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Superman Lives: Jeph Loeb Interview 10/22/99

I extend a most courteous welcome to Mr. Jeph Loeb, the new writer on Superman. Jeph started with #151 and he's already turned quite a few heads. His past work includes Superman For All Seasons, a romantic retelling of the current Man of Steel's roots and Batman: The Long Halloween. He is no stranger to strange visitors as his work on Marvel's Cable will attest and he has past experience with American icons as his work on Jack Kirby's Fighting American for Awesome Entertainment will attest. Beyond his comics career, Mr. Loeb is a successful Hollywood screenwriter and has been friends with fabled Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin for some time.

Mr. Loeb, your work thus far seems to indicate a great deal of energy for the comics medium. Are you a longtime reader? What comic books did you enjoy when you were younger? What comic books do you read today?

I've read comics since I was about 8 years old, starting primarily with Superman and Batman and then as a teenager, switching to Marvel. I have an enormous collection of silver age books from about 1964 to present. They have overtaken my garage!

Today, I try and read a little of everything since I'm always interested in what other artists are doing/not doing. Some titles that come to mind are the obvious ones, Earth X, Alan Moore's Awesome work and ABC, Astro City, Savage Dragon, The Cliffhanger titles, Sin City. I'm sure there are lots more, I'm just keeping the list shorter. I often look at things because I like the writer or artist,Greg Rucka, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Joe Mad, Jeff Campbell, Larson, Ian Churchill, Chris Bachalo -- it goes on.

Have you had your eye on Superman for some time? I seem to recall hearing that you came up with the rough concept for a story that Elliot S! Maggin did back in the 1970s.

I just always loved the character. The script which I wrote called "Why must there be a Superman?" was something I gave to Elliot -- who is still one of my heroes -- when I was like 12, 13 years old. Something in there got stuck and a while later, Elliot wrote the story "Must There Be A Superman?" which, like my story, had the premise of The Guardians of OA questioning Superman's role on earth. Elliot's story was far superior, and I, admittedly, had copped the ending of my story from Spider-Man #100 -- which Elliot chided me for. It wasn't until many years later that he and I talked about the similarities in mine and his stories and he has apologized so many times in person and in print that it's embarrassing. The truth is I was FLATTERED that he liked anything that I had to write and he continues to be one of my inspirations.

Superman has been around for over sixty years now. To what do you attribute his longevity?

He is so simple to identify with -- you put on a cape and you fly around the house. Great stuff. All comics lead from that single point of creation. He's important!

Superman has existed in a variety of incarnations in print media, radio serials, television and on the silver screen. Do you perceive some interpretations to be more representative of Superman the icon than others? I'm curious as to your viewpoint on this as a screenwriter.

I try and utiliize all the versions because they all have a certain magic, even the awful ones. The radio shows gave us Kryptonite and the first Batman/Superman team up. The first two "Richard Donner" Superman movies are just great movies, Superman aside. What Paul Dini and Bruce Timm are doing on the animated show is right on target, brilliant stuff. Fliesher cartoons are wonderful. They all add to the mythos. There is no right or wrong -- only different tunes to the same song. It what also proves that the character will be here 60, 100, 200 years from now -- if he can withstand MANY incarnations and still grow, that's greatness.

Do you think that Superman's absence from the Golden-Age of comics diminishes his role any? In reality, he's one of the first published super-heroes and yet, in order to keep him young and vital, he's been established as a character who came after many characters he actually preceded on the printed page. Should Superman age?

He hasn't been absent from the Golden Age. Those stories still exist, I've read them! Continuity is something that is best thought of like a cat. It's nice to have around when you want to play with it, but you can keep a cat outside too and nobody will notice, but the cat.

And no, he can't age -- but things can change. He CAN get married and then deal with that. I still subscribe to the idea that most comics take place on a day-to-day basis, we just read them month-to-month. All that timeline stuff just gives me a headache. If the story is good or the artwork is compelling who cares if it fits in between Justice League #9 and Action Comics #533? Certainly nobody will a year from now!

Do you think that the old Earth-1/Earth-2 solution was a good one? To have one Superman stay young while the other ages? It was certainly an interesting contrast.

Yeah, I miss those stories. I never quite understood all the hoo-hah about the Crisis or the Zero Hour (although they made interesting stories) and guess now Hypertime unravels all of that. In my book if we could just have Krypto, The Phantom Zone, Bizarro #1 and The Bizarro World back, I'd be happy.

How do you think that the modern Superman, who has never actually teamed up with the Golden-Age Superman, would react to meeting Kal-L? What do you see their dynamic as being like if they did co-exist?

Didn't that happen in Crisis? Anyway, sure, Superman meeting an older version of himself is a good story, it doesn't have to be THE Golden Age Superman to work, just a character with the same characteristics. Let me jiggle with that a while... you may have started something for my second year on Superman! (Assuming there is one!)

In your run on Superman, what do you plan to bring to the table in terms of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's vision for Superman? Will we see a hint of the "laughing adventurer" that the early comics gave us?

There may be hints of that. But, Siegel and Shuster were really building from the ground up. Superman was so new, people in those stories actually ran from him -- because he was wrecking stuff! Now, he's an American Icon and some of that keeps him in check from being "an unknown". But, we've got a few ideas as how to toy with that for a bit...

what makes Superman tick? What's he about? How has he managed to last this long? What is the one thing that if you change, makes him no longer Superman?

I've covered a lot of this above, but the one thing that makes him Superman is really Clark. That's an interesting character. He has two wonderful parents who instill in him a spark of goodness, but even after he leaves, he uses his powers to help others. I liked Lois' take in Superman For All Seasons -- he was/is too good to be true. We lie, we cheat, we kill each other and here's the one man who continues to stick his neck out for the rest of us. It's inspriational, without being preachy or wrapping it all in a flag.

What about team-ups with members of the Justice Society, past or present? I've heard quite a bit of buzz from people who want to see more interaction between Power Girl and Superman.

I talk with Geoff Johns, who is the new JSA writer often, he's a pal. There may be something there to mine. It's all very early. I've only had ONE issue come out!

The Golden-Age Superman has made his presence known in various ways over the last several years. From the Dominus Factor arc in the Superman comics to out-of-continuity stories like War of the Worlds and Superman and Batman: Generations to prestige reprintings like the hardbound Crisis on Infinite Earths book, it seems that various incarnations of Kal-L keep turning up. Can we expect this trend to continue? Might the Golden-Age Superman continue to be featured in new stories, either in continuity or through Elseworlds?

Again, I don't know. I think any writer with a good story has so many different ways to approach DC right now, it is a very exciting time. Hopefully, more good stories and great artwork come with those opportunities

What projects have you got on the horizon that you can discuss?

Great stuff. Batman: Dark Victory has just started with Tim Sale -- it's another year long murder mystery adventure in the vein of The Løng Halloween. Chris Bachalo and I have been working late at night on a 3 issue beautifully drawn Witching Hour out in November. Ian Churchill's Lionheart is gorgeous.

I'm actually looking forward to having only two monthly titles to worry about very soon. Superman and Batman. Does it get any better than that???

Mr. Loeb, it's a true honor to discuss these topics with you. I think that it's very clear that you have a great affinity for Superman and the industry in general. I urge readers to check out Jeph Loeb's work on Superman to see his insight in action every month.

Another Interview with Jeph Loeb
Spring, 2000

 
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