AUSTIN, Texas—Just about half a year ago, a simple job change rocked the comics world. Brian Michael Bendis, the longtime Marvel writer who created Jessica Jones and wrote for all the company’s big heroes from Spider-Man to The Avengers, decided to switch sides. In a November 7 tweet, Bendis announced to the world that he’d be joining DC Comics. And this weekend at the South by Southwest conference, he sat on a panel with DC bigwigs from artist Jim Lee to writer Frank Miller to discuss the recently turned 80-years-old icon he’ll work on: Superman.
“I’m a little Jewish boy from Cleveland, and in Cleveland, you grow up and are told, ‘Rock n’ Roll and Superman were born here'—that’s all we have plus some decent pizza,” Bendis told the crowd. “Everyone thought maybe I came [to DC] to do Batman, but all I wanted was Superman.”
Throughout the panel discussion, Bendis hinted at his first major DC projects on the horizon. First will be Man of Steel, No. 1 (May 2), a six-issue event where each issue will be illustrated by a different artistic legend. Soon after, Bendis will follow that up with a reboot, Superman, No. 1 (July 11), before penning Action Comics, No. 1,001 (July 25). No pressure, new hire, but that last project hits a milestone issue mark no other American comic series has reached, according to the panel’s introduction.
“By the end [of Man of Steel], we’ll have a new status quo for Superman and his arrangement in the DC universe,” Bendis said. “[This miniseries] teases everything you’ll need to know going forward. We drop a bomb on our last page that will hopefully have everyone talking about it even more so than his underpants.“
Obviously Bendis, Lee, and others in attendance had to tread lightly on firm future plans, but they happily hinted at them. Responding to a question about whether Lois Lane might get her own miniseries, Lee admitted he must stick to company PR policy. “We can’t disclose any plans, and if we had any plans we wouldn’t blink twice,” said Lee, blinking twice. “All I can say is, Brian has a lot of plans and is a tremendous writer, and all our writers have this tremendous passion for the wide-ranging DC mythology. We’d be remiss to not address the desire of that fanbase.” Bendis called Lois the bravest person in the universe. And Miller quickly noted she’s the one who, in the original 1978 Richard Donner movie, tests whether or not Clark could fly by throwing herself off a skyscraper.
As jokes of Krypto’s return were sprinkled throughout the discussion, Bendis further echoed this strong interest in other characters within the Superman universe. In particular, he expressed a lot of adoration for Clark Kent, particularly as the mild-mannered journalist enters into a new era of media filled with hyper-niche echo chambers and calls of fake news.
“To emphasize how important the Daily Planet is, I actually spent a day shadowing The Oregonian this week,” Bendis said. “On top of journalism being under siege in a way it never has been in my life, a lot of what has happened to Clark has happened to him—he was sent here, after all. But Clark chose to be a reporter when he didn’t need to do anything. Of all the jobs he could have, he needed this one. Why? Truth, there are simply parts of truth and justice Superman can’t punch his way through. But Clark can…”
“Today is actually a wonderful case where you can show his courage,” Miller interjected. “On the old George Reeves TV show, when something is going down and Perry White says, ‘Where's Kent?’, Lois says, ‘You know Clark, he’s taking care of something.’ The mild-mannered thing came later; I like a brazen Clark Kent.”
Before wrapping, the panel—which also included longtime Superman writer Dan Jurgens and writers and producers on the upcoming Krypton TV series—took time to share their first and favorite Superman memories in light of the character’s 80th birthday and the upcoming Action Comics milestone. The responses serve as an ideal reading list for anyone looking to quickly catch up on decades of history ahead of Bendis’ debut.
“In terms of art, it’s Superman v. Muhammad Ali,” Lee said. “That showed the full range of that character: fighting interstellar invasion forces to walking the streets of Metropolis as Clark Kent to fighting Ali—this is a character that can do anything. And he got beat. Or, at least faked a defeat.” Elsewhere, Jurgens pointed to Superman’s return to Krypton from the mid-1950s, Lee praised the Jurgens-penned Death of Superman, Bendis cited Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. (They all loved the Donner movie.) Miller even praised the old Fleischer Bros. cartoons. “The one I loved is called ‘Runaway Train’ or ‘Billion Dollar Limited,’ or something. It’s wonderful for its simplicity: bad guys get control of a train filled with gold, Superman has to stop it. The end. But getting there is amazing—railroad ties are exploding, and Superman is stretched to his absolute limit.”
Lee, Bendis, and Krypton Executive Producer Cameron Welsh also praised one of Miller’s own works, Dark Knight Returns, as an entryway into comics even if it’s more known for involving a different caped crusader. “Through my childhood, Superman and Batman were interchangeable, old chums. They’d only fight if one made Kryptonite or something,” Lee said. “Dark Knight Returns showed that these two men looked at the world in very different ways based on their origins and capabilities; it really differentiated the characters for me.”
But this DC event stayed loyal to perhaps the character the company remains most synonymous with after all these years. With the new Bendis works and SyFy’s Superman-adjacent Krypton coming this spring, it's clear how DC and its creators feel about the Man of Steel even after all these years.
“Now more than ever, we need Superman, it’s time,” Bendis said. “He exudes hope to all around him, but that’s also a burden. We’ve seen it in other characters that represent something so much larger… and now we’ll experience that through him.”
Listing image by Nathan Mattise