It was announced a while back that J. Michael Straczynski would be taking over the regular writing duties of Superman and everyone was pretty enthusiastic about that choice. He's brought Thor back from the obscurity he was in for a while, he had a landmark run on The Amazing Spider-Man and has been an incredible asset to comics.
It's important to note that he was also the creator behind Babylon 5.
This interview was conducted yesterday, upon the release of the first 10 pages of his new Superman story-arc digitally, via the new DC/Comixology partnership.
Big Shiny Robot!: When it was announced that you would be taking over writing duties on Superman, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about how excited I was about that, but how quickly you made me remember that Superman is "The best of us. The best part of us. That unyielding optimism that cuts right through any amount of cynicism." But with the ten pages of Grounded that have been released, it seems as though Superman himself is struggling to find out why that is for himself. Why do you think that's an important story to tell?
J. Michael Straczynski: I don't think he's doubting himself, or his role, or the importance of optimism, as much as he is attempting to reconnect with the country that raised him.
As it says in the preview issue, from time to time we all fall asleep in our lives. We start to take our work, our relationships, our families almost for granted, to the point where we really stop seeing them. We look past them. So Superman is re-focusing on his home, to see what he can learn, and discover what he may have missed while being busy off-world.
I think it's an important story to tell because the nation itself is going through a period of real re-assessment right now, and to some extent -- without getting didactic or taking sides -- I hope to expore some of that dynamic in the book.
BSR!: I talked to Dan Didio and he said that you were pretty positive the Grounded story would get rejected but he asked you to submit it anyway. Why is it you felt that and how did you react to getting the go ahead?
JMS: It's a totally counter-intuitive story: take the one guy who can fly from here to Mars and back and pin him to the ground. Right now, the comics industry turns on big, cosmic events, civil wars, and the like. Those stories are written at a yell. This story is to be written in a voice as soft and intimate and familiar as the quiet turning of your considered conscience...it's a story that nobody else is really doing right now, and that's risky.
So Dan and the other folks at DC are to be commended for their courage in taking this on, and trusting me to pull it off.
BSR!: Why was this story important for you to tell?
JMS: See above.
BSR!: Didio said that Superman is your favorite character. Why is that?
JMS: Growing up a kid in the mean streets of New Jersey and other areas, with very few options, Superman became an icon to me: his very existence said that anything is possible, and for me, that was a powerful message.
He also stands for what is best in us, in what we hope we are when push comes to shove.
BSR!: Where do you see things heading after this? Do you plan to take Superman further than his reconnection with America?
JMS: Let me finish this story without screwing it up, then I'll focus on not screwing up the next one.
BSR!: How do you plan on incorporating the stories from the contest into your work?
A lot of that will depend on what comes in the door. I'm not looking for story ideas, rather reasons why Superman should visit a given area. If we set an issue in a particular town, will it do some good? Will it bring a measure of attention or interest or hope to the town?
For a lot of towns in a depressed economy, where there may not be a lot to look forward to ever day, this can be an event that folks can get involved with and have fun with, and that's important.
BSR!: What is it you think Superman can teach America about being the best of themselves and to mend some of the breakdowns in civil discourse in our society?
JMS: Ultimately it comes down to his sense of fairness. I remember it said of Wendall Wilkie that "he knew right from left, but he also knew right from wrong." I would apply the same to Superman, and to Clark Kent.
But this isn't really about Superman teaching America something, or Superman trying to figure himself out. It's about going home, to check on the family, and see how they're doing.
It's not about how he sees himself, it's about how he sees us, how we see him, and in the end, how we see ourselves, since in the final analysis, any decent fiction says something about the time in which it was written. It should illuminate who we are, and that's what I'm hoping for here.
BSR!: Do you see yourself tackling any of those breakdowns of civility in your work on Superman?
JMS: I think it's important to do so, but again not in a way that takes sides. I've always said that the American eagle needs a left wing and a right wing or it ain't getting off the ground.
Regardless of which side of the aisle you're on, there's no question that we as a people have been factionalized and marginalized and tribalized to within an inch of our lives, often (but not always) to the benefit of one political party or the other.
I think Superman would find that troubling, and sad. I know I do, and I think most people do. So yeah, I'd like to see him address some of that, but without getting preachy about it.
BSR!: When I talked to Dan Didio, he said that DC for a while has been not ignoring, but skirting the Americana roots of Superman and now, with your story DC is fully embracing them. Why is it important for you to do that in your story?
JMS: Because that's how Superman started out: as an icon, as a hero who was uniquely American. For some folks, particularly those that have embraced a kind of national cynicism, that can be seen as corny, and it's hard to write stories that showcase his American roots without getting corny.
It's easy to write a story about a cosmic event that doesn't have any personal or social relevance...easy to be dark or mean-spirited or cynical in your storytelling...being positive, being uplifting, without being didactic, that's tough. So it's easier to just ignore it.
Superman started out in a post-Depression America as the hero of the average guy against criminals and others who prey on those without highly-paid guardians. So we're going to bring him back to that.
BSR!: For my last question, what is it you hope fans get out of this Superman story?
JMS: First and foremost, a good story. A fun read. If it doesn't entertain, it doesn't matter what message you're trying to communicate, it's dull and nobody will read it.
Beyond that...I'd hope that in seeing ourselves mirrored in Superman's eyes -- the eyes of an alien who came to this world and sees us for all our nobilities and our flaws -- that we would emerge with a greater sense of kindness.
It's a wild dream, I know, but I write comics, and Superman is my icon, and anything is possible....