I’m not entirely sure what today (April 18th) is significant of (EDIT: Checked Wikipedia and today is the publication date of Action Comics #1), but I figured that since I have a slight history with Superman, I would actually talk about, and honestly review my Superman issue, #676. This isn’t easy, believe me. Reading something I wrote, especially something I wrote a few years ago, is like listening to yourself on tape or, if you’re an actor, watching something you’re in; it’s extremely uncomfortable. Cringe inducing is the way I’d describe it. There is no question I am my harshest critic, so this might serve to torpedo my own credibility. But then again, it could really be an exercise in honesty when it comes to one’s own work. We’ll see when I get there.
Originally slated for Superman Confidential #9, “Memorial Day” was a story about Superman’s first meeting with the Golden Age Green Lantern and Solomon Grundy.
Ok, first off, it wasn’t originally called “Memorial Day.” It was called “168 Hours to Go,” (before that, it was called, “Best and Brightest”) and was really about a week in the life of Superman, early in his career. Also, the original guest star was to be Jay Garrick (the Golden Age Flash), but in plotting it out with my editor (the great Mike Siglain), once we came up with Grundy as the villain, it had to be GL.
Second, it was supposed to be in Superman Confidential #7 (the issue after the Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale arc). I forget why it moved to #9, but soon after it was solicited, it was pulled, resolicited to issue #12, pulled completely from the schedule and replaced. Soon after, the book was canceled. There are a number of reasons why it was pulled from the schedule, which for the sake of decorum and tact, I won’t go into, but I will say this: none of them had anything to do with the story.
Another little tidbit? This wasn’t supposed to be my story. Originally, I had pitched (and had approved) a three-issue story where I showed Superman versus a new pumped up Sportsmaster. The catch of the story is we learn how Superman learned how to fight and from who (it’s not who you think). The artist attached was Dean Haspiel. Why didn’t this story come out? Scheduling, for one. It was hard to find a spot for a three-issue story. Also, they were really keen to sign an artist for an exclusive contract so they wanted to get him a script ASAP. One issue…could I do it?
Of course I could!
Wrote the issue over a weekend, and for a couple of years, you had me to thank for the beautiful art of Julian Lopez.
As I said, there were a few differences with what I originally pitched and what eventually came out. There was a bit about a WW2 museum that got thrown out. I forget the actual reasons, but it just seemed a little too heavy handed to have that connection just to have a JSA-er in there to guest star. Also, I think it put too much emphasis on that guest star (Flash and then GL) instead of Superman. So, I pulled it out and centered it in Metropolis proper.
The timeline here is REALLY loose. Superman is really new and the characterization (at least in attempt) was based on Mark Waid/Leinil Yu’s Superman in Birthright. I set the story a week, maybe a month, after that story (which is fantastic, and if you haven’t read it, shame on you). But if you notice the ending, you’ll not that Lex Luthor is, well, chubby circa John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Some reader actually gave a proper issue of MoS that the story would take place before/after, fitting it within the original mini (I’m forgetting which one). So, right away, you can tell it’s kinda in continuity. The problem is, with Infinite Crisis happening around the same time (or soon thereafter), there was no…this sounds odd, but…there was no clear cut Superman origin. Looking back, this is probably what prompted DC to do Flashpoint and enter the New 52 (not my issue, but this dilemma). That was fine. As Alan Moore once said, “They’re all imaginary stories.”
Why is it called “Memorial Day?” This is probably the most hamfisted thing about the comic. The fact that it takes place during Memorial Day. The reason for this…and a lot of this is public information, so I don’t believe I’m stepping on toes or talking out of school…
Remember, my story was solicited as Superman Confidential #9, then #7, then #12, then pulled.
Meanwhile, in the Superman offices…
Superman 676 was solicited with a Keith Champagne story (I think Rick Leonardi was on art). The story was “Superman embarks on a journey with a dying man who has been in the background of the Man Of Steel’s life from the very beginning. As they search for answers to the strange riddle of the man’s life, they also find themselves ambushed by The Parasite!”
DC lost a lawsuit right as this issue was going to press. Basically it said that DC could not reprint anything that had to do with Action Comics #1. Keith and Rick’s story was about a guy from the cover; DC, post lawsuit, couldn’t even reference AC #1 (again, referencing the New 52, this is why in the new Action Comics, Supes has a new origin…at least, that’s my theory). More here: http://www.
So, now you have an issue of Superman, sandwiched between the end of Kurt Busiek’s run and before James Robinson’s, that…well…sort of doesn’t exist. The editor of Superman (I think it was and still is Matt Idelson) needed an issue, any issue, just to use as a fill-in. The thing about comics, especially, at that time, Superman, Action Comics, Batman and Detective Comics, is…they can’t be late. Those four, especially considering their publication history at the time, could not miss a month or an issue. They could have printed anything there. Mike Siglain, again one of the best editors in comics, did right by me (and Julian) and put my book up. Superman didn’t miss an issue. So, in a way, Mike, Julian and I saved Superman.
So, when that happened, I was asked to retouch the script. There wasn’t much to do there, but since the book was now coming out in May, I thought (in hindsight, wrongly), “Why don’t we center it around Veteran’s Day?”
Yes, I’m the jerk that confuses Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
Once that was corrected, I went in and added a few captions to set the time frame. Again, so hamfisted. So shoehorned. I wasn’t even forced to do it; I just thought it would add a dimension to the story that would enhance it somehow.
This is why reading it now gives me the heebie jeebies.
Excuse me while I open the book…
There are more than a few Easter eggs to the original Superman movie in here. Superman’s first line is a paraphrasing of when he first met Lois. On Page Seven, the article Lois wrote in the movie about her first meeting with Superman is framed on Perry’s office wall. The Daily Planet…well, actually, that interior design is based on Superman Returns.
I love this opening splash (at the time, every DC comic had to start with a splash page). It’s iconic and damn if Julian doesn’t nail it. Again, at the time, this was Julian’s first work for DC (an issue of Wonder Woman would be published first, but this is the first thing he worked on), and I wanted to kind of usher him in with something breathtaking. Right away those captions just pull you out of it.
The robot…it was important to me to have Superman, literally, punching something so we establish right away that he can’t just punch his problems away (which is really underscored when he fights Grundy later on). That robot…at the time I was working at Jim Hanley’s Universe and if you’ve ever used the basement bathroom, you’ll find a bookshelf in there that has a sticker from the Bruce Timm Superman animated series. Those cartoons really helped me get into Superman’s head, so when you read the comic, if you hear Tim Daly or George Newbern’s voice (the voices of Superman in TAS and Justice League, respectively), that’s why.
Page Four shifts to Gotham City, and we can see the difference in atmosphere right away. We go from a bridge to a tunnel. From light to dark. I think I handled this transition pretty well. Julian definitely did. By the way, the “Morlock” team gets their name from both HG Welles and the X-men.
Page Five…someone reviewed this issue and said that their favorite scenes took place in the Daily Planet (or they said I nailed the dynamic). I could have done an entire issue just in the newsroom. I would have, if I could. I love those characters and they are infinitely more interesting to me than a lot of the villains. I mistakenly had Lois saying, “…dumping of CDC’s…” in Panel Three originally. CDC and CFCs are not the same thing. I caught that right before the book went to press.
Page Six is the stuff of nightmares when I look back at it now. Lois calls Clark, “Smallville,” a total of four times…in four straight panels. This was pointed out in another review and if I could go back in time and edit this, I’d start right here. I hate that this got out like that. So amateurish.
You’ll note that I not only had a Simpson’s reference on this page (Panel One), but that I throw out a lot of Metropolis locations. I have this little book to thank. And yes, I also own the Gotham City one.
I love my characterizations of Jimmy and Perry, especially the way they bounce off each other. Lois’ overuse of the nickname aside, I also like the way I play them off of each other. Lois is so dismissive of…everyone (but Perry, who she’d rather lock horns with). I could literally write these characters all day, in my sleep, if given the chance. So much fun.
Page Eight…I love Clark’s strut. My idea here was to show him being bold enough to start changing in plain view because…no one is paying attention. Everyone is running for their lives. If you can’t tell that Clark and Superman are the same guy just looking at his face, then there’s a good chance you’d ignore this happening.
Page Nine is actually a mistake that was fixed in post production. I hate putting Julian on blast here, but he and I both learned something in this issue: Alan Scott is the only Green Lantern in history to wear his power ring…on his left hand. Still, this is another beautiful money shot by Julian. What a way to introduce this character. I’m a little upset at myself that we…or rather, I…put another splash page in the book, and this one I have no excuse for. I should have had Clark fixing his tie in an inset panel at the bottom, looking out of the window. There’s two things I’d correct if I could (other than the captions).
I wish we could have kept Lex a secret in the last panel on Page Ten, and there’s a chance, if you were reading this at the time, that maybe, because Lex wasn’t portrayed as portly in the comics of the time, that you might not know who that was…but not likely. Another tip of the continuity hat…when we first see the Morlock team, they mention that they haven’t found “Gold” yet. Solomon Grundy’s real name is Cyrus Gold.
I wanted to extend the conversation between Clark and GL another page and let some of their dialogue breathe with some pauses and beats, but…this is really a matter of how I write comics…I always like transitions to happen with a page turn. So when you get to Page Twelve, and Alan says, “Kent?” in that last panel, I wanted you to wonder where Clark was, just like GL. I love their interaction. I think I entertained the notion of just having Clark interview Alan at length in the Planet offices…with no action or Grundy. Just these two guys talking. There’s a bit from that hypothetical interview that pops up later on in the story.
When I described Page Thirteen in the script to Julian, I described it as, “the page I want to own.” Unlettered, this is quintessential Superman, distilled into four panels. I love this page more than any other in this book. Again, Julian nails it.
The issue falls off the rails right around here. Mostly because…I hope this doesn’t sound like an excuse…there would need to be a lot of expository dialogue to really do it right. If I had a second issue? No sweat. I’d get to do that interview I mentioned and so much more. But I had a tight deadline and one issue. Again, this isn’t an excuse, but I know what I could have done if given the space. I still would have missed those Smallvilles on Page Four, though.
It’s somewhat fitting that James Robinson’s run started in the next issue. Grundy here is based on one of the Grundy personas in his Starman run. But keep in mind…had no idea that this issue would be placed before his first issue. That’s just happy coincidence. I love his Starman run.
I can’t remember, but I think, originally, Julian based his Grundy on Boris Karloff. At least in the face. There are moments where you can see it (specifically on Page Seventeen/Panel Three), but I think for the most part, he switched it up.
Why does Grundy go from calling Superman “Little Red Cape Man” to “Red-S?” Because I’m an idiot that didn’t think it would matter. It bugs the hell out of me now.
Those last two panels on Page Sixteen…I came up with that very early on. I think even before the script was written. Those were thought up in Mike Siglain’s office around the same time that we came up with Grundy as the villain. I can’t remember why I thought of it; I think I just wanted Superman to kind of be over his head, literally and figuratively, and resort to methods that he wouldn’t usually resort to. Worked out well when you consider that of all the images in the comic, Alex Ross chose this to represent on the cover.
Last panel on Page Seventeen…this is funny…I originally had Grundy holding a tree and GL breaking it with a chainsaw construct. Until I was reminded that Alan’s particular weakness of wood would make this an exercise in futility. Which is why it makes no sense that Grundy would “RRRIIPPP” a rock out of the ground. I handled this well with Alan fighting Grundy (since he’s kind of plant based), but…now there’s three things I would change.
Page Eighteen…again, what methods would Superman resort to if everything he attempted up until now fell flat? Especially early in his career? He’d recharge his strength with a direct solar energy hit and then come back and hit Grundy like a meteor. The only problem with this is…I’m unsure if Clark knew about his solar battery-like powers at this point in his career. Because this was established in Man of Steel, I think I was ok, but I’m a timeline slave. If it happened in the MoS series and not the initial post-Crisis mini, I’m a fool.
Page Nineteen is where we see just how green Superman is at this point. Again, Superman just assumes he can punch his problems away, but when he does (and goes for a knock out punch against a stronger foe), there has to be consequences. Something that might be bugging you in the back of your head; Grundy is essentially a zombie, but does that make him “magic based” in power set? All we know is that his corpse is reanimated in Slaughter Swamp and that he’s imbued with an elemental energy, so it’s a judgment call. But he has been shown in the past beating on Superman, so it’s believable.
This page also has a Wildcat reference. Right before I wrote this script, I had just come off of writing a JSA Classified story that featured Wildcat and Batman. Never published. Shame really. It’s REALLY good.
Staying on Page Nineteen, I really like how Superman reacts. Immediately trying to revive Grundy (I assert that he doesn’t know he’s a reanimated corpse…which is kind of foolish because his super senses should have told him that), and generally being worried about Grundy. I think it’s a balancing act; I like the characterization, but I’m not sure it’s appropriate with the other mistake I made about the character(s).
We almost called the story, “The Never Ending Battle,” too. I’m really not sure what Alan is saying here, or why he’s saying it the way he’s saying it. It seems so…I don’t know…does it seems like he’s advocating killing villains just because they always come back? That said, those last two panels…priceless. Another Robinson/Starman reference. And I’ll always love the fact that Pa Kent’s favorite member of the JSA was GL. It makes total sense. GL is the Golden Age Superman (in terms of the DC Universe, not reality). If Pa Kent was a kid during that time, GL would be his favorite. If I taught anyone anything in this book, it’s that. THAT is one thing I would never change if I could go back and fix this book.
The last two pages…not bad. Could be more effective without the captions. And I love the fact that I’m creating Bizarro, at least, in people’s minds, with Grundy’s DNA.
Wow that’s long.
That wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought. I’d give it a C+…maybe a B- on story alone. Julian, Bit and Marta made me look like a genius though, so the art is A+. Alex Ross cover? A+.
I’d love to go back and fix the things I don’t like. I’d love to have another shot at the character. And I’d really love to write a Daily Planet series. I think I have a handle on the character(s) that could be…if not unique, definitely fun.
I’m lucky and honored to have had a chance to add something to the Superman mythos. Even if it was wiped away with the New 52, I contributed to the mythology. My name gets added to a list of creators I have not only loved and respected, but also enjoyed. Despite what bad taste the book may have left in my mouth, I’d do it all over again…even without the changes. Why? Because there are millions that would kill to have their name on the cover of a Superman comic. I was one of them. I didn’t have to kill anyone, sure, but I surely don’t regret it.
Happy birthday, Clark. Happy birthday, Kal.
Happy birthday, Superman.