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War Rocket Ajax #11: The Superman Exit Interview with Chris Roberson

This week, ComicsAlliance’s official podcast is proud to welcome writer Chris Roberson back to the show for an honest, open interview about his tenure as the writer of Superman, what it was like to take over the “Grounded” story, the stories he didn’t get to tell during his run, and his take on what really happened to Sharif, Superman’s Muslim ally in the controversial issue that got shelved by DC Comics — and you can listen to the whole show, right here at ComicsAlliance!War Rocket Ajax v.2, #11: Full-On Single White Female with Chris Roberson
(WARNING: Contains NSFW language)

Before we talk to Chris Roberson, Chris and Matt welcome the Hundo Club back as listener Derek Lancaster steps into the third chair to tell us about the Nintendo 3DS and his plans to slowly take over Chris Sims’s life. Meanwhile, Chris recounts a truly ridiculous birthday meal, Matt reveals his next project, and the crew explains the things they just don’t get about British pop culture.

When Roberson joins us, we get a frank discussion of the story behind the story in Superman, including how much of his run was actually plotted by the initial writer of “Grounded,” J. Michael Straczynski:

When I signed on in October of last year, they gave me a one-page… you could charitably call it an outline, written by Straczynski where he saw the remaining issues going. I think it was drafted at a point where he assumed he’d be writing them. So this is what he’s giving DC Editorial to draft solicitation copy.

Apparently, at some point after that, before Superman: Earth One has come out, Straczynski decides that the monthly books don’t matter anymore because he knows there’s a relaunch coming, so he can comfortably quit and let somebody else finish the story for him.

When given this one-page outline, it was with the context that “here’s where we were going to go, use of it what you want and do your own stuff,” and basically the only things I was beholden to were to have Superman go to each of eight towns and eight cities in each of the issues, Superman is walking from East to West, and in issue 708, Wonder Woman shows up, and in 709, the Flash shows up. Beyond that, everything you see on the page is mine.

He also addresses the controversy over the story of Sharif that was meant to run in Superman #712, before it was pulled from the final version, from his point of view as the writer:

I first understood that there would probably be problems when the cover was released with the solicitations, I think maybe in February, because the cover that you saw in the solicitations was not the cover. It was like a third of the cover, and they had cropped out all of these angry hands grasping at him, which you can see in the letters column of Superman #711, where they show the full cover, but without the Superman shield around the symbol, because DC had decided by that point that they didn’t want to associate an Arabic letter with the Superman shield.

The script went through, I think, five or six full revisions. It was lettered and re-lettered several times by the time it was approved by editorial. All of it was toned down — all of the fear and hysteria about a super-powered Muslim was all toned down until by the final version that was about to go to the printer, it was two disgruntled people in two different crowds, kind of muttering under their breath “I don’t trust that guy, I think he’s a terrorist.” I don’t even think we used the word “terrorist.” I think it was just “I think he’s a Muslim, I don’t trust that guy.”

The end of the issue was Superman saying what would seem in normal circumstances to be a reasonable position, which was “Maybe this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if you weren’t wearing an Arabic letter on your chest. Maybe if people couldn’t see your face, if you wore a mask, if they couldn’t see that you were an Arab, you could help them without running into this kind of static.” And the kid says to Superman, “Well you’re from another planet. You’re an alien. You wear a Kryptonian symbol on your chest and last year,” at least in the current continuity, “your people tried to destroy the Earth. You don’t hide who you are, and you’re accepted as an American. Why should I be any different?”

And finally, he tells us how he approaches work on characters that he loves:

In my deepest heart, what I want to see in a story, that’s what I’m getting paid to do.

Plus, find out about his backdoor pitch for the Supermen of America book that we’ll never see, his in-depth view of Superman continuity and his experience working with Stan Lee involving brutal dentistry in action!

Show Notes:

For more from Chris Roberson, check him out on Twitter!

ComicsAlliance’s original take on Superman #712 can be found here.

CORRECTION: Ming Doyle grew up in Boston, not on Mars.

Seriously, we do not understand Jedward.

As a follow-up to last week’s show, listener Albert provided us with fan-art of our Amalgam Comics idea, The Legion of Runaways! Ultra Girl is awesome:

Chris’s Rec: Assassin’s Creed 2.

Matt’s Rec: Grant Morrison’s Supergods.

Derek’s Rec: Cheers.

Comics Reviewed: Journey Into Mystery #626 is “Loki that you can cheer for,” Daredevil #2 is “maybe the best comic of the year, so well-done, so fun and so clever” and X-Men: Schism #3 is “a hoot.”

For more show notes, check out WarRocketAjax.com, and review and subscribe to the show on iTunes!

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