Whodathunkit? Paul Cornell is delivering a monster DC Universe spanning epic story in "Action Comics" every month and Superman is nowhere in sight, let alone former "Action" headliners like Congo Bill and Tommy Tomorrow.
Nope. Cornell, the first person in the history of the Hugo Awards to be nominated for prose, comics and TV writing, is telling his opus with Lex Luthor as his leading man, and fans and critics alike are loving every issue.
Lex, for those living under a rock since his debut in "Action Comics" #23 in 1940, is Superman's follically-challenged arch enemy. And while he possesses no superhuman powers, he has from time to time over the past 70 years worn a super-powered exoskeleton.
But that power surge is nothing like the one he experienced during "Blackest Night" when he briefly served as an Orange Lantern alongside Larfleeze.
Since then, Luthor has been criss-crossing the DCU in search of similar powers, along the way crossing paths with some of the biggest supervillains on the JLA's most wanted list, including Master Mind and Deathstroke. Things don't get any easier for Lex in the months ahead, either, as he'll be facing off against Vandal Savage, Secret Six and Death herself.
But first, he's got to face off with Gorilla Grodd. CBR News checked in with Cornell to get the definitive Tale of the Tape and the acclaimed writer also shared news about the upcoming "Action Comics" Annual #13 and how his story in the ongoing title ties into the incoming Jimmy Olsen co-feature by Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva
CBR News: We wanted to ask you about the upcoming "Action Comics" annual, of course, but first off, this week in "Action Comics" #893, Lex is up against Gorilla Grodd – my all-time favorite supervillain. What kind of threat is Grodd for your man of action?
Paul Cornell: [The story is] about two master strategists playing against each other. Grodd is every bit Lex's intellectual equal, and he won't let him near his base, so something's got to give. A battle of wits is always my favorite thing.
In the Tale of the Tape, who leads in which categories? Grodd must have it over Lex in pure strength, but who is smarter?
Grodd obviously has him on strength, especially since Lex has left his power suit behind this time. This can't end well, can it, especially considering the guest star next issue?
That's right; in "Action Comics" #894, Lex meets Death – literally. I read recently that you actually worked quite a bit with Neil Gaiman on the issue. How did her introduction to DCU proper come about and how involved was Mr. Gaiman in the creation of the issue?
Neil was involved all the way, checking out my scripts and supervising Death's dialogue in the final draft.
Can you share any details about the actual story in #894?
Hmm, no, I don't think so. It's an encounter between the two of them, there's no fighting involved, but as you'd imagine, it looks like there might be a very urgent issue at hand there for Lex.
From there, we see that Vandal Savage pays Lex a visit in #895, and it looks like he's sticking around for the "Secret Six" crossover, too. Is Vandal joining "Action Comics" full-time? And what can you tell us about the Secret Six crossover? Did you get to work with Gail Simone?
There's an issue of "Action" with Vandal, then an issue where it's him versus Lex and the Secret Six, which is the siege of LexCorp – and we also crossover a little with the excellent Jimmy Olsen back up strip – then it's over to Gail to finish it all off in the pages of "Secret Six" itself. Gail's one of my all-time favorite writers, and it's an absolute pleasure to do this with her. I asked for it specifically because I love "Secret Six" so much, and because Lex, Vandal and the Six all have such interesting issues with each other.
Before we jump into the annual, how are you picking these supervillains each month? Are you picking the baddie to go with a story or idea or are you saying, "I like Grodd. What kind of fun could I get him into with Lex?"
We sorted out a list of them, and an order of appearance, before I started. I asked for a couple of villains that weren't available, but I pretty much got my wish list. Some were suggestions from Matt Idelson and Wil Moss, some were ones I always wanted to write and some are there for a particular bit of the arc plot.
What is it you feel makes an annual work? They're usually slightly out of continuity with the regular happenings of the ongoing series and in many cases (not this case) they're written by a guest writer. Because many of my favorite single issues from my youth were annuals. Is it the sheer size of them, or is it the fact that they are slightly out continuity so anyone can jump in and enjoy themselves?
I think writers don't want people who are following an arc of the series to be forced to read the Annual as well to follow the plot. But we had an easy solution to that, offering a different version of our format, with Lex meeting two villains before our series started. So it's not part of our plot, but it is our format and offers loads of fun action and character stuff for Lex.
This is a younger Lex you're writing, too. Is he depicted differently from your current run?
He's in the process of being formed. He's just arrived in Metropolis and still has his hair. He's already experienced the formative moment in his life, killing his father, but there are still a few corners to be knocked off him.
You can't find two villains much more different from each other than Darkseid and Ra's al Ghul. How did you land on these two heavyweights for Lex to face in the annual?
Lots of conversations with Matt and Wil. We wanted Darkseid right from the start, because his timeline makes so much sense for Lex, and because I love how Kirby writes him, and just how different his world is to Lex's, which was a factor always in us choosing villains for the series. Ra's was a later idea, by Wil I think, and a very good one.
The two stories form a pair, contrasting with each other, both kind of on the same theme. They're both about how Lex deals with a particular relationship in his life. The second one is written in the form of rather broken verse captions, which suits Ra's nature, I think.
Looking ahead, which villains will Lex face in 2011? And will you get a chance to write Superman next year too?
I can only tell you that we have some stellar and strange villains ahead. I will indeed get to write Superman after this Lex story is over, and I'm really looking forward to it.
You're obviously busy with "Action Comics" and "Knight and Squire," but do you have any other projects coming in 2011?
I'll keep on doing two DC comics a month as part of my exclusive, so there will indeed be something exciting after "Knight and Squire." And 2011 is also when my novel comes out.
"Action Comics" #893 by Paul Cornell and featuring art by Sean Chen is in stores now.