Greg Pak On ‘Batman/Superman’: ‘Each Guy Sees The Other As The Most Dangerous Person In The World’
Last week, DC announced that they were reviving the World’s Finest Team with Batman/Superman, a new ongoing series launching in June with the creative team of Greg Pak and Jae Lee. Set at the first meeting of the two heroes — their first first meeting, taking place before Justice League #1 — Batman/Superman is set to chronicle the early days of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel’s friendship, and how their initial antagonism changes over the years.
To get an idea of what we’re in for, we spoke to Pak about his influences, his take on the characters, and whether or not he’ll be staying true to the original origin by setting his book on a cruise ship.ComicsAlliance: Let’s talk about the book. It’s called Batman/Superman.
Greg Pak: Batman-Slash-Superman.
CA: Is that for the benefit of Tumblr?
GP: Yes, exactly. No, the original series was Superman/Batman, but we’re just keepin’ it lively. Calling it Batman/Superman this time around.
CA: I know this probably was not your call, but why isn’t it called World’s Finest?
GP: Well, there’s a current Worlds’ Finest book out there right now, I think that’s part of it. I love “World’s Finest” as a name. I love all the classic, funky names of a lot of these old books. At the same time, if you’re talking to a civilian who you want to pull on board, you save a little time by saying “Hey, I’m writing Batman/Superman” instead of “I’m writing World’s Finest.”
I don’t have any complaints about that. Like I said, I love titles like Journey Into Mystery, World’s Finest, Tales to Astonish, those are fantastic and evocative names, but outside of the comics community, folks don’t necessarily recognize them. Just in terms of getting as many people as possible to jump on board right away, a name like Batman/Superman, it’s hard to go wrong with that.
CA: [Laughs] If they called a big giant Batman movie “The Dark Knight” and made a billion dollars, I think they could call it “World’s Finest.”
GP: You’ve got a point there.
CA: I told you I was going to nail you on that. But it’s funny, last week I was talking to Fred Van Lente and I mentioned that I see a lot of similarity between Incredible Hercules and Archer & Armstrong. Now, hearing that you’re going to write Batman/Superman, I’m almost hoping that it’ll just be Grown-Up Amadeus Cho and a Slightly More Concerned For Others Hercules.
GP: I love that Hercules dynamic, and I love buddy stories in general, but the Amadeus/Hercules thing has honestly not occurred to me while I’ve been working on Batman/Superman. I think it’s because the characters are so distinct. There’s not really a Hercules analogue here, you know what I’m saying?
I guess you could say, okay, Batman’s the smart one, as though he’d be the Amadeus Cho analogue and maybe that would put Hercules and Superman as parallels, but their characters are all so distinct. Batman’s a wry quipper, but he’s not a constant motormouth like Amadeus by any stretch of the imagination. Superman’s considerably less id-oriented than Hercules. [Laughs]
The dynamic between the characters is different. The Batman/Superman relationship is compelling for very different reasons than the Hercules/Amadeus relationship. One thing they do share is that both of them are odd couples. They seem like opposites in a lot of ways, but what’s really interesting about them is how similar they are, which I guess is a very common thing. It’s how similar they are that really pulls them together, and also makes them drive each other crazy. But with both of those sets of buddies, they are different enough that they can end up in total opposition with each other, which I think is totally fascinating, and also totally real to life. When you look at the people who can drive you the craziest, it’s the people you share the most in common with, whether that’s your best friends or your family. It’s the people that you love the most that can get the most under your skin. That kind of dynamic is really fruitful.
But yeah, we won’t have Superman quaffing large quantities of alcoholic beverage and shouting “Have at thee!”
CA: That’s very disappointing.
GP: I know! It’s a sad, sad thing to have to break to you today.
CA: So what does define your take on their relationship? Those are two characters that obviously have had tons of different interpretations individually, let alone as a team. Does writing them as a team change the way you look at them? Is this a different Batman and a different Superman than you’d write individually?
GP: I think I’m probably focusing on specific aspects of their characters because I’m writing them together. Since I’m writing both of them, like I said, I’m thinking of things that are similar. In the New 52 in particular, I’m really excited about working with these characters in this context, particularly with the time frame that we’re opening the story in.
Our first story arc is telling the story of the first time these guys meet, which we are placing around Morrison’s Action #1. It’s a story you haven’t seen before. You think you might’ve seen the first meeting, but all will be revealed very soon!
CA: So Justice League #1 was not their first meeting?
GP: No sir. It will all make sense in the end. I know it doesn’t sound like it now, but it will all make sense. There’s a meeting that happens much earlier, and it’s a fantastic time to tell that kind of story, because these two guys are raw and young and rash and idealistic and passionate and, frankly, dangerous. They’re also both in their own world doing their own thing, each independently coming up with this idea of basically becoming a superhero. Nobody’s even uttered that word before, and yet they’re coming up with this notion separately. They have no idea that anyone else is doing this, and they’re going to see each other for the first time and maybe have a very different reaction than you might expect.
You look at the classic original story of the first meeting between Batman and Superman, that story from the early ’50s, and it’s just beautiful. It’s hilarious.
CA: They’re on a cruise ship together. Sharing a room.
GP: Right! The cruise ship’s overbooked, so by chance they end up as roomies in a state room. Lots of wacky hijinx ensue, but they’re all very grown-up and proper. They’re really charming. That story has so much charm and fun, and I love that kind of story and how those characters work in that kind of story. But here, we have a chance to look at these characters when they’re a little younger, and where the stakes are a lot higher. These guys are at turning points in their lives, learning who they’re going to become, and they could go in different directions depending on what happens.
The upshot is that when they meet each other for the first time, I’ll tell you, each guy sees the other as the most dangerous person in the world, and sparks will fly, big time. That’s just a very cool place to start a story like this. It’s not just cool in that crazy stuff can happen in that big comic book way, but it’s cool in terms of the emotional story we’re going to be able to tell.
CA: Is that where the story stays? Is it going to be like Morrison’s Action where it’s set in the past, or is it like Justice League, where you have that initial and then skip ahead to a different point in their relationship?
GP: I don’t want to spoil too much, but we will spend some time in the past. Eventually, we will get ourselves up to the future. This first story is set in that time period, but we get to the future fairly soon, and we not only tell stories that happen in the here and now of the DC Universe, but we’ll be able to see how this original story has reverberations. It’ll have an impact in the larger DC Universe later on down the line.
CA: So does their relationship move from that adversarial point to something else? You mention the idea of best friends, and they were best friends in the ’50s and ’60s. Does it move towards that, or the more modern interpretation of uneasy allies who rely on each other, or into a new relationship?
GP: I don’t want to spoil much, but I will say that it’s the New 52 and literally anything can happen. There’s a lot of great stories that we have in mind, and they’re all going to be surprising and take this relationship in ways you may not expect. It’s all going to be meaty, with lots of fun character stuff, and hopefully we’re going to surprise you. I don’t want to spoil it. Buy the book, my friend.
CA: It might just be because I was such a big fan of Hercules and Hulk, and your work on X-Men, but I never thought of you as a Batman/Superman guy. Is this something they came to you because they knew you were good at doing team-up books?
GP: I’ve been friendly with Jim Lee for some time now, and at a certain point, he gave me a call and said “Superman and Batman.” I was like, “Yes, please!” It was definitely Jim approaching me with these characters, and it’s a huge, exciting opportunity. I’ve loved these characters forever. My first two big comics as a kid, one was this big Marvel Treasury of Spider-Man, and the other was this big Superman book. Batman was the character that got me back into comics after I’d been out during high school. I dropped out for a little bit, and I was still picking up indie comics like Cerebus and Usagi Yojimbo, but it was Batman that got me back into superhero comics when I was in college.
Specifically it was Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, which then led me to other stuff. It was basically Frank Miller who dragged me back in, and I was hooked. I was obsessed with Batman. That was also around the time that the Death of Superman was happening, and I started picking up that, so yeah. These are characters that I’ve been thinking about for years.
It’s kind of funny, because I came into comics at Marvel and had the same amount of fun with all those characters, and people would always ask me “if you could work for DC, what character would you want to work on?” and of course, Superman and Batman were always in my mind. At the same time, I was so busy working on everything else that I didn’t have time to think about it that much [Laughs].
Honestly, it was intimidating, until I actually sat down to think about what these stories would be. I think it’s like anything: These are great characters, and once you sit down as a writer and think about the story you want to tell and what the mechanics of that story might be and how it comes together, it’s like working on any other character. At a certain point, something clicks and you crack it, and it starts to feel comfortable.
I think folks sometimes have this sense of “oh, the DC characters are icons! They’re gods! The Marvel characters are down to earth and they’re flawed!” But I don’t really see that difference. Maybe that’s partly because I’m coming in right here at the time when so much great revamping is going on with the New 52, when they’ve had the chance to start from scratch, so it’s been easy for me to get up to speed on a lot of the characters. I’ve been reading Aquaman and Wonder Woman, and they’re great series, it doesn’t matter if they’re Marvel or DC or whatever. They’re great characters being used in great ways, and I feel the same way about Superman and Batman. Once you free yourself of whatever nervousness you have about these iconic characters, they’re just incredibly fun to work on. Their backgrounds are so rich, there’s so much amazing experience that feeds their motivations, and there’s so many ways you can play with that material. I’m having a blast, and totally falling in love with every aspect. It’s been good.
CA: One of the things you mentioned was your Bronze Age treasury-sized Superman book, and The Dark Knight Returns.
CA: That interests me, because that’s kind of the Batman/Superman team-up I want to see. I want Cary Bates Superman and Frank Miller Batman hanging out together. It’s my dream book.
GP: [Laughs] That’s pretty awesome. That’s pretty fun.
CA: What does influence your take on those characters? Who influences your take on them as a team?
GP: Definitely, the Morrison Action series is key for me. That’s the series that has defined the young Clark and the young Superman in the New 52, so that’s a very important touchstone. One of my big early jobs in comics was Phoenix: Endsong, which really relied a lot on the Joss Whedon run, but also the Morrison run, so I have a lot of respect for Grant Morrison. It’s always fun working on a project when I get to read a lot of Morrison books for reference.
But that’s a very interesting version of Superman, because he’s young and he is figuring things out, and he’s brash in a very interesting way. He’s the young idealist, but he’s got a bit of swag, which is interesting. It’s distinct from the older, more mature Superman, who’s got a little more gravitas. He’s a little more considerate of others. The young Superman has a little more attitude, which is fun, and totally makes sense, and it’s appropriate for this character. I think that’s a very interesting character to use as a foil for Batman.
For Batman, I think Batman: Year One is a big influence, probably on everyone who’s written Batman ever since. But definitely because I’m looking at Batman in his early years, that’s not just one of the best Batman comics ever, but one of the best comics I’ve ever read in my life. It’s certainly a book I look at a lot. The Scott Snyder books are amazing, and he’s been a dream to talk with. He’s a great guy, and it’s been a lot of fun talking about these characters with him.
I’ve also been looking a lot at just Batman/Superman stories in general. Not just because any of them are exactly like what I’m doing, but because it’s helpful to think about different ways people have shown these characters interacting. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’s Superman/Batman stories are incredibly fun, and just have so much punch and energy. The first issue of that series has a brilliant opening. The first six pages are incredible, they’re showing the origin stories of these two guys, paralleled with each other so that you can see the similarities and the contrasts. I really admire the way Loeb cuts to the chase and gets to the core of these characters so quickly, and so beautifully when you see it all laid out on the page like that.
There’s also this great collected paperback of the best Superman/Batman stories, and there’s a great John Byrne story where the two of them meet for the first time and hate each other’s guts. It’s a lot of fun.
CA: The one where Batman says he has a citizen of Gotham City rigged with a bomb, and it turns out he’s rigged himself with a bomb so that Superman won’t be able to tell if he’s lying?
GP: Yeah. Such a great story. I’m looking at all that kind of stuff.
CA: Jae Lee seems like a really interesting choice for a book like this. When I think of his work, I tend to think of stuff like Fantastic Four: 1 2 3 4, where it’s a superhero book, but very dark and moody. That seems to be what he lends himself to very well, so are you writing for his style? Did he come on the book after you were already working?
GP: I think we came on around the same time. Eddie Berganza’s the editor and he’s been awesome. He mentioned Jae Lee and I thought that was fantastic, just because I love Jae’s stuff. He’s known for this very eerie, dark art, this incredibly cool, atmospheric style that he’s got. At the same time, when you see that kind of stuff, it seems to make perfect sense for Batman, right? I think everybody’s head’s going to pop off when they see how Jae draws Gotham City.
But I think it’s really cool to see someone like that tackle Superman as well. If you just look at the concept art that Jae’s done, he draws a really interesting Superman. He has depths and tones that folks are going to be surprised to see. He’s talked about wanting to stretch in different ways, and if you look at his Ozymandias book, which I think wrapped fairly recently, there’s definitely some brighter hued stuff and some fun humor and character bits that you might not immediately associate with Jae. I think he’s going to have a lot of fun.
He’s also got a great design sense. That’s going to be really fantastic, because Batman and Superman come from these incredibly distinct geographic spaces, which have their own feel. You think of Metropolis and Superman, Gotham City and Batman, and those are two totally different kinds of designed environments. Jae’s going to do an amazing job with those.
I’ll tease one thing: You’re going to see more costumes than you might’ve ever expected.
CA: Most particularly in X-Treme X-Men right now, you seem to like to play with alternate versions of characters. Is that something that, with there being so many official versions of Superman and Batman, is really tempting for you? Or is that a creative itch that you’re getting out of your system with X-Men?
GP: There’s certainly a lot of that in comics in general. Who knows what’ll happen as we work on the book? In the Superman/Batman series, I think there’s at least three different times where they meet alternate versions of themselves, so that stuff is always fun. Right now, I’m having a ton of fun with the guys at hand, these New 52 guys, because it’s not just Batman and Superman, you’ve got Clark and Bruce. There’s a lot of great material there.
It reminds me of when I was working on the Incredible Hulks book, and I had the chance to finally have Red She-Hulk and Bruce Banner face off and deal with each other, and when I had Skaar and Hulk team up. The interesting thing about these characters is that it’s not just Skaar and Hulk meeting, it’s Bruce and puny Skaar meeting, and Hulk and puny Skaar meeting, and Hulk and Skaar meeting. It’s just two people, but they have multiple ways of interacting because there’s different versions of themselves. There’s some fun stuff that can be done with that.