AICN COMICS Q&@: Ambush Bug chats with ACTION COMICS Writer Greg Pak on his personal take on Superman!
@’s by ACTION COMICS’ Writer
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): I’m here with Greg Pak, who I’ve followed since quite a while way back--all the way, I think I remember reading your stuff on THE HULK. Now you’re over here at DC taking over pretty much a lot of the Superman titles. So tell me what it’s like just to take on a character like Superman, because he’s got so much history and so much pressure with that character.
GREG PAK (GP): Yeah well, you know, it’s funny because when I first sort of wrapped my head around the idea that I might have a chance to write Superman…yeah, I was terrified, right? Because it’s like he’s the first huge superhero. I mean it’s the original, but as soon as I started working on it, it just all made sense. I mean, I think there’re just sometimes certain characters that just feel right to different people at different times. It’s like casting, you know what I mean? Certain actors just are the right person for a role. And at this instant in time, Clark Kent and Superman make sense. It just kind of fits like that for me. I’ve had a huge amount of fun with it. I’m lucky to be coming into DC at a time when the new 52 gives us a younger, rawer Superman who sort of is figuring out who he is and what it is he is supposed to be doing. His heart is always exactly in the right place, but he’s young and he doesn’t always know what the right answer is at any given moment, and that’s a fantastic kind of character to be able to write.
As a writer, you want characters that are in transit, not characters that are already where they’re going. And so I think that’s helped make things easier for me and it’s been fantastic. I’ve had a tremendous time and great support from Eddie Barganza and my editor and all the folks at DC and amazing artists so it’s just been a lot of fun.
BUG: Well, is there a specific take that you’re using with Superman? Something that makes your take unique from previous people who’ve written the characters?
GP: Well when I first, when I submitted my first pitch…I think it was back when I submitted my pitch for ACTION that I put a little brief in there kind of saying, this is the way I think about Superman, you know? And I talked about the idea that Superman is Clark Kent. Sometimes people are like “Who is Superman?” Superman is Clark Kent. That’s who he is. That’s who he grew up as; you know what I’m saying? Later on he finds out he’s Kryptonian, that he has another set of parents, that he’s got a whole other thing going on, and that absolutely has affected him and expanded his sense of who he is, but fundamentally, you know, just on that gut level, he’s this kid from Smallville. He’s the son of Martha and Johnathan Kent, his parents who taught him to treat other people well, and when he started to display these powers, they taught him to be humble and to remember to help other people and never to punch down and to watch out for folks. So that’s how they grew up and that’s who he is, and so going out trying to make sense of a very complicated world and where he fits into it and what his responsibilities are. Those are huge challenges for him and it’s probably because of how small he grew up, and also how small he grew up means his heart is in the right place when he makes those big choices, I guess. That’s a big part of how I look at him.
BUG: As far as the character himself, there are so many dark characters and so many dark heroes. Is it difficult to write more of clean-cut superhero, or is that refreshing to see, refreshing to write?
GP: It’s funny because I mean, Superman in the new 52 isn’t quite as, you know, gee-whiz boy scout. I love the original SUPERMAN movie; Christopher Reeve will always sort of be sort of imprinted somewhere in the back of my head as sort of the face of Superman and it’s a brilliant performance and at the same time, even in that movie, the Clark Kent that Christopher Reeve is putting on is something he’s putting on. You see him very consciously becoming Clark Kent in order to throw Lois off the hook. It’s beautiful the way it happens, I mean it’s just, it’s gorgeous. But he’s not just a big dope, you know what I mean? He’s actually performing that. I mean, that’s inside of him as well, but he’s not just a totally hopeless naive un-self-aware person. You know what I mean? So that kind of intelligence and that kind of moral intelligence is a huge part of Superman. So I think, I definitely think that Superman is a character who cares more and thinks more about other people’s feelings all the time. He’s a person who has been taught never to punch down. He knows how hugely powerful he is. He knows that he could stop anybody from doing anything just like that, but that may not be the right solution at any given time. You can, yeah you can beat somebody down in order to stop something from happening right now, but is that going to stop that person from ever doing that again? No, that may encourage them to do it more, you know what I mean? So Superman is always willing to take that next step and listen and reach out, but that doesn’t make him--I think the trick with that is to play that in a way that--where you show the true strength of that. That doesn’t make him weak, that doesn’t make him corny--that makes him strong. And also, that’s a hard thing to do, and it doesn’t mean that he always feels good about it, and it doesn’t mean that he’s always cheerful. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have terrible anger inside himself too, sometimes. You know, you’re a hero not because you are a good person not just because you’re never angry or have bad feelings, you’re a good person because you know, because you’re able to overcome those and do the right thing, you know? So there is, absolutely there’s darkness in Superman, but at the same time his heart’s always pushing towards that North Pole, you know what I mean? He’s going in the right direction.
BUG: I wanted to talk also about just the flip side of Superman, actually two of them, Lex Luthor and Batman and your takes on those characters. How are they…I think sometimes in the past it’s almost too tempting to make it so that they are the exact opposite, but how do you differentiate between these characters without resorting to cliché opposites?
GP: Well I love Batman and I love writing Batman and Superman together because I think they both, they’re so similar and yet, there’s this really interesting way in which they diverge. They’re fighting for the same thing, right? But there’s a point at which, I mean somebody asked me about this on Tumblr and I wrote that Batman will never give up, that’s why we love him. We know that if something has gone wrong--if there is an injustice he will never stop until he brings it down. But then the corollary of that is Superman will never give up on you, you know, which is the sense that Superman is just as committed as Batman at stopping that injustice, but he is not just going to punish, he is going to solve, you know what I mean? He is going to try to solve, he is going to try to reach you, not just beat you. And he’s got the luxury of doing that because you shoot him in the chest and he’s not going to die, but that’s his spirit and I think that’s--those contrasts are really fun to play with because Superman’s way, while it sounds incredibly admirable and I love it, and I’m a lover and not a fighter, that’s definitely much more my way just in my personal life. I don’t get into fights, I can’t do that. But, so I understand it, at the same time, it may not always be right. There are people out there you can’t reason with, there are entities out there that can’t, you know, you reach out to. Somebody might get hurt because you took that moment to reach out rather than just stop it, so having both Batman and Superman with those two slightly different tactics is a great way to look at the world.
BUG: And Lex Luthor?
GP: Yeah, Lex is an interesting thing; I mean I haven’t written enough of Lex to sort of finalize my take on him. I probably never will. I mean, these are all moving, living targets, living characters and moving targets, right? But Lex is interesting because like all great stories, in his mind he’s a hero. But clearly, he’s capable of doing insanely evil things, so that’s a lot of fun to write. It’s always fun to write misbehaving people.
BUG: Is there a villain that you’re dying to get your hands on?
GP: Well, Maxima has always been a character I’ve had my eyes on. I think she’s a lot of fun, so someday hopefully I’ll do that. But yeah, Lex Luthor. You know, Lex is also interesting because there’s a way in which Lex could be incredibly understandable, I mean we should be rooting for Lex, he’s a regular person. Like we should root for him, like as normal, regular people. The story could be easily turned around with Superman as the terrifying villain and Lex as the scrappy, regular guy who stands up to this alien. But Lex is a jerk, so it doesn’t work that way.
BUG: Well, coming up I have to admit I am more of a Batman fan than a Superman fan. How do you convince people like me who don’t normally go to Superman books? How do you convince them that your take is the one that’s going to convert them?
GP: Well, Superman is…he’s the best. He’s awesome and I would just say that you love Batman because, I think we love Batman because Batman’s emotional struggle is crystal clear. His back story is so visceral, and we understand exactly why he’s doing it. And we love him because he’s relentless, you know what I mean? I think all of us in our lives wish that we could be that relentless at times. We all struggle with things that we don’t deal with quite the way we wish we had, and we kind of muck things up, and we don’t take charge quite the way we wish we could. We wish we were as hyper-confident and competent as Batman, and could just get in there and kick ass, right? That’s an amazing fantasy.
Superman, I would say that the gorgeous thing about Superman is that he also is relentless, and the way we’re writing him he’s not going to be stopped, and he is going to pursue what needs to be done to the ends of the world in ways that are always going to be surprising and shocking. At the same time, he’s doing what we all do, which is trying to understand the ramifications of every act--everything that he does. And I think the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve loved Superman just because every day, in big and small ways, we do things that we might think we are doing somebody a favor and in fact we’re hurting them. We might think--everyone of us has the capacity to break people’s hearts, to destroy somebody’s life in an instant, in very tiny little ridiculous and insignificant ways. But just to--and I guess as I get older, I’m kind of more aware of the power that I have in those very small ways, and I think Superman’s a great character for exploring that in huge ways. It’s not just about revenge, it’s about responsibility, and I think that’s a big human struggle that we have when we’re trying to figure out how to do the right thing in a very complicated world.
BUG: Very cool, you got me convinced. One last question, I know that we’re running out of time, but I have read your books for a very long time and one of the things that always stands out in a Greg Pak book is the sound effects. How do you come up with the fun sounds and making them different, making them kind of like not your normal “wham”, “bop”, and “pow”?
GP: Yeah, this was something that was really big when we were doing THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES and Nate Cosby was the assistant editor on that book and he launched that, he actually did it when we were doing “World War Hulk” and he put in some sound effects, like he used my name “Grg-Pak” as a sound effect and when I first saw that I was like “What are you doing, Nate?!?” but then when we started doing THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES, which was a very fun book, we just starting putting in all kinds of ridiculous sound effects. I mean, the most infamous one was when Thor and Hercules were fighting and there was like this kind of wrestling thing and Hercules was fighting--no, I can’t remember if Hercules was fighting dirty or Thor starts fighting dirty, but he does like a nipple twist and the sound effect was “nerp” and Simon Bolland who was doing it actually colored them purple, so I mean it’s like, why not, you know what I mean? It’s like, live it up, life’s short, let’s have fun.
BUG: That’s great. Well thank you so much for talking with me today.
GP: Thanks, Mark!
BUG: You can read Greg Pak’s take on Superman every month in ACTION COMICS and BATMAN/SUPERMAN from DC Comics!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Mark’s written THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, DEATHSPORT GAMES, NANNY & HANK (soon to be an Uptown 6 Films feature film), Zenescope’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES Vol.13, UNLEASHED: WEREWOLVES, and the critically acclaimed THE JUNGLE BOOK and its follow up THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES. FAMOUS MONSTERS’ LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (co-written with Martin Fisher) will be available soon in trade. Mark wrote/provided art for a chapter in Black Mask Studios’ OCCUPY COMICS. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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