My brief review of Superman: Unchained and an abridged version of this interview appeared on The Huffington Post.
Scott Snyder, as many of you know, is the writer behind Batman and American Vampire. Today, he sets his sights on Superman with the new book Superman Unchained, which is drawn by Jim Lee. I personally thought this first issue of the book captured much more of what Superman is about than all 2+ hours of the Man of Steel movie.
Without further ado, here's the interview:
BRYAN YOUNG: With Superman Unchained, it seems like 2013 is the year of Superman, and what makes this book for you the big flag-ship title for Superman?
SCOTT SNYDER: For me, I think of it more as the book I would write if I got one chance to write the character ever. And it's kind of how I tried to approach Batman. First with Black Mirror if I got to write Dick Grayson as Batman one time, with Court of Owls if I got to write Bruce Wayne one time, and then Joker, if I got to do one Joker story ever, that would be it. So with this it really is kind of everything I love about the character I stuffed into one story in one place. It's really big and bombastic. It's got kind of a cosmic scale in terms of the threat and the conflict and yet at the same time it's pretty intimate and deeply about what I think makes Superman special.
BRYAN YOUNG: The last time we talked about it, you said that you were going to put Superman through his paces but that you couldn't elaborate on that because we were so far away from the book. Can you elaborate on that some, now?
SCOTT SNYDER: I'll try and get a little bit closer to it and just say we are creating a new villain who in a lot of ways challenges Superman in a way that threatens him not just physically, he is sort of stronger than Superman in a lot of ways physically, but he's also a character that challenges his mission, challenges his relevance, challenges him emotionally and psychologically in a way that we really want to shake Superman to his core. So in that regard I'd say that about it and you're going to see a lot of your favorite villains in the book too, from Lex Luthor on. There's a lot of things coming for him in the book. I wanted it to have a classic feel, so you see the characters you know and love and they're in situations that you recognize, and yet at the same time I wanted them all to feel fresh. So this story puts them in circumstances that are almost out of context for them, for Lex and everybody else too. I wanted it to be kind of at once classic and modern feeling and different.
BRYAN YOUNG: For people who think (personally I think shortsightedly so) that Superman might not be the most interesting character because he's invulnerable and he's a boy scout, what would your response to those people be, convincing them to read this book, that there is something there for them?
SCOTT SNYDER: I think the thing that makes Superman relevant and deeply, deeply compelling is that he's not just some sort of boy scout who makes these decisions that are ethically right with no reservations, I think he doubts himself, and he knows what's right and at the end of the day he has to make the decision that he believes in morally. But great Superman stories, in my opinion, pit him against this huge tide of public opinion and also these huge threats, that essentially make it so that making the right decision is the scariest thing in the world. To me, that's always a relevant story.
Seeing a character who is conflicted about doing the right thing because they know the consequences of doing the right thing could have global repercussions , and certainly repercussions in their own life towards the people they love, that are really threatening. Someone like that, still making the right decision because they know at the end of the day that's all you have, is sort of your own character. That, to me, is always a relevant story. And when you boil it down, that's what Superman is to me.
He's somebody who shows us how to be the best we can be even when the circumstances are impossibly terrifying to make those kind of decisions. And Again I just say that again he is really in that way. writing him you really see that he doesn't' always know the right thing to do it takes him a while to figure it out and when he does figure it out, he's sometimes scared of doing the right thing. So in that way, he's not just kind of a big boy scout who always knows the right thing and has these incredible powers; he's one of us. He's human. He's got a lot of vulnerability and a lot of reservations and when he finally does make that decision the whole weight of the world and the cosmos comes crashing down on him sometimes.
BRYAN YOUNG: You're the Batman guy. What is at the core, in your mind, that allows Bruce and Clark to be friends? Or would your version of Bruce and Clark be friends?
SCOTT SNYDER: Yeah they are. You actually see them together in issue two, spoiler, as friends. I think what makes them friends, is that I think they have a tremendous respect for each other in the way that at the end of the day, Bruce deeply recognizes the weight that is on Clark's shoulders all the time. And he respects the fact that Clark is who he is, through and through. That he is Clark Kent as Superman and makes the same decisions as Superman as he would as Clark Kent. And he put himself in the line of fire globally, with public opinion with the will of different countries, the will of different super villains, as much as Batman makes fun of him, and Bruce makes fun of him, I think he really respects that.
I think there is something similar about Bruce. They both believe in their own missions, and they both will do anything to make those missions successful. And those missions might be slightly different and their methods might be slightly different. But at the end of the day, I think they are both committed to making the world a better place in their own right. And they have tremendous affection for each other even though their methods and methodology are at certain odds sometimes.
BRYAN YOUNG: Do you think these two iterations of the character are the same classic versions that would rely on each other to take each other down if they had to?
SCOTT SNYDER: Yeah that's actually part of the scene you see them in. I think Superman wants Batman to have a means of taking him down if something goes wrong and I think Batman would want the same of Superman. I think they both understand in their own friendship that they would want it to be the other person to take them down if something went wrong.
BRYAN YOUNG: Do you feel this book would be a great jumping on point for people who might not read comics generally, but interested in jumping on after Man of Steel?
SCOTT SNYDER: Yeah! Definitely! It's designed to be 100% reader friendly to anybody that's never read a Superman story in their life. So if you've never read a Superman comic, this is the book to hop on at #1 and welcome to Metropolis. If you've been reading Superman your whole life, there are a lot of Easter eggs and there is stuff in the book that makes it clear that this is part of continuity and respects and plays on the stories that you know and love. So it's supposed to be something that straddles that line, and can be picked up by a new Superman fan or a fan familiar with the character for years.
BRYAN YOUNG: If this story goes well, do you see yourself carrying on with more superman stories the way you've done with Batman?
SCOTT SNYDER: SURE! If you guys will rent me a place in Metropolis, I'd love to stay. Who wouldn't want to? I figure we'll see how people like this story, and if Superman even survives it. And if there's still a Superman at the end, and you guys are happy with us, then I'd love to stay and do more.
BRYAN YOUNG: Superman's weaknesses have always been – not so much the people around him – but how the people around him, how vulnerable they are. Almost like Bruce. Where Bruce isn't personally vulnerable, but he is through his family. Superman is very much the same way through the mortality of his friends. Is that something you are playing on in this story?
SCOTT SNYDER: A little bit, but I think we are playing more on his own vulnerability, and I think some of his own Achilles heel. Like the thing that maybe he doesn't see about himself that makes him vulnerable. One of my favorite stories is actually the search for Kryptonite, it was in Superman/Batman, a while ago. It imagined a world that's full of kryptonite in different ways that people had collected and used as movie props and all sorts of silly stuff around the world. And there's such a volume of it, that Superman decides one day that he's going to clean it up and get rid of it, since it's so accessible that any villain could use it. And in doing that Batman helps him and they get rid of almost all the kryptonite in the world. But in doing so Superman also realizes that part of reason he's doing that is because he's afraid of dying. He's afraid of his own mortality. He wants to be this immortal and invulnerable super hero that everyone looks up to. And that's the kind of story that I love doing.
And that's part of what we are exploring here too, from totally different angle. Kind of a vulnerability that Superman doesn't realize he has, I think in some ways, until it's right in his face and he sees it and says, "I didn't realize that what I was doing or the way I was acting, might be wrong." I love the stories like that, like Kingdom Come, Red Sun, Dark Knight Returns; where Superman is doing the right thing until it's not the right thing anymore. And in some ways, this story asks him if what he's doing is the right thing, that way.
Superman Unchained #1 comes out today.
Special thanks to Trent Hunsaker, proprietor of Death Ray Comics in Logan, UT, for helping with the interview transcription. He also has podcasts to listen to. Listen to them.