Comic Book Day: “Superman Unchained” with Scott Snyder and Jim Lee
By Dan Casey on April 10, 2013
While it’s difficult to say if J.J. Abrams has a comics industry equivalent, Scott Snyder is right at the top of our list. The Batman and Swamp Thing scribe has made waves in the New 52 with consistently outstanding storylines that inject elements of horror and compelling characterization into the DC Universe. Now, Snyder is teaming up with DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee to tackle the DCU’s biggest kahuna: Superman. Coming this June, the dynamic duo’s Superman Unchained will hit stands, offering up an awesome-looking ongoing series with Lee’s iconic illustrations and Snyder’s seriously sinister storylines. We couldn’t make it to the Watchtower, but we did make it down to Wondercon, where we caught up with Snyder and Lee to find out what to expect from Superman Unchained, Batman: Zero Year and more.
N: Let’s dive into the the news on everyone’s minds – what can we expect from Superman Unchained?
Scott Snyder: It’s a book launching on June 12th and it’s the craziest Superman story we could do together. It’s sort of the Superman story I’d do if I only had one chance to write a Superman story. It’s my version of a Superman story – it pits him against a brand new villain. You’re going to see your favorite characters shown in very different, fresh ways. Classic characters – Lois, Lex, Perry White, the Planet. We really wanted to do a Superman story that shows him in ways you haven’t seen before, exploring his powers and why he does what he does from certain vantage points that you might not have seen before. We want it to feel classic and iconic, but also fresh and different.
That’s really the mission on the book, at least for me. New villain, new book! He’s going to be shaken to his core – emotionally, psychologically and physically. And I hope you guys love it.
Jim Lee: We’re creating a lot of new stuff. There’s a new villain in the first issue, a new penitentiary, new locations. It’s weird – when I worked on Batman, apart from tinkering with the Batcave, everything is fleshed out. Metropolis isn’t exactly the same way, so we’re having fun creating new buildings, locations, characters, secret organizations…breally cool stuff!
N: So, this will be a new ongoing series, yes? Not just a mini or maxi-series?
SS: Well, we’re sort of running with it as we go. The first really big story we’re working on now – I don’t want to give away how many issues it is. We’re sort of working on it as we go and we’ll see how you guys love it. Yeah, it’s many issues. [laughs]
N: It seems like you’re almost becoming the J.J. Abrams of DC Comics, taking over the Star Wars/Star Trek equivalent that is Batman and Superman. Do you feel any sense of pressure taking over these high profile characters?
SS: Yeah, I do now. Thanks. [laughs] No, I feel tremendous pressure. My wife will tell you that there are a lot of sleepless nights. But, at the end of the day, you have to assume that if you’re doing the stories that you would tell without thinking about what other people will think, that in the DNA of those stories, there’s enough that people will love about them. Otherwise, it’s paralyzingly intimidating. You walk around a con like this and you see a hundred Superman shirts, a thousand Batman shirts and if you think about that, you freeze. All you can do is try to write a story you would want to pick up and read and hope to God that if I love the character enough, you guys will love the story enough. That’s it.
N: Well, you’ve done a spectacular job so far. One thing I wanted to touch on in particular is the injection of horror into the main DCU that we’ve seen in your works like Swamp Thing and, to a lesser extent, “Death of the Family.” What was the attraction there?
SS: I would say, honestly, that my favorite stories – I wouldn’t call them “horror” – are the ones where the protagonist is challenged by the thing they’re most afraid of, the thing that’s true about themselves coming to life. If you want to call that “horror,” that’s fine. There’s elements of this in our Superman book. I would call it, essentially, primal conflict, where the character is shaken to their core. Batman is gothic, so you bring in the trimmings of horror. Same with Swamp Thing - you bring in the trimmings of horror. It’s the same kind of story I’ve loved since I was doing literary fiction; there’s personal demons, that sense of conflict within a protagonist where he or she is facing something that calls into question everything they’ve done with their life.
JL: I’d just like to say that Scott is one of the hardest working guys I know. He’s writing continuously, he’s available at all crazy hours and he’s always looking for the layers of a story. That’s what makes it a joy working on this with him. Everything has a significance or resonates with something else. It’s not just fighting for the sake of fighting. There’s a lot of themes being developed that run parallel throughout the story and it’s really great to work on something like that.
N: You’ve architected some large-scale, multiple book-spanning events in storylines like “Rotworld” and “Death of the Family.” What is the challenge when designing these events that touch upon so many titles?
SS: Well, not designing them, I think, is the key. I mean, I just trust the other writers to tell better stories than I could tell with those characters. I give them the premise – The Talons are attacking the city and your character has to save someone important to them or the Joker is coming after your character and challenging them to their core, telling them what they’re most afraid of about themselves is true – and then just staying out of their way. They can write those characters a lot better than I can. My goal on those crossovers is literally to make sure the Joker or the Talons act the same in each book and otherwise just stay out of the way of those great writers.
N: Speaking of the Talons, I have to commend you because it’s difficult to introduce a new villain into the Batman canon, especially one with staying power. What, in your opinion, are traits necessary for a memorable villain?
SS: It has to be personal. It has to be something that frightens you deeply. If it isn’t scary to you, it won’t be scary to the readers. To me, the Talons represent something that’s right under your feet that you don’t see coming in a place that you feel safe. Batman thinks he knows Gotham better than anybody and the Talons represent a mystery that gets closer and closer to him by concentric circles until it’s literally under his feet and in his family. You’ve got to make ‘em scary to you or else it won’t be scary to anybody else.
N: Good. Now we know what you find scary. Another big Batman story is coming our way – Batman Zero Year. This is Batman’s origin story in the New 52-verse, which I imagine is a rather daunting task. What can we expect?
SS: [laughs] It is a daunting task, but at the end of the day my feeling was if Year One and the origin we know can’t stand in the New 52 because the chronology is different, then am I going to give you a poorer version of Year One or are we going to do something big and crazy and give you our own version? Maybe this will be an origin story for this generation. It might not touch the hem of Year One, but at least we’ll be able to say we did something to the absolute best of our ability and the most ambitious, daring, fearless thing we can do with the character. If I don’t do that, then let someone else write Batman, you know what I mean? Everybody has a story they’d love to do and if I’m not doing the story that’s making me the best writer I can be, then eff me. Let somebody else do it. Get out of the way and let the next guy write it.
I can say I love this story more than anybody else, I mean any Batman story I’ve done. Not my kids, who I do love. If you guys don’t like it, I can drop it forever, but I stand by it til my dying day. I love this thing to death and I’m really confident you’re going to love it. Open it up, turn to the first page and if you don’t love the first four-page sequence – it’s my favorite four-page sequence I’ve done – then you can call me up and yell at me or whatever.
JL: I’ll be giving out his phone number after this interview.
N: Well, you’ve sold me on it. One last question – what would be inside your ideal burrito?
SS: Oh, man. I don’t know. A bat burrito of justice. Right? I don’t know. [laughs]
N: Pretty sure bat meat is illegal, but I’ll allow it.
JL: I’m partial to pulled pork, salsa, rice, beans – pinto beans – and cheese. [laughs] That’s a good one.
Are you looking forward to Superman Unchained and Batman: Zero Year? Let us know in the comments below.