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BENDIS Talks SUPERMAN’s Return, MONGUL Showdown & Secret Identity Exposure

Superman #22
Credit: DC

Credit: DC

As Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman returns with issue #22, the story features a space battle drawn by Kevin Maguire as well as some more down-to-earth fall-out from Clark Kent’s exposed identity.

Bendis shared with Newsarama his plans for Superman — as well as mentions of a Torso TV show and upcoming issues of Legion of Super-Heroes.

With Superman #22, which picks up where the story left off before publication was interrupted, Bendis concludes his “The Truth” storyline, followed by two more Maguire-drawn issues that feature the Justice League Dark and Dr. Fate. Ivan Reis will then draw Superman #25, which Bendis said introduces a new cosmic threat to the book.

Newsarama: Brian, to remind people where we are in the story, Superman just revealed his identity. But he’s off-planet and busy right now fighting Mongul. So how does “The Truth” part of this story play out in Superman #22?

Brian Michael Bendis: “The Truth” part plays out because Clark’s part of a partnership. So while Clark is out saving the galaxy from the immediate physical threat, Lois is kind of left holding the marital bag. We’ve all been there, where, OK, I’m in charge of all of this now.

The FBI shows up at her door in the form of Agent Chase, who is a beloved character from the DC archives. And she kind of lets Lois know where the Superman family stands, as far as the FBI and authority goes, because he did this without telling anybody or asking permission — or did he need to.

It does change the rules of how they’re going to have to handle Superman.

So she’s handling that.

Plus, somebody in the United Planets went to the effort ofsending a tape of Superman describing to the United Planets that he would represent Earth in all matters.

He did it because, of course, who else could do it? Only Superman. Superman’s the guy. He’s out there. He can fly out there. He can represent Earth.

But to others, it can look like Superman was declaring himself the king of the planet without actually asking anybody. So there’s a debate that will handle, like, does Superman represent Earth? Do we want Superman to represent Earth? Does the FBI want that? Do all the governments of the world want this?

So that’s going to be playing out in the next few issues.

While Lois is having the intellectual conversation, Superman is having the battle of his life and elements where he is doing what he does best, which is fight Mongul to save us.

We try to create one of the biggest Superman fights we’ve ever had, particularly in our run, because Kevin Maguire — legendary Kevin Maguire — said to me, “I want to draw one of the great Superman fights of all time.” I’m like, let’s go for it then.

So it was pretty great to have someone of Kevin’s caliber itching to do exactly this.

Credit: DC


Nrama: Before we talk about that “king of the world” thing, tell me more about working with Kevin Maguire. How much do you direct him, particularly on an action scene like this? Do you choreograph the whole fight?

Bendis: It’s a really unique experience to be working with someone who you admired your entire life. And now, Kevin and I — he lives here in Portland; we’ve become friendly; and I know him a little bit better. So I can write toward the itches that he wants to scratch as an artist.

Like, he tells me. These are the things that he wanted. And some of them were surprising, like how earnest of a Superman story he wanted to tell, considering he’s most known for some jovial stuff, right? He wanted to do a real Superman story, and that got me very excited.

I’ve also learned over the years, when anybody from any walk of life turns to you and says I really want to do this, they’re going to do the best thing you’ve ever seen.

If you can find a way to get them there, not only do they want to do it, but they’ll be so appreciative of the stage, they’ll just go nuts.

So yes, I describe and choreograph a whole fight, but even in script, I’m writing, “Some of these moves, I’ve stolen from you over the years.” Like, I’m telling you to do that thing you do that I stole from you — that’s always an interesting note to give someone, but it’s an honest note.

So it’s like, here’s the story we’re telling. Here’s why we’re telling it. Here’s the energy in which we’re telling it. And with that said, do whatever the hell you want.

And there’s a couple sequences where he took it to the next level, and you’ll see it in the art — it’s so gorgeous, and he was so right there with the fight.

It was just a great collaboration. And that continues for the next couple issues, by the way. Kevin is going to be with us for the next few, until Superman #25, when Ivan [Reis] comes back for a double-sized hooha.

Nrama: Was that helped at all by the lockdown? Did it give you a little extra time with Kevin?

Bendis: It did. It actually helped Ivan more on #25. We had already finished this issue, and we were creating this new character we were building in the next issues. So it helped give us time for that.

You know, DC was really cool about keeping the trains moving. And the idea was to stay on schedule so we won’t be running up against deadlines like we were.

So we used the buffer time to … give us some buffer.

Nrama: So this “king of the Earth” thing…

Bendis: Yes — well, it’s a matter of like, there’s this tape of Superman just earnestly saying, hey, I’ll represent Earth.

To most people, they’d go, oh yeah, great Superman! Thank you! Who else if not you. Right?

But other people would be like, excuse me, you’re not even human. Who gave you permission to do that?

So it’s an interesting argument about responsibility that is very, very specific to Superman and his world.

Credit: DC

Nrama: I feel like it also highlights something you’ve been touching upon since you started writing Superman and Action: Images and soundbites in the media, and things taken out of context, and how immersed Lois and Clark are in the media.

Bendis: That’s right.

Nrama: Is that something you wanted to explore specifically in the Superman books, since Lois and Clark are part of the press?

Bendis: Yeah, and I thought that was the extra angle that I haven’t been able to pursue in other areas, is that they are absolutely part of the media. Now, they’re a very well known part of the media.

And as described in the issue just before, the Daily Star is like, oh, so this is why we’ve been getting our ass kicked by Lois and Clark all these years? Because he’s Superman? Well, that sucks.

So you know, that’s good for them, and they’re the heroes of their own story. But there’s someone who’s ass you’ve been kicking for years, and it’s ours. And now, we have a story to tell.

Nrama: You mentioned Agent Chase. Is she going to be in future stories?

Bendis: Absolutely. Agent Chase is going to be part of Superman and Action, as what’s going on in Action Comics is the entire Daily Planet is under siege because of Lois dropping the news that they main have been being published by a gangster.

So the FBI will be raiding the Daily Planet very, very soon — right after Agent Chase tells Lois [in Superman #22], hey, listen, no more mistakes. You guys can’t make any more mistakes.

Nrama: Ouch.

Bendis: Yeah. And I like this one, because there’s been a couple times in life when someone says, well, no more mistakes. And you’re like, well, I’ve already made mistakes and you just haven’t caught up with them yet. [Laughs.]

And also, I do — I like the journalism argument here. Here it’s different than the journalism arguments we’re having in the real world. But it’s still an interesting one to me.

There’s really no good guys or bad guys in this story. It’s just how a story can unfold and be different to other people — which includes Clark’s dear old friend Lana Lang returning to the book as well.

Nrama: To Superman?

Bendis: Yes. Lana Lang is the special science liaison to the Daily Star, and she’s been assigned to deal with the Clark/Superman story. And that will unpack starting in Superman #25.

Nrama: OK, but before that, you’ve got the Justice League Dark and Dr. Fate coming into the story.

Bendis: Yep.

Nrama: Is this to highlight Superman’s vulnerability to magic?

Bendis: A hundred percent. Many, many, many Superman writers kind of dance around the magic thing, but magic can be even more deadly to him than Kryptonite. It really is his other Kryptonite.

And it had been awhile since Superman had done a storyline along these lines. And with all the big changes in his life, certainly, a call on Dr. Fate wouldn’t be out of order. And maybe Dr. Fate can take a look under the hood, see how he’s doing, make sure no one’s manipulating him or everything’s OK with him.

So he goes to the Hall of Justice and has a meeting with Dr. Fate that kind of turns into a therapy session as they start unpacking all the giant changes that have happened in his life over the course of my run and going all the way back to the Dan Jurgens and Peter Tomasi years.

So much has happened to him, and it happened so quickly that it offers him an opportunity to unpack it in a safe place with Dr. Fate, who’s a new friend and someone he can trust.

From there, we’ll actually be unveiling a new villain as well, in the world of DC magic.

Nrama: Is this the “new character” you mentioned earlier?

Bendis: There’s a couple new characters coming out, in almost all of our books, but in Superman #23 and #24, we have a brand new character who we reveal is the original Lord of Chaos, who has not been seen or heard from in millennia.

And then in issue #25, we debut a brand, brand, brand new cosmic threat to Superman, invented by myself and Ivan Reis.

Nrama: Oh, so Ivan’s drawing a cosmic story? I don’t think there’s anyone who can draw a cosmic scene better than Ivan Reis.

Bendis: It’s unbelievable what he can accomplish, and I literally said to him, let’s invent this character and the universe of this character from the ground up, using all of the tools, all the tricks that you have — all that Rann/Thanagar magic that’s in you. Let’s pull something brand new into the DC Universe that, at the same time, will look like it always belonged there.

And that’s exactly what he’s done. I cannot wait for people to see it.

Nrama: So will this have something to do with the United Planets?

Bendis: Yeah, it’s all connected to the larger story of what’s happening with Mongul, Superman’s responsibilities to the United Planets versus our planet — yeah.

Credit: DC

Nrama: And just to confirm, Dr. Fate is now Khalid Nassour, right? That’s who Superman is interacting with in your story?

Bendis: Yes, yes. And again, this is someone who’s kind of new in Superman’s life, but a friend he can trust.

Nrama: I know how much you like using characters that are your favorites. Are you a fan of the Khalid Dr. Fate?

Bendis: I am! I deeply am. When I was doing all the research, I was so delighted that with every page turn, I liked him more and more, and I couldn’t wait to have this interaction with them.

I also like when people interact that normally wouldn’t, but we need to talk.

And this is one of those.

It’s also a great interaction for Khalid, because here’s the greatest superhero of all time kind of unloading, and giving him a glimpse into what’s the future for superheroes like us. This is still kind of new.

Nrama: How are you feeling, after the lockdown, about everything gearing back up in comic books?

Bendis: Well, I’ve got to tell you, one of the great blessings in my life is not only that I’ve been locked up with a bunch of people who I really like, but then I have to spend quite a few hours a day with Superman.

I know that people have this feeling from their reading — and people doing all their binge reading online — but every day, I get to spend a few hours with the greatest person ever. And I can’t wait to get back to sharing that experience with everybody, ‘cause it’s certainly helped me.

And I know it’s been a process for other people. I can’t wait to get back to it.

People want their books, so I’m excited to get back to them.

Nrama: I know you plan way, way out on your stories, but do you find that, as you’re planning, that any of what’s going on in the real world — the fears that we’re experiencing now — are being reflected in your stories at all?

Bendis: Well, you know, a couple years ago, I went through some pretty traumatic stuff and came out of it on the other side and was fascinated by what was interesting to me as a writer after that.

The best version of that — I don’t mean to brag or go off course, but we’re very close to making a Torso TV show, and I was spending a lot of time with that.

At the time that I had made the graphic novel, I had spent as much time as I spend with Superman all day with those dead bodies in Torso.

And as I was revisiting it, I was like, “Oh my God, thank God I don’t spend all that time with these dead bodies today. I don’t want to do that.” But I do want to spend all this time with Superman.

So all this time, the last couple years, I’ve been writing very hopeful, spirited stuff that doesn’t come near any of the stuff that was triggering me out. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not consciously.

And I have discovered the readers who are into that have really needed it as well. Like, Batman Universe was a good of example — that energy was all me trying to heal myself. And then people read it and they come at it from a great healing place.

So I’ve been using this energy this whole time, and now that we’re this deep into it, I was very grateful that all of my choices were based on my earlier trauma to be in a hopeful place.

Does that make sense?

Nrama: Yeah.

Bendis: So like, I had already gotten to a place where I … “you know what the world needs? More hope. Not more pandemic.”

So nothing in my books has that pandemic feel.

What I did notice, over the course of being locked up is that — I think I’m on script #8 in a row that completely takes place outside.

ThatI didn’t do on purpose. But then I looked at it — it’s hilarious.

Also, I don’t do a lot of rooftop scenes. I want to make sure I keep them to a minimum, because that’s a trope in comics that I’m aware I’m guilty of.

So I did my first one in many years, and I’m like, “Oh, I’m back on the rooftops!!” ‘Cause I don’t want to be inside.

But I’ve got to tell you, V — the energy part, I’m really excited about. And just knowing from experience too. Like, I’ve done a couple times where I had a story out, and the energy of that story wasn’t what people needed at the moment. But by the time it came out, it was.

So I’m genuinely happy about the choices we made — almost every book: Legion, Young Justice…

Nrama: Yeah, you’ve got the same hopefulness running through your other DC books.

Bendis: And you may see a little twinge, here and there, of the kids in Legion having had enough of adults who pretend they know what they’re doing, but yet don’t know what they’re doing, acting like they know what they’re doing.

That may have crept in.

I think you’re going to see a lot of that in a lot of books and movies and TV shows.

Nrama: I think you’re right.

Bendis: But I will say that what weighs heavy in the books, based on this, is adults who find ourselves with extra responsibilities — on top of the responsibilities that we always have.

Credit: DC

I find myself writing Superman wrestling with all the responsibility of his adult Superman-ness: Being a father and being a husband. All of that does weigh in on the book, and I think people can really relate to it.

Even Superman gets stressed out once in awhile.

Nrama: OK, I know we were only going to talk about Superman #22. But since you brought up Legion…

Bendis: Oh, we have so much excitement in the Legion. We have a two-issue surprise coming up in Legion I can’t wait to show you.

Nrama: You teased something “ambitious” coming in issues #8 and #9. Is that the surprise you’re talking about?

Bendis: Yes, #8 and #9. Craziest things that we’ve ever attempted, and it’s all coming together. I can’t wait.

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