Action Comics scribe says writing Superman as a dad is "almost too easy, honestly"

Action Comics #1051 art
Action Comics #1051 art (Image credit: DC)

What's old is new again in the pages of DC legacy title Action Comics starring the iconic Superman ... and what's new is old again.

Last month in Action Comics #1050 in what DC positioned as the kick-off to its new Dawn of DC 2023 era, Superman's long-time, iconic secret identity was restored, as everyone but a select few extended family members and superhero colleagues were made to forget Superman and Clark Kent are the same guy.

Action Comics #1051 cover

Action Comics #1051 cover (Image credit: DC)

This month in Action Comics #1051, in the issue's main feature story, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson focuses on Superman as a patriarch of a large extended family, including the new super-powered pre-teen twins from Mongol's Warworld that he and Lois have adopted.

While Superman as a dad seems almost as natural as him flying or rescuing cats from trees, the reality is, it's a relatively new, and still largely unexplored part of his mythology.

The presence of Jon Kent was back-doored into DC continuity just a few years ago, and Superman only spent a few years raising the pre-teen Jon until he was soap opera-aged into a young adult not too soon after.

With Action Comics #1051 on sale January 24, Newsarama got to ask Johnson some questions about the series' new direction, the importance of Superman's secret identity, how the Superman titles have embraced extended family, and how the escapism of the Man of Steel's adventures intersects with real-world upheaval uncertainly. 

Minor spoilers for Action Comics #1051 follow...

Newsarama: Phillip, by the time Superman readers read this they'll have had the opportunity to read both Action Comics #1050 and #1051.

The big development of Action #1050 was the restoration of Superman's secret identity (and Jon getting one for the first time). In comic books, it's not uncommon for classic characters to revert back to their long-time status quo after big changes. And Action #1051 doesn't get into his secret identity much.

Was that just a case of you and/or DC wanting to bring back that iconic aspect the world is familiar with, or do you have specific story plans for it coming up?

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: It really is both.

Hmmm, how to answer without spoiling stuff…

We're kicking off a new era of Superman books, not just Dawn of DC but a new era of the Superman book specifically that really stands apart from the Bendis era and from the Warworld Saga and from the stuff that's come before all that.

The time that's coming now that's about to hit with Action #1051 and then Superman #1 and then Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent is a new era for sure. This era is a real celebration of all the things that Superman is - from the Super Family to the city of Metropolis becoming the legit "City of Tomorrow" that we've always kind of wanted to see …  the introduction of the new Super Twins … you know, continuing to explore the Lois and Clark relationship and the addition of the new children and Jon, of course. Bringing back iconic Superman villains and showing them in scarier, more threatening, more complicated ways. 

Action Comics #1051

(Image credit: DC)

And one of the crucial elements of Superman mythology is the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane. Some specific things that are coming in the stories needed the presence of Clark Kent. Like the 'classic glasses, Fedora, tie Clark Kent' that everyone knows from the Daily Planet. To lose that would kind of hinder some story things that we had coming.

Plus, just from an instinctual, visual level, just seeing those moments in the books where the shirt comes open and the S-shield is revealed, this is such an amazing feel-good moment that … you can almost hear the trumpet fanfares when that happens. So there were a lot of reasons why we needed those moments in the stories going forward. It was important for the era that we're kicking off now. But it was also important for some specific story beats that are coming.

Action Comics #1051

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: I'm sure you've spoken about it before, but for our readers, can you talk about adding the "Super-Twins" to the title? You actually acknowledge in Action #1051 that their arrival is a little bittersweet for Jon, given how he rapidly aged. But made you think not just kids, but super-kids were value added to the Superman and Lois and Clark dynamic?

PKJ: In a way, the added presence of Osul and Otho on Earth puts Superman and Lois in a situation very much like the situation that Martha and Jonathan Kent were in back in the day.

Because of the events at the end of Warworld Apocalypse. Osul-Ra is essentially a New God now, with powers that are kind of unexplored. We don't really know what he's capable of, or what the consequences will be for this power that he now carries. Superman is going to be learning what Osul is capable of for some time, and in that regard, he's in a very similar position that his own Earth parents were in years ago. I thought that'd be really interesting to see.

I'm also really excited to show the relationship between Jon and the twins in that Jon feels the weight of the lost years with his parents, and of course, his parents feel it even more. And so for Jon to see kids that were roughly his age when he left … like literally in his old bedroom … you know? 

He's happy for them, and he welcomes them, as we know any Superman would. He's very much his father's son, and he's not at all resentful or jealous, but it does give him a feeling that he's a little bit surprised by how it makes him a little bit sad, and wonders if things will be the same between him and his parents going forward. And I want to see that whole arc play out between Jon and the kids, and also with his parents.

Action Comics #1051

(Image credit: DC)

Nrama: In many ways, so many of the core, iconic DC heroes have become patriarchs - Batman-Bruce, Barry (and even Wally), Arthur, Hal (albeit in a more militarized way). And, of course, the Wonder Woman family has expanded even if Diana isn't quite the matriarch (yet).

There's a bit of a Silver Age-ish quality to it, but it's also a very different vibe than say Marvel Comics. Why do you think DC has embraced family to the degree it has?

PKJ: I mean it's a thing that anyone can relate to, I guess. I mean people are always telling me how hard it is to write Superman, and they say it almost like a statement of fact.

'Well, everyone knows that Superman is hard to write. What do you think about that?'

And I have never felt that way. I mean, I have a very clear voice for Superman in my head that I've had there since I was a little kid watching the Christopher Reeve movies and reading the old comics. I've always known who Superman is, and now I'm a father. In fact, Superman's a father, too, which makes writing him almost too easy, honestly.

Action Comics #1051

(Image credit: DC)

As far as him being hard to write, I can see how his love for all humanity, for all life, could be hard to comprehend for some people. It could be hard to kind of wrap your head around. And that love for everything is kind of encapsulated in his love for his wife and son. So to me, I think the family dynamic just kind of makes sense as far as expanding the roster … expanding the universe. But it also makes sense that it gives a welcome perspective I think a lot of people can relate to.

Nrama: I can't help but feel some of your exposition about the history and current status quo of Metropolis in Action #1051 is an acknowledgment of the real-world political and social turbulence we're all going through right now. Do you intend Action Comics to speak to that unease many of us feel about the real world, or serve as something of a fantastical escape from it?

(Image credit: DC)

PKJ: That's a good question.

It's kind of both. I mean I'm not writing the book with an agenda. There's no one-to-one parallel between the Blue Earth movement in Action Comics #1051 and any particular political movement in real life. But I think the events of the story and the generalities of some of the characters and groups in it will be, you know, recognizable by readers.

So I don't know. I think It does deal with some current events and deals with things like political isolationism and refugees, and you know, political corruption and those kinds of things that have been there in Superman books since literally the first issue. But there's no preaching happening. There's no agenda being undertaken. There are familiar things in the books, but it's also very much an adventure story that is also just by its nature escapist.

Nrama: What the heck is going on with Metallo? Is the simple interpretation that monsters are made from the inside and not the outside?

PKJ: I've always been fascinated by Metallo. But as is often the case with me, he's been a little more one-dimensional than I prefer, and I like to see my bad guys a little more complicated.

Even though Action #1051 is a turning of the page and a very clear new beginning, a new era for Superman books, I did also want to kind of spin out of the events of the Warworld Saga.

Action Comics #1051

(Image credit: DC)

Metallo's body is based in part on the technology of the Unmade from the Warworld - these Necro-cyborgs that Mongol would rebuild and reanimate and put out back to war. And those things aren't just robots. They're more complicated than that. They're like. They're like alchemy-robot-zombies kind of … super-duper strong but also they're not just robots that you turn on and off.

So we've always kind of accustomed to seeing Metallo as essentially a Terminator. And now, starting with Action #1051 going forward, he's a Cronenberg movie monster. You're going to see that transformation start very soon.

Nrama: All right. Last question. What's coming up in the immediate future of Action Comics you can tell readers (and potential readers) about? 

PKJ: We're gonna see members of the Super Family bounce off of each other and new fun and exciting ways. We're going to define who everybody is in the Super Family, not just by how they look, but by who they are, what their motivations are … what they want. We're going to pay tribute to our favorite Superman stories from the old days, including the 80-page and 100-page Giants that got into the whole Super Family, but also the Triangle era, the Death of Superman, the Reign of the Superman. We're gonna pay tribute to all that stuff.

We're going to see a new villain or two, but we're also going to see really fun, dangerous, threatening, complicated takes on Superman's most iconic Rogues' Gallery.

Action Comics #1051 is on sale January 24.

Can't get enough of the Man of Steel? Read the best Superman stories of all time.

I'm not just the Newsarama founder and editor-in-chief, I'm also a reader. And that reference is just a little bit older than the beginning of my Newsarama journey. I founded what would become the comic book news site in 1996, and except for a brief sojourn at Marvel Comics as its marketing and communications manager in 2003, I've been writing about new comic book titles, creative changes, and occasionally offering my perspective on important industry events and developments for the 25 years since. Despite many changes to Newsarama, my passion for the medium of comic books and the characters makes the last quarter-century (it's crazy to see that in writing) time spent doing what I love most.