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SUPERMAN: LAST SON OF EARTH - Steve Gerber

The writer discusses flip-flopping the Man of Steel's origin.

By Edward Gross     August 16, 2000

Think you know everything there is to know about Superman? Guess again. Just when you think Superman couldn't possibly go through any more permutations--even in terms of 'imaginary' stories, a.k.a. 'Elseworlds' in the DC Universe--along comes veteran comics writer Steve Gerber to add just one more twist. What else would you expect from the creator of Howard the Duck?

A veteran comics writer who's been at it for the past two-and-a-half decades, Gerber's credited with creating--along with Howard--such offbeat characters as Void Indigo, Sludge, Destroyer Duck, Nevada, Stewart the Rat and Omega the Unknown. He's also written for such animated shows as G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, The Batman/Superman Adventures and Thundarr the Barbarian, the latter of which he co-created.

A lifelong fan of the Man of Steel, Gerber is currently writing the two-part Superman: Last Son of Earth Elseworlds series. He previously toiled with the Superman legend in the A. Bizarro and Phantom Zone mini-series. Still, it's Last Son of Earth that he seems most proud of, probably because it differs so much from what's already been done with the character.

'This is an idea I've had in the back of my mind for years and never had any place to use it,' says Gerber. 'Then someone mentioned the Elseworlds book to me. [DC Editor] Andy Helfer and I ended up talking about it. He was intrigued by the idea and we went ahead with it.'

Origin Story

As readers of Last Son of Earth #1 already know, the mini-series turns the Superman mythos on its ear, flip-flopping the origin Superman/Clark Kent. 'Superman is a human who is the infant son of Jonathan and Martha Kent,' explains Gerber. 'Earth is not exactly destroyed, but is pretty much demolished in 1968. Jonathan Kent is an astro-physicist who sends his infant, human son into space and through a series of events, the baby ends up on Krypton.

'Naturally, since Earth gives Kryptonians super-powers, earthlings have an extremely difficult time on Krypton. In fact, when I first started telling people about this story, the typical reaction from other comic book writers was, 'Okay, he lands and becomes the weakest guy in the world. What's interesting about that?' What's interesting about it is that it's only the beginning of the story. What happens after the baby is discovered in that very frail and helpless state by Jor-El and Lara is what actually makes the story.'

The fact that this child survives at all is pretty amazing, and probably one of the things that intrigues Jor-El the most, making the man determined to give this kid a fighting chance to live. The child's sheer will to go on becomes an important component of the story, and even puts Jor-El into direct conflict with his wife, Lara. The thing to remember, of course, is that when writer/artist John Byrne reinvented Superman back in 1986, one of the things he postulated was that the Kryptonian race was, for the most part, a people devoid of emotions. In fact, they managed to make the Vulcans on Star Trek look warm by comparison, so one shouldn't expect Lara to be as excited about finding an alien baby as, say, Martha Kent was in the regular continuity.

'Lara wants to see this baby die,' says Gerber flatly. 'She takes the attitude of the average Kryptonian, that this is some kind of alien life form. We don't know what it is or what kind of disease it's carrying. At best it's going to live the life of an invalid on this planet. Just let it die in peace. Jor-El, instead, creates an environment in which the kid can slowly acclimate over a period of years to Krypton's greater gravity and atmospheric pressure. However, the baby never acclimates completely. Even into adulthood he has to use a sort of ex-skeleton to move around Krypton normally.'

Culture Clash

The story's ultimate theme, which readers will continue to see played out when the second and final issue hits stores today, is really the collision of two species. '[It's] the very proud and self-absorbed Kryptonians, and this infant who shouldn't even be able to survive on the planet, but does in an interesting way,' continues Gerber. 'That, in turn, brings about another interesting conflict between Krypton's current society and its ancient history; not only the period of the Clone Wars--which Byrne invented--but also the Silver Age of Krypton and how that society actually gave rise to the hedonistic one that Byrne started with. Let's face it, they're practically Vulcans, and that was one of my great terrors with writing the book originally. After having read Byrne's World of Krypton series, the characters were so self-absorbed and so self-righteous, that I lived in terror of writing 64 pages of that. They're boring, unless you come at them with a sense of humor.

'If you understand how the rest of Krypton plays off of Jor-El as the one rebel in their midst, then it works. What's interesting about Last Son of Earth is that Jor-El winds up with a rebellious son himself; a son who is completely obsessed with Krypton's past. The way that Kryptonian society is set up, the people are estranged from its history. The history of the planet at the point of the Clone Wars and the hundred thousand years or so that followed, is considered to be completely irrelevant because it's over a hundred millennia ago. They want Kal-El (which is the name Jor-El and Lara give the child) to be looking toward the future and not toward the past. As a result, Jor-El has no idea how to handle that kind of rebellious son any more than his father did with Jor-El himself. So it's a generational story as well.'

For those who're concerned that the mini-series hasn't offered much in the way of superheroics so far, Gerber suggests they relax until they've had a chance to read the second part. He's not saying much about issue #2, except for the fact that the Guardians of the Universe, best known from the Green Lantern series, play a significant role in it, and Kal-El's life in particular.

'One of the interesting things about this story,' says Gerber, 'is that because Earth is essentially destroyed in 1968, none of the other things that happened as a result of the various other superheroes histories of the DC Universe since that time took place. So the Guardians play a large part in the story. And the way the story works out, Kal-El actually prevents Krypton's explosion. After that, and again this relates to the Guardians, he discovers he's not from Krypton and makes the trek back to Earth in search of answers.'

What's interesting, is that when he arrives on his native world, Kal-El's DNA has been re-adjusted by Jor-El so much that he'll inadvertently discover that he has superpowers even though he's not Kryptonian, though they're extremely limited. 'His adaptation to Krypton has given him powers roughly equivalent to the 1939 Superman,' explains Gerber. 'He can't fly, but he can leap an eighth of a mile. Bullets can't penetrate his skin, but he can be knocked backwards by a machine gun.'

Super Future

Aside from that, Gerber's remaining mum about the story's finale. But whatever the outcome, there's apparently more story to tell, as Gerber's been asked to write a sequel. It's something the writer's eager to do, as he feels strongly that this version more fully captures the true essence of the character.

'There are a couple of reasons this concept appealed to me,' says Gerber. 'The way Superman is played today, he's a hero because he's got all of these powers. It's not because of anything inside of him. Not because of his heart or his mind. I wanted to create a Superman who didn't have those advantages, at least to start with. To me, a hero is not a character who is afraid of nothing. He's a character who faces his fears and conquers them with something at stake in the process. The current Superman doesn't really have that.

'In fact, the current Superman doesn't even have the tragedies in his life that the original Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster version did. His parents are still alive. He barely knows anything about Krypton. Well, I guess it's been changed since then, but he barely knew anything about Krypton, so even the tragedy of that didn't bear on his life in any particular way. What I wanted to do was try to put some of those elements back, even if it was just for the length of this mini-series. I wanted to get back to the core of the character. The strange thing is that, for me, this character seems more like Superman than the Superman that is published in the DC Universe books. He has a heart. He has a soul. He is not just a big red 'S.''

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