“Continuity is the Devil” — Writer Greg Pak
Greg Pak is a veteran comic writer who originally made his presence known in the ’00s with radical new takes on Marvel C-list characters. This led to more featured work, including the wildly successful “Planet Hulk” story. These days, he’s tackling a bunch of DC, indie, and Valiant titles, including DC’s flagship, Action Comics, and Batman/Superman, which not only sees the first meeting of the two icons in DC’s New 52 rebooted continuity, but their meeting with their counterparts on the parallel world of Earth 2. Whew! That’s a lot of timeline to keep track of.
But it never fazes him, as you’ll see in the interview below. He talked with Man Cave about how this week’s “Doomed” storyline will pit the Man of Steel against his deadliest opponent, Doomsday, but not in a way reminiscent of “The Death of Superman” that introduced the brute.
MCD: When you’re jumping between these two continuities and playing with those realities, how conscious did you have to be of the timelines because so much was already established?
The nice thing about coming in to write the New 52 is I don’t have to worry about what came before the New 52. That stuff is great and it can serve as inspiration, but continuity is the devil. [laughs] As a writer, having to slavishly make sense of too much continuity can kill a story.
Yes, you want to stay true to the spirit of things, and continuity can absolutely be your friend in creating resonance and a sense of history and paying off certain emotional things–BUT: it was a beautiful, beautiful thing for me walking into the New 52 and being able to look at a small range of stories that had been told, and those are the things that are set in stone, and the rest of it we can make up as we go. We can build the stories that make sense for our characters in order to tell the emotional story that we’re telling.
So even that being said–yes, I had to do a ton of research. I had to load up on everything that had been done regarding Earth 2 and Darkseid and those two different realities. And also look at the timeline because a lot of those stories were told in bits and pieces and so you’ve got different parts of the story of Darkseid’s invasion of both Earth 2 and “our” world. Different pieces of that story were told out of order in various interesting ways in different books. So in order to figure out how the story I was going to tell was going to squeeze into all that, I had to kind of make a little map where everything fit. But that was a fun challenge, and the cool thing is there are great little niches and places to tell cool stuff, so it’s been fun.
MCD: Pursuant to that, when you’re working with the two most iconic characters in comics, do you feel like you have to have your own defining version of them, or fulfill a classical understanding of them?
GP: I think I’m fortunate enough that I come into DC at a time when the conception of Superman I was talking about with my editors makes sense to me and is very sympatico towards the kinds of stories I’m interested in telling. The New 52 Superman–he’s younger. He’s not your uncle’s Superman, a Silver Age figure who’s always the perfect guy. He’s your older brother Superman. He’s got the same heart. He’s Clark Kent. He’s always going to stick up for the underdog, and do his darnedest to do the right thing. But he’s young enough that he’s figuring out exactly how to do that. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s going to struggle and that is solid gold in terms of telling stories. Any character who’s in transition is a great character to write stories about, so I’ve been thrilled that I’ve been able to come in and tell those kinds of stories with this kind of character.
MCD: You’ve always been a writer willing to put a character in a situation where people might not recognize them. The Hulk typically wanders around the desert punching people who get too close to him, and you put him on an alien planet in an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure. People loved it. So where do you see Superman going that people might take issue with, but that’s where you want him to be?
GP: Well, from the beginning there were people like, “What’s with this guy in jeans and a t-shirt?” I think it was a brilliant choice by [Grant] Morrison to start off Action Comics at the beginning of the New 52 with this very young, brash guy. And I’ve definitely played with that. So just in terms of character, this is a young guy who’s still a little cocky, possibly going to make some mistakes, maybe go too far in certain circumstances. His heart is absolutely always in the right place.
I think in the “Doomed” storyline, we are pushing things even further, though. Clark Kent is a very special person, right? If you gave most people on the planet the power of Superman, they’d destroy–we’d be doomed! [laughs] We’d be in big, big trouble if most of us got that kind of power. Most people are going to give in to the temptations, in one way or another, that that kind of power would present. Some for the very best of reasons.
“Doomed”is going to push Clark in a big way and raise the question of what kinds of circumstances could push Clark over the edge? And what would the consequences of that be? What is it about Clark that makes him Superman? What is it that makes him the kind of person that we as readers can believe in? And how far can you push him before that cracks? Those are big, scary questions and we’re going to ask them. This is a story that’s going to test Superman in ways he’s never been tested before.
MCD: So it’s a character test?
GP: Yeah, absolutely. But not just–it absolutely is the biggest physical showdown you’ve ever seen. The Doomed one-shot is insane. This is not the same old Doomsday. This is a Doomsday capable of some pretty insane things and to stop him our heroes are going to have to go further than they ever have. So, huge, huge action…if you were looking for that, we are going to deliver.
But all that action doesn’t mean anything without an emotional story and the emotional story is even bigger than that action. You’ll see the reverberations of the outcome of Doomed #1in Action Comics #31 and Superman/Wonder Woman #8 and it’s going to be tremendous and huge: as big a test as Superman has ever had on every level.
MCD: Following up on that thought of his moral delimiters, Superman’s always been the guy who can do anything while Batman’s been the guy who will do anything. Do you ever find yourself trying to find something that Batman wouldn’t do that Superman would, or vice versa?
GP: That’s interesting, I’d have to think about that. I’m not certain I agree with that statement. That sounds good, but I’d have to think about it more. I don’t know that Batman would do anything. I think Batman has his own limits. He definitely capable of some things Superman might not be, but at the same time, Superman might be capable of things Batman might not be.
It’s funny — somebody asked me about this on Tumblr and I thought about it for a minute, and I said, “Batman will never give up. Superman will never give up on you.”
There’s a way in which Batman sees a problem that needs to be solved. If you are that problem, you are in big trouble. It’s that “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot” thing. He doesn’t have much sympathy for those guys who killed his parents in cold blood. That is ingrained in him. He is not going to waste time crying about anybody. He’s going to bust heads and make it stop.
When push comes to shove, Superman is also going to stop whatever needs to be stopped, but Superman is also going to try to understand. Which may or may not be the smart thing to do. There may be some people or some things that can’t be understood. Maybe Doomsday is one of those. Superman is so insanely powerful he could almost do anything, which means that he always runs the risk of hurting somebody or doing more than he should. But it also puts him in the position of being somebody who can afford to wait and turn the other cheek and find out what’s really going on. That’s not a luxury most of us have. Superman does, and that’s one of the reasons why we love him.
At the same time, maybe that’s not the right move. Those are the fun questions to ask in this type of story.
MCD: Probably not with Doomsday.
GP: Maybe not…who knows? Maybe Doomsday just needs a hug. Maybe that’s our big reveal at the end. Hugsday!
MCD: I really like how in New 52, Doomsday’s been so much more integrated into Kryptonian lore and Superman’s legend. Is that Kryptonian culpability going to play into what Superman’s facing morally in “Doomed”?
GP: Doomsday is part of the legend of the House of El. That’s one of the things that will be played up in the one-shot. That’s a lot of fun. At the same time…I’m always trying to avoid stories where if the hero just went away, the world wouldn’t have this problem. [laughs] You know what I mean? If every problem the hero tackles comes about just because the hero happens to be here, that’s like, “Maybe I should just go?”
Doomsday does have connections with Superman’s past and Krypton. There’s a big question about whether this would have happened regardless of if Superman was here. We are going to delve more into where Doomsday actually comes from during the course of this storyline, so keep your eyes open.
Brendan grew up a shy nerd reading comics, but now he’s courting actresses to be your special lady in Girlfriend Audition: Jessica Kinni.