Talking "Superman" with Kurt Busiek

Mon, October 23rd, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Andy Khouri, Editor

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Kurt Busiek is no strange visitor to DC's Superman. Busiek's ambitious "JLA" arc, "Syndicate Rules," and the tremendously popular "JLA/Avengers" displayed the writer's ability for creating tales suited to the some-would-say difficult-to-write Man of Steel. In 2004, Busiek and his collaborator Stuart Immonen unleashed "Superman: Secret Identity," considered by many to be one of the finest Superman stories ever printed and undeniably 100% Busiek.

Still, it was only recently that Kurt Busiek began regular work on Superman's monthly titles - which, for those just joining us, are now a very manageable two - "Action Comics" and "Superman," the latter of which Busiek writes monthly. Earlier this year, teamed with Geoff Johns and artist Pete Woods, Busiek co-created the eight-part "Up, Up and Away" storyline, which reintroduced Superman to the world of the DC Universe after his year-long absence following the events of "Infinite Crisis." The sprawling and action-packed storyline was essentially a quiet reboot of the Superman franchise, reaffirming and occasionally reestablishing the Man of Steel's world; his powers and abilities; his years in Smallville; his relationship with Lois Lane; his job at the Daily Planet; and the history and culture of Krypton.

Interestingly, a number of changes and additions to these staples of Superman appear to have been informed by versions of the character created outside of comics. For example, Krypton and its technology, in particular, incorporate a great deal found originally in Richard Donner and Bryan Singer's Superman films. Additionally, artist Pete Woods draws Superman with a raised "S" shield, similar to the costume designs of "Superman Returns," and the comics have made mention of a super-powered boy known to have operated mysteriously in the mid-west, invoking of course, "Smallville."

"The crystal 'sunstone' technology was introduced because Geoff's such a big fan of that first movie," Busiek told CBR News. "The S-shield is raised, when Pete Woods draws it, because he likes it that way - though he's not drawing the movie shield, he's drawing the Lee Bermejo shield from 'Lex Luthor: Man Of Steel.'

"And the 'super-boy' in the Midwest wasn't inspired by 'Smallville' at all - it was an idea I had that Geoff liked at lot, so we talked [DC Executive Editor] Dan Didio into it, and only realized afterward that it might be seen as a 'Smallville' nod. I'm just dumb that way."

Unintentional references to television shows and movies aside, Busiek notes that he sees nothing wrong with intentionally borrowing from extra-comics versions of Superman. "Jimmy Olsen came from the radio show, Livewire came from the cartoon. Why not use good ideas wherever they come from?" asked Busiek. "I have an idea for how to bring Chloe Sullivan of 'Smallville' into the comics, though in a somewhat different role than people might imagine. Geoff likes it, Matt Idelson likes it, Dan Didio likes it, so we'll have to see if we can actually do it. But if we can, she'll be a strong and useful character, so why not?"

Following the conclusion of "Up, Up and Away," the stories generated by Busiek and his collaborators are classic Superman every way, yet always making a clear effort to steer the genre's most important character into the future - which in and of itself is a quality of "classic" Superman, as the Man of Steel is of course also known as the Man of Tomorrow. One of these tales, the three-part "Back In Action," was recently completed in the pages of "Action Comics." In it, an omnipotent alien commodities trader captured all of Earth's super-powered beings, villains included, for the purposes of reselling them on the collectibles market. Naturally, in doing so, the rogue trader caused all sorts of chaos in the streets of Earth. Making matters more difficult for Superman was the other captured heroes' reluctance to accept him as the genuine article. Indeed, super-fakes are not unheard of in the DC Universe, especially following a super-hiatus. The story concluded with the revelation that in addition to Superman and Supergirl, there was a third Kryptonian on Earth.

The storyline was remarkable not just for its complex plot, but for its huge amounts of action. "The 'Action' three-parter was designed to be a big summer-movie-style blowout, with lots of guest-stars and a big open scope to the whole thing," Busiek said. "It's 'Action Comics,' after all -- so let's ramp it up!"

Originally, Busiek wasn't meant to do any work on "Action," but when the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner's "Action" run was set to be launched in October rather than July, Superman editor Matt Idelson needed a team to fill in those three months. "I volunteered," Busiek said. "Since me doing it meant that we could actually use those issues to build for the future and play off what we did in 'Up, Up and Away,' rather than just having three issues of filler. But I also knew the time pressure would be tough, so I pitched Matt on bringing in someone to help me plot the books. The idea I came up with felt like something that Fabian [Nicieza] would be right for, so I asked Fabian to hop in, and that's about as complicated as it gets."

While Nicieza won't be co-writing "Superman" with Busiek on a regular basis, the pair's success on the "Action" three-parter was too great to ignore. "'Back In Action' went so well that we'd be dumb not to do something more together," said Busiek. "We're already co-plotting a one-shot issue looking back at Superman's early days in Metropolis for ["Superman"] #660, and we've worked out another one-issue story, dealing with the Metropolis Monarchs baseball team. I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan, Fabian's a Yankees fan, and we plotted the story the day we saw a Sox-Yankees doubleheader, in between the two games. It was a lot of fun."

Busiek added that another idea developed for the three-month gap that, while good, was deemed inappropriate for that particular time will be seen later as a collaboration with Roger Stern, one of Superman's most critical architects during the 1990s. "[The story is] in Roger Stern's hands at the moment. He and I will be putting it together into a special arc we'll drop into the books somewhere."

In Busiek's most recent "Superman" issues, readers are seeing the kinds of Superman stories they've for years been asking for. Each issue is so far all but overflowing with things like radioactive threats, giant-sized Kirby villains, rampaging monsters, time-traveling wizards, and Perry White screaming the hell out of Clark for being "too lazy." But Busiek never forgets the human side, writing an especially touching tale of Superman desperately trying to get the world's threats under control long enough to finish his Daily Planet assignments and celebrate the twelfth anniversary of his and Lois' first "can you read my mind" type flight together. Naturally, a Man of Steel's work is never done, and just when he thinks he's failed to complete his pedestrian tasks in time, he comes home to find that his beloved wife has already done it for him! Also, she is in her underwear. The anniversary was saved.

In "Superman," Busiek's taken advantage of Kal-El's newly heightened powers. Showcasing not just the Man of Steel's physical abilities but his super-cleverness as well, Busiek wrote a scene in which Clark Kent reads several books a minute - simultaneously.

"The funny thing is, I didn't make that kind of thing up, with the super-memory and the super-fast reading and all," said Busiek. "Superman used to do that sort of thing all the time - or at least, it was implied that he did it in-between issues. I just figured it was actually pretty cool, so let's show him doing that kind of thing, since it's been more-or-less forgotten for a couple of decades.

"We'll be exploring that sort of thing more in the future, but it'd spoil the fun to tell you beforehand what you're going to see."

Curiously, Clark critiques specifically a book by real-life thriller author John Sanford, saying, "It's not bad - there's a central conceit he doesn't quite sell, though it moves well enough - but I'm only half paying attention."

"I am a fan [of Sanford]," Busiek said. "But Clark is reading a nonexistent Sandford novel. Essentially, he's reading what 'Dead Watch' would be if it had been written and published in the DCU. If you read the tiny type on those pages, you can see similarities to the actual novel, but plenty of DCU references as well. So he's not actually bashing a real Sandford novel.

"I will admit, though, that I did have that same sort of problem with the latest Sandford, so to that degree Clark's echoing my critique. Even though it's a different novel. He can do that - he's Superman!"

In the most recent issue of "Superman," DC's cult magician, Arion of Atlantis, unseen for years until "Infinite Crisis," appears before Superman to warn him of hellish times to come. "For the next couple of issues, we'll be exploring the devastated future that Arion's come to warn Superman about, which features a lot of foreshadowing and omens and character changes and such, and leads to a big decision Superman's going to have to make," said Busiek.

"After that, we take a quick break to let Carlos get back ahead of schedule again, with a special issue focusing on Krypto, and where he's been since 'Infinite Crisis' and why, and that issue I mentioned about Superman's early days in the big city," continued Busiek. "Then Carlos returns for the next half of the 'Camelot Falls' arc, which will feature Arion, Perseus Hazard and Squad K, some New Gods, Power Girl and the question of the 'Third Kryptonian,' and a bunch more. After that, there's a special event that I'll let Matt Idelson announce, but we'll be building up to the debut of the new Insect Queen, revelations about LexCorp, outer-space adventure, more on Intergang, and plenty else to keep Superman hopping."

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