Brandon Wainerdi went to the DC Press Breakfast this morning at SXSW for Bleeding Cool. Yeah, he has "nerd" in his surname, but he could drop you as soon as he looks at you. He got to meet everyone, do everything, and wear the underpants outside his trousers. Take it away, Brandon…
Brian Michael Bendis
Jim Lee (introduced as spear-heading standalone, "edgy" Black Label
Dan Jurgens, writer of, they just counted, over 225 Superman stories
Crew of Krypton
Cameron Welsh, also producer of Constantine
Nadira Tucker, writer on Krypton
Lena Patel, writer on Krypton
On a hot morning in Austin, Texas, comic book royalty converged on the SXSWXDC Pop-Up Store at South by Southwest for a celebration of 80 years of our favorite sometimes-trunkless alien savior. It was interesting to hear the Kal-El opinions of the group, especially where the the crew of Krypton is drawing some of their inspiration (hint: Jurgens's own Death of Superman). Overall, the press breakfast served as an incredible opportunity to kick off what is going to be a stacked weekend of signings and exclusives.
These responses have been transcribed and some were edited for clarity and brevity.
Celebrating all things Superman, as well as the much-hyped the 1000th issue of Action Comics, the panel dived in head-first, discussing why Superman is still relevant and popular in the modern age. The panel bounced around multiple discussion topics, which makes this a little more… disjointed than a typical Q&A, but there were great insights into the direction that DC was planning on taking their main hero.
Dan Jurgens: (on his seminal Death of Superman) It was singularly unique, it will never happen like that again. It was a story about what Superman means to us, by taking him out of the books and was told on a national stage.
(On the end of his Action Comics run) I'm not going to kill him off before passing to Brian [Michael Bendis]. The final piece will be a From the City Who Has Everything, a play on words on a famous Alan Moore story, For the Man Who Has Everything. What does Superman mean to Metropolis? It is fitting story for Action #1000.
Jim Lee: It is a heavy responsibility (laughs) changing the trunks. Even when we took away the trunks, we knew they were coming back. No one remains dead, no trunks remain unworn. We knew they would eventually came back. But Brian coming over and hitting #1000 … there are things Brian is doing that will really change fans' understanding of the character. It will make a more palpable change by bringing the red trunks back. It's a fun thing to do, things we can play around with but, at the end of the day, it's all about the story. As much as they react to the trunks, it's really all about the story and the character. We have some really exciting things plan and the trunks bring notice to that.
Frank Miller: (on Superman: Year One) The whole idea behind this book is to introduce Superman as if you had never heard of him in the first place, bringing back things that make the character so extraordinary. The galactic voyage he took as a boy, the heroes journey and how biblical he is in his dimension. For me, it is going from the "gloomy dark guy" to the hero of the sun. And it doing our best to do justice to the material but to treat it as a new idea.
Brian Michael Bendis: (on coming to DC specifically to work on Superman) I'm a little Jewish boy from Cleveland. You grow up and are told over and over again: rock 'n' roll and Superman were born here. That's all we have. And some good pizza. Some people thought I would do Batman but all I wanted to do was Superman.
Dan calls me up and says, "You want the shorts? Bring the shorts back." Now my life is filled with strangers from all over the world are tweeting me about someone else's underwear.
Honestly, now more than ever, though, we need Superman. It feels like it's time for Superman. Writing a character who exudes hope to everyone around him … it's a burden for him. We're going to experience what it feels like and we'll see how it feels like for him personally.
(on upcoming issues): Action Comics #1000 will be starting the Superman run with a tease. Superman #400 is one of my favorite comics of all time, a celebration of comics in general. And so, to be part of the thousandth version of that is so exciting. We're using it as the jumping off point for Man of Steel #1, a big event with each issue drawn by one of the biggest artits at DC. It will end with a new status quo, a new situation for Superman in the DC universe. And then it will be followed by Superman #1 and Action Comics #1001.
Cameron Welsh: Part of what we explore in Krypton is exploring what would happen to the universe if Superman was never born. It becomes an important plot point. At this time, the idea of a character who embodies hope is very important for us. So, while we don't have the character of Superman (on the show), we explore his legacy, like how did the House of El become emblematic of "hope"?
Nadira Tucker: My favorite part (of working on this show) to know, in-depth, the mythology behind Superman. There's a lot to get to know, over eighty years of history, in a way that's never been explored before.
Lena Patel: (on Krypton playing with time) The opportunity for time travel makes it possible for anything to happen and it keeps our story focused on the present day, on Krypton.
Welsh: One of the most exciting things about doing the show is that, while we know what Krypton is, we don't know a lot about it, compared to the other worlds in the DC Universe. That kind of world-building is very exciting, taking a lot of inspiration from John Byrne's World of Krypton, but with a lot of freedom to create what we needed for the show.
Bendis: How is collaborating with Jim Lee? I've been a fan of Jim's for years and years and years. It always seemed, throughout the entirety of my career, like Jim and I would never be able to work together. That was another thing … writing for Jim was really exciting because we're very different kinds of creator. I pride myself for writing towards my artist's point of view. I wrote as big as I possibly could for Jim, bigger than anybody … and then he still added two pages to that. It's a big, big Superman, filled with iconic imagery and it will tell you everything you need to know for Man of Steel. I can't tell you how exciting that was. We drop a bomb on the very last page about this mythology that will have people talking, hopefully more than the underpants.
Miller: Krypto is back.
Bendis: And he's been behind every crisis since the beginning.
Miller: The more I think about Superman, the more in love with him I get. With Batman, he's familiar … he's a guy I know now. But with Superman, there's more for me to explore. What I love about him is his purity, that he is a true hero. He has the small town aspect but he is also an alien … he is an American.
Lee: I first met Brian in 2005 at a convention after-party, while he was still working at Marvel. I was drinking that night, bonding over drinks, you know how it is. We kept talking about a bunch of crazy, different projects and ideas. But then I found out, years later actually, that Brian doesn't drink at all! It was a one way collaboration. And I was trying to remember what I promised and what I had pitched.
Bendis: I called Joe Quesada: "I … think we're doing Wildcats / Avengers!"
Lee: It took a long time, thirteen years for something to happen. It was really interesting working on this. I really wanted to welcome him to DC. But I pulled out all the stops. I felt a burden on my shoulders: because it is the thousandth issue. I felt like I took a shortcut (Bendis: you took a shortcut?) especially compared to Dan with his 200 issues. He's done 20% of the run and I'm coming in at 12 pages. But its amazing working with Brian on such a historic issue, one that is not a throwaway issue but the start of his story.
Jurgens: (on saying goodbye to Superman) Well, 1000 is a great place to do it. I don't know if we ever say goodbye in comics but it's a great place to do it. It gave me a chance to make a couple final statements about what you took so much time and energy in.
Bendis: When you mention Dan's history with the character … its like Chris Claremont on X-Men but what Dan has done on Superman is equal to that. Over 30 years of shepherding major events for the character and now people can step back and realize how incredible it is. It is so rare, in any part of pop culture for that to happen. And that is worth celebrating
Favorite Superman Story:
Jurgens: First comic I ever bought, for twelve cents, was Superman… but my favorite story is Superman's Return to Krypton, the first time we really saw the ability for Superman to go back to Krypton and see what it is like, a mid-fifties story with a sense of magic to it.
Lee: I have three (laughs). In terms of art: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Neal Adams showed the full range of character: from fighting a full alien invasion force to walking the streets as Clark Kent to fighting Muhammad Ali. The character could do anything!
But the one that really got me into comics: The Dark Knight Returns. What Frank did in that comic was incredible: a sophisticated narrative that showed how the two men looked at the world in very different ways, based on their origins and capabilities. It really differentiated the two characters for me and made me love Superman even more.
And then, of course, I'm going to go with Death of Superman from Dan… when you think of that character and you think about killing him, it is a very daunting task, especially on the national stage. But they hit all the right notes: from the splash pages to the cover and introducing a new character to do it. He pulled off an amazing story and it was a great way to do it.
Miller: My favorite story of Superman is not actually in the comics. Its an episode of the Fleischer Brothers cartoon: Runaway Train … the bad guys get a train full of gold and Superman stops it. The end. But the way you get there is amazing. He is strained to the absolute limit and it takes a whole damn train to show off how heroic he is.
Bendis: I recently showed my five-year-old son Superman: The Movie and he was completely riveted. He didn't turn it off, didn't move. The timing, the rhythm. Every one of my kids had the same reaction to "Can you read my mind?": Is there going to be kissing? Kissing is a tough sell.
But, back to comics, I agree with Jim … I am at the age where Dark Knight Returns rattled me as a creator, a reader and a fan of the character. It was the first time I saw Superman in a panel with no words in it. And then, at the same time, Alan Moore put out Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow and it was a whole other thing. Listen, I just spent the past six months deep diving in Superman so I could do this all day … when you dig in, there's so many nuggets and small, excellent gems
Miller: It's like a diamond, you can smash him on the floor and he doesn't break.
Welsh: The Death of Superman made it all the way to a small town in Australia and it was just huge. The Donner film captured me. But I will also throw in All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, which shows the humanity of the alien. You see all that power, but the restraint that comes with it.
Tucker: I'm a TV kid and a kid of the 80's and 90's so I'm going to say Smallville. One of the writers of Smallville is on Krypton, the love triangles .. all of that wonderful, juicy TV stuff we love.
Patel: I'm still "struggling" with the comics … but the Donner film … it brings back so many memories of being a little kid who doesn't fit in. What it meant to me at that time, growing up in Texas. It made me feel less alone. Everyone is so cynical and slick and, now working on Krypton, it's great because we're currently creating a legacy inspired by the Donner film.
To Jurgens: What have you been able to do with Clark and the cast of characters that you wouldn't, say, have been able to do in 1988?
Jurgens: We have a more patient audience now … in 1988 we would try to wrap up stories faster. We can work a little slower and explore more ramifications of the character. I certainly work differently than I did but it gives us a chance to explore a deeper story and explore Clark's life.
To Lee: One of my favorite parts of the DC Universe is Lois Lane. Is there a chance to have her in her own series or even mini series? Are there big plans for Lois?
Lee: Yeah! You know full well we cannot disclose anything … but if we had plans, I would wink twice (winks twice). All I can say is that Brian has big plans and is a prolific writer … and we have a lot of other creators who have passion for a lot of the characters. I can't really speak beyond that but we are fully aware of the love of these characters and we would be remiss to ignore that.
To All: For me, Superman is closely tied with being a reporter and, with journalism under attack, I wonder how it would show up in stories.
Bendis: I actually shadowed at The Oregonian yesterday, living in Portland. The Daily Planet is so important to the stories we are telling. It is under siege and I am absolutely fascinated by what has happened to Clark has happened to clark. He hasn't chosen much, choices were made for him … but he did choose being a journalist. "I need to be with them." Why? Truth.
There are parts of truth and justice that Superman can't punch his way through. But Clark can reveal truth through journalism, through storytelling. As as writer, I deeply understand how it feels to say, "I told the truth today. I told the story that people needed to hear. And I was the only one who could have done it." We'll be diving into it headfirst. Nothing is more fascinating to me.
Miller: It's a wonderful way to show his courage. There's a bit on the old George Reeves TV show … where Clark is tearing off to take care of something and Perry White is asking where he is. I like a good brave Clark Kent.
Bendis: Lois is the bravest, most fearless person in the DC Universe, because she has nothing to back it up.
Miller: Remember in the Donner movie when she threw herself off the skyscraper to test if Clark could fly?
To Miller: You worked with John Romita Jr. on Man Without Fear; what is it like working with him again?
Miller: It's like going to heaven without dying! He's magic. Every time I talk over a scene with him, what comes back is brilliant and even better than what you could imagine.
Bendis: Joe Quesada used to describe it as, "Johnny draws everyone like they're made out of granite."
Miller: Not little Kal-El! I'm in love! The little boy is so precious, we spend some time in the rocket with him, those big blue eyes staring back at you.
To Krypton crew: Time travel is a big mechanic in the show, part of it being Adam Strange going back to Krypton before the show. How do you communicate what Kal-El means to the future?
What Superman stands for today is hope, that's what the symbol means today. So we work backwards from there. So how do you raise someone to live like that, with the values that they hold?
Superman's grandfather doesn't know who his grandson is, he doesn't know who Adam is! But he is learning it through this process.
To Krypton crew: Can you tell us any of the really great cameos you are weaving in that might appear this season?
Welsh: As Lena mentioned, Adam Strange is a big part of the show, a proxy for the audience, the alien in this world, the inverse of this typical Superman story. He became our eyes and point of view. One of the other characters from the DC world in the first season of the show is Doomsday … we're pretty excited about that. In our writer's room, we have a few particular Death of Superman panels blown up. (Jurgens: That's cool I like that!) Well, I hope you like that. And we also have Braniac. I think it's the first time Braniac is done for the first time in live action. We're happy with the way it came out because we wanted to give them the Braniac they've waited so long for.
And that concluded the panel. Miller, in particular, impressed me with his knowledge of the character and the respect he showed for the lore is a great sign towards his Superman: Year One. We were given swag bags, including an exclusive Jim Lee print, a copy of the SXSW-exclusive Jim Lee cover of the 80th Anniversary TPB, as well as a first-look copy of the Justice League Blu-ray. I also received two pairs of #TheTrunksAreBack underwear, which will be an odd thing to explain to my girlfriend.
Speaking from experience, though, this was one of the best mornings I've ever had, because not even getting your car towed with all of your Frank Miller key issues inside could ruin it. Again, speaking from experience. Special thanks to DC, Warner Bros., and Lisa Gregorian for making this all possible.