writing Superman, but it felt different because I was trying to show the character, the person, the hero that is within Superman as much as the outward patina of Superman, which is his costume and his superhero ways, you know? In World of New Krypton, he was just one of 100,000 with the same powers. It felt a little bit like I was writing a different character than Superman, in all honesty.
Gates: That's what I liked about what you and Greg did on that book. You did a Superman story that really hasn't been done in recent memory, and can’t be done in the same way ever again.
Robinson: I'm not saying we didn't do good work. I think Greg and I together did a good job with that year of the book. But I'm saying that, it didn't feel like I was writing Superman. It felt like I was writing Kal-El's Adventures and the adventure of the Kryptonian community. It was a real challenge, and I enjoyed it very much. It was fun. But it was a different sort of experience than writing Superman properly, where he's fighting Luthor and his rogue’s gallery and all that kind of stuff. That's what makes Superman Superman.
But I'm actually going to be doing a story within Superman #700. I'm not sure that we can talk about what's in it yet. But let's just say I'm the guy who wrote the scene where Superman left Lois back in #685, so it's good that I'm the one who'll be writing this 10-page scene with Bernard Chang in Superman #700. And despite what that implies, I believe I'll be throwing a great deal of action into those 10 pages.
Nrama: I think the fear fans have about what comes next is that everything from your run is going to disappear once JMS comes on board. Do you know if there are still going to be pieces of this story left after War of the Supermen? Obviously some of these villains you've ramped up will still be around, not the least of which is Brainiac.
Robinson: I honestly have no idea what's going to happen after I leave. That's the next writer's thing. But I do know from talking with Sterling, that his book is going to kick ass.
Robinson: No, I really am impressed with what he's done on this book and what he's told me is coming. He has some amazing ideas.
I think, as good as Supergirl has been, it will be even better after the war.
Gates: Well, thank you. Yes, I plan on keeping some characters from the last two years in my book, definitely. And you're definitely going to see fall-out from the war reflected within the pages of Supergirl. To echo James, I can't speak for what the Superman writers have planned for their books, because I don't know specifics. I’ve heard broad strokes, though, and it all sounds killer.
Right now, James and I are just focused on making War of the Supermen the biggest and best Superman story we can.
Post-war, though, you're going to see Supergirl go to a totally new place that we haven't seen her go before.
Robinson: She'll also be the "S," the "super" member of the Justice League.
Nrama: She's come a long way. As long as we're talking about other characters from the DCU, can we finish by giving fans a few battles we'll see in War of the Supermen? Who's going to be fighting whom?
Gates: Superman vs. Zod, Supergirl vs. Superwoman, Alura vs. Reactron, Steel vs. Atlas, Codename Assassin vs. The Guardian, General Lane vs. Lois, Krypto vs. 100 Kryptonians.
Luthor vs. somebody really cool. Superboy vs. Non. Flamebird vs. science. Nightwing vs. someone else really cool that isn't Lex Luthor...
Robinson: You know what you could say? In a roundabout way, you'll see Flamebird vs. Luthor.
Gates: Yeah. There you go. Who else?
Robinson: Superman vs. Supergirl.
Gates: Right! Superman vs. Supergirl! I told you, this war's crazy!
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the next few months of Superman stories?
Gates: I think we're writing some really exciting stuff, and it's stuff you won't see happen again for some time. And there are things that are shocking, but things that are fun.
We’re telling a really big story across the next few months of Superman, one that pays out all of the work we’ve done the last few years, as well as paying out stories that were masterfully set up by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank in their run on Action Comics.
Robinson: And Geoff's run in Adventure Comics.
Gates: And also Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann's run on Action Comics. We're going to pay out some of the stuff they set up there. It's a really, really big Superman saga on a scale we haven't seen in a long time.
We’ve got great pencilers on the War of the Supermen, too, including Jamal Igle, Eduardo Pansicca, Don Kramer, and Eddy Barrows. Guys who deliver the scope of this story without sacrificing the emotion of it all.
The next few months will be a Superman roller coaster, with a lot of twists and a lot of turns. Your stomach's going to lurch a time or two…or hell, even three, or four, or fifteen times! It’s going to be a very big ride from here on out, and we really hope readers enjoy it. I know James and I are enjoying writing it.