New ‘Action Comics’ Writer Greg Pak: ‘Superman’s Not A Monolith – He’s A Hero In Motion’ [Interview]
With the recent launch of Batman/Superman and a trio of “Villain Month” issues, you’d think that one man would have enough of writing Superman. As it turns out, however, Greg Pak has a dire need that can only be sated by an ongoing series. That all-consuming hunger to tell Superman stories is (presumably) why he and artist Aaron Kuder are taking over Action Comics starting with November’s issue #25.
We spoke to Pak to find out more about his influences for the series, whether it’s difficult to juggle two Superman stories set at different times, and, perhaps most importantly, what his plans are for Terra-Man.
ComicsAlliance: How did you get the job writing Action Comics? Was it something where they were just thrilled with your Batman/Superman scripts and were like “here, take another book?”
Greg Pak: I don’t know. I’d been working with Eddie Berganza on the Batman/Superman book. He’s the editor of that book, and he’s also the Superman group editor who oversees all the Superman titles, and in all of our conversations, I threw out a ton of different ideas for stories and talked a ton about the characters, and we talked a lot about Superman. We talked about his villains as well, and at a certain point, he started talking to me about doing these Villain Month books for September.
I ended up getting tapped to do the Zod, Darkseid and Doomsday books, and of course, these all feature prominently in the Superman mythos, so we ended up talking more about Superman. They were looking for someone to do Action, and I guess it started to make sense. Eddie and I had a lot of fun talking about different stories and I was thrilled when I got the call.
I’ve literally jumped up and down three or four times in my comics career when I got the call and found out I’d gotten a certain gig, and this was definitely one of them. I was so excited.
CA: It’s interesting that Batman/Superman is a book from the Superman group and not the Batman group. Do you work with both teams?
GP: It’s from the point of view of both characters, so they get equal time and equal emphasis is given to them, but the book has to land somewhere in terms of who’s actually editing it and where it’s being produced. It’s one of Eddie’s books, so it’s technically coming out of the Superman family and edited by the Superman editor, but Batman fans, do not worry. We all love Batman. We love Bruce and those two characters share importance in the book.
CA: I feel like you’re speaking directly to me with that.
GP: There you go. I am, as a matter of fact, literally speaking directly to you.
CA: You talked about the Villain Month books, and Zod, Darkseid and Doomsday, as much as I love Darkseid, are the villains we’ve seen a lot of in recent years. Are they going to be the focal point in Action Comics? Are there going to be new villains, or do you plan on going deeper into his bad guys?
GP: I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I can say that you will see a really fun focus on classic villains. You will also see brand new villains.
I love the New 52 because it allows for both of those things. It allows us to jump into these classic characters from different angles and discover new things about them, and also allows us to make up totally new things about them, and make new stuff up. I think that has to happen. We have to bring in new characters and try new things and push our heroes in all kinds of crazy directions. That is what makes classic comics classic.
All the stuff that we think of as classic, unchangeable elements is just stuff that someone tried one time, and thought about and took some risks with. I love that aspect of the New 52. It’s really smart and brave, and something that comics have to do from time to time. Actually, all the time.
CA: So you can’t get into specifics about who you’ll be doing a new take on?
GP: I can say that in these villains books, we’re doing things that will be surprising, and I hope will be exciting as well.
CA: In terms of inspiration and those “classic stories,” is there a run of Superman comics that you look back on? Do you think of it in terms of “oh, I want to take this element from here, and these types of villains and challenges from here…”
GP: I haven’t really thought about it that specifically, in terms of taking from here and there. I’m reading a lot, and absorbing stuff, and trying to figure out why I like it, what moved me about these stories and what made me giggle or get excited about them.
I haven’t made a list, but I do love the idea that even in present day, in the current DC Universe, Superman is still young. All these characters are still young, they’re still raw. We’re playing with that idea to the max with Batman/Superman in this first story arc, because we’re starting years ago when they’re just starting off for the first time as superheroes. That’s about as raw as you can get, but even in the present-day DC Universe, these guys are still fairly new at what they’re doing. I think that’s fun, and important to keep in mind. I think when characters are figuring things out, they become really interesting and a little dangerous, in a good way. They become vulnerable in all the right emotional ways. Also, the world at large looks at them as questions. All those things are great for drama, and great for building action-based stories. It’s definitely something I’m keeping in mind.
Among the stuff I’ve been reading and re-reading… I love Superman For All Seasons. I just re-read John Byrne’s Man of Steel, tons of fun. I was blown away by the way Frank Miller depicted Superman The Dark Knight Returns, I’d never seen that take before when I read that for the first time and thought it was amazing. I don’t know if I can pinpoint any specific elements from these stories that I’m grabbing onto, but they’re all rollling around in my head as I write.
CA: One of the things that really struck me about the New 52 when the relaunch happened was that you had three different Superman books at three different points in his career, with Action, Superman and Justice League. Now, you’re writing Action Comics in the present, and Batman/Superman set five or six years ago. Is it tough to switch back and forth?
GP: One definitely informs the other. The first Batman/Superman arc is set in that early time period, but we’re going to move up to the present in future arcs, so we’re not locked in the past in that time frame. There’s always room for seeing glimpses of the past, I think that’s going to be a ton of fun to explore, and that’s something I want to do in that book and in Action.
I didn’t plan it this way, it just aligned, but the first DC book I worked on let me tell these early stories, so it let me start at an early place and figure things out from the beginning. It’s a great place to start, and a similar thing’s happening in the Action Comics storyline.
CA: With the Batman books, because you know I have to talk about this, there’s always this idea of a distinction between Batman and Detective, where one is a superhero book and one’s a crime book. I have a friend who said that if he ever wrote Action Comics, you’d never see Clark Kent, because it would just be 20 pages of action with Superman doing super-feats and solving super-problems. I’m curious as to your take on Action and how it’s distinct from Superman or Superman Unchained.
GP: Well, yeah. Each book is going to have its own tone and its own focus. One kind of cool thing is the way each book deals with members of the supporting cast. In Action, I’m having a huge amount of fun with a member of Superman’s supporting cast, who I will not reveal right now —
CA: Is it Jimmy Olsen?
GP: My lips are sealed. But it’s a character that I’m doing fun things with, and it opens up some really great character stuff for Clark, and I’m loving it. Different supporting characters will be highlighted in different books, and I think that’s pretty cool. There’s also the Superman/Wonder Woman book coming up, and that’ll really allow Charles [Soule] to showcase that relationship. That’s one way you’ll see the books distinguish themselves.
I will say that I think your friend’s idea of Action being all-action, all the time is really fun, but to me, Clark Kent is Superman. He’s the core of the character, and I think Clark is a ton of fun to write, and critical. This is Action Comics, and you’ll see tons of action, and that’s one of the glories of writing Superman.
I had a ton of fun at Marvel writing the Hulk. It’s fun to let the Hulk cut loose, and with Superman, similar things apply. When you have a character who has such huge abilities and powers, it’s a ton of fun to test those limits and just cut loose. It’s a big part of the joy of these kinds of characters, the visceral joy of action. That will absolutely be paramount, but that action only makes sense, and we only care if those characters are important and compelling and human happening with those characters. My ongoing concern is making those things support each other.
CA: I have to admit that when I heard you were going to take over Action Comics, my immediate first thought was that post-Byrne story where Superman exiles himself from Earth and goes to become a gladiator on Warworld for a little bit.
GP: I think he grows a beard there, too.
CA: He does! It’s the perfect Greg Pak book.
GP: You can do all kinds of stuff with Superman. We’re definitely doing some crazy stuff… I don’t think I’m going to do that, as tempting as it sounds, just to keep the variety going. But yeah, I can’t tell you how exciting it is to dig into this character.
CA: You talk about the supporting cast, and generally, that’s Lois, Jimmy, Lex. Are there any non-villain supporting characters that you want to take a look at that haven’t gotten a spotlight in the past?
GP: Yes. The answer is yes. There’s one that’s going to pop up in Action and one who’s going to be in Batman/Superman in the next few months.
CA: And you can’t tell me who they are? Not even non-villain supporting characters, Greg?
GP: [Laughs] I gotta play my cards close to the chest here. I may give you a special call in the dead of night.
CA: All right, how about this: I have prepared a list of things. I just want to run down, and see if these things are going to have a prominent role in Action Comics.
GP: I sense a lot of “time will tell” and “in the fullness of time” answers coming up.
CA: You can “no comment” if you want: Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch.
GP: I… You know, it’s possible. I’ll be totally honest, I do not have plans for Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch.
CA: The Golden Key to Fort Superman.
GP: I love the Golden Key to Fort Superman! All I’ll say is that I’ve thought of something similar to that.
CA: The Supermobile, which is Superman’s rocket that has fists on it.
GP: [Laughs] When Dan Slott and I finally do a Superman/Spider-Man crossover, we can have Superman and Spidey race with Superman in the Supermobile and Spider-Man in the Spider-Buggy.
CA: I hope you’re not even kidding, because I want that to happen so bad.
GP: If that can ever happen, I will do it.
GP: I don’t know Terra-Man. Who’s Terra-Man?
CA: He’s a cowboy who was kidnapped by aliens and they brought him 200 years in the future and gave him super-technology, and he fought Superman and rode him like a horse.
GP: Terra-Man? Like, “Earth-Man,” because they took him from Terra?
CA: Exactly. You just figured out a Cary Bates original.
GP: That’s pretty awesome… I have no plans for Terra-Man because I’ve never heard of him until just now.
CA: You’re losing cred, Greg.
GP: I’d be happy to see a Terra-Man origin story in the future, but I make no promises.
GP: [Laughs] It’s certainly possible.
CA: Krypto the Super-Dog.
GP: Oh, Krypto’s awesome. I could totally see using Krypto.
CA: Lucy Lane.
GP: Oh. That’s not impossible. But… time will tell, in the fullness of time.
CA: Okay, one last thing. Is there a theme to your run? A mission statement for how you’re approaching the book?
GP: I definitely have a theme in mind. I think I work best when I have a theme or a premise in mind and I know what the big story is.
All the books I’ve done that I look back on most fondly, at a very early stage, I figured out what the deal was. That can be a moving target, as we write, sometimes we know what the story is but we can’t articulate it, and sometimes we need to bat it around for a while and then it crystalizes. With Planet Hulk — and you know, spoiler alert because my saying the theme spoils some elements of the story, so you may want to avert your eyes — the phrase I stuck up on my mental bulletin board was “From Monster To Hero.” It was about someone who had always been viewed as a monster finally being in circumstances where the very things that made him a monster on Earth were virtues on this other planet. As he began to realize that, he developed a sense of commitment and responsibility to these people he was fighting alongside. Monster to hero. That’s his journey.
On another level, it was also about the fact that anger, no matter how justified, always ends up being punished in some way. I definitely have big ideas, as I approach any book I’m working on, and I may not fully articulate them early on, but they’re definitely percolating. With Action and Superman, I’ve definitely been thinking along these lines and trying to figure out what it is that’s so compelling about this character to me, and what that big premise is. I think we’ll see a lot of that come out in our first issue, in Action #25.
I won’t say what it is just yet, because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that it’s about a character in motion. It’s about a character’s journey, not necessarily what he represents or symbolizes, but what a character is actively struggling to figure out or do in the world. That’s another part of Action for me. Superman’s not a monolith. He’s a hero. He’s in motion, trying to do the right thing in the world, and he’s struggling. That’s what makes him compelling.