The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The writer who helped kill Superman is bringing him new life

Superman is once again battling Doomsday in the pages of Action Comics, with art by Tyler Kirkham. (DC Comics)
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Dan Jurgens is perhaps most famous as the person who wrote and drew one of the biggest moments in the history of comic-books back in 1992, “The Death of Superman.” He is now writing the DC Comics series that gave birth to the superhero era: Action Comics, in DC’s new “Rebirth” era.

Jurgens takes the first word of that title quite seriously in terms of what he has planned for Superman. “I wanted to kick the series off with a high level of action and sense of mystery and adventure,” Jurgens told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs.

DC Comics’ “Rebirth” event, which has taken many comic-book titles back to their popular roots while putting an end to DC’s New 52 era, has given fans of Superman a nostalgic feeling.

The New 52 Superman, who debuted when DC Comics did a company wide reboot of their comic-books in 2011, has died. In his place is the Superman that generations grew up with and that Jurgens worked on for years, pre-New 52. That Superman is now the only Superman in the DC Comics universe. (There’s also someone other than this new Superman claiming to be Clark Kent to add a little mystery to all of the action.)

For Jurgens, it shows the unpredictability of the comic-book industry, to be once again working with a character he creatively impacted two decades ago.

“I don’t think there’s any way I ever could have looked this far down the road [back in the ’90s] and come up with an accurate glimpse of the industry and where we’d be,” Jurgens said. “I would say, however, that there are a number of truisms to Superman that will always endure. That’s true of most good, iconic characters and Superman probably embodies more of that than most. We’re doing our best to emphasize that.”

As Jurgens now writes Action Comics, he’s brought back a familiar foe: Doomsday. The monster that killed Superman back in the ’90s.

“We’re touching on a certain sense of feeling that those stories have while also adding plenty of new elements to the mix to make it feel fresh,” Jurgens said of his approach to writing Superman today. “When dealing with a character that has been around for so long, it’s essential to find the proper mix of legacy and new ideas to make it work in the present.”

Jurgens considers Doomsday to be Superman’s perfect opposite. A force of nature and a creature of rage and destruction that can’t be reasoned with.

Doomsday presents opportunities for Superman to have flashbacks to the moment he fell to the monster, moments that Jurgens himself did much of the art for back in the ’90s. So do those flashback sequences bring back an itch for Jurgens to draw at all?

“I always have the urge to draw,” Jurgens said. “But Action Comics, like many other DC books, is now being published twice monthly rather than once a month as we’ve done in the past. The practical demands of a schedule like that leaves me with little time to draw, I’m afraid.”

Artwork duties on Action Comics are being divided between artists Patrick Zircher, Tyler Kirkham and Stephen Segovia.

Jurgens says Lex Luthor will be a key part of the current story as well, with Superman reluctantly working with a Luthor who is now determined to be a hero to the world, inspired by the death of the New 52 Superman.

“Of course, this Luthor has generally convinced the world that he’s not at all an evil man,” Jurgens said. “That’s something that [this] Superman will never believe in, which will really add to the tension as Luthor becomes more and more heroic.”

There’s one major difference between the new and old Superman, something that Jurgens says wouldn’t have been attempted back in the ’90s because it was a plot point always considered for “down the line.” This Superman, along with his wife, Lois Lane, has a child: Jonathan Kent. A young superpowered kid more or less destined to become the next Superboy. A Superboy that is Superman’s son, and not a younger version of the Man of Steel, or a clone, is a fresh take on a character that has had multiple iterations for DC Comics.

Jurgens admits there is something special about writing Action Comics, especially with the title reverting to the original numbering it gave up during the New 52 (the 959th issue hits newsstands both real and digital on Wednesday).

“Every time I type an issue number on the front of the script, I’m keenly aware of the long, incredible history the book embodies,” Jurgens said. “Action Comics number one launched not only Superman, but the entire industry as we recognize it now. It has a sense of legacy to it that can’t be denied.”

So would Jurgens like to be around for the historic 1,000th issue of Action Comics?

“Yes, I’d love to be there for 1,000,” Jurgens said. “But that’s still a long way off, and I have much more immediate issues to worry about.”