Artist John Romita Jr. has been a legendary name in comics now for over three decades, providing art for classic and influential runs on comics like Iron Man, Daredevil, Uncanny X-Men, Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, and many, many others. Alongside Mark Millar he also co-created Kick-Ass and Hit Girl.
After nearly three decades being almost totally synonymous with Marvel Comics, he moved to DC in 2014, starting a run on Superman with writer Geoff Johns, introducing a new costume for the Man of Steel and a new lethal enemy in the form of Ulysses. His run on Superman with Johns, which includes Superman #32-39, called Men of Tomorrow, hits comic shops this week.
John Romita Jr. was kind enough to chat with us about Men of Tomorrow and a bit about just what the future holds for his version of the Last Son of Krypton.
Nerdist: A lot of major changes happened in yours and Geoff John’s run on Superman, but maybe the first to get attention was your redesign of Superman’s costume, his first change in costume since the New 52 began. Was the costume change something that was always in the works, or was it your suggestion that Clark needed new duds?
John Romita Jr.: It was a consensus. There’s always limits on what you can do with Superman’s outfit and his outward appearances, because of the history of this character, and the stature of the character in terms of merchandising and movies, so all of it has to be cleared through people who are much smarter and wealthier than myself. So you bounce it back and forth with everybody, and what you end up with is the “least likely to offend version.”
N: The main villain in Superman: Men of Tomorrow is a new character named Ulysses , who is a super-powered human, who like Superman, was sent to an alien world by his parents where he gets superpowers, only he’s an Earthling who is sent away instead of an alien sent here. There’s a lot of parallels with Superman there obviously, and he’s a more tragic villain than Superman usually has, akin to Two-Face for Batman. Was that the idea to give Superman a sympathetic and tragic bad guy, more in the Batman vein?
JRJ: Well, I’m not sure that those were the thoughts exactly in Geoff Johns’ mind, but there’s always the attempt to do something different with the villain, or any character, and really thread that needle. And Geoff’s idea from the outset was to do something that mirrored Superman in same way or form, without literally mirroring him, like Bizarro. So in some ways it was a reflection of Superman, to say the least. And he’s a character that we can bring back should that occasion arise. So yeah, there’s a little bit of sympathy there, and he’s someone that counters Superman, while also reflecting Superman. There’s a million ways of looking at the character, but we didn’t want the standard Snidely Whiplash “twirling his mustache” type of villain. Anytime you have the chance to try something different you try it.
N: He’s one of the more worthy adversaries to come along for Superman in a long time.
JRJ: Oh yeah, that’s a good character, I absolutely agree. I hope he comes back.
N: You drew comics for Marvel for decades, almost becoming synonymous with the company. When you left for DC, it was a huge deal. Do you feel you changed your art style, even in a small way, when you made the transition?
JRJ: I’m not physically capable of making that kind of change. I’m not good enough…there are guys who can do that better than me. [laughs] I did not make a concerted effort to be different for this gig. The DC guys deserve me to do the best I can, as opposed to doing what I think they want. And I gave them my best. With Superman, at first I felt a little intimidated, and after I got through a couple of pages, felt much more comfortable and started working more in my comfort zone. Not so much “lazy in my comfort zone”, but doing what I know I can do, as opposed to what I think I should do, or what I think they want me to do.
N: You wrote an issue yourself recently, Superman #42. Is writing something you would like to pursue further?
JRJ: I think I would like to write. It’s only a slight joke that I need to learn how to be an artist first before I learn to be a writer. Once I get this whole art thing down pat, then we’ll see [laughs]. I honestly did enjoy it though. I was so conscious of not knowing the continuity enough, so it was kind of a one-off issue. In between continuity, or at least free of continuity, briefly. And anything that was related to continuity, as far as character go, I had a lot of assistance from everyone giving me parameters. I had a good time doing it, I had a really good time.
N: A big change that happens in Men of Tomorrow is that Superman gets a new power for the first time in nearly seventy-five years: a super-flare, which is like Superman going nova with his heat vision. And once he uses that power, it takes so much out of him that he’s more or less human for the next 24 hours. How much of a part did you play in giving Superman his first new power in decades?
JRJ: Honestly, when I first got on the title, I spoke to Geoff and maybe one of the editors at the time, and maybe there was a little bit of selfishness there, because I wanted to distance myself from the maddening crowd, I asked if it was possible if there was a Superman power that I didn’t know about, either an old power that’s been gone, or a new power, let’s come up with something that he hasn’t used. I suggested that we just try something new. And Geoff Johns said “wait a minute, I got an idea.” That wasn’t the actual words, but it kind of prodded everyone to come up with something, and Geoff came up with something that was related to his heat vision. So it worked out really nicely, I did not create the power so to speak, but I did expand on it when Geoff came up with the idea. It was a nice team effort.
N: Of all the Superman villains out there, it seems Darkseid and the New Gods pantheon is the most suited to your art style. I know that Geoff is doing the Darkseid War in the pages of Justice League right now, but any chance you could be drawing Darkseid and Apokolips anytime soon?
JRJ: Well, that would be really interesting, and I hadn’t considered it till just now. Nobody has mentioned it to me yet…if it comes out one day and I end up doing it, I swear I’ll give you credit for it, because I hadn’t considered doing it until now! [laughs]
N: Aside from Darkseid, which DC character would you like a crack at next?
JRJ: I’d love to do Batman, because of the visuals on Batman, I think that’ something that a lot of artists have similar thoughts on, because he’s such a great visual character. As a little aside: the very first comic book I ever touched or put in my hand when I was very young, was at a barber shop in Queen’s Village, New York, was a coverless copy of Metal Men. And that was the very first comic I ever even looked at, so just out of sheer emotion, I’d like to try my hand at the Metal Men someday.
N: We talked about getting to give Superman a new look in Men of Tomorrow, but actually, you kind of gave all of the Superman cast a bit of a new look in this book. Can you tell us what that was like?
JRJ: That’s a great point. And interestingly enough, just this most recent issue, Superman #42, I got the chance I got to work on Lois with a little bit more interest, because I suddenly got more comfortable doing the character, same with all the characters really. But I had more fun with Lois, and there are some close up moments between her and Clark, because instead of doing the standard “glowing eyes, this is a latent love affair coming to fruition” type of thing, I got to expand on her being a little bit less of the standard romance character, and I really enjoyed it. In the issue that I’m finishing up now, #43, Which I’m finishing up as we speak, there’s more of that.
And I had never, believe it or not, considered that I’d like Lois Lane, but I’m actually enjoying the character a lot, and that’s a testament to both writers Geoff Johns and Gene Yang. So the character is much more than what she was when I first started Superman , but who knows? The more I work on them, the more I might expand on them too.
N: You and Geoff Johns made a great team during this run on Superman; any chance you’ll work together again someday? Either on Superman or another DC character?
JRJ: Well, since Geoff is doing such terribly unimportant things like running all the TV and movie things at DC, I’m sure he’s just clamoring to work with me again, saying “I just gotta work with you, all this movie stuff sucks!” [laughs] Seriously, I don’t account for what Geoff wants to do, because I don’t know what’s in his head, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t want to work with if me had the choice to do what he’s doing right now either. So the short answer is he’s a good man and a brilliant writer, and if he ever were to come banging on my door to work with him again, he’s got me to work with.
Superman: Men of Tomorrow by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. hits stores on August 5th.