One of the most prolific writers in the modern comics and television landscape, J. Michael Straczynski has a unique way of taking classic heroic archetypes, breaking them down to their base elements, and putting his own singular spin on them. Perhaps the best example of this in recent memory is his Superman: Earth One series. The original graphic novels reimagine the Superman mythos, blending the classicism of Silver Age Superman with the modernity of current comics, tackling themes of isolation, interventionism, acceptance, and coming-of-age (especially when you have an incredible set of superhuman abilities to deal with).
Today marks the release of DC Comics‘ Superman: Earth One, Vol. 3, which is illustrated by Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf. In the new graphic novel, Straczynski expands on the groundwork he has laid in the first two volumes, bringing Superman to a head with another son of Krypton, General Zod himself. To celebrate the book’s release, I spoke with Straczynski over e-mail to discuss his affinity for the Man of Steel, what he sought out to achieve with the Earth One books, updates on Babylon 5 and Sense8, and more.
Nerdist: In the dedications, you write that your version of Superman, the one you grew up with, was the Silver Age Superman, and you dedicate the book to Curt Swan. What about the Superman of that era, and particularly Swan’s version, appealed to you?
J. Michael Straczynski: I always thought there was a certain gentleness and thoughtfulness to the Curt Swan-era Superman that appealed to me greatly. My father was a monster, to be honest, and having someone I could look up to as a role model meant a great deal. I likely would’ve come to that admiration even in a different generation, but that was the Superman of my generation, so that’s the one I glommed onto. That said, my house is full of original Superman art, and it’s almost all Curt Swan stuff, though obviously there were many fine artists who worked on the character
N: Were you trying to channel aspects of Swan’s Superman in the Earth One books? How did you seek to balance that with the modernity that also permeates the book?
JMS: No, I think if you just try and rehash or modernize something old, you’re not creating something new. You’re creating maybe a mirror opposite of what was there before, but that’s not creativity, it’s strictly being a reactionary. You dfind by what went before. So no, I really just sat down and said, okay, if Clark Kent just walked into Metropolis for the first time, what would happen? This story emerged from that question.
N: This feels like the conclusion of what you’ve begun with the Superman: Earth One series. Are there plans to continue the series beyond Vol. 3?
N: What were you hoping to achieve over your run on the Superman: Earth One books that you couldn’t in the main DC universe?
JMS: A fresh start for the character. There’s really no other reason to do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something iconic. As a kid, I tried to pattern my ethics and a lot of my personality on Superman; now I get to come full circle and create a Superman kind of based on what I’ve learned though that process. Again: how often does that happen?
N: I also very much enjoyed your reinterpretation of the Luthors, Lex and Alexa. It felt like you split the Lex Luthor we knew and feared into the two halves of his personality: the brilliant scientific mind and the shrewd businessman. What was the impetus behind this reinvention?
JMS: As much as loneliness may be a thematic element of volume three, it’s also about the profound power of love to change our lives. The love of Martha Kent for her son, Lisa’s affections for Clark, have a tremendous effect on his life and the world. Lex having Alexa in his life (and vice versa) was transformative. But the flip side of love is rage, and the deeper the love, the deeper the rage if something goes amiss. If we’re going to have someone dedicating their entire life to bringing down Superman, that needs a really good foundation. And there’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded lover.
N: Without spoiling anything, Superman’s speech at the UN was one for the history books. Superman was forced to accept the fact that he had overstepped his bounds in Borada, but as we saw, the pendulum can easily swing the other way. It sort of created a “Who watches the watchmen”-type situation. Can the world ever truly accept Superman as a savior or is mankind always going to be inherently distrustful?
JMS: I think it’s never going to be fully one way or the other. Some will always accept Superman at his word, especially as the works to back up that word accumulate. And there will always be those who distrust him. We’re not a monolithic species. Which is good. If the entire human race ever decided one thing with absolute certainty, the results would be either magnificent or terrifying beyond imagination.
N: Switching gears, 2015 seems to be the year that many beloved shows rise like phoenixes from the ashes of cancellation. With Heroes and X-Files both returning to airwaves, is there any hope for Babylon 5? Likewise, can you offer any updates on the reported Babylon 5 film?
JMS: My plan remains the same: this year I’ll write a screenplay for a Babylon 5 movie. I have the connections to get it made on my own and I own the film rights. I’ll give WB a chance to jump in, do the right thing, and pony up the dough to make this. If they don’t, I’ll do it without them. They’ve wasted this opportunity and this name for too long.
N: Studio JMS seems to be quite busy these days. We are also looking forward to your forthcoming Netflix series Sense8. Any news where that is concerned?
JMS: We’ve finished shooting the first season, and are now in post. The show looks unlike anything ever done for television before. Staggeringly excited and I can’t wait to hear what people think.
Superman: Earth One, Vol. 3 is available now from DC Comics.