A new Superman era began this week, as writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson began his run as DC's resident Man of Steel writer - writing both the main Superman title and the classic Action Comics. With a tagline of 'Infinite Hope,' Johnson and artist Phil Hester began this era in Superman #29 with a father-and-son story that has hope, but also worry and looming dread.
While that issue is a little bit too fresh on stands to get into spoiler territory just yet (but we will), Newsarama spoke with Phillip Kennedy Johnson about taking over the Superman titles, and he relayed to us the ambitious plans and underlined how the art and artists involved are the engine that drives it all.
Newsarama: Phillip, writing for Superman and Action Comics simultaneously is a pretty big deal. What made you want to take on the challenge?
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: There was never any question of taking it on.
Superman was one of my very first heroes as a kid, maybe THE first, and I still associate him with aspirational dreams of flying, of outrunning trains, of saving the whole world someday. To me, there simply is no bigger honor in comics than writing Superman, and there's no reality in which I said 'no' to this.
I have the clearest vision of Superman in my mind, I know exactly what I want out of a Superman story, and it's a tremendous privilege to be able to show that version to the world.
Nrama: Why did you want to connect Action Comics and Superman for your first story arc?
Johnson: We were originally going to start with Scott Godlewski on Superman and Daniel Sampere on Action Comics, but the calendar worked out in such a way that we had an opportunity to set up both arcs with a two-part crossover in March. Phil Hester had just recently finished a stint on Superman with the Justice League 'Endless Winter' event, and by all accounts was a joy to work with. I've loved Phil's work forever, and I jumped at the chance to work with him.
As awesome as it can be to read one long, continuous arc with one creative team, I'm also really drawn to the idea of doing multiple short arcs with different artists, telling self-contained stories that explore different facets of the characters. That was the approach we decided to take for these first few months.
Every Superman story I'm telling is written specifically with that artist in mind, and I'm extremely proud of how they're turning out.
Nrama: What are the distinct differences between the two titles, and will these two titles continue to be connected in this way?
Johnson: The Superman series will feature both Clark and Jon; Action Comics will be more Clark-centric, although Jon will appear in that book too, alongside more of Superman's cast. This March two-part crossover with Phil Hester will set up both series, but after that the two series tell two very different and independent stories.
Nrama: Will your run tie in at all to Future State: Superman: Worlds of War?
Johnson: It will! Even though "Future State' was always going to be this speculative fiction event, and nothing that happened in it should be regarded as a 'promise,' exactly, we wanted Worlds of War and House of El to be stories that continued to matter after the event ended. We didn't go heavy on the exposition in those stories, we just showed a snapshot of where Superman and his descendants had gone, and the situations they were in. For readers who still have questions coming out of my 'Future State' books, all of your answers will come in the upcoming monthly runs of Superman and Action Comics.
Nrama: Will you be carrying over any threads from Brian Michael Bendis' run?
Johnson: Yes. Superman's identity as Clark Kent is still out there, and there are other threads from Brian's run that we'll continue with (but too spoilery to get into here).
But the biggest and most important plot thread is definitely Jon's trajectory. Because of Jon's role in the formation of the United Planets and his time in the future with Legion, he's become a hugely important character in Superman lore. His power levels are also potentially even greater than Clark or Kara, so that alone makes him a very big deal going forward.
Nrama: What are some elements you feel helps define your new run from other Superman stories?
Johnson: If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say: worldbuilding. I think one element that put me on the Super-editors' radar was the massive worldbuilding we did for The Last God at DC Black Label, and I'm trying to bring the same level of depth, scope, and intricacy to the Superman titles.
After all the time and energy spent recently in Metropolis, on The Daily Planet and the people who work there, I saw an opportunity to go really, really big, to tell an epic saga that spans galaxies, shows new races and cultures, and makes the DC Universe feel much older but also newer.
Nrama: Are there other Superman family members we can expect to see appear?
Johnson: Between the two books, there will usually be one story happening on Earth, another happening in space.
Anytime the story's on Earth, you'll be seeing a lot of Lois, Jon, and Kara, with plenty of appearances by other familiar characters.
And the backup stories by Sean Lewis are going to feature a TON of The Daily Planet and Metropolis cast, beginning with Jimmy and Bibbo. But in the stories that happen in space, you'll primarily be seeing Clark and Jon…for now.
Nrama: Before we wrap up, what made you want to set this first story in space?
Johnson: I wrote 'The Golden Age' specifically for Phil Hester to draw. Phil's art is incredibly distinct, instantly recognizable, and I wanted to write something to his exact strengths. He recently drew a Fourth World-inspired pinup for a charity auction that completely captivated me… I think it was one of his best pieces ever.
With his clean, streamlined approach to pencils and to Superman in particular, his use of spot blacks, his really singular layouts, and finally having that amazing pin-up burned into my brain, I envisioned this story that took place almost entirely outside Earth's atmosphere, where there's no sound. For the majority of the story, the only text is a story told by an unseen narrator, seemingly unrelated to the events expressed in the art…it's all subtext, and helps us understand what the characters are going through emotionally as they fight this mysterious threat. I think the lack of dialogue and bombastic sound effects helps us appreciate Phil's art that much more, and helps us get to the real heart of the story.
The Man of Steel has some of the greatest artists of all time in his books. Check out our list of the best Superman artists of all time.