Talk about burying the lead.
For the last year, Paul Cornell has been building Action Comics toward the triumphant return of Superman, culminating in the big reveal of what Lex Luthor has been orchestrating all these months.
And what's coming next is a big reveal too, as Lex Luthor created five Doomsday clones to battle Superman and the entire Super-family in the coming months.
But Cornell's shining moment was overshadowed by a back-up feature where Superman threatened to renounce his citizenship. Never mind that Superman is finally back in Action Comics -- and he's bringing other Super characters like Steel, the Eradicator, Supergirl, and Superboy with him.
Since Cornell took over writing duties in June 2010, Action Comics has starred Lex Luthor, presumably because Clark Kent was busy walking across America as part of the Superman title's "Grounded" storyline.
But now he's back. And in May's issue #900, Cornell will take Action Comics into a new storyline called "Reign of Doomday." The story will presumably last through August's issue #904, although Cornell won't confirm, because no DC comic creators are talking about what comes in September (that is to say, after the end of the alternate timeline summer event Flashpoint).
Newsarama talked with the writer to find out more about the revelations of Action Comics #900, what's coming in future issues, and what he thinks of all the attention being given to Superman's citizenship.
Newsarama: So Paul, what is the book like now that Superman is back?
Paul Cornell: It's the absolute inverse of what the Lex story was. This is demonstrating character through a series of dirty great fights. It's been really nice to write, because there's something almost refreshing about it. I'm almost writing it as a team book, because it involves Superman and all the other Super-related characters. And he gets to lead them and sort of give orders, which is always interesting.
Nrama: In Action Comics #900, you really pulled together a lot of little threads from different places, even involving things from the "Last Son" storyline. Was this always part of your plan?
Cornell: Absolutely. It was a plan to lead up to where Superman and Lex are in #900. There are all sorts of little hints and bits dropped along the way.
Nrama: Such as?
Cornell: Such as him being hung upside-down from outside his building in the very first issue. I was very pleased that that actually mattered, because I made such a big deal of it at the time. And it took me a day's worth of plotting after that to make out why I'd made it such a big deal.
There were lots of clues in the Mr. Mind issue, and it's important that Lex got to see inside the Robo-Lois when Vandal Savage chopped her in half. The conversation between Mr. Mind and Robo-Lois while the Secret Six conversation was going on was important. And I was really pleased that the Death and Joker and Vandal Savage issues all have little prophecies about what would happen in the end, and we managed to make them all come true.
Nrama: You've taken Lex on this journey, and the key part of the story's conclusion in Action #900 gave Lex the ability to be a benevolent hero, but in order to do it, he couldn't hurt Superman. We've always known that choice was behind Lex's actions, but you made it a real confrontation.
Cornell: That moment was in my head from the start. That was everything I've been working toward. I got to play that card, because that sums him up, in that moment.
And I also think it's really important that, when he asks Superman to apologize for everything he's done, Superman doesn't hesitate to say, "Yes! Absolutely! I apologize for everything!" He's quite willing to play to Lex's ego if there's a chance Lex will go through with it and be this benevolent force across the universe. Superman doesn't have an ego that needs to be fed.
Nrama: Another story in Action Comics #900 has gotten a lot of media attention. What do you think of all the reaction in the media to the Superman story where he said he would renounce his citizenship? And is that something you'll pick up in your Action story?
Cornell: I don't want to say anything about it, except that I wish people, especially comic fans, would talk about the story before they talk about the controversy. It's not something that I'll be dealing with in this arc of Action.
Nrama: Let's talk about what comes next. In "Reign of Doomsdays," each of these Doomsdays have different powers?
Cornell: Yes! Lex made a bunch of clones of the original, and they've each been set up to snare one of the different Super-characters. The aim was to bring them all to a place which would trap Superman. A trap which, in the end, Lex didn't need, but which he'd set up in advance anyway.
At the start of the Joker issue, he talks about setting up his "Plan B," and that's what that referred to.
So we have all these different Doomsdays. One of them was bad enough, is the thought.
Nrama: So in this month's issue #901, we'll see Superboy and Steel and all these characters coming together to work as a team?
Cornell: Yeah, and the team stays together for awhile. We've got them all following Superman's orders, and it gives a nice feeling to the book.
It's one of the reasons I'm using thought bubbles for Superman, because in front of that lot, in front of anybody really, he's not going to express doubt or worry. And I like him when he doubts and worries. So it's all internalized, it's all him thinking, "Four of them? One of them killed me!" But he wouldn't say that in front of anybody. So it's a good use of thought bubbles, I think.
Nrama: We recently talked to Jeff Lemire about the use of thought bubbles to his comic. Thought bubbles went away for so long, probably as comics started feeling more like movies, since other media don't use them. But isn't it difficult to make them work?
Cornell: It's one of those things where they just seemed unfashionable, and to make something fashionable again, you've just got to start wearing it again. And you've got to go for it whole-heartedly, and it will seem like the most natural thing in the world.
They are something film and TV don't do. The kind of "diary entry" captions that have been sitting in their place, in comics, for the last few years aren't exactly the same thing. They are a hero recollecting after the fact, despite the fact that one issue of Green Arrow, he stops scribbling his diary for a fight scene. "Wait a second! Here they come!" So what is that? Is that a thought? Or a diary? Or what?
But thought bubbles are different to diary captions. And they're what's happening right now. I do think we should reclaim them and start using them, and I'm glad people are.
Nrama: Last time we talked, you were excited to be writing Superman in Action Comics, but we now realize you're writing a lot of the Super-characters. Do you have to read up on them in their own books to make sure you're using them correctly now?
Cornell: I was kind of following anyway, actually. I particularly love Supergirl. There's always a female voice I'd like to have there, and for a long time, it was Robo-Lois. And Supergirl, and to some extent Lois, have just stepped in to do the quips and snarky lines I like to do. I really love writing Supergirl. She brings out a lighter side to Kal-El as well, with somebody else who speaks the Kryptonian vibe. They can be very easy with each other.
Steel sort of has this determination going on, because he's the one who's just a guy in the suit, as Lex put it in my first issue -- he's just a genius in a suit. And that's really interesting, because he's keeping up with the others.
Superboy is a bit more down-to-earth than Superman, because he's not a Kryptonian. He's an Earth kid. And that's how I'm writing him. I don't have a lot of time to explore Superboy as much as I'd like. I love that he's half Superman and half genius Lex Luthor.
Eradicator has a very cold, distant dialogue, but he gets a major bit in this story. There's big stuff for the Eradicator in this arc.
Nrama: The solicitations look like it's constant fighting, but is there more to this story?
Cornell: Well it is basically one continuous battle that covers a few astronomical units in distance. And it ends up in Metropolis.
There is a "Reign of the Doomsdays." The title does fulfill itself.
But during that dirty great battle, there's all sorts of character opportunity because everybody's there in one place. It's lots and lots of dangerous and immediate yelling.
I don't want to sound like I'm sarcastically underselling this. It's all the drama that I like doing, but it's just done at a high velocity.
Nrama: What we've seen of these Doomsdays so far, I don't think any character lasted more than a minute. There was no character that could last very long up against them. Are they really fighting him hand-to-hand?
Cornell: They're trying.
There's a new factor which will become obvious in Action #901, which we're not talking about yet, and that takes everything in a new direction.
I'm very pleased with it. I'm glad I got the chance to not only write Superman, but to write this whole-hearted Superman. Writing #900, I reduced myself to tears writing about Superman. That's kind of what you're aiming for, to get yourself like that. And I'm just thrilled with how this story is going and what I'm getting to do with these characters.