Interview: J. Michael Straczynski on Superman: Earth One Vol. 2

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Last week I reviewed J. Michael Straczynski's Superman: Earth One Vol. 2; subsequent to my review, I reached out to Mr. Straczynski with a few questions by email, which he was kind enough to answer.  Straczynski also submitted some responses to my review, which I've posted with the review itself. Spoilers for Superman: Earth One follow.

Collected Editions: Superman chooses to arm rebels against a dictator in this book, a choice the United States itself struggles with in Syria and elsewhere. Were the real-world parallels intentional, or what interested you in pitting Superman against more political challenges in Superman: Earth One Vol. 2?

J. Michael Straczynski: My sense is that Clark is feeling his way in terms of using his powers.  He’s just recently announced himself to the world, and now the same questions that we might ask -- why doesn’t Superman solve problems A, B and C -- are running through his head.  What is his responsibilitiy to the rest of the world?  We know the rules of the Superman we know because they’ve been in place for decades.  This Superman, this Clark, still has to figure all that out.  Coming at this from his perspective, knowing he can do just about anything, where is the cut-off line?  How far is too far?  And what can his conscience accept in terms of not doing?

I don’t think Clark has any vested interest in knocking over foreign governments, that’s simply not on his radar.  But by the same token, if he hadn’t done what he did, thousands of innocent people would have suffered and died.  There was no other way to deal with it.  It’s right, it’s inevitable ... but it’s also the camel’s nose in the tent.  Having done this, where is the point of no return?  If A, why not B?  If B, why not C?  It’s a slippery slope for Clark, especially since as far as he knows there’s nobody out there with the power to stop him from doing A, B and C.  So why not do it if it’s in a good cause?

Which of course gives every other nation on earth a wholly justified case of the screaming willies, especially once word of Superman’s actions in this case get out, as they inevitably will.  All of this feeds into the story I’m writing for volume three.  Each volume has an unwritten title that I keep in my head: volume 1 is “truth,” being the truth that Jim stands for, the truth of who Clark has to be, and the story he tells; volume 2 is “justice,” affecting his personal life and his actions in choosing to overthrow an unjust tyrant ... so given that progression, maybe volume 3 is what we think it might be, and maybe it’s something else ...

CE: Lois and Jimmy got their time to shine in Vol. 2, but not nearly as much as in Vol. 1. Would you as soon see Earth One continue to play with the standard Superman supporting cast, or introduce more new characters like Lisa Lasalle?

JMS: I had to pull back a little on Lois and Jim because there was just so much going on in this volume: the disaster that Clark has to deal with, the political intrigue, Lois’ investigation, the relationship with Lisa, the introduction and sad fate of Eddie, not to mention the big action sequences ... it’s a very dense book.  So I pulled back a bit on those two in order to make the rest work.  In volume 3 we swing the spotlight back around to Lois, Jim, and Perry in a big way.  I now have pretty much all of the major players I’ll need for a while, so I don’t need to pull away time to bring in and establish a new character.  They’re all on stage now. 

CE: Clark’s romantic interest in Vol. 2, Lisa Lasalle, turns out to work as a prostitute. Did you have any concerns about taking Superman into more “adult” territory, and how did you see Lisa’s revelation as tying into the overall themes of Vol. 2?

JMS: The Earth One books have always been a bit on the mature side, so in that respect, I wasn’t afraid in the least of bringing that aspect into the book.  If anything, I think the reaction is fascinating because we still make such a big deal about those things, as if this says something bad about her.  These things happen.  In college, I was in a relationship for some time with a woman who said to me exactly Lisa’s words to Clark.  Verbatim.  (The only part I left out was when she said to me, “They have my body but you have my heart.”)  Didn’t mean she was a bad person, just that she’d had to make some hard choices in her life to survive.  But we put that under such a stigma.  If everyone in Los Angeles who made ambiguous choices of one sort or another to further their career or their livelihood had to leave, the entire LA basin would be empty within 24 hours.  Her work is actually not a big deal to Clark, but it’s fascinating to see to how it is a big deal to some people looking on from outside.

In volume three their friendship deepens, and they become really close pals.  They’re there for each other in ways that might surprise a lot of people.  As for the thematic aspects ... one of the themes of volume 2 is that all of us have something to hide, big or small, important or trivial.  We all have our secret faces that we show only a few people in our lives.  That’s not just Clark and Lisa, that’s Perry and Jim and Lois and you and me and everybody reading this.

CE: The reader meets not one, but two Lex Luthors at the end of the book, long after we’ve already met Lois, Jimmy, and other key members of the Superman supporting cast. What pressure did you feel personally to use or exclude the Lex Luthor character, and what role do you see Luthor playing in the Superman mythos?

JMS: In some ways, Luthor has come to dominate the Superman sage in recent years.  So I wanted to build up Superman absent that influence for a while, so he can stand on his own, defining himself as himself as opposed to being defined by contrast with Lex.  So when volume one came out and lots of folks said “where’s Lex?” I knew that I’d made exactly the right decision.  The book is Superman: Earth One, not Luthor: Earth One.

But by the same token, he’s a fascinating character and I had some ideas on how to redefine him that could deepen the character and make him more interesting.  So volume three will get into that.

Those sorts of redefinitions or reconsiderations are at the heart of what I’m trying to do with Earth One.  When Superman first appeared, he was the strongest character in comics, in and out of DC.  In the passing decades other characters have appeared in and out of DC who are just as strong if not stronger.  So given that scenario, why is Superman important?  Why is he worthy of consideration, time and respect?  He has to be just as interesting without his powers as with them.  So I’m putting a buttload of work into really fleshing out Clark as a person, looking for avenues and approaches that haven’t been over-used.  Ditto for the rest of the cast.

CE: In interviews about Earth One, Vol. 1, you talked about making the Daily Planet feel like a “real newspaper” and bringing journalistic realism to Clark Kent’s Earth One life. Clark’s had a lot of jobs throughout the years, from reporter to novelist, television host, and as rumored upcoming in the monthly series, news blogger. Why do you feel it’s important to keep Clark in his traditional reporter role instead of changing things for Earth One? Is there another profession in which you could see the Earth One Clark Kent?

JMS: Clark could do any number of things, that was one of the main points of volume one.  He could do any of them without even breaking a sweat.  And that’s exactly the reason why he’s at the Planet: it’s the one place, the one profession, where he has to come at the job from the inside-out.  Best baseball player?  Easy.  Just hit the ball and go home.  But to be a reporter, a writer, you have to be willing to expose part of yourself, to put your own judgements about right and wrong on the table along with what you think is important.  It pushes Clark in ways that the other professions couldn’t.  Perry believes that Clark can be a good writer/reporter one day, but he feels that Clark writes like someone with something to hide ... and he’s absolutely right.  The only way Clark can ever get good at this profession is by being willing to do something that’s terrified him since childhood: to stop hiding.

Those sorts of dynamics are just infinite fun to write, and I have to say that I’m enjoying the hell out of this series.

Thanks again for J. Michael Straczynski for answering our questions. Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 is in bookstores today.
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  1. Wow, great interview. Glad to hear Lisa Lasalle's sticking around! I'm ready to duck punches: I liked her.

    Read the book and loved it. I wasn't offended by any of the female characters, to my surprise. I think they're better than a lot of female characters come off in some of the New 52. Lisa's dialogue was a little cheesy, but it served the theme of the book. In the wrong hands, she could've been a disaster, but I think she came off surprisingly human.

    What's interesting to me too is the perception that Clark now can't sleep with her because she's a prostitute. I didn't get that vibe at all. I felt that Lisa was able to connect with Clark on a level she couldn't with other men because Clark values her for things other than sex, so it's not that she's not good enough to be a love interest, it's that she's more interesting when she's not a love interest. In fact, I didn't even get the vibe that she'd been crossed out as a love interest at all -- she seems to think Clark judges her for her line of work, but I don't think he does. If he could be intimate with her, I think he still would, and I'm glad to hear JMS intended that.

    I didn't feel Lois was shafted in the book either. She didn't have a large part, but she was smart and compassionate and likeable when she was on the page, and she's different enough from Lisa that I think they both add something important to the story. I don't think Lois is obligated to have a huge part in every Superman story (any more than say, Robin needs to have a huge part in any Batman story), and it's refreshing to get new characters.

    The only thing I'm really worried about is seeing any of this undone in a future installment. By the end of this, Clark has made some tough decisions, become close friends with a part-time prostitute, buried a cat on the moon, seen a drug addict die, and there's some interesting stuff going on with Lex and Lex Luthor. This isn't like the mainstream continuity, and maybe I'm just new, but I find it much more exciting. There's got to be pressure to conform to what's come before, but honestly I'd like to just see this all unfold as if it were a universe on its own, where Superman doesn't already have a defined role. Which might just be the strength of Earth One.

  2. Great interview, thanks!

    I really liked this volume and think this version of Superman is the best of all the reboots in the last 10 years (and there have been a lot).

    Is there a timetable for volume #3?