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The Rebirth of Superman, Part 2

Eddie Barganza on taking the character in a new direction.

By Edward Gross     June 09, 2000

As discussed last week, DC's four primary Superman titles went through a bit of an evolution beginning with SUPERMAN #151, with new creative teams writing and drawing the books, a new editor--in the form of Eddie Berganza--overseeing the Man of Steel's adventures, and fans responding with enthusiasm and a boost in sales.
Brought in to take on the writing reigns of SUPERMAN was Jeph Loeb, who had previously written the character in a mini-series called SUPERMAN: MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. 'That was a cool mini that just dealt with Superman growing up in Smallville and took him to the point where he came to Metropolis,' says Berganza. 'It was quaint, and it had a lot of heart that I think Superman needs. He's all-powerful but the thing that gives him some vulnerability is that he is so human. The only way I think you can really hurt him is to use that, because when someone gets hurt, he gets hurt. Jeph and I are constantly referencing the first movie or the TV show. He'll always sneak in a line and I'll say, 'Jeph, I saw the movie, too.' In one issue he even had Superman ducking from a gun, because on the old TV show bullets would bounce off of him, but he would duck the gun when they threw it at him. So we've tried to include a lot of that classic, fun stuff.

'With Ed McGuinness as artist,' he continues. 'we've also gone to more of a Manga look. Ed's one of these new guys that's definitely influenced by Japanese art and moving more toward that to give it a more youthful aspect so it can compete with what else is going on in the comics industry. We also played more with the colors. Being on the computer we can add more textures and such, modernizing the whole thing.'

Joe Kelly is the writer behind ACTION COMICS--essentially the Superman team-up book. Kelly is probably best known for his work at Marvel, which included DEADPOOL and THE X-MEN. 'Joe's added a little more humor to the character,' Berganza explains, adding that ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN'S J.M. DeMatteis is a writer who has a background in stories that are humorous and others that are serious and heartfelt. 'We're all focusing on the fact that the love Superman and Lois Lane have will outlast anything. In fact, as just a fill-in job, JM wrote a story in which Lois went to Hell and Superman had to descend into it and rescue her soul. It's the classic romance material--an ORPHEUS DESCENDING kind of thing.

'Everybody picks on me because I'm a big STAR WARS fan,' he continues, 'but I enjoy using all of that Joseph Campbell stuff as a model. We use the whole hero's journey just to explore where Superman is going. In MAN OF STEEL, which is written by Mark Schultz, we've gotten into this Zen training for Superman that's Kryptonian. It allows him to tap his mental powers and has allowed him to go off into another plane of existence, one that is very MATRIX-like. It's pretty different from what's been tried before.'

Last week, Berganza discussed some of the differences between the current stable of writer's take on Superman and their predecessors. This week, he's got a couple of more.
'We're really trying to strengthen the relationship between Superman and Lois,' he points out. 'People were saying, 'Why did you marry them?' because they always seemed to be fighting. Well, now they're getting along better. They're a youthful couple. They're nopt your father and mother. That was the next problem we had to deal with when I came in. The challenge became, 'How are we going to write this marriage?' We realized that it's still their first year of marriage in comic book time, and there's still a lot of energy and a lot of wildness going on, and they're still people with interesting lives. So what would that add to it? Of course, we also replaced Lois for a while with a villain that took her place, who made things pretty interesting. The fans were outraged because it seemed we were making Lois real bitchy. They figured we were going to divorce them. We left a lot of clues, but everybody thought that the new team would come in and shake things up by making Lois evil. That was cool.

'Also,' he adds, 'one of the things that bothered me a lot was that Metropolis looked like a bad version of New York, so when I came on we brought in Brainiac; only this time he was like the 13th version of the guy and he had come from the future. On New Year's Eve we were expecting the Y2K virus, but what we said in Metropolis and the DC Universe is that the virus was actually this villain from the future. So when he downloaded himself, he upgraded the city to contain him and the city basically became the city of tomorrow. So you have three-mile high buildings; you have monorails, flying cars in the city, and robots that fix things every time they break down. The city got extremely upgraded.'

Undoubtedly the biggest difference between the previous regime and this
one is that the fact that for nearly ten years the Superman titles were tied together story-wise. Berganza has strived for independence for the titles, although the summer months will be filled with the four-part SUPERMAN: ARKHAM and SUPERMAN: EMPEROR, in which reality has been turned upside down. Superman is a prisoner at Arkham Asylum. He escapes every single night, and by each morning's dawn, he's returned to the asylum by earth's greatest hero, Bizarro. Sensing that something isn't right about this reality, Superman tries to discover the truth, but finds it nearly impossible to discover who's pulling the reality distorting strings of this scenario. In between, there's an opportunity to introduce a variety of new (albeit temporary) characters into the DC Universe.

'There are a lot of new characters that we created who are at the Justice League headquarters on the moon,' Berganza notes. 'There's one called Scorch, and she's this Devil-looking woman with a tail and all. There's a guy named Bounty, who some people might say is our way of doing an older Superman villain named Terra-Man. Bounty is a character in that fashion. He rides a mechanical horse that's really nasty-looking--again, going with the Manga and tech stuff--and he fires bullets that trace on you. He decides if they're actually going to hit you or not, and what they're going to do to you. So they can actually penetrate Superman because they're psionic; they're working on a mental level rather than a physical level.

'We even gets versions of Poison Ivy and The Riddler,' he adds, 'who are very different from the people we're used to. The funny thing about the Riddler is that his real name is Edward Nigma, so he's Enigma. I don't know why he chose Riddler, but in this world he is known as Enigma and he's basically like Batman. Poison Ivy is more of a Swamp Thing-like creature.'

After the summer event, he promises, the titles will become completely disconnected from each other again. 'Following this whole event,' Berganza explains, 'the writers are able to develop the things they want to develop. That's important, because I think the fans are turning on to the books because they're more accessible. In a certain respect you're getting a lot of Superman. We're staying away from all the history, because it can get overwhelming. The guy has way too much history! I'm trying to make him as reader friendly as possible by keeping the adventure level very high and the tone fast-paced. Plus, the talent involved is all very different, so you don't feel like you're reading the same book week after week. For the summer months we're taking a chance by doing two months of this storyline. It's going to be really big, and after that we kind of reward everybody by staying away from each other.

'The great thing,' he closes, 'is that each writer has a role to fill. Jeph Loeb is the heart, and he's very much into the nostalgia, putting new twists to it. Mark DeMatteis brings the soul and some of the metaphysical stuff to it. Mark Schultz--who we defer to as our science guy--explains how it all works scientifically. And Joe Kelly will always be there for the gratuitous joke. It's a nice balance, I think, and that is keeping it fresh. I think there are going to be a lot of surprises coming. There's still a lot to explore with this guy.'

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