By Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, Tom Peyer & Mark Waid
Historical record tells us that every fifteen years or so, Superman is re-imagined to address the wants and needs of a new generation. Fifteen years ago, John Byrne recreated Superman from the ground up. Fifteen years prior to that, Julie Schwartz and Denny O’Neil engineered the biggest shakeup since Mort Weisinger began bringing in all his familiar lore fifteen years previous.
The Superman relaunch we’re selling bucks the trend of sweeping aside the work done by those who came immediately before. Unlike the "cosmic reset" revamps all too prevalent in current comics, our New Superman approach is an honest attempt to synthesize the best of all previous eras. Our intention is to honor each of Superman’s various interpretations and to use internal story logic as our launching pad for a re-imagined, streamlined 21st century Man of Steel. The "cosmic reset" notion has been replaced by a policy of "include and transcend" with regard to past continuity.
Our intention is to restore Superman to his pre-eminent place as the greatest super-hero of all and to topple Spawn and every Marvel comic that’s currently in his way.
The key to the initial concept lies in a radical but organic reversal of the currently accepted logic of the Superman/Clark dynamic.
Superman is defined immediately by his increase in capability. This is a more powerful Man of Steel, a Superman with a much keener intellect and curiosity. Suddenly there’s more to learn, more to do, further to travel and a greater responsibility than ever before. At the same time, one of the first effects of his increases in power is to make Superman a little more remote (but only as he takes time to understand the changes which have affected him). After the initial shock, Kal is more Superman than ever before, with a corresponding tight focus on the character and his incredible adventures. Now is the time to make Superman very definitely the star of his own book and to play down the sprawling soap opera subplots.
Superman’s character is one we all feel we know intimately. The scene with Superboy and the grasshopper in Miracle Monday nails it beautifully; this could be the world’s scariest living being, a detached, scientific observer with the ability to experiment upon us all. Instead, this brilliant Kryptonian brain was introduced to the noblest of human values and somehow those great powers were put to use in the service of an ethical code the Kryptonians would have been impressed and startled by.
To that end, we’d like to balance out his battles with Brainiac and Luthor with stories which thoroughly explore those values, stories allowing him to return to his roots as a champion of the weak and oppressed. Even more so than for Batman, Green Lantern, Flash--all his peers and contemporaries--Superman’s job is to fight for and inspire those who cannot fight for themselves. His job is to make this world a better place and to help all men realize their potential as supermen.
His curiosity and kindness are childlike in their purity but he should also be frighteningly quick and clever. The combination of contradictory qualities adds to his slightly removed air. The eyes go vague when he looks at your electrical field for a second and gets the idea for an oscillating defensive forcefield based on the rhythms of your pulse rate. Sometimes he seems not all here, but it’s only because he’s much more here than we can sensibly hope to be.
We’d like to tweak the costume by finally getting rid of the red underpants. This gives us a new look which somehow recovers the more classic, Golden Age, "primal" Superman look and feels like an update. This move also has instant media appeal: Finally, Superman’s smart enough to wear his shorts UNDER his pants.
During the "Lost Years" of Clark Kent after he left high school--if he still has any room left in there--we’d like to establish that he met and was given training by a member (or members) of the Justice Society, possibly Al Pratt, the Atom. Since Superman in our currently-operating timestream wasn't the first super-hero, we’d like to restore his prominence by reaffirming that he is most certainly the greatest. We see Doctor Fate, near the end of his group’s life, telling the JSA that their work is all but over. That the first age of heroes was but the prelude. That soon, the greatest hero of all will arrive from the stars and it will it will be the task of the entire JSA to find him and teach him about the world of the costumed crimefighters. This little addition to the past gives Superman a new grandeur, a fresh religious dimension, and ties him more directly into the development of superheroics in the DCU (although having said that, we want to keep Superman's adventures on the periphery of the Universe, in the sense that we don't really mention the JLA much or refer a great deal to other heroes. The JSA should be seen as some misty Olympian group of supermen from the past, guys who are now dead, gone or replaced by the greatest hero of all. At least in his own book, we want to reclaim that old feeling that Superman is the only super-hero). It also seems mythically right that Superman should, at some point before he dons the cape, meet his predecessors, his John the Baptists, who have awaited his coming and now have a few lessons for the fledgling hero.
It’s always bothered us when Jor-El is shown to have knowledge of Earth's existence and even to have pictures of our planet. There's something so much more powerful about the infant Kal-El being hurled into space with only the slim chance that he might find a safe haven out them. The cosmic drama of Superman’s arrival on Earth is diminished, we feel, by Jor-El's aiming the rocket at Earth. There’s something mythical about the seemingly hopeless plight or the tiny alien child through merciless space. What cosmic destiny allowed the escape ship's computers to finally seek out and home in on a planet with the optimum conditions for survival of the Kryptonian infant--the computer, programmed by Jor-El to locate the best possible environment for the development of the child, finally giving up the ghost as it shuts down everything but survival systems and crash-lands on a primitive, technologically challenged planet. By sheer million-to-one chance, Jor-El’s last, desperate attempt to preserve his world, his bloodline, his people, this quite un-Kryptonian act at hope, is validated by Earth and by Superman’s arrival there. For Jor-El to know of Earth seems to strip away this sense of miraculous fate; he's simply posting his kid off to a world where he knows he’ll be great.
Priority One is to make Clark Kent different from Superman. For too long, they’ve been exactly the same guy with zero contrast between them. Clark doesn’t have to be an overblown drama-queen wimp, but neither can he be so super-successful he has the world in his pocket. We must not forget why he was created in the first place--to be a touchstone. To be the half of Superman which readers can actually relate to because we all (Jesus, especially comics readers) want to believe that even though we may be put upon and bullied by the world from time to time, we know what those who pick on us or look down at us don’t--that if they could see behind our glasses, they’d see a Superman. In short, we’d like to use Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent as a base, but lend him enough dignity so that he’s not the total Reeve cartoon.
Clark is the creation of Superman's memory and imagination. His eyes can see through skin and stone and light years; only memory tells him what it was like to simply see and he can only imagine what it would be like to need glasses. Still, Clark is his cherished link back to his human upbringing and the ethical structures forged in the Midwestern dream of Smallville. Without Clark, Superman knows, he might have been inclined towards detachment, aloofness, alienness. As Clark, he can walk among people, meek, quiet, unnoticed, learning all the time. From this perspective, the secret identity becomes something more like the human disguises gods would don or the rags kings would wear when they wanted to walk among the ordinary and the merely human. Without even a hint of condescension, Clark is eternally delighted by humanity. A man whose perceptions so routinely unlock mysteries and secrets genuinely loves to be confronted by the only thing in the universe which can actually surprise him.
And so, Clark is where he goes to sit on seats and drink coffee and watch TV. Sometimes, Clark sits in his apartment listening to alien music and watching sunspot activity with his telescopic vision. Other times, he relaxes simply by observing with reverence the actions of ordinary humans in extraordinary situations. Whatever, he's always busy. Even when he's just sitting still. And Clark allows Superman to do stupid little stuff with his powers, like getting back at Steve Lombard or whatever.
Clark’s also the sob sister of the Daily Planet, if not of all Metropolis. Despite his attempts to keep a low profile, compassion radiates from him, and people pick up on that almost unconsciously. Friends and total strangers alike constantly confess their plights and problems to poor Clark. They don’t want advice. They just want someone to listen, and no one listens better than him. This aspect of his character naturally opens up the occasional avenue to the smaller human-interest story which can be investigated by Clark the reporter and by us the writers.
One final little note, which has nothing to do with the fact that Grant wrote "Animal Man" and Millar’s a veggie, but is a matter for pure logic. Clark eats bouef bourginon? The man with a code against killing eats murdered animals? Regardless of his farm upbringing, can we justify a Superman this aware and attuned to life in all its forms being a carnivore? Though there’s no need to make a direct, on-stage issue of it, file this thought away; his diet would be beans, pulses and windfall, if anything, and his body would be capable of extracting maximum energy from these simple foods if not solely from the sun’s rays.
Lois brings us to the second major phase of our approach. Everyone’s in agreement that the marriage and the emphasis on soap opera no longer seems to be working as well in the current market as it once did and that a major part of our imperative should be to restore the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle. This is, to our collective mind, one of the most if not the most important reader-identification elements to the character--and yet, we have to find it again without putting the All-American icon through a divorce, without killing anyone, without sullying this grand romance known the world over.
How we dissolve the marriage and still be true to the fact that it happened is the one instance where we’ll have to sail close to the cosmic reboot dock--more on this below--but hopefully this time the change will be organic and satisfying and will have a magical, romantic feel rather than the cold, surgical procedures of the previous era’s retconners.
Our absolute conviction is that we’ll have failed in our job if readers cheer when Lois and Superman are split. Everyone will be EXPECTING this to be the first thing we do. We have to make them love Mrs. Superman and THEN take it all away. This has to be universe-shattering romantic overload and when it’s over, it has to break every heart in the land. If it doesn’t, if we do it and nobody cares, we do a disservice to the Superman/Lois relationship. Now that this has happened, we can’t and won’t treat it as just a mistake without making it at least as meaningful a farewell to the Byrne/Jurgens era as Alan Moore’s Krypto deathscene was to the Weisinger legacy. We honestly feel pretty strongly that Lois Kent and the marriage deserve our best efforts before we get rid of them.
First thing we must do, however, is shake up the relationship and define its quirks and boundaries anew.
As we approach mid-year, we unleash our Big Story. The unthinkable has finally happened. Luthor and Brainiac, working together, have finally unearthed the secret of Superman’s dual identity----and they tell the world.
Superman is totally and irrevocably exposed for the first time, and the consequences are more disastrous than he ever imagined. In less time than it takes to tell, his personal life has been destroyed as souvenir hunters snatch everything in his office and apartment; his parents have been hospitalized by a vengeful Parasite; the Daily Planet has likewise been leveled by his enemies, with Jimmy and Perry barely able to escape with their lives--maybe. And Lois may as well just paint a target on her head. For sixty years, we’ve been telling readers why Superman’s secret identity is important. Now we show them.
The Luthor/Brainiac team intensifies its efforts to manifest a global threat. Brainiac turns Earth’s sun red to drain Superman’s powers. Luthor trips triggers he’s had in place for years, all while pitting an ever-weakening Superman against a phalanx of his greatest foes while the Man of Steel wracks his brain trying to figure out not only how to save Earth but how to get his--and, more importantly, Lois’s--life back.
Ultimately, Luthor’s threat becomes so grand that it threatens all of spacetime--including the Fifth Dimension, forging a tense alliance between Superman and Mxyzptlk. With superhuman effort, Luthor and Brainiac are thwarted--but not before Brainiac gets his revenge.
Ma lives on to play an important role as the connection to Superman’s lost past, his own "golden age."
It's no longer a newspaper--or, if it does publish papers, it does so as an ancillary gesture to the faithful. The Daily Planet becomes the world's preeminent global internet news service, read worldwide. For the first time, the citizens of Fiji can read Clark Kent's exclusive on how Superman capped their erupting volcano. Not nearly as drastic a move as making Clark a TV reporter, Clark (and Lois and Jimmy and Perry) maintain their exact same jobs; only the venue changes, to something a lot more exciting, accessible, and identifiable to young readers.
While, as with the current run of books, there will always be time for subplots and secondary character development, our take on the SUPERMAN titles is that they aren’t "group books" or "ensemble pieces." Even more than now, we want the focus to be on Superman himself as he takes part in grand, world-shattering, star-spanning adventures which tap into the same sense of awe and wonder we strove to invoke with JLA and KINGDOM COME. Superman is the Man of Tomorrow. He mustn’t stay mired in the fast-passing trends of yesterday’s post-WATCHMEN comics. Superman’s world isn’t the life-sized, realistic world outside our window. It’s a world of limitless wonder, a thrilling circus of amazement in which absolutely anything can happen.
Superman's super-intelligence and increased speed of perception, etc., has left him with more time and brain cells to fill, so the Fortress becomes a place of baroque activity once more as Superman becomes the hobbyist par excellance, the polymath who's interested in EVERYTHING. The Fortress becomes trophy room, laboratory, gymnasium, observatory--the perfect hangout for the ultimate being. Let's see the Fortress stuffed with incredible artifacts from all space and time. The Titanic hangs from the ceiling (Supes and Lois dine in the great staterooms, overlooking the wonders of the Fortress).
Superman's laboratory contains the Superman Molecule, where Superman engraves his personal diaries using heat vision through special goggles which reduce its bandwidth. The stories on the Superman Molecule are all told by Superman himself and allow us to see the world via his incredible senses: "The alcohol on his breath killed exactly 15 billion bacteria. There was no way I could save them. I did my best to patch up a liver malfunction during a microscopic high-speed scan of his body..."
Elsewhere lies access to The Phantom Zone Vault, with its weird maps of this odd, infinite region of unspace originally used by Kryptonians to house artifacts and weapons. (The Phantom Zone sectors currently mapped by Superman include the site of Prometheus's Crooked House and the region where the White Martian Mothership is docked. The Zone will be colonized by the 30th century and become known as Tesseract Space.) The idea here is to emphasize the outrageousness of Superman's Herculean pastimes--he's seriously making maps of an infinite region of apparent nothingness. In the same Vault, the Phantom Zone Telescope is a machine which allows Superman to observe the eerie world of Phantom Supermen left here after THE KINGDOM.
There's a Krypton Museum which has a huge floating globe of the lost planet reconstructed from the holographic memory traces in the resonant atomic structure of Superman's rocketship (whose metal, being part of the atomic structure of lost Krypton, "remembers" the atomic structure of lost Krypton. Superman and his robots are now sophisticated enough to perform archaeological forays into ambient molecular memory and slowly reconstruct the glorious landmarks of the doomed planet). "You can even see Fort Rozz, Krypton's Mobile Arsenal, and there's the Quantum Jungle moving rapidly across the face of the planet..." etc.
Huge solar batteries collect the Antarctic sun during the long summer days. Sometimes, Superman bathes in the rays of the huge solar collector. Suspended between the giant mirrors, Superman could perhaps even super-charge his cells with extra solar power before a serious battle.
In short, we have a new blanket take on Superman’s foes. We’ve recast many of them as cracked-mirror reflections of the Man of Steel himself, aspects of his character taken to a villainous extreme. Brainiac represents Superman’s alien nature without his human compassion. Luthor is the only man on Earth capable of being Superman’s equal but has squandered his unlimited potential on evil. Prankster fights for Truth and Justice in a demented way, and Bizarro...well, read on...
Taking the already existing Bizarro character and spinning off from Peyer's 80-Page Giant story, we can restore the creepy, demented, unnerving quality of the old Bizarro World stories. A little funny still...but somehow, a lot more scary.
Lex Luthor builds a green-flesh computer brain and body to house the dying Brainiac. The space-villain becomes Luthor's Frankenstein Monster, a heartless machine whose intellect and cosmic reach dwarfs even his creator's genius. Unlike Luthor, Brainiac hasn’t a shred of compassion and is the only enemy whom Superman genuinely fears.
We see Luthor playing chess with twenty grandmasters simultaneously while reading untranslated Il Principe and teaching himself Urdu via a Walkman he made for himself in five minutes back in 1962. Luthor is so smart we don't even have a WORD for what he is yet; calling him a genius is as insulting as calling him an imbecile.
The Man with the Red Kryptonite Heart. STAR Labs’s experiments on a fragment of Green K result in it emitting radiation at a lower, cooler frequency. It turns red, and its new wavelengths temporarily cause weird, resonant changes in Kryptonian molecular structure. No gorilla heads, no silly transformations into a 1956 Buick. Instead, painful mutations. Frightening intangibility. An eerie expansion or dampening of the senses. Disturbing chemical changes in the brain’s communication centers. When Luthor learns of this new Red K and realizes its potential, he steals it to revamp the largely ineffective, one-note Metallo, exploiting his terrifying potential as a dangerous John-Carpenter's-Halloween-type Super-stalker.
THE KRYPTONITE MAN
An evil, cagey rock-like monster with a body reminiscent of The Thing's, a primal green-glowing personification of Superman's death, the Kryptonite Man is, in reality and unknown to Superman or even to himself, a supporting cast member (Ron Troupe?) who turns into Kryptonite Man against his will in a Wolfmanlike transformation. It’s a rare event; kryptonite will never be used as a writer’s crutch. What won’t be a rarity is the writing team’s continual watchdogging to make certain the familiar touchstones of the Superman Legend are used as opportunities for creativity, not ways around it.
The Tyrant Sun from DC One Million is back, fulfilling his destiny as one of Superman's most deadly and persistent foes. This will be his first appearance after One Million, returned from deep space, with a bad grudge, for his first-ever encounter with the Man of Steel.
The late Winslow Schott's spirit possesses a GI-Joe size figure which lies in a toybox all day and comes to life when the sun goes down. By day, he’s just another action figure in a kid's bedroom. By night, when the moon comes out and the kid is sleeping, Toyman wakes up and sneaks out of the house to run his criminal empire. Creepy, utterly ruthless, and in charge of an army of killer toys, Toyman's Achilles Heel is sunlight, which renders him motionless.
He fights for Truth, Justice and the American Way in a manner diametrically opposed to Superman's. He's an anti-corporate prankster, like Michael Moore in TV NATION. He wants to show people the strings and wake them up from their blind acceptance of a S.T.A.R. Labs playing with DNA in the middle of a densely populated area, or a Watchtower on the moon monitoring our every movement, or a Lexcorp secretly taking tax breaks to build Bizarros. The Prankster stages elaborate, humiliating, destructive public hoaxes that mess with people's heads. As astute and perceptive as he is out of control, Prankster is the one earthman who actually worries Luthor.
A Loki-ish prankster who uses people's lives as his game pieces. Mxy employs his awesome, five-dimensional reality-warping powers to trap Superman in dangerous, unreal scenarios... a high-stakes upgrade of the Elseworlds concept. No longer content to make buildings sprout wings, Mxy warps the facts of Superman's life in a sustained effort to test and break the Man of Steel's spirit (because the imp's fifth-dimensional intellect rightly understands that Superman's pure soul is his true power). Sometimes aware that he's been thrust into warped histories and sometimes not, Superman can only win these games by rising above the Mxyworlds' temptations to be less virtuous, less positive, less dedicated, less effective than we know he can be. Superman's own inner strength is the key to making Mxy disappear.
Project: Superman 2000 includes a new and different approach to the very way the comics are created.