Exclusive Q&A with Greg Pak on "Batman/Superman" and "Action Comics"
Kindle Comics Expert Charlie Chang sat down with Greg Pak, writer of Batman/Superman and Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk, at New York Comic Con this past weekend to talk about his current and upcoming books in DC's New 52 Universe.
Charlie Chang: Batman/Superman has been so much fun and as the reader you can really tell that you’re having fun writing it. There’s so much to love about this current story arc, with all four main heroes and their side characters. What is your favorite part about writing this book?
Grek Pak: Everything. I’ll be totally honest, when Jim Lee gave me a call a while back and said Batman/Superman, I said “Yes please”. These are the original superheroes right? They’re the classics, and a chance to play with those icons is amazing. What I really love about it is that it’s a chance to take these characters who have constantly been in the back of my head since I was a kid for years and years and dive into them at a very early stage in their lives in the current DC universe. It’s just perfect, I’m writing them for the first time and I get to write them as they are meeting each other for the first time. So we’re all doing it together.
The story is about those relationships. There’s a ton of crazy sci-fi dimension bending high-jinks going on that I love to death but when it boils down to it the story works because of the emotional struggles that the characters are going through. That emotional arc is what’s going to make this story rise or fall. The editors have really encouraged me to explore these characters and look at their similarities and differences and how they drive each other crazy. I’ve loved it all.
CC: I think a great example of the emotional moments you were just talking about is when Earth 1 Clark meets John and Martha Kent from Earth 2 and they realize that he didn’t have them around and then Superman just breaks down to his knees.
GP: Yeah, I love sci-fi, I love crazy fantasy stories but what I love the most is when those insane sci-fi moments allow you to really push those emotional moments. That’s the set up to doing really interesting things emotionally and that’s exactly what’s going on there because in our story you’ve got young, raw, inexperienced, and cocky Batman and Superman who’ve just met for the first time and they hate each other’s guts. They've been teleported to an alternate dimension where there are older, more established versions of themselves who are the greatest heroes their world has ever seen and they’re best friends and have been for years. The other twist is that in our world these young heroes are both orphans. Their mothers and fathers are gone and they are alone in the world trying to figure out a strange, dangerous, and difficult world. In Earth 2, Superman still has his parents and so younger Superman sees this older version of himself who’s got it all going on, knows how the world works and is totally confident because he still has these supportive parents who are still alive is a heartbreaking moment and gives you this chance to really explore the vulnerabilities of your characters. I just love Earth 2 because it gives us an opportunity to show what our heroes don’t have.
Generally, the more miserable your character is the better your story. When your character is in trouble, that’s when you really care. It’s like every Harry Potter book, they all start with him in the worst situations like living under the stairs. It’s very Dickensian. Cary Grant used to say nobody wants to hear about how wonderful your life is. When things go wrong, that’s what they're really interested.
CC: Let’s change gears to Action Comics. It’s so exciting to see this new road for the book with tying into Zero Year and going back to the roots with the t-shirt and jeans. What are you most looking forward to tackling and how will you be following what Grant Morrison has been building the past two years?
GP: From the beginning I was thrilled with how they brought me on board Action Comics because for the first issue I get the chance to tie into Scott Snyder’s Batman: Zero Year storyline which is set in the past and I get to start with a very young Superman. Which again, like my Batman/Superman I get to start at the beginning which is a great place to start. What we’ll see in that first issue is a terrible crisis hitting Gotham City and our young Superman who’s just started out so he’s cocky because he’s stronger than anyone else he’s ever met, and has had some success going out and superhero-ing is faced with this enormous crisis he thinks he’s going to go in there and fix everything. He may be up for a surprise or two. It’s a great way to take this very young character and to see him confront real Superman level threats and to see if he’s able to handle it and see what he learns. We’re laying out certain themes that are going to resonate throughout the whole storyline. Only that first issue of Action Comics is going to be set in the past but as we move forward and bring the story up to the present day he’s still young in the present day DCU.
This isn’t 30 something Superman who’s in charge or George Reeves your uncle who knows everything and is in total control. This is a young guy who might seem like he’s got everything together on the surface but he’s figuring it out every step of the way. The core of Superman is that he’s always going to try and do the right thing and he’s never ever going to give up but he’s still young and he doesn’t know what the right thing is all the time and he may make mistakes. There’s a lot of drama there.
CC: How do you work with your artists? Jae Lee has such a distinctive look and he adds so much of that sci-fi element to Batman/Superman. There’s an almost Sandman or Vertigo-esque style to how everything flows on the page. I’m excited to see how different Action Comics is going to be. How much direction are you giving the artists that you work with?
GP: I’ve had a great time working with all my artists at DC and we’ve done a lot of talking and emailing and it’s been tremendous. Jay and I had a chance to meet face to face a few months before he started on the book and we had actually worked together tangentially many years before on the second comics project of my career back at Marvel. He did the covers for it. I just loved those covers so I was thrilled by the chance to work with him as an interior artist on this book. When I write, I’m thinking about who the artist is and I’m visualizing it in the style of that artist so it’s hard for me sometimes to point to very specific things that I’ve done but that artist is kind of under my skin the whole time I’m writing. When you’re working with a great artist they’ll take what you’ve given them and they’ll come back and shock you by what they do with it. Jae does that with his brilliant design work. He’s got an intellectual design related reason for doing everything he’s doing and at the same time he’s an incredible dreamer. He brings all this amazing emotion and movement to the pages. He’s got the best of both worlds there. I’ll send him stuff and he’ll have added a completely different layer of design to it that gives it another level of meaning.
There’s a double page spread in the first issue we did together where there's a retelling of Superman’s story on the left hand side and a retelling of Batman’s story on the right hand side. He’s brilliantly done those panels and structured them in a way that forms an outline of the Superman shield and then an outline of the Bat wings and it’s just gorgeous. He does that stuff all the time, it’s like breathing to him.
On Action Comics right now I’m working with Aaron Kuder who is fantastic and we’re working plot first there which means I write out a detailed outline of the script, page by page and panel by panel but I haven’t put in all the dialogue yet. So I indicate in the panels what’s going on, what the nuance is, what the characters are saying, and the emotional point. Then he’s doing layouts and art based on that. What’s beautiful about that is he’s a great storyteller and this way he’s totally in on it from the beginning and sees what the story is all about. Then we get on the phone and come up with stuff together that I would never have come up with on my own. Great little moments and brushstrokes that finish off each page and sequence. That’s just a lot of fun. Bret Booth is drawing the next storyline in Batman/Superman and he’s got a completely different style than Jae but he’s just amazing and so dynamic and he’s having so much fun. There’s certain moments in that story that are really fun with huge danger but there’s also a lot of humor in that story and he’s just going hog wild. There’s so much energy in those pages.
CC: Do you have a favorite Superman story?
GP: I’ve got a bunch. The first Superman book I ever got was one of those big oversized books in the 70s and it had a reprint of an old classic Superman story where Superman’s having a terrible day because he’s facing death cause a box of kryptonite’s been opened up and he’s dying. The whole story is set up with this time prediction machine telling him that he’ll be saved by someone with the initials LL. So he’s dying and trying to figure out which LL is going to save him and using his supervision to look all over the world for people with the initials LL including all the LLs in his life including Lori Lemaris, the mermaid, and Lana Lang, Lois Lane, and a very unlikely LL comes to save. I just love that story and I love those Golden and Silver age stories that just have a charm to them.
I also love Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman for all Seasons. I think it tries to get to the core of who Superman is and pays a lot of attention to Superman as Clark. I think that’s who Superman is because that’s who he grew up as. Oftentimes stories end where we began and he really began when that spacecraft landed in Smallville and he was picked up by the Kents. That’s when he was born really. At the other end of the spectrum I love how Superman was depicted in The Dark Knight Returns where he’s basically become a tool of the government. He’s the ultimate weapon for them and that’s a very dark and compelling version of where somebody like this might go. Like all of these classic characters there’s a million places you go and a million different angles you can take and it’s just endlessly rich.
This blog post is by Kindle's Charlie Chang. Interested in comics and graphic novels? Sign up for Comics Delivers, a weekly email featuring the best in comics each week - from weekly booklists to deals and exclusive content from creators.