Neal Adams doesn't want Superman to continue in his godlike incarnations, and he's going to do something about it.
The legendary comic book artist and writer is looking to give the world a bit more cerebral Superman, and one that, as he says, women should be able "to fall in love with" as he presents his six-issue limited series "Superman: The Coming of the Supermen."
In his book, Superman is called away to help a world very similar to his home planet of Krypton fend off an attack by Darkseid and the hordes of Apokolips. The miniaturized Kryptonian city of Kandor sends three new heroes to take Superman's place in protecting Earth from harm. Not used to having powers granted by the yellow sun, and not schooled in combating the threats Superman deals with daily, the trio will have to grow into the role while Superman is away.
We get some very different heroes taking Clark Kent's mantle. And there's no knowing if the planet is in "safe" hands.
Added to all of this is Superman's taking over stewardship of a mysterious little boy from the Middle East — and his dog — who lost his entire family during a conflict there. A djinn, or genie, tells Superman that he must keep the child. It's complicated.
We spoke with Adams, whose take on the "Dark Knight" has become the template for the menacing Batman we all know and love (post-Adam West TV series), on his new project. What does he want to change, what does he think of the current iterations of Superman and how has the push for diversity inserted itself into his art and storytelling?
Were the personality traits of these new supermen [in your book] aspects that you might've wanted to explore in Clark Kent Superman?
You know the film "Gunga Din?" You know the three sergeants in the film, played by Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen? Those are my Supermen. Just like that.
Why, specifically, were you thinking of those characters?
Well, because I love that movie. I love the characters. I love the inter-relationships. I love the way they deal with each other, and I can see they're real. [The supermen] got together and decided that they were going to help the planet and be those replacement Supermen. These guys were perfect for it.
In that movie, I think the relationship between those three characters is the whole movie. So anybody who wants to know what I'm talking about, go take a look at "Gunga Din."
You've mentioned that you think Superman is drifting away from his original characterization. How so?
I'm a fan of Superman as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Remember that Jerry and Joe created a character that was the biggest superhero of all. Practically the next hero created was Batman, who had no super powers.
Everybody in comic books lie pretty much in between these two characters. Now, I've done Batman and I've done characters that were in between — that alpha and omega end of the scale — and I think it's time for me to do Superman.
But I don't want to do a god. I don't think you could evolve a god on a planet — it doesn't make any sense. You can't fly into the sun. You can't put your hands on the side of a planet and move it. In fact, if you were a real Superman and you wanted to move a ship out to sea, you couldn't do it by pushing it because your hands are only about six inches long. What would happen if you pushed is that [the hands] would just embed into the ship and you would pretty much fly through the ship. In other sequences, Superman will fly through a ship. Why does he not fly through a ship in this sequence and fly through a ship in the next sequence? Because we're really not thinking of Superman; we're thinking of a god who can use his abilities at the whim of his mind.
I would rather see a Superman who, if he's going to move a ship, he doesn't embed himself into the ship. He should be a character who figures things out for himself and how he conducts himself on a planet where everybody else is much, much weaker than he is. All of these things seems to me have been ignored in many ways, and it's just, 'Well, we'll do a god thing.'
I think that we want to believe in Superman. We want him to be handsome. We want women to fall in love with him. We want him to go out and exercise and build up his muscles — we want to see his muscles. And we want to believe that he really cares about himself and that he makes himself into what he is. He isn't just some schlub who just happens to inherit all of these super powers. He is a man, and he thinks like we do; it's just that he has super powers.
For me, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster's character was Superman. It got a little fluffy and powdery along the way and got a little godlike at the same time, and I think that we want to get back to being a man that you fall in love with and you like as a buddy. ... I don't like the magic, you know what I mean?
You also wanted to remake Lex from his millennial visage and some of the New Gods.
To me, Lex is a kind of chunky, big guy who's bald, and he doesn't like being bald and it pisses him off. He would rather be handsome like Superman, and perhaps he's jealous of Superman. That's the way I remember him.
I've run into burly guys like that who can punch your face in. I don't think that should be a surprise to anybody. He is Lex Luthor. Physically, he's very powerful, and he probably works out. He just can't take off those last 30 pounds. He's bald, and he doesn't wear a wig. I'm sorry. Maybe he does in some incarnations, but really he goes around bald, and he's OK with it.
That's what he was, and that's how he should remain and we shouldn't be messing with him. If we do, then that makes him everybody else, and I don't like that.
I also love Jack Kirby, and I love Jack Kirby's characters, and I love that Jack Kirby could leave Marvel Comics after creating the Marvel Universe — and please excuse me folks out there, but Jack Kirby created the Marvel Universe — and came over to DC and created "New Gods," created a new universe. Bang — out of nothing. Out of his mind.
He created Darkseid, he created New Gods, he created Apokolips ... all these characters. And I'm using them. We have Orion. Metron. Steppenwolf and Mister Miracle. Granny Goodness and Big Barda. Desaad. Maybe I can't keep them on the page for that long 'cause we're only doing six issues, but I'm doing them all and I'm kicking butt. Because it's fun! All of that stuff is fun, and I'm having fun doing it.
And Superman's onscreen portrayal?
I saw this last Superman movie, and they recycled Zod. I'm sorry, I've already seen him and I'd rather see Darkseid and all those characters. Why didn't they do New Gods?
We watched the "Superboy" ["Smallville"] television show, and they showed a piece of Granny Goodness and then she's gone. What happened?! I don't get it. I'm doing it, and I hope everyone else follows. I hope they appear in the movies and I hope they remember so they can go 'Yep, Neal did it again.'
There's a spotlight on diversity in the comics world — on the page and with the creators — that seems to be throughout entertainment in general. Did that influence you at all, especially in the creation of a pivotal character — a little boy and his dog — who show up in the Middle East?
To a greater or lesser extent. Remember, I created the first black super hero, John Stewart, who was both college-educated and had a profession. He wasn't a gangbanger who suddenly got some power and turned into a hero. He wasn't an African tribal chief — who we can all relate to. Well, I can't. He is a college-educated professional man. That's the kind of character we want to see, and that's what every black American I've met wants to see. They don't like gangbangers, no matter what anyone says.
I want to see an Arab kid, and I want to see a Puerto Rican adult and all this stuff happening because that's the world I live in. I understand it very differently from segmented people who don't get exposed to a lot. I live in New York and California, and I get to travel. The next guy who comes to my booth could be an Arab or from South America — it's a world community now, and that's where we should be dealing.
I do have a certain place in this industry. People will look and say, 'Hey, maybe that's a good idea.' If it brings the next Arab or people from the Middle East into comics — great. If it brings in people from India — great. People don't know that one of the most popular comic books in India is Archie comics.
We're soon going to have Russia and Red China involved in our comic book industry. Should we let them in? Of course. But [in terms of storytelling], is he just an Arab kid? Is that dog just a dog? I don't think so.
Your work on Batman left an impression that, to this day, affects how people portray the Dark Knight. What is the lasting thing that you want people to take away about Superman that will continue in future iterations?
I want women to fall in love with him, and I want guys to respect him. I want him to look like he works out. That's what I want to see. I know it seems a little pedantic, but that's what I wanted.
Do you have a favorite of the new supermen?
Eh. Like I said, if you watch "Gunga Din," you'll pick your own favorite.
In the series, what should we expect going forward?
Nothing that you see in the first issue is going to be 100% true in the last issue.