Few writers in the comic book industry have the diversified and critically-acclaimed mainstream careers like that of Steven Seagle, but at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, he discussed how far it can still go. While he's written the biggest team in comics ("X-Men") and beloved mystery/mature comics ("Sandman Mystery Theatre"), come December he'll be tackling the world's biggest fictional hero- Superman.
It may be surprising to learn Seagle hasn't always been a fan of Superman. "I wasn't," admits the boisterous creator. "I liked the movies, I didn't mind the comics, I never really read them much, but it was my 'Superman: It's a Bird' project that made me a fan. It's really a book about not getting Superman, not understanding Superman, not knowing why people like Superman and I was working on it when I sort of had my epiphany. I was on the last page of the book when Eddie [Superman group editor] called me and, no joke, that's when I accepted his offer to work on the series. He had called a couple of times before, asking me to work on the series but I told him that he had just picked the right day this time because I've been doing nothing but thinking about Superman so I've got a lot of ideas now."
For those who may not be familiar with "Superman: It's a Bird...," Seagle is excited to once again share with fans the details of the project...at least the details that he'll share. "It's an 124 page hardback from Vertigo, edited by Karen Berger, painted by Teddy Christiansen and he's done with about 90-95 pages of it, so it might come out sometime soon. It was supposed to come out some time ago but it's taken a long time to get through it, but it's certainly the weirdest Superman project you'll ever see- the fact that DC approved it is weird, but it's coo. But it's not rude, it's not vulgar, it doesn't swear, it doesn't hurt small animals- it's a more adult Superman story. I'm really happy that DC let me do it and I think that it's the best thing that I ever came up with. I'm not telling anyone anything about the plot. I was telling Teddy, who I love to work with, I had an idea that seemed to me like 'Arkham Asylum' seemed to me when I was a man. This hardcover shows up with Batman and is so outside of what is normally what you saw in Batman at the time, and I remember when I heard it was coming out, seeing the images, thinking 'what a weird thing, I'm afraid of that thing but I want to read that thing' and the same thing hopefully happens with this Superman project. It's not what Grant and Dave did with 'Arkham,' but I hope it has the same kind of effect on Superman that they had on Batman."
In writing the hardcover, as mentioned before, Seagle found his Kryptonian-muse and he explains that it was just a matter of the right ideas coalescing in his head. "It just seemed to me that I knew everything to know about Superman but through my other work I kind of deconstructed all the other aspects of him and I'm more informed about what I do and don't like about him. I kinda think it's probably a good thing in that in the Superman books they've been focusing on 'man' half of the character- Clark Kent has been fully realized, we've seen his personal life, he's been married, all that stuff and I'm going to go the opposite direction because I'm into the 'Super' part of it. I'm into the idea that he's an idea, how he compares to other characters in the universe and what it means to be the last of your kind, especially when you're the ultimate being on the planet. I think that's really interesting."
It's also very interesting that while some writers might try to downplay the fact that Superman is the icon of the comic book world, Seagle openly embraces that fact when writing the character. "He is the guy- the opening of Scott and my first issue shows why he is called Superman. I mean, stuff happens to him that if it happened to anyone else, they would be dead and I think that's the thing I want to bring to the book as much as possible. When you see something happen to him, I think it's critical that you think that if that happened to Green Lantern for example, his neck would have snapped or if that was Martian Manhunter, he would have died at that moment, and that's the stuff I want for Superman- stuff that only he can grapple with. That's not saying I'm going to be a genius with 'oh, here's the perfect villain' but in terms of thinking physically, what can he do that no one else can do. But the other side of that is making sure that is making sure that the people around him are aware that what they've just seen is unbelievable, y'know, and it's that kind of vibe that I'm going for. No slight to Joe Kelly and all of thm, but you're not going to see Lois & Clark having crumpets in bed in my comic. I think he is both of those things, but I'm going to illuminate the one that is God-like while Joe can illuminate the one that is man-like."
Seagle also notes that he's completed his first issue of "Superman," something that came to him a lot easier than he expected. "It's pretty good. I kinda just finished it without talking to anyone, which made me think 'that's not a good thing,' I sent in to Eddie and said 'I just wrote it, I don't know what to say, it's done, if you don't like it, I'll write something else' and he liked it. It's a change in direction- being Scott McDaniel's first issue on art too- and so it was passed around the DC office where people seemed to like it too. I'm happy that people liked, I kind of ad-libbed the issue as I'm usually more anal about plotting issues, so I'm happy it all worked out nice."
Speaking of Scott McDaniel, Seagle can't stop gushing about his collaborator's talent and believes that the duo has great creative synergy. "First of all, it's gonna be a very different book for the Superman books because Scott's work is naturally about light and shadow which is not what these books have been about for a long time. Scott's got a great design sense, we're doing a lot of new things and I got some sketches today from him of the designs for the first issues that show he's got a real good idea for accessible, compelling, interesting art. I think that one of the things I'm trying to do is get away from writing to heavily and with Scott it made it very easy because in my mind I can visualize how he's going to draw. So I can say 'I need to write a Scott McDaniel' page, which is very open page and has a very limited amount of events, but they're gigantic events, which is just right for Superman if you just think about it."
These events nay not include the Superman villains that immediately come to mind though, as Seagle seems to feel they've all been seen a lot in the last two years. "Well, the tricky thing is that they've really used everybody- I just got done reading the last four years and there ain't nobody left. The new storyline- 'Ending Battle'- uses everyone else and I'm sort of in a quandary. It's not exactly going to be Superman vs the villain- it's going to be that, but it won't be the core of the story- the stories are going to be about something else. I have one new villain group that's kind of the lynchpin for a few things that I really like and Scott's designs are really cool, but other than that I'm not sure about the villains. Some of my favorite villains are the hokey ones, like Brainiac, but they're not hokey anymore- anyone with a dumb name and a cool look I liked."
Depending on your perspective, the constant crossovers between the four weekly Superman comic book series have been a blessing or curse in disguise. While Seagle isn't about to comment on the work of his predecessors, he does admit that he generally isn't a fan of crossovers. "Well, I hate crossovers and that goes for everything I've worked on- with 'X-men' I said 'Please, no crossovers.' Even though I love working with Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Jeph Loeb, Mark Schultz and everyone, they're all great, it's very difficult and unless you have a great story that's enormous, it doesn't even make sense a lot of times. Mostly, the problem is that we write in very different styles- Joe [Kelly] is very funny, Joe Casey likes in your face stuff, I'm a little more cerebral- I think it doesn't make sense to have the same story that is the same but has these completely different takes on how the narrative sounds. I've told Eddie that as much as possible, I'd just not like to do them and who knows, maybe it'll happen. I know that for the first three months, it's just my stories."
"One of the things Joe and I tried to do with the X-Men was not crossover but crossunder, which is create an environment that is the same for the both books but not have the actual plot move the same way through that. They vetoed the stories at Marvel and they got flushed, but the idea is still a good idea. It happens in both books, but you don't need to read both books, you can read them out of order or whatever."
For Seagle, being able to write Superman represents the continuing highlight of his career- diversity in writing that he can only describe as "cool." "I love doing stuff like 'Sandman Mystery Theatre'- my personal interests are like that. I like more personal characters, I like more intimate settings, I don't even understand super-villains by-in-large and my brain works more psychologically than in that heroic bit. That said I love the idea of doing 'X-Men' and I wish I could have done it like I wanted to, but that's the characters I grew up reading, it didn't work out, so whatever. Superman is kinda the same thing- he is the most recognizable iconic figure on Earth I think, just this side of Jesus, but that's fun and scary, taking something that big and making new, fresh while staying true to everything that came before. It's exciting."
If you haven't been able to find Seagle at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, it's because he's been at booth #2604, the HQ of "Man of Action."The name is Joe Kelly's and I proposed 'Evil Geniuses,' and someone already had the website so I said forget it, so he suggested 'Man of Action,' which we all agreed to of course," says Seagle of the LLC he started with his friends. "It's basically four writers- Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Myself- and we talk to each other about stories, problems, films we're working on. It's like a thinktank where we try and create movies, videogames, television shows and stuff we all tried to sell separately. One of the things I'm working on is my own comic- writing, art, lettering- you name it. I might even publish it and I've always wanted to do it by myself. What we do really well is take genres that are familiar and combine them really well- superheroes, horror, western, etc. The first thing is going to be a kids book I'm putting out through IDW. Check us out at ManOfAction.TV"
Seagle says he'd also love to do a Dr. Strange story for Marvel Comics if he ever got the chance. "I'd do that in a minute. I thought about Dr. Strange forever, why he never held his own book for long and I think I figured out why. I don't think anyone's gonna call me."
When all is said and done, what does Seagle want to accomplish with his run on "Superman?"
"I don't think it's important that I work on Superman and people say that 'Oh, he's the one that gave him brown hair or cut his leg off' or something. Since Superman is this huge iconic figure, he needs to remain as Superman. The problem is that people sometimes think 'that's boring so all I can do is tell the same old story' and I don't think that's true at all- I think there's a lot of stuff we haven't seen from Superman at all and a sense of awe and wonder we need to see again. The fact that he can fly is taken for granted and it can't be, it shouldn't be! He flies and people should be shouting 'That dude's flying!' He's gotta be the character that does the miraculous stuff and the other characters in the universe know that he's the big guy. I don't like the feel that they're all buddies and they're like 'oh, good Superman's here'- he's awe-inspiring, he's frightening, he's amazing and he should be all those things. I want people to see all that neatness in that character."