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SUPERMAN VS. TERMINATOR: Comic Book Coverage
Alan Grant on pitting the Man of Steel against a Metal Menace.
By Edward Gross
January 28, 2000
Initially it sounded a lot like a fanboy's idea of a wet dream: take comic icon Superman and pit him in battle against moviedom's reigning cybernetic killing machine, the Terminator. It's a high-concept idea that really shouldn't work, but does remarkably well in the DC/Dark Horse four-issue miniseries, SUPERMAN VS. TERMINATOR. Hey, we're not alone in our first impression. Series writer Alan Grant pretty much felt the same way when he was approached about turning the concept into a script.
'At first,' says the Scotsman from his home in England, 'it didn't feel like a natural fit because the Terminator is a pretty mean robot, but Superman is Superman and they're constantly struggling to come up with villains that are worthy of Superman. Terminator is already established, and Dark Horse isn't allowed to use the silver Terminator from TERMINATOR 2 because they've only got the rights of material from the first movie. Perhaps not a lot of people know that. As I understand it, that's why I'm not allowed to use any of the characters from the second movie and why the Terminators always have to be not necessarily like Schwarzenegger, but that same idea bio-organic skin going over a metal frame. When Dark Horse called me up and asked me to write it, I pointed this out right from the start and said, 'That might put a damper on the whole story,' but they turned it around to something positive and said, 'Every time Superman fights a Terminator in the past, the Terminators in the future learn more about him. Eventually the Terminator technology is so great that they're able to produce a super-Terminator, you might say, who is capable of taking Superman on his own terms. So his every victory in the past fuels his failure in the future. What a great concept! Then we knew we could do it, and I have to say that it worked out really well.
'Of course,' he adds with a laugh, 'I was a little surprised to be asked to write it in the first place because although I've written maybe six Terminator stories, the only time I've written Superman was when Lobo kicked the shit out of him. However, I handled Superman differently this timea different kettle of fish from Lobo. When he appeared in the Lobo story, Superman was treated more as someone to laugh at. Whereas in SUPERMAN/TERMINATOR, he's an out-and-out hero, although his involvement with the Terminators comes about by accident when he realizes he's the only one who can do anything about it. From that point, all of the action flows from him.'
Issue number one of the miniseries (already on sale) begins with Sarah and John Connor arriving in Metropolis, followed shortly thereafter by a number of Terminators whose goal is to kill them. 'It was established in the previous Terminator [comic] series that Sarah and John Connor are avoiding the Terminators by traveling under different names,' Grant explains. 'Obviously she has to take jobs for them to be able to live, but they're constantly moving around America. The bus just brought them to Metropolis. Unfortunately for them, and I guess this is one of those time loop paradoxes which, if you start to think about it will cause your head to ache, the Terminators discover they're there because Sarah is injured and has to give her real name and social security number for medical treatment. The Terminators are able to retrieve that from the records and travel back in time to get her.'
Naturally Superman rescues the Connors from the pursuing Terminators, destroying a great number of them in the process, but the robotic forces continue unabated. Then the Man of Steel finds himself drawn into a Terminator time-displacement wave and is brought to the future (year 2029) where Skynet reigns and the adult John Connor is leading a resistance force against the machines. Superman is horrified by what he finds, and it is here that Grant was allowed to tap into a seldom-explored aspect of the character.
'What I wanted to do,' he says, 'was show the pain which Superman has felt. This is something about the character that isn't always brought out. His own world was destroyed; everyone on it was killed, everyone near to him even though he was a baby when it happened and now he's grown up and is an adult son of the earth. If you use the idea frequently in the comics, it can get flogged to death and people get sick of it. Because of that, it tends to be hardly mentioned at all, and that, of course, is when you do bring it to the readers' attention and it has a double impact, just because they weren't expecting it. When Superman is first brought to the future and sees firsthand exactly what the Terminators have done there's something like six billion dead people and it's a real blow to his heart to realize that his adopted race is being wiped out. It makes him determined to do what he can to stop it. Because he no longer has the power to travel through time like he used to [in the comics] when I was a kid, it becomes harder for him to do. Fortunately, the Terminators have time displacement machines. Lucky for Superman; otherwise, he would have disappeared and not come back. I don't think DC would appreciate that although it would be fun to see that issue of WIZARD that says DC is canceling Superman because he's stuck in the future.'
The scenario of the miniseries takes place in two time periods. In the present, Lois Lane, the Connors, Supergirl, Superboy and even Lex Luthor work on the Terminator problem.('There's a nice twist at the end involving Luthor,' smiles Grant, 'which I won't reveal to you. It's probably worth waiting for, but it sort of leaves the Terminator future open all over again.'). Meanwhile, in 2029 Superman finds himself teaming up with his old friend, Steel.
'Steel actually works very well in to the story,' says Grant. 'When Superman is caught in a time displacement wave, which is actually meant to bring a Terminator back to the future, and transported into the hideous time period where the resistance thinks he's a Terminator. He arrives naked, by the way. He meets up with Steel, and for Steel this solves a mystery because it was 1999, thirty years in the past, when Superman disappeared. Because Superman hasn't come back yet, nobody in the past knows what happened to him. Steel has lived through the Terminator revolution and he is now fighting with the resistance, so it's like two old buddies meeting up after 30 years, and I play that for some emotion as well. It all fits in there very well, with this whole compassionate, emotional side of Superman's nature. He's happy to be teaming up with an old friend, and he's absolutely devastated over all the people who have been slaughtered. He can't go back in time to change it, so all he can do is try to defeat the Terminators and stop them from taking over entirely. Basically the story is Superman, Steel and John Connor's resistance against a planetful of Terminators. A lot of metal gets messed with.'
Grant admits that there were some themes he would have relished the opportunity to explore, but found that he couldn't as they fell into creative ground he had previously covered. 'In one of the previous Terminator stories I wrote, called 'Death Valley', there was a Terminator who started to gain a glimmer of what we would call self-consciousness; it started to question what it was doing and why. It was questioning its programming, which is when people start to develop a rational mind. Instead of doing something automatically, they think about it. I think that would have worked well in the SUPERMAN/TERMINATOR story, but it was unfortunate that I had written half a dozen issues on that subject and I had to steer clear of that completely. The licensees who own Terminator don't want their Terminators to gain self-consciousness, anyway. They want Skynet, which is the operating system for all electronics and computers in the future, to remain supreme rather than have one of their Terminators break through the consciousness and join the resistance. Of course, they'll be looking for another miniseries in three to six months, and it's a perfect idea because it deals with something that's never come up before. That's what I like to look for, and that's what appealed to me about SUPERMAN/TERMINATOR.'
Which is probably what appeals to him about his next project besides the numerous Batman titles he has in the works UNIVERSE, which is essentially a three issue prestige series in development that deals with the concept of a LORD OF THE RINGS-like story featuring DC super heroes in the pivotal roles. At its core, the story is about a fellowship that must save their world, which is called Universe. 'There is indeed a quest,' notes Grant. 'The person who goes on this quest is Robin, so we have an ordinary hero going on the quest rather than a super hero, and he meets up with super heroes at various points of his journey. It starts off that Robin has to go off and warn people about mysterious assailants who have attacked his village, burning it down and slaughtering his people. Robin consults the tribal Shaman, who is in fact a fantasy version of the Riddler, and Robin has to solve the riddle as he goes along. As he travels on his quest to warn other people, he realizes that it isn't JUST that; there's more to it. Ultimately it becomes about saving Universe itself. Along the way he encounters virtually all of the DC super heroes and some of the villains.' One would imagine that the Sauron 'role' would have to go to Darkseid. 'No comment,' Grant laughs.'
For Grant, both the SUPERMAN VS. TERMINATOR miniseries and UNIVERSE hold a special appeal that he believes will allow readers to share his enthusiasm. 'What I like,' he closes, 'is to take these heroes and put them in a totally different bent, and, as a result, getting really excited about them all over again.'