“When I was just thinking about the character and thinking about the story possibilities, every time my brain started to picture him talking to somebody with a problem he was having…or dealing with Clark and Superman, it always was just with another superhero,” Johns told the Post’s Comic Riffs. “I quickly realized [Superman] didn’t really have anyone normal in his life that he could talk to again, because no one knew his secret.”
Johns also leapt at the opportunity to collaborate with Romita, an artist he never thought he’d get to work with — especially because the two had been on opposite sides of the Big Two for so long,
Issue No. 39 of Superman hits stands both brick and pixel today, marking the end of Johns’s brief but memorable stint with Romita. Their eight-issue run gave Superman a new superpower, as well as a relatable being of immense power (Ulysses) who went from much-needed confidante to regrettable adversary. And Clark Kent finally gained a friend when the “S” comes off the chest — by (spoiler if you’re not caught up) revealing his secret identity to longtime amigo Jimmy Olsen.
“I wanted to create somebody [Superman] could communicate with and relate to, and Ulysses was born out of that,” Johns said. “Ultimately knowing where that story was going to go, and the complications in that story, I wanted Superman to experience a friendship and a complication in that friendship. And the whole point of it was to lead him to connect to somebody in his life that he would have to make a leap of faith for, and trust in. And that was Jimmy Olsen.”
Jimmy, in fact, learns he’s been more of a friend to Superman than he ever knew.
“The whole storyline was designed to explore Superman and his relationship to his friends and the rest of the world, and allowing him the relief of actually having someone he can talk to,” Johns continued. “And that’s what it boils down to in his life, because I think Superman deserves that in his life, and needs that in his life, and certainly it reveals a lot about Clark and the contrast between him and the Man of Steel.”
A few years back, Johns shared an office at DC Comics with Jeph Loeb (who now works with Marvel). At that time, Loeb told Johns that working with an artist like Romita could be quite a great experience for a writer. Johns admits a fondness for Marvel characters, especially Captain America and the Hulk, but the DC exec never dreamed he’d team with Romita, a Marvel mainstay.
“I never thought I would ever have the chance to work with John on anything, and I couldn’t be more honored or appreciative that I was given the opportunity to do that,” Johns told Comic Riffs. And John “delivered such an amazing story.”
Romita compares the experience of his first project with Superman to getting on a highway with a tricycle.
“There’s so much going by. I couldn’t seem to catch up to speed. And just as I feel like I’m catching up, this big goombah decides he’s going to leave,” Romita joked about John’s departure from Superman. (Romita notes that he’s very happy that his forthcoming run is being written by Gene Luen Yang.)
“I didn’t ever expect to draw Superman. I didn’t think it was DC’s best character. I always assumed, as a visual guy, that Batman was the best,” Romita continued. “And then I got on the title and found out the darkness of a character is less important than the character. And then the artwork followed — finding that out. So it was a whole new avenue for me. It’s easy to say that when I found out that [working with] Geoff was a possibility — that cemented the contract.”
Romita laughs about his mindset coming into the title. He thought it might be a little easier to draw an individual comic rather than a team book — until he went over the plot with Johns, and realized the story contained two civilizations and millions of people. The art was no “cake-walk,” Romita said, but the first double-page image he drew of Superman punching out a giant robot put him at ease.
“I felt very comfortable within a couple of pages,” he said.
And as Johns moves on — while still dealing with Superman over in the pages of Justice League — he feels positive that his run with Romita has given fans a glimpse of the personal side of the Man of Steel.
“I hope people who have read our story and read [issue] 39 really enjoyed it and really connected with Superman on a personal and emotional level,” Johns said. “I hope they had some fun with it, and I hope they found the optimism in Superman that I think should always be there.
“Despite any kind of darkness that he faces,” Johns said of Superman, “he’s always believing in tomorrow, and believing that we can get to tomorrow and make it better.”