Voices From Krypton: The Unofficial Adventures of Superman on Film and in Comics, Volume 1
© 2015 Edward Gross. All Rights Reserved.
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Table of Contents
Voices from Krypton: An Introduction
Man of Steel: Waiding In The Deep End
The Making of Smallville: A Behind The Scenes History
Visualizing Man of Steel
In the midst of the celebration of Superman’s 75th Anniversary, a changing of the guard took place that is both exciting and wistful. In terms of the former, back on June 14, 2013, a new era in the character’s legacy was ushered in with the release of Man of Steel and the debut of British actor Henry Cavill in the title role. And this “rebooting” of the mythos by director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer provided Cavill with the first steps towards making the character his own and becoming this generation’s Superman.
Which is where the wistfulness comes in.
Back in 1978, audiences believed a man could fly when Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie was released, introducing Christopher Reeve, who, as Superman, looked then (as Cavill does now) as though he’d stepped right off the comic book page. From the moment he first appeared in the famous blue and red uniform, he embodied the character in such a way that he was the one by which all others would be measured. But that reign, which spanned nearly two generations, seems to be coming to an end.
Of course, such a situation isn’t unique in Superman history. Before Reeve there was George Reeves, who played the character on the Adventures of Superman TV series in the 1950s and proved himself to be as important to that generation as Reeve was to his. And someday, at least a couple of decades from now, Cavill himself will undoubtedly be superseded by the next in line.
Such is part of the unprecedented history that surrounds Superman. Introduced in the pages of DC’s Action Comics in 1938, he single-handedly launched the superhero genre and has never been out of print since then. Just as impressive, there has not been a decade in which there hasn’t been some medium beyond comics in which the Last Son of Krypton has thrived, and this is beyond the efforts of Reeves, Reeve and, now Cavill.
From the late 1930s through to this day, in complement to that trio, there was:
Clayton “Bud” Collyer voicing the character on radio and theatrical animated shorts;
Kirk Alyn playing him in the live-action movie serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950);
Bob Holiday playing the character in a Broadway musical in the 1960s;
The various incarnations of the Super Friends throughout the 1970s and early 1980s;
First John Haymes Newton, and then Gerard Christopher on the 1988-1992 syndicated TV series The Adventures of Superboy;
Dean Cain on the 1990s TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman;
Tim Daly voicing the character on the 1990s Superman: The Animated Series;
Tom Welling playing Clark Kent on the road to his destiny as Superman on Smallville, which began its 10-year run in 2001, and
Brandon Routh in 2006’s Superman Returns.
Every one of them holds a place in the Superman legacy.
And it is precisely that legacy that we are celebrating in this series of books under the umbrella title Voices From Krypton, each volume of which will explore a variety of incarnations of the character on film while also looking at aspects of his comic book history. We begin with a 10th anniversary salute to the comic book maxi-series Superman: Birthright, which was originally designed to kick off a new era in the character’s mythos. As is discovered in this issue-by-issue discussion with writer Mark Waid, that’s not exactly the way things played out. Additionally, Waid, a lifelong fan of Superman, is interviewed to get his viewpoint regarding Man of Steel, particularly the controversial ending.
From there we tackle the history of Smallville, offering up a number of interviews with various personnel involved in creating the show, who go behind the scenes on each of the series’ 10 seasons; and things wrap up with an in depth interview with Jay Oliva, director of a number of animated features set in the DC Tooniverse (among them Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, The Dark Knight Returns and Justice League: War) and storyboard artist for Man of Steel, who discusses his work on that film.
For anyone who has read a Superman comic, watched one of his film or TV adventures, or tied a towel around their neck and imagined what it would be like to fly like the Man of Steel, Voices From Krypton is for you.
Whether looking to the future or back to the beginning, writer Mark Waid has explored and expanded the legend of the Man of Steel
In the classic mini-series Kingdom Come, writer Mark Waid, along with artist Alex Ross, explored the mythology of heroes by projecting the story forward in time and giving readers a sense of where DC’s line-up of superheroes in general, and Superman in particular, might be heading. A decade ago, however, he decided to go back to the beginning to offer up a view of the evolution of Clark Kent that took him from Kansas farm boy to world savior as Superman.
Superman: Birthright, a 12-issue maxi-series that began in 2003 and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, was originally conceived to be as significant a reboot of the character as John Byrne’s Man of Steel relaunch in 1986 and, one could argue, the more recent “New 52,” providing a template from which the various Superman titles would build from. Unfortunately, Birthright fell victim to bad timing, as DC Comics had also decided to try to reinvigorate sales of the Superman titles by bringing in some of the medium’s other biggest hitters in terms of writers and artists. As a result, Waid’s concept went from being the progenitor of all that was to follow to a series whose place within the character’s mythos was never clearly defined. For years, this was a point of frustration for the writer, though he’s viewing things far more philosophically.
“My biggest point of pride with this series,” says Waid, “may be its long-tail reception — that at the time it was originally serialized, it was sort of ignored and downplayed, but it’s since gone through at least eight trade paperback printings and there’s not a convention or signing that I attend where a dozen or more fans don’t bring it up to me to autograph. Thanks to Man of Steel, a lot of readers seem to be rediscovering it, or discovering it for the first time, and that makes me extraordinarily happy. At the time it was published — my dream project, after all — I joked that it was like finally being able to play Carnegie Hall but no one was in the audience. But the audience the story has built since is far more rewarding. I’m proud that my name is on a perennial.”
Adding to that pride, as suggested above, is the fact that the storyline for Superman: Birthright seems to have had resonance in one extremely important way: Summer 2013’s Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder from a screenplay by David S. Goyer, looks to be at least partially inspired by it.
“Mostly,” Waid offers, “it’s the whole concept of the story being about Kal-El searching for his identity and his place in the world — ’Who am I and why am I here?’ — certainly seems to be a keynote of the film, as does the whole way the U.S. military reacts to him at first. More than that, though, I grinned from ear to ear and couldn’t calm down when I heard the lines about how the ‘S’ stands for ‘hope’ on Krypton, and the bit about how Clark is ‘the answer to the question, “Are we along in the universe?”‘ — both of which are directly out of Birthright. Being able to write the story was an achievement and an honor, but knowing ten years on that I’ve been able to contribute specific, enduring elements to the Superman mythos? That’s what makes me take flight.”
Throughout the summer of 2004, Waid squeezed in a number of interview sessions to discuss Superman: Birthright in minute detail — this while he was feverishly attempting to hone his relaunch of the Legion of Superheroes. What follows is the transcript of those sessions in chronological order. While certain aspects of the discussion would be clearer to someone who has read Superman: Birthright, what it comes down to is two people — one a writer of fiction, the other an entertainment journalist — who share a lifelong passion for the Last Son of Krypton. All told, this no doubt serves as one of the most in depth interviews Mark Waid has ever given on the subject of Superman.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: To kick things off with a little ass kissing, I thought I’d mention that my son recently read Kingdom Come and fell in love with it. When I told him I was speaking to you about Birthright, he was incredibly excited. It’s like you were a rock star or something.
MARK WAID: That’s wonderful to hear.
VFK: Obviously you have a real passion for the character of Superman. What’s the appeal for you?
MW: My fascination with him runs back to when I was a kid. What impressed me about him as a boy was that he was unlike any other superhero out there. To me his greatest super power was that he could do anything in the world, and with that power he chose to do the right thing. That, to me, was his greatest superpower. That just made a mark on me as a kid because I had a sort of tumultuous upbringing and no real strong father figure, and so forth.
VFK: You know that there’s a segment of the reading audience out there that will say, “Well that’s what makes Superman corny; he’s always going to do the right thing.”
MW: He’s perceived as the big square Boy Scout, and that was at least a part of the purpose of Birthright, to try and overturn that perception somewhat. When he was first created, he was a crusader for social justice. He was actually somebody who would walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Not brutal, but certainly efficient at what he did. He just became more mannered over the years and sort of sensitized. We took all of the corners off of the character, and in doing so we also sort of managed to jettison the answer to the question, why does he do this? That was the purpose of Birthright, to give him some sort of context. It should be clear in Birthright the reason he puts on the suit, and that the reason he goes out and actually uses his powers to make the world a better place is because it’s the only way he knows how to connect with humanity. That’s his connection. We all need to feel that we’re a part of something, and there’s no time that we feel more a part of something than when we’re doing what we do best and when we’re letting our light shine. The problem with keeping your light hidden under a bushel, to milk an old cliché, is that it tends to isolate you.
VFK: So his efforts to help others is an escape from his own isolation.
MW: Absolutely. Basically he wants to be part of the race, but he’s always on the bench. That’s where he thinks fate has put him, because he has to hide all of his abilities. Being Superman is a way of getting out there and really engaging — both physically and emotionally getting his hands dirty, getting out there and interacting.
VFK: Was this a tough sell for DC or did they embrace the idea?
MW: Actually they came to me. They said, “We want you to create a story that is essentially an updating and retelling for a 21st Century audience as to the definitive origin of Superman.”
VFK: Sort of what John Byrne had done in 1986.
MW: Yes, which was very appropriate for its time. But the idea was, just as it made whatever tweaks and adjustments it needed to make in 1986 to be more of the time, what could we do along those lines rather than continuing to be enslaved by the past? We approached every single tweak and change and update we made with an idea towards never changing it just to change it, but certainly always trying to bear in mind that this is a different audience.
VFK: I don’t know if this is a fair question, but was Smallville an inspiration?
MW: It was in a sense. I would be foolish not to say that it didn’t hurt the project getting final approval. The show’s success is evidence that there still is a market for people who want to see young Clark Kent learning his stuff. But the only direct influence it was on me was their genius breakthrough idea of making Ma and Pa Kent not 80 years old. Of all of the innovations that that show has wrought on the Superman legend, and all of them good, that by far was the one that was the masterstroke, because it’s one of those things that you never even thought of before Smallville. We’d always think of the Kents as grandparents. The problem with the Kents as grandparents is there was never any sort of internal family friction with them, because they’re his grandparents essentially. There’s just an energy the Kents didn’t have that they now have. That was something that we absolutely took lock, stock and barrel from Smallville, and I say that with no apologies.
VFK: I’ve found that next to the first two Christopher Reeve movies, this is probably the best version of Superman that there’s been.
MW: Absolutely. I’m just a huge fan of the show. Teenage Luthor [in Birthright] is actually something I would have fought for regardless, but that’s a case where I wasn’t so much inspired by Smallville as it just greased the wheels a little bit.
VFK: What I’m trying to figure out — and obviously the producers don’t have that problem — is how the hell they get to Metropolis and Luthor doesn’t recognize Clark as Superman. One thought is that the revelation of Clark as Superman is the ultimate betrayal to Lex, who develops a psychosis in which he actually sees Clark Kent and Superman as two separate people.
MW: I like that.
VFK: Basically Clark is the ultimate betrayer and is the one who gives him that final push toward madness and darkness.
MW: Oh, I like that. And coming from that he should always have that guilt. It’s not a fair guilt, because he shouldn’t feel bad about it. He’s done everything he can for Lex, but I would want him to have that guilt about Lex.
VFK: Is there a lot of appeal for you that comes from the conflict between those two characters?
MW: Yes, it really does. I just think there’s such a classic storytelling magic to the conflict between two men who, for wont of a simple moment of the explosion, could have been and should have been the best of friends in the world. But the beauty of the moment is that Superman will always feel guilty that maybe he hesitated or because he might have been able to do something different, somehow it’s his fault. He’s just genetically engineered to think, “I might have been able to help. If I had done something different, I wouldn’t have cost the world a Stephen Hawkingslevel genius; I’ve cost the world one of those minds that only come around once every hundred years, because now it’s focused on me.” That, to me, is the huge attraction to their relationship. And the tragedy is the fact that we know Superman can be forgiven a million times over for anything he might have done to inadvertently push Luthor down this path, but he’s not equipped to excuse himself that way. He doesn’t carry it around with him on a day to day basis like it’s a huge weight, but it is just a little something that gnaws at him every time he has to face Luthor.
VFK: I love the panel in one of the issues of Birthright in which he sees Luthor through a window and dumbfoundedly says, “Lex?” before he’s blasted out of the sky.
MW: That’s right, the last thing he was expecting.
VFK: And that to me, again, was in the vein of Smallville, sort of the aftermath of what had been a close friendship. In truth, in the comics you never really got a sense of them being friends as teenagers. You know, Superboy used superbreath in Lex’s lab to put out a fire, he lost his hair and from then on he hated him.
MW: Right, it was all surface, there was no texture to it at all.
VFK: On the subject of reboots, remember back in the ’70s when they did the storyline “Kryptonite Nevermore”? As a kid, I loved that story — the whole Sandman Superman scenario, and the ending where he is happy to give up half his powers. Then in the next issue after that storyline wrapped up, he was back to himself again…
MW: We were all doing the math back then. We were saying, “Okay, if he’s got half the power and the Sandman Superman has half the power, and Supergirl was 2/3 as powerful as Superman, does that mean that Supergirl is more powerful than Superman?” I remember those of us in fandom going through these huge math equations trying to figure out what it meant, but it meant nothing. They went right back to square one.
VFK: I remember Denny O’Neil, who wrote the story, said in an interview that they got cold feet and backed off from the whole idea. I’m wondering if the situation will be the same with Birthright. Are they going to embrace these changes you’ve made or are these going to be changes just for this standalone series?
MW: It’s funny you should mention that, because we were talking about it this morning. It’s fully embraced. The hardcover is coming out in September, and the discussion this morning was not, “Do we put the words ‘Origin of Superman’ on the cover, but how big do we put them on the cover?” My feeling is that you can’t put them on big enough. You’ve really got to flag this thing down that this is what we set out to make it — the definitive origin.
VFK: I ask because I’ve been reading the different Superman titles, and I haven’t seen much in the way of connection between them and Birthright yet.
MW: I just think that’s timing more than anything.
VFK: What is the feeling as a writer to have played this kind of role in a project that, obviously, becomes part of the whole legend of this character?
MW: I don’t think about that kind of thing very often. First off, that just makes it a scary job. I will say that one of the best moments I ever had in my career was four or five years ago when I was in Mexico City doing a convention, and I talked to a lot of reporters that day. I thought I was dealing with a lot of fan press, but as it turned out I was dealing with a lot of mainstream press. Finally I pulled somebody aside and I said, “Not to be falsely humble here or anything, but this doesn’t make sense to me. Why is this such a big deal?” I was told by more than one guy, “You don’t understand.
With Kingdom Come, you defined our definition of Superman for this country for an entire generation.” I just thought, “Man, those are the sweetest words I’ve ever heard.” Just a great, great feeling. So I don’t think about it consciously ever, because the stage fright would be too huge, but it is a good feeling. You know, the whole reason I do what I do is to be able to give back to these characters in the same sense that they gave to me as a kid. So that helps complete the circle. I feel very strongly about it, which is why I do what I do. Creator-owned books are great and I enjoy doing them here and there, but by and large, at the end of the day I choose the stuff that meant something to me as a kid.
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He is the world's most iconic superhero. It's been said that his "S" logo and the Christian Cross are the two most recognizable symbols on the planet. To the people of Earth, he is hope personified. His name is Superman, and for over 75 years he has been entertaining comic book readers, television viewers and filmgoers around the world in a wide variety of incarnations that have touched one generation after another. Designed to celebrate all of that and more, Voices From Krypton: The Unofficial Adventures of Superman on Film & in Comics is the first in a series of volumes that goes behind the scenes on the Man of Steel's saga. This inaugural edition includes in depth coverage of the Superman: Birthright comic book maxi-series from acclaimed writer Mark Waid; the 10-year saga of the Smallville TV series that chronicled teenager Clark Kent's gradual evolution to his final destination as Superman; and Man of Steel, the feature film in which Henry Cavill defined the character for today's audience. For anyone who has read a Superman comic, watched one of his film or TV adventures or tied a towel around their neck and imagined what it would be like to fly, Voices From Krypton is for you. About the Author: Edward Gross is a veteran entertainment journalist who has been on the editorial staff of a wide variety of magazines, among them Geek, Cinescape, SFX, Starlog, CFQ, Movie Magic and Sci-Fi Now. He is the author of such non-fiction books as Above & Below: A 25th Anniversary Beauty and the Beast Companion, Captains' Logs: The Complete Trek Voyages, Planet of the Apes Revisited and Superhero Confidential: Volume I.