‘Superman’: Gene Luen Yang, John Romita, Jr. chart hero’s vulnerability

March 10, 2015 | 5:00 a.m.
superman 41 cover ‘Superman’: Gene Luen Yang, John Romita, Jr. chart hero’s vulnerability

The cover of "Superman" No. 41. DC provided Hero Complex with the solicitation info for Yang and Romita’s first issue: "Superman" No. 41. Written by Gene Luen Yang. Art and cover by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson. The Joker variant cover by Karl Kerschl. On sale June 24 • 32 pages, FC, $3.99 U.S. • Rated T. The epic new story line “TRUTH” continues with the debut of the amazing new creative team of new writer Gene Luen Yang ("American Born Chinese") and continuing artists John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson! What will happen when the big secret is revealed? (DC)

Acclaimed cartoonist Gene Luen Yang is heading to DC Comics this June for his very first ongoing monthly comic book project, and he’s starting in a dream position.

He’s taking over “Superman” from outgoing writer Geoff Johns, who thrust the book back into the spotlight when he took over last year with artist John Romita Jr., a staple of Marvel Comics making his first appearance on a regular DC title. Yang joins the team as part of a line-wide rehaul at DC Comics that includes 24 new titles and fresh creators on many of its established series, and his presence is a strong indicator of DC’s renewed focus on quality stories by bold minds in the industry.

The writer and artist of such graphic novels as the Eisner Award-winning “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers & Saints,” Yang often explores culture clash in his work, which makes him a great fit for Superman. He’s a character caught between his alien heritage and his present life as earthling Clark Kent, and that internal struggle fascinates Yang.

He recently used a superhero to explore the immigrant experience in his graphic novel “The Shadow Hero” with artist Sonny Liew, which gave the Green Turtle, the world’s first Asian-American superhero, a concrete origin for the first time, and “Superman” will allow him to continue that work while working on one of the world’s most popular characters.

Recent changes in Superman’s life give Yang some new ideas to play with in his run, including a new superpower — a super flare that can be used to get out of dire situations, but leaves him an ordinary human while his body recharges — and Jimmy Olsen now knowing that his best friend Clark Kent is Superman. Yang is a great choice of writer to detail the aftermath of these developments, and his reverence for his artistic collaborator is sure to spawn some exciting visuals as they work together, starting with June’s “Superman” No. 41.

Hero Complex readers can view an exclusive first look at the cover of “Superman” No. 41, as well as John Romita Jr.’s art from previous issues, in the gallery or in larger versions via the links above.

‘SUPERMAN’ NO. 41: Cover

‘SUPERMAN’ No. 38: Variant Cover | Pages 12-13 | 14-15 |Page 20 | Page 28

Hero Complex recently spoke with Yang and Romita by phone to discuss the angle of their story, their creative relationship and the things they admire about Superman and his supporting cast.

Hero Complex: Gene, how did you get involved with this project?

Gene Luen Yang: My understanding of what happened was my agent, Judy Hansen, and [DC Comics co-publisher] Dan DiDio had a conversation, and this idea was batted around during that conversation, of me getting involved with “Superman.” I thought it was an awesome opportunity, and it is. It’s crazy! To be able to write Superman, to be able to work with the legendary artist who is John Romita Jr. I signed on as soon as I could.

John Romita Jr.: That “legendary” stuff, it sounds like the word “age” to me. [Laughs.]

GLY: The tremendously talented John Romita Jr.

JRJ: Beautiful! Way to cover yourself.

[Both laugh.]

HC: The initial announcement specifically mentions that Gene will be bringing more focus to the immigrant experience. How are you incorporating that into the narrative?

GLY: That’s just an essential part of the character. And as I’m writing, what I’m expecting is that it will come out organically. Superman has been around for so long; he’s been around for, what, eight decades now? And he goes through these different eras where different aspects of who he is get emphasized. I think at the core of him is the idea of the immigrant experience. His creators were two children of Jewish immigrants. And embedded in his origin story is this idea of negotiating between two cultures and trying to take two halves of himself and create something that’s whole and unified. I’m hoping what will happen is as we build our narrative, that aspect will come out organically.

HC: Has any of the art started? John, do you have a script yet or is that still in the process?

JRJ: I do not have the script for No. 41. I actually am knee-deep into issue 40, which I am attempting to dialogue myself. I’m plotting it, and I’m going to pencil it, and I’m going to attempt to dialogue it, and hopefully I can make it through without adding any more gray hairs to myself. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I ended up plotting it and throwing in as much dialogue into it for descriptive purposes to make everyone happy, but it actually helped myself out. I’m going work on No. 40 for a little while longer, and I haven’t gotten the script for No. 41 yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve spoken to Gene several times, along with the other teams that work on the character, and there’s this grand design for the character and the stories that is really very, very good. Not that I would tell you in an interview that it was awful, but I’m very happy with it. That an idea that could make you cringe ended up being such a brilliant idea, and I know because I was a part of the idea that could make somebody cringe. And now there’s a whole Super-story, and [DC] is listening to all of these writers, Gene included, that have been working on—a year’s worth, Gene?

GLY: We’re trying to figure out something that will take him through a big chunk of time. We’ve been talking about 10 months to a year’s worth of story. Superman, because he’s such an important character in the DC Universe, there are four titles where he’s one of the main stars. There’s “Superman,” there’s “Batman/Superman,” “Superman/Wonder Woman” and “Action Comics.” All of the writers of these books [Yang, Greg Pak and Peter J. Tomasi], we got together for a conference in New York a couple weeks ago to just talk through the character, talk through some sort of a premise that would be able to go through all those books. That was the tricky part, coming up with some kind of a premise that would both give us as writers the freedom to tell stories with our own voices, but also give all of these books a sense of unity.

JRJ: I want to explain something that I just mentioned a few moments ago, about coming up with an idea that could be a cringe-worthy idea. When I first got on the title in early 2014, [I asked] is there any way that we could manifest a new power for Superman? Something that hadn’t been done in a long time, and I was almost cringing as I was saying it because I wanted to do something different. And Geoff Johns said, “Wait a minute. This is a great idea. Let’s try this.” And we ended up coming up with a new power [the super flare] that was attached to one of his normal powers and now has grown into something that affects both Superman and Clark Kent. And it has managed to become an excellent idea, and I can’t take credit for it, but I started it. Let’s put it that way.

GLY: You can take credit for that.

JRJ: Yeah, but all I did was I made a small comment and it bloomed into something great. It could have been an embarrassing thing — it could have been a silly power that got pulled out for the sake of something different — and it’s worked out so well because it’s attached to an existing power. Now that has attached itself through all of these new story lines that are coming up. Just like Gene said, it has come out properly. It is being played out properly. It’s very organic.

HC: Gene, how are you building on what Geoff Johns did in his arc?

GLY: The two main pieces that we were really interested in was the piece that John just mentioned, his new power. He has this crazy new power that essentially strips him of his superpowers for an extended period of time after he uses them. And when we sat down at that summit, we talked about how that would play out, how that would affect him, and that’s one of the drivers for the action that follows. But the second thing is this idea of identity, of his dual identity. And now that he’s revealed [his secret identity] to Jimmy, that’s just one aspect of what’s happening. We really want to make those the two core pieces of what we’re doing as we move forward.

HC: Can you give us any information about what that bigger plot is? I don’t know if you’re allowed to reveal details.

GLY: I don’t know. [Laughs.] I just started working with DC two months ago, so I don’t know what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say.

JRJ: I learned my lesson, Gene. Trust me. You can’t say a lot. Just say it’s spectacular. [Both laugh.]

GLY: John would know about where the dividing line is. But I want to stay as far away from it as I can.

JRJ: No, we can’t give up anything that hasn’t already begun to appear, let alone something that’s about to come out. We have to keep quiet. Let’s just put it this way: It’s about as good as you can get, and it hasn’t even begun. And it will get better. It’s three writers that have put their brilliance together, and a couple of artists to help out, and it’s a really well done story line. The new power comes into play and it affects a lot. I’m really happy with it, and I would rather be feeling like this than uncomfortable not knowing how it was going to be. This has been played out in discussions, and I’m really excited about it.

HC: Gene, is there anything you’re especially eager to see John draw on the title?

GLY: Well, John doesn’t like it when I say this, but I’ve been a fan of John’s since I was in high school.

JRJ: There goes the age thing again.

GLY: [Laughs.] To get to work with him on pretty much the most iconic character in all of the genre is really an amazing experience. I feel like John could draw a coffee cup and I would be happy. Whatever he draws, I’m going to be happy with it.

JRJ: That’s nice. Thank you. I actually have fears that every writer I work with is going to tell me a story idea about two armies battling in Times Square on New Year’s Eve at 11:59 and it’s going to be a trillion people. It’s the Cecil B. DeMille complex, and I have been struck with it a million times. That’s why it’s nice to hear the coffee cup comment by Gene.

GLY: [Laughs.] A giant coffee cup. That’s what it will be. Superman versus a giant comic cup.

JRJ: In front of a million people, no less.

HC: John, has your style changed at all in the shift from Marvel to DC? Are you emphasizing anything different?

JRJ: The only difference that is conscious is because I was planning to draw Superman the way everybody would be happy with it because my style may not have been appropriate for the face of Superman. I’ve done so many ethnic characters, and so many interesting-looking characters who don’t have straight noses. Everybody seems to get beaten up in the books I work on, and appropriately, Dan DiDio said, “Not everyone’s Italian, Romita. Straighten that Superman’s nose.” I felt bad because I was adding a little bump to Superman’s nose, so there was a conscious effort to make the character look like the character. Other than that, no. My style, I call it “deadline style.” Whatever comes out on time, that’s my style. [Laughs.]

HC: How has it been working with Klaus Janson and Laura Martin as inker and colorist, respectively?

JRJ: I’ve been a partner with Klaus so long that it’s a comforting feeling to know that he can repair and improve — at the very least, improve, and he sometimes does some fixes. He’s a great artist in his own right, let alone an ink artist, and I feel very comfortable working with him. And he says the same thing about working with me. We know each other’s moves, so there’s no mystery. And he’s very ambitious and he’s a hard worker and he’s always on time, so that’s a pleasure. As far as Laura, I love the work she’s done, but I don’t know who is going to work on this title once we begin with Gene. I don’t know if it’s Laura or not, but I was very with the way the book came out.

HC: Gene, have there been any challenges in switching from writing graphic novels to writing an ongoing series?

GLY: This is a profession for me, but I started off as a self-publisher working on my own schedule and my own stuff before moving on to graphic novels with First Second Books, where there was definitely a schedule, but it was very different from monthly comics. And then moved up from that to doing the [“Avatar: The Last”] “Airbender” work for Dark Horse. We’re doing three volumes a year, so that schedule nears the superhero comic book schedule. The page count at the end of the year is almost the same as with a monthly superhero book. So moving from there to here, it felt like a natural progression.

HC: Who is your favorite Superman supporting character?

GLY: Who’s my favorite? I have to say, I really like Jimmy Olsen. I didn’t when I was a kid, but now that I’ve gotten to play with his character a bit, I think all of us either are that one friend or have that one friend who’s kind of a geek but will always be loyal to you. And I think there’s something very true about that.

JRJ: My favorite supporting character has got to be the one that is the most real-looking character: Perry White. Lois Lane is way too good-looking. Same problem with Peter Parker’s girlfriend. He’s supposed to be a nerd and he’s dating a supermodel. That always bugged me. Lois Lane: way too good-looking. Jimmy Olsen has red hair and freckles. I never even know those people existed. I grew up in New York, everybody had dark hair and broken noses. The guy that looks the most like a normal character is Perry White, so I actually enjoy Perry White.

HC: What are the things that make Superman an interesting character for you?

GLY: He’s the prototype, right? He’s the basis of this entire genre that we all have grown to know and love. So there’s something very special about that. There’s something very special about getting to the seed, to the genesis of this entire industry. And like I said before, I’m really fascinated by the ways in which facets of the immigrant experience play out in a very fantastic way within his origin and within who he is and what he does. I think over the years they’ve built up this very interesting supporting cast that I’m excited to play with.

JRJ: Mine is so much less impressive than that. It’s a great conversation piece at parties. “Oh, you draw ‘Superman’? Wow!” First superhero, so to speak. The other thing is the size of the action. On a visual level, the size of the action I enjoy completely. It’s just so gut-wrenching, in a positive way. That you can draw a character that can affect the planet’s rotation. Something as large as that, the battles can be immense. I enjoyed working on the Hulk for that reason. I enjoyed working on Thor for that reason. There’s something fun about the scope of a large battle that is interplanetary. That kind of stuff, I adore. What better character to follow that line than Superman? The thought of doing something that large is exciting.

— Oliver Sava | @LATHeroComplex


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7 Responses to ‘Superman’: Gene Luen Yang, John Romita, Jr. chart hero’s vulnerability

  1. Joe Slowik says:

    Completely Stupid to change his super powers!! He only has ONE weakness and that is Kryptonite, why do you people have to go changing the great things about him?? Leave well enough alone and be creative with the struggles we all already face and quit trying to change him just because you have no creativity left in you!!

    • fido says:

      Your a 100% right but the idea of his new power goes to the worst artist in the world John Romita, Jr.
      That idiot did the same thing with the title Star Brand and if you find a star brand comic and look it will resemble superman's new power. the guys a creep and a idiot.

    • Anom says:

      the red sun and magic too.

      • jer says:

        Should be only ONE:

        Magic should be completely done away with – main reason being it was a writing crutch to make the character weak. Superman should be impervious to this menace.

        Red Sun same notation – Superman should be unique among all Krypton inhabitants – his powers should be on 24 / 7 under all conditions – and not making sure only "certain type" of conditions are met before his "Super Powers" can happen. Instead of being a mere "solar battery" he should be a mini "Solar source".

        Only Kryptonite should remain if any – this is the only one that make sense.

    • Don Stromberg says:

      C'mon, Joe! I hope you have good ideas to contribute to Superman stories your way! I also hope you'll write more stories about Superman's (and Supergirl's) connection with Krypton! As a regular Superman and Supergirl reader, I am still wondering a lot about that certain SunGod of Krypton …. Has he disappeared or banished from the Superduo's turf?

  2. Adda says:

    Super Man character has undergone trough many changes over time, and because of this there is a distortion between how we perceive him in childhood and in the actual society.

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