Q&A with J. Michael Straczynski
Q. Were you surprised by the tremendous success of SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE Vol. 1?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: Yes and no. Any time one writes a book of any sort, one hopes for success with it. I knew that the story was as solid as I could make it, the art was great, and our lead character is one of the most recognizable figures in the world, so all of the elements were there. The question then becomes the degree to which it resonates with an audience: do they care about the story and the characters?
So while I suspected the book would do well, given the elements above, I never expected that it would spend 37 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels. What's especially interesting about that is that in the weeks and months since it came out, I heard from a massive number of readers who said that they'd never picked up a Superman comic before, that the character hadn't really interested them previously, but that they bought, and enjoyed, this one. I think we managed to reach a considerable number of folks who had never been able to dial into the character before.
We'd taken a rather risky path with the character of Clark Kent in the book, so to receive both a very strong response in both critical reception and sales was a huge validation that we'd made the right choice.
Q. Many creators have re-imagined Superman's origin story throughout the years. What frame of mind did you put yourself in to create a new, unique vision that stands by itself?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: The answer to that dovetails rather neatly into the comments above, but requires a bit of a long story. For two years I'd worked in Vancouver as writer/producer on a Showtime TV series called Jeremiah. Every week, I'd go down to the comics store on Granville near Robson for my comics fix. Now, if you know that area, then you know that Granville is a haven for street kids: the lost and the transitional, the runaways and the throwaways. I would often see them walk into the comics store in search of something, anything that resonated with them, and the world in which they had to live. They would scan the multicolored racks with desperate eyes, looking for something uplifting that would speak to them...and return to the streets empty handed.
For Superman to remain relevant, the character must grow and change and evolve, must be re-invented for each new generation. So that's what I decided to do with Superman: bring him to Metropolis in his early 20s today, right now, and give him the same task that awaits so many others at that age: let him define himself, figure out what he wants to do with his life and show the difficulties, but also the joys, of making that happen.
Q. What is the core tenet behind the SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE mythology you and artist Shane Davis have created?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: To show the human side of Clark and make him relatable. The key thing about Superman is that while you cannot pierce his skin, you can pierce his heart. His journey has to be one filled with action but it must also be a very personal journey of discovery. We must all discover who we are, and what we stand for when standing is the most difficult. Clark Kent is no different in that respect, and that key gave us our central approach to the character.
Q. Parasite is the starring villain in Vol. 2. What aspects of the character have you focused on?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: The Parasite is in a way the mirror image of Superman, in that Superman gives of himself to help others, and the Parasite takes from others to strengthen himself. So that gave us our focus from a thematic perspective. Before the accident that transforms him, he is a serial killer who exploits people until he no longer needs them, then murders them and moves on. Cold, calculating, conscienceless and very much in control. As Parasite, when the hunger for power hits him, he is very much out of control, and that dichotomy gave us some really cool dynamics to play with.
Q. Your version of Clark Kent isn't the instantly heroic Boy Scout archetype we all know. Will we see further change in Clark in Vol. 2?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: For me, the fun in writing Clark is that he's not so much a boy scout as he is, in his way, kind of naive when he comes to Metropolis for the first time. He's led a life in which he was always afraid that he might accidentally hurt someone, or that his powers might be discovered, so he withdrew into himself, leading a life where he touched as few people as possible, and was touched by few of them in return. Because he was an outsider, in a very literal sense, there was always a barrier between him and other people, between him and fun. But now that he's out in the world, on his own for the first time, he has to relate to other people more intimately than he has in the past, and there's a certain amount of fun involved in that, some of it at his expense. He has to figure out how to rent an apartment on his own, and how to deal with the beautiful young woman next door who thinks he's really cute. He's protective, and strong, but also very shy in his ways, and that ends up being very attractive.
Q. Are there any other supporting characters from the Superman mythos we'll see in Vol. 2?
A. J. Michael Straczynski: In addition to Parasite, there's an appearance by one character known well to fans of Superman, but whom I've been deliberately holding back until I could bring him in via a new path, reinventing him in ways that parallel what we're doing with Clark. I think this will be a pleasant surprise for readers, especially given the character he arrives alongside. I don't think anybody will see this one coming.