NYCC • Frank Miller And Brian Michael Bendis Get Personal About Superman’s 80th

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DC Comics Saturday afternoon held a special DC SUPERMAN 80TH Panel at the Javits Center during New York Comic Con featuring Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and hosted by Dan Didio.

About the panel:
Join legendary creators celebrating the spirit of truth, hope, and justice during Superman’s 80th-anniversary panel. Don’t miss this insightful conversation between industry giants as they discuss the relevance of Superman 80 years after his creation, how they’re interpreting the Man of Steel in their perspective projects and their favorite Superman moments in comics, television, and movies!

NYCC • Frank Miller And Brian Michael Bendis Get Personal About Superman's 80th

PLAY BY PLAY OF THE PANEL

Didio greets everyone.

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Says this panel is special because it has just a couple of creators. You get to hear what inspires them — what they love, what they hate.

He introduces Bendis to the stage first, noting the return of Young Justice. Also praises Bendis’ work on Superman and Action Comics so far.

Didio jokes that Bendis is going to text Quesada, “Look at the crowd I’m getting now.”

He introduces Frank Miller next.

SidebarThis place is going nuts for Frank.

Didio says “This is the only time I’m gonna be nice to you today, Frank, so enjoy it.”

Frank says, “He’s nice to me in public.”

Didio brings up Action Comics #1000 first before mentioning they’re both identified with Daredevil also.

He starts with Frank, saying, “Age before beauty,” and Bendis says, “I think we just found out who’s dying in Dark Knight IV.”

Frank says he’s on thin ice. HA

Didio asks Frank about whether he hates Superman based on his portrayal in Dark Knight Returns.

Frank says “Batman did knock the snot out of him,” but his intro to superheroes was the old Superman cartoons of the 1940s. He dressed up in a Superman costume under his school clothes when he went to grade school.

In the course of doing Dark Knight, he went through a variety of endings. The first one didn’t go over really well because it involved Batman dying in a blaze of police gunfire.

He realized it couldn’t end that way and it got more focused on the contest between Batman and Superman.

“Dark Knight didn’t really work if the world was a place of freedom, so you had to have the most powerful force working for oppression.”

So Superman had to be deluded into thinking that unwavering devotion to God and country was the right way.

Now he’s doing Superman Year One. He says he underscores his love of Superman with the way he portrays Batman in this city, flipping the tables a lot.

Didio asks Bendis how he came to this point.

DC was surprised Bendis wanted to do Superman.

But Bendis is a “Jewish kid from Cleveland,” and being from Cleveland, all you hear about is Superman and rock and roll.
Miller notes that Superman was created by two Jewish kids from Cleveland.

Bendis went back to Cleveland for his brother’s wedding, and he visited the public library and saw a Superman exhibit that was put together.

He didn’t know it was going to be there, and he was thinking about jumping to DC at that point. He saw the exhibit and his youth smacked him in the face, and he knew he had to do Superman.

In the Superman 50th anniversary, he was actually involved in some way.

He was a college kid, and there was supposed to be a museum. The museum and statue never happened “because Cleveland’s run by gangsters.” But the parade and so on became part of his DNA.

Bendis and Didio joke about Stan Lee appearing at that, because it was a DC event. (Stan appeared there in place of Siegel and Schuster because they weren’t well enough to attend.)

Didio talks about Frank breaking in at DC. Frank jokes it was in the 1870s.

Frank says Neal Adams had the greatest presence when he came in, calling him his “godfather” in comics.

He initially had small bits and pieces to do with the horror comics, which at the time were called “mystery” comics because of horror being banned for a generation or two by the Comics Code.

Frank was offered a regular job at DC on a book he said was a “Conan ripoff,” but he used it to get a regular gig at Marvel during the Jim Shooter era, doing a couple of Spider-Man issues featuring Daredevil before getting the Daredevil gig.

Daredevil was on the chopping block at the time, but turning around a comic at that point makes you a “golden boy” in the business.

Miller: “Everyone always just assumes I’m the dark guy.” He said he told DC he wanted to do Superman.

Didio asks him about his approach to telling Superman’s story in Year One.

He says romantically, Batman jumps and falls and grabs a rope, but Superman stays up.

Miller says if you look at Superman’s history, “he really had the best girlfriends in comics, at every stage of his year, everywhere he went.”

“There’s no reason Superman shouldn’t be the sexiest character around.”

He doesn’t even hide his face!

“I’m pushing for a certain Amazon to get involved.”

Didio asks Bendis about the apprehension when he came onboard with Superman.

Bendis: “Because I sometimes jump on a book and blow it all up.”

Miller: “We’re part of the blow-up club.”

Bendis: “I learned it from you.”

Bendis also likes that the character exudes hope, and he needed hope.

When writing Superman, you’re also constantly thinking about what the best person in the world would be thinking RIGHT NOW.

You can’t turn that off, and you have to be a nice person.

He finds himself now asking little old ladies if he can help with their groceries.

Didio mentions Superman’s aspirational and iconic status is often seen as one of the problems with the character. How do you open that up?

Miller says he goes over the old material and finds pieces of it that haven’t jumped out before, like putting the reader in the rocket ship with the kid and viewing the destruction of Krypton from that point of view. Or the discovery of powers.

“What a strange childhood he must have had. It wasn’t just joyfully finding out you could do stuff.”

“What was the first heat vision like? I wouldn’t want to be Ma Kent.”

Bendis says he felt there was a Daredevil connection, too, because of the extrasensory perception and how that impacts how they view everyone around them.

Miller says that Superman knows a little too much about everybody because of his powers.

It’s the agoraphobe’s nightmare.

Didio asks if that wide breadth of powers makes him difficult to write.

All those extra powers that got added on over the years can diminish the character in some ways.

Bendis says ultimately his powers don’t matter. He’s a good guy doing good stuff, and you can’t “get wrapped up in the cosmicness of it.”

Miller says DC had to climb a mountain of keeping Superman as the No. 1 superhero during an era when they kept adding more powers.

Didio asks if they put limitations on a character’s powers to fit within the realm of the logic of their stories.

Bendis says he doesn’t power him down, but much like sometimes a tweet isn’t the best way to handle a situation, sometimes punching isn’t the best way to handle a situation. Lots of applause to that.

Miller: “That wasn’t a reference to anything.” More laughs.

Didio says Superman doesn’t often have the same number of alternate interpretations as Batman.

Miller says Batman is a guy who’s irrevocably traumatized by personal trauma in all incarnations by the death of his parents. Superman was traumatized at birth by the destruction of his entire planet and race, but he got good stepparents and got better.

Didio: “Are you placing the blame for Batman on Alfred now?”

Miller says he wouldn’t blame Alfred, but he would pin it on Robin. Lots of “oooohhhhhs.”

Miller mentions Bat-MIte and the rainbow Batman when talking about the variety of things that can be done to Batman and people still say, “Yeah, that’s Batman.”

“This guy’s flexible.”

Miller: “Superman’s wonderful in many ways, but just when Superman needs a lift, it seems like the world provides one.”

Superman took a “quantum leap” during WWII, for example.

Superman was a force out for justice with no affiliation.

Then he became a status quo hero who wanted everything to stay just as it was.

Now he’s evolving again. Miller wants Superman to play up the truth and justice and not be so noisy about the American way.

Bendis says that truth is now something people are arguing about, that we’ve all seen justice is not for everyone, and that with the American way, not everyone is still free to come here.

“Will someone please fight for them? Superman.”

Didio talks about Superman’s impact on society. Does that change how they approach what they might write?

Bendis says he finds himself feeling, “Have I done enough in my life?”

That propels his approach.

As much as Superman does every day, he never thinks it’s enough.

Now he has his father telling him, “I was hoping you’d do more than put out fires in your baby clothes. What else ya got?”

Didio asks Miller about the expectation of his work to shock or challenge what’s going on in comics. How does he reconcile that with Superman?

Miller grins really big.

Miller: “Dan, folks, it’s your job to reconcile it.”

He says he’ll do his very best to make Superman the character he ought to be, but “you don’t know where I live.” Lots of laughs.

Didio asks if there are things they wouldn’t want to use this character for.

Bendis says he doesn’t want to have Superman lecture the audience.

Superman should teach you through his actions.

Miller says he’s mythic.

“My Superman is not going to be the Superman from The Dark Knight. That is an older, compromised Superman stuck in a Batman book.”

“He’s not gonna tell you how to vote. He’s going after much larger truths. The truth should be emotional and moral, not political,” Frank Miller On Superman.

Bendis says we’re making a mistake by talking about Superman when Lois Lane is the best character in comics.

Miller: “You haven’t dived into Jimmy Olsen, man. Jimmy Olsen’s got some serious issues.”

Bendis: “Every cover looks like a PTSD for Jimmy.”

Miller: “You know who else got Lois was Richard Donner.”

They talk about how Lois is everything Superman is without the powers. She’s strong and not just some woman in love with the Man of Steel.

Bendis: “If you really look at Clark’s life, so much of things are thrust upon him.” But being with Lois was a choice he made for himself.

Didio talks about Jonathan Kent. How difficult is it to write a character as mythic as Superman but with domestic relationships?

Bendis says that that’s how kids often look at their parents, like mythic figures who can’t do wrong.

“It’s just fathers and sons” — this man trying to be for this boy what he needs, and every kid needs different things.

Didio says the strength of the villain often defines the hero.

Miller says Batman got all the great villains except two.

Bendis says, “Doctor Octopus and who? Magneto?”

Laughs

They then say Lex Luthor is a great villain when handled well.

Bendis is excited that Scott Snyder is so busy with Lex, though, because he has a chance to play with new villains.

Miller: “I can’t wait to bring Lex Luthor in! Thanks for the softball, Brian!”

Miller says that the way Schuster drew Luthor, he was a big, brawny thug. And he was terrifying. He was a menace on one side, and then on the other, you had Brainiac, who holds a whole city from Krypton hostage.

There are a lot of silly villains like Toyman and Prankster, though.

Miller says Prankster’s a Daredevil villain and they correct to Jester.

Miller goes back to Brainiac: “He robbed the bank when Krypton was about to erupt.”

Didio says Bendis changed some aspects of the origin of Superman.

Bendis: “I would never do that.”

Miller: “What, you got Superman evicted from Krypton?”

Bendis talks about a new villain who hated the idea of Kryptonian society so much he wanted to wipe them out, which changes a tragedy already to a genocide.

Miller jokes the villain is Galactus before it gets to the genocide point, but then notes the detail makes Superman an even more biblical origin.

Bendis and Miller talk about, though, how this essentially makes Superman a refugee of a Holocaust.

He’s a refugee and the ultimate immigrant.

And Miller says that makes him “the ultimate American.”

They work their way back to Miller doing Superman at this point in his career.

“I look back at Dark Knight and think, ‘OOO, was I pissed off or what?!”

He says that as the industry opens up and becomes more free (there’s no more Comics Code anymore), playing the rebel becomes goofy.

Shock is a “rare and powerful spice,” so you have to know when to use it well.

Bendis asks if he’d ever do a monthly book again.

“I imagine. I imagine, yeah. But the only thing I’d do on it is letterer.”

They talk about Superman being Clark Kent’s costume in comparison to Bruce Wayne being Batman’s costume.

Didio asks Bendis if there’s one thing he wants to push more than anything else.

Bendis says Didio knows what it is, but he’s not going to say it in the room.

At the end of the epic storyline he’s currently working on, they’re going to reintroduce something to the DC Universe in the modern setting.

Where the united planets came from in the Legion of Superheroes.

Didio asks Miller if he has one closing takeaway about what he thinks of Superman.

“Dan Didio, master of the easy question. What part of the Bible do you like best, Dan?”

He says he’s most excited about the romantic side of Superman.

“This is an angle that hasn’t really been investigated.”

He says it’s not that he’s going to treat Superman like he’s a playboy, but he’s immensely attractive, and he’s in love with life, so naturally, there’s a romantic aspect. That doesn’t mean he’s going out having a wild time with every gal in the universe.

Bendis then says that sharing a stage with Frank was a great gift and thanks, Dan.

Panel ends.


What did you think of the Superman Panel, did anything jump out at you? Comment below with your thoughts.

Roger Riddell
Essentially Peter Parker with all the charm of Wolverine, he's a DC-based B2B journalist who occasionally writes about music and pop culture in his free time. His love for comics, metal, and videogames has also landed him gigs writing for the A.V. Club, Comic Book Resources, and Louisville Magazine. Keep him away from the whiskey, and don't ask him how much he hates the Spider-Man movies unless you're ready to hear about his overarching plot for a six-film series that would put the Dark Knight trilogy to shame.

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