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Azzarello admits that initial reaction by fans wasn't entirely positive. "A lot of people were pissed," said the writer. How'd he get the gig? Simple, Jime Lee asked him. "It's as simple as that. We had been talking about doing a project together. He called me and said, 'I want to do Superman. How about you write Superman?' I said, 'Sure Jim, why not?'"
Naturally, it wasn't quite that cut and dry.
"Of course there was hesitation, it's Superman! It's something I never thought I'd be doing. I said to Jim, let me think about it, let me see if I could come up with an angle on this guy and I think I did."
But what is the angle he's found you ask? Azzarello was pretty tight lipped about his plans, but did share a handful of clues that'll give you the reader an idea of what to expect.
"The biggest thing with Superman for me, the reason why I'm writing it, is the character is missing inspiration right now. He has, arguably, inspired every character after him, but he's no longer inspirational. I'm looking to instill that back in him. Is that a task that is possible? I don't know, but that's my goal. I want to be inspired by Superman."
Azzarello did say that with his run on "Superman" he'll be concentrating primarily on new villains, but has no idea what DC's plans are for these new characters once his run is done. He figures that decision will be based on readers reaction to these new characters.
He's not yet finished all twelve issues of his run, admitting he's not the kind of writer who sits down and bangs out everything for a single book and then moves onto the next project, but he's very happy with what he's written so far. Looking at what's already been completed he's not regretted any of his story choices.
"It's moving along pretty much the way I outlined it," said Azzarello. "It's not really a traditional Superman story, though, I'll say that. It's a little bit slower moving. There are different layers. It's like pealing an onion, that's what we're going for.
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Azzarello said that the story is about the frailties of Superman. While he's clearly physically strong, emotionally and philosophically Superman's got his own weaknesses, the examination of which drives the story he's writing.
"He's gotta have weaknesses that we all have [in order] to make him relatable. He's gotta have the same sort of doubts that plague everybody."
Whereas over time some loose their religious faith, with Superman he's lost his own personal faith.
"I don't want to get too deep into the religion. It's funny, because one of the main characters he's relating to in this story is a priest. A priest who's also going through a crisis of faith."
Who will we be seeing in this story? None of the people you might expect.
"You won't see any of what you would consider the normal Superman cast. And you're not going to see much of Clark Kent, either. It's Superman. This is a Superman story.
"I want to write a Superman story that somebody who doesn't read Superman comics will understand. So, with that in mind, there's a lot of comics continuity that I'm not dealing with. Superman in real mainstream culture, not comics mainstream culture, is the Christopher Reeve Superman. The Daily Planet has a globe on top of it, not a hologram. Lex Luthor is his villain, everyone knows that. You're mother does. I want to write a Superman story your mother understands. She may not like it, but she'll understand."
As Azzarello's stated above, you'll mostly be seeing Superman in the book, the more alien side of the character, and very little of Clark Kent, the side of the character that's generally considered more human. In a sense, he's trying to make the alien, Superman, more human.
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This examination of the human side of Superman was touched upon in the first two Christopher Reeve "Superman" films. In the first one, there's the moment where Lois Lane dies and we see a vulnerable side of Superman, a more human side, when he reacts to her death. Of course the next thing he does is entirely super-human, turning back time, but the emotion of the character as he let out that scream resonated amongst fans of the film. In the second film, the writers tried it again, but this time they chose to take Superman's powers away, which ultimately many found to be kind of stupid.
"You know why you thought it was stupid? Because you knew he was going to get his powers back," said Azzarello. "In some instances of story telling people do things you know that are going to get resolved. If it's a really big thing, you just roll your eyes and wait for the resolution. Those are land mines that you really need to navigate around when you're dealing with these characters."
For Azzarello, this is the very reason why he generally doesn't like to work on company owned characters.
"You can't do a story where Superman dies, because he's not going to stay dead and everyone knows he's not going to stay dead. I have no desire to kill Superman, I'm just using death as an example. Batman, when he was a murderer, nobody thought he was a murderer. You knew that was going to be resolved.
"I don't have anything against mainstream characters at all. Good stories can still be told using these characters. It's hard to get real, honest, moral conflict with them, though, because they operate in a certain way.
"I'm having a good time with Superman and I think when we're done with this series there will be lasting repercussions in the DCU. Not just with Superman, but there will be some things we're pulling into this that people are probably going to say, 'Oh, wow, cool!' I'm staying away from the Superman family, but the whole DC Universe I'm not really staying away from."
What about Azzarello's partner in crime, artist Jim Lee? How much input has he had with the story?
"He's pretty much trusting me, the fool! I don't know if he's saying it's great stuff, but he's trusting me. If there's anything wrong with this book, you won't be able to blame Jim, okay?"
"Batman was a little easier, that's for sure. He's an easier character to relate to, I think for everyone. That's probably why he's so popular. You get a lot more wiggle room with that character as far as interpretation goes.
"You know what's funny about both of these characters, at least for me, is I think that their defining moments in the past 20 years have been 'The Dark Knight Returns.' That's when both of those characters became what they are now. Superman became the Boy Scout and Batman became the Dark Knight. For Batman, that was great. For Superman, I think it's hurt him. But is he doing the right thing? That's something we're going to be looking at. Sure, he's going to succeed, but what price is that success to everyone else? To the world in general?
As for as the recent history of the character, Azzarello really hasn't gotten too into them, asking, "Do you trust them for one thing? After the 'Death of Superman,' I mean, who actually thought he was dead?"
But is he saying the "Death of Superman" storyline had a negative lasting impact on the character?
"No, but I think that the TV show 'Lois & Clark' had a negative effect on Superman. I don't believe that in comic continuity Superman and Lois would have been married if not for that television show."
Conversely, Azzarello may not watch "Smallville," he says it's not really his kind of show, but he's seen a few episodes and understand why the show is so popular. "I think that the fundamental reason why that show works is because we all know the end and we're just waiting for it to happen."
Once he's done with his "Superman" run, Azzarello plans to run back into the outstretched arms of DC's mature comics line, Vertigo.
"It's where my heart is. The funny thing is, for a lot of creators in comics their hearts are with these characters. That's not where my heart is. My heart is in creating new stuff. I've been putting stuff off to do this and I just had to say at one point, 'I'm done.'
That doesn't mean he's regretted his decision to work on "Superman," it's just not home for him.
But what if his run is well received and DC were to beg him to continue, would he?
"I'm really done. Twelve issues is a lot. I know there are people that have worked on a single character for years and years and years, to the point where they become identified with that character. I'd much rather be identified with '100 Bullets' than 'Superman.'"
Azzarello's got another Superman related project on the horizon, the six-issue mini-series "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel," which was recently previewed in the back of February's Superman" #202. As you would expect, Azzarello says this book has a much darker tone than "Superman," a far more subversive book As for which series he's having more fun with, "Are you kidding? I'm so simpatico with Luthor! (laughs)."
Inspiration for Luthor comes from a variety of places. Real world tycoons like Bill Gates and Donald Trump have supplied some, as well as the character Gordon Gecko, as played by Michael Douglas in the movie "Wall Street." Will "Lex Luthor: Man of Steel" affect the core Superman titles?
"No, but it may have an affect on readers and how [readers] look at Superman. I hope so. This is a book from Luthor's point of view. Do you really think Luthor thinks he's evil? Every villain is the hero of his own story."
What's next for the writer? While the lid must be kept tight on details of his next project for now, he did reveal a few clues about his next ongoing series.
"It'll probably be announced this summer. Marcelo Frusin and I are working on a new series together. It'll be a western. It'll be a long mini-series, like a maxi-series. It'll last for three or four years. I'm looking right now at about 48 issues."
"Superman" #204, the first issue by Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee, hits comic shops April 28th. For more with Azzarello, check out CBR's June 2000 interview with the writer wherein he talks about the then recently begun "100 Bullets."