Superman: Last Son of Earth - Steve Gerbern InterviewThe writer discusses flip-flopping the Man of Steel's origin
Author: Edward Gross
Think you know everything there is to know about Superman? Guess again. Just when you think Superman couldn't possibly go through any more permutations--even in terms of "imaginary" stories, a.k.a. "Elseworlds" in the DC Universe--along comes veteran comics writer Steve Gerber to add just one more twist. What else would you expect from the creator of Howard the Duck?
A veteran comics writer who's been at it for the past two-and-a-half decades, Gerber's credited with creating--along with Howard--such offbeat characters as Void Indigo, Sludge, Destroyer Duck, Nevada, Stewart the Rat and Omega the Unknown. He's also written for such animated shows as G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, The Batman/Superman Adventures and Thundarr the Barbarian, the latter of which he co-created.
A lifelong fan of the Man of Steel, Gerber is currently writing the two-part Superman: Last Son of Earth Elseworlds series. He previously toiled with the Superman legend in the A. Bizarro and Phantom Zone mini-series. Still, it's Last Son of Earth that he seems most proud of, probably because it differs so much from what's already been done with the character.
"This is an idea I've had in the back of my mind for years and never had any place to use it," says Gerber. "Then someone mentioned the Elseworlds book to me. [DC Editor] Andy Helfer and I ended up talking about it. He was intrigued by the idea and we went ahead with it."
As readers of Last Son of Earth #1 already know, the mini-series turns the Superman mythos on its ear, flip-flopping the origin Superman/Clark Kent. "Superman is a human who is the infant son of Jonathan and Martha Kent," explains Gerber. "Earth is not exactly destroyed, but is pretty much demolished in 1968. Jonathan Kent is an astro-physicist who sends his infant, human son into space and through a series of events, the baby ends up on Krypton.
"Naturally, since Earth gives Kryptonians super-powers, earthlings have an extremely difficult time on Krypton. In fact, when I first started telling people about this story, the typical reaction from other comic book writers was, 'Okay, he lands and becomes the weakest guy in the world. What's interesting about that?' What's interesting about it is that it's only the beginning of the story. What happens after the baby is discovered in that very frail and helpless state by Jor-El and Lara is what actually makes the story."
The fact that this child survives at all is pretty amazing, and probably one of the things that intrigues Jor-El the most, making the man determined to give this kid a fighting chance to live. The child's sheer will to go on becomes an important component of the story, and even puts Jor-El into direct conflict with his wife, Lara. The thing to remember, of course, is that when writer/artist John Byrne reinvented Superman back in 1986, one of the things he postulated was that the Kryptonian race was, for the most part, a people devoid of emotions. In fact, they managed to make the Vulcans on Star Trek look warm by comparison, so one shouldn't expect Lara to be as excited about finding an alien baby as, say, Martha Kent was in the regular continuity.
"Lara wants to see this baby die," says Gerber flatly. "She takes the attitude of the average Kryptonian, that this is some kind of alien life form. We don't know what it is or what kind of disease it's carrying. At best it's going to live the life of an invalid on this planet. Just let it die in peace. Jor-El, instead, creates an environment in which the kid can slowly acclimate over a period of years to Krypton's greater gravity and atmospheric pressure. However, the baby never acclimates completely. Even into adulthood he has to use a sort of ex-skeleton to move around Krypton normally."
The story's ultimate theme, which readers will continue to see played out when the second and final issue hits stores today, is really the collision of two species. "[It's] the very proud and self-absorbed Kryptonians, and this infant who shouldn't even be able to survive on the planet, but does in an interesting way," continues Gerber. "That, in turn, brings about another interesting conflict between Krypton's current society and its ancient history; not only the period of the Clone Wars--which Byrne invented--but also the Silver Age of Krypton and how that society actually gave rise to the hedonistic one that Byrne started with. Let's face it, they're practically Vulcans, and that was one of my great terrors with writing the book originally. After having read Byrne's World of Krypton series, the characters were so self-absorbed and so self-righteous, that I lived in terror of writing 64 pages of that. They're boring, unless you come at them with a sense of humor.
"If you understand how the rest of Krypton plays off of Jor-El as the one rebel in their midst, then it works. What's interesting about Last Son of Earth is that Jor-El winds up with a rebellious son himself; a son who is completely obsessed with Krypton's past. The way that Kryptonian society is set up, the people are estranged from its history. The history of the planet at the point of the Clone Wars and the hundred thousand years or so that followed, is considered to be completely irrelevant because it's over a hundred millennia ago. They want Kal-El (which is the name Jor-El and Lara give the child) to be looking toward the future and not toward the past. As a result, Jor-El has no idea how to handle that kind of rebellious son any more than his father did with Jor-El himself. So it's a generational story as well."
For those who're concerned that the mini-series hasn't offered much in the way of superheroics so far, Gerber suggests they relax until they've had a chance to read the second part. He's not saying much about issue #2, except for the fact that the Guardians of the Universe, best known from the Green Lantern series, play a significant role in it, and Kal-El's life in particular.
"One of the interesting things about this story," says Gerber, "is that because Earth is essentially destroyed in 1968, none of the other things that happened as a result of the various other superheroes histories of the DC Universe since that time took place. So the Guardians play a large part in the story. And the way the story works out, Kal-El actually prevents Krypton's explosion. After that, and again this relates to the Guardians, he discovers he's not from Krypton and makes the trek back to Earth in search of answers."
What's interesting, is that when he arrives on his native world, Kal-El's DNA has been re-adjusted by Jor-El so much that he'll inadvertently discover that he has superpowers even though he's not Kryptonian, though they're extremely limited. "His adaptation to Krypton has given him powers roughly equivalent to the 1939 Superman," explains Gerber. "He can't fly, but he can leap an eighth of a mile. Bullets can't penetrate his skin, but he can be knocked backwards by a machine gun."
Aside from that, Gerber's remaining mum about the story's finale. But whatever the outcome, there's apparently more story to tell, as Gerber's been asked to write a sequel. It's something the writer's eager to do, as he feels strongly that this version more fully captures the true essence of the character.
"There are a couple of reasons this concept appealed to me," says Gerber. "The way Superman is played today, he's a hero because he's got all of these powers. It's not because of anything inside of him. Not because of his heart or his mind. I wanted to create a Superman who didn't have those advantages, at least to start with. To me, a hero is not a character who is afraid of nothing. He's a character who faces his fears and conquers them with something at stake in the process. The current Superman doesn't really have that.
"In fact, the current Superman doesn't even have the tragedies in his life that the original Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster version did. His parents are still alive. He barely knows anything about Krypton. Well, I guess it's been changed since then, but he barely knew anything about Krypton, so even the tragedy of that didn't bear on his life in any particular way. What I wanted to do was try to put some of those elements back, even if it was just for the length of this mini-series. I wanted to get back to the core of the character. The strange thing is that, for me, this character seems more like Superman than the Superman that is published in the DC Universe books. He has a heart. He has a soul. He is not just a big red 'S.'"
IntroductionThe Superman Homepage has had the pleasure of interviewing various Superman Comic Book creative people about their work.
Question and Answer Interviews:
- Interview with Christopher Priest about the Superman vs. Deathstroke story in Deathstroke #8 (November 2016)
- Interview with Sterling Gates about the 'Adventures of Supergirl' digital-first comic book series (January 2016)
- Interview with J. Michael Straczynski about Superman: Earth One - Vol. 3 - Writer J. Michael Straczynski talks to us about the third volume in the Superman: Earth One graphic novel series (February 2015)
- Interview with Jim Krueger - Writer Jim Krueger talks to us about his The Dark Lantern story in the Adventures of Superman comic book title (November 2013)
- Smallville: Season 11 Interview with Bryan Q. Miller - Writer Bryan Q. Miller talks to us about his work on the Smallville: Season 11 comic book title (October 2012)
- Supergirl Interview with Mahmud Asrar - Artist Mahmud Asrar talks to us about his work on the monthly Supergirl comic book title (July 2012)
- Superman/Batman Interview with Joshua Hale Fialkov - Joshua Hale Fialkov answers our questions about The Secret 3-part story in Superman/Batman #85-87 (July 2011)
- Supergirl Interview with Sterling Gates - Sterling Gates answers our questions about where Supergirl is headed post War of the Supermen (June 2010)
- Supergirl Interview with Sterling Gates & Jamal Igle - Adam Dechanel chats with the Supergirl comic book team about the Maid of Might (March 2010)
- Behind the Scenes of the Super Friends - Four part indepth look at the Super Friends comic book title with artists J. Bone and Stewart McKenny (February 2010)
- Interview with Landry Q Walker and Eric Jones - The writer and artist discuss Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade (May 2009)
- Interview with Elliot S! Maggin - Legendary Superman writer and novelist discusses his career (January 2009)
- Interview with J. Bone - Artist discusses Super Friends comic book (November 2008)
- Interview with Mark Bagley (September 2008)
- Interview with J. Torres - Writer discusses Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century #18 (September 2008)
- Interview with Jake Black (May 2008)
- Interview with Cary Bates (June 2008)
- Interview with Jack Briglio - Writer discusses Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century #14 (May 2008)
- Interview with Ken Pontac - Writer discusses Justice League Unlimited #44 (May 2008)
- Interview with Karl Kerschl (April 2008)
- Interview with J. Torres - Writer discusses Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century #13 (April 2008)
- Interview with J. Torres - Writer discusses Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century #11 (February 2008)
- Interview with Fabian Nicieza - Writer on Superman comic books (June 2007)
- Interview with Danny Fingeroth - Writer of the book Superman on the Couch (May 2007)
- Interview with Jesse McCann - Writer on the Krypto The Superdog comic books (December 2006)
- Interview with Matt Haley - Artist on the Superman Returns comic book movie adaptation (November 2006)
- Interview with Ethan Van Sciver - Artist on Superman/Batman (September 2006)
- Interview with Mark Verheiden on taking over the writing duties on Superman/Batman (April 2006)
- Interview with Matt Idelson on taking over as Superman group editor (March 2006)
- Interview with Jeph Loeb on Sam and Superman/Batman #26 (February 2006)
- Interview with Roger Stern (December 2005)
- Interview with Marv Wolfman (November 2005)
- Interview with Gail Simone (May 2005)
- Interview with Greg Rucka (April 2005)
- Interview with Brad Meltzer [Identity Crisis] (January 2005)
- Interview with Glenn Whitmore (November 2004)
- Interview with Jeph Loeb (September 2004)
- Interview with Karl Kerschl (September 2004)
- Interview with Ron Garney (September 2004)
- Interview with Greg Rucka and Matthew Clark (May 2004)
- Interview with Ed McGuinness (March 2004)
- Interview with Brad Meltzer [Identity Crisis] (March 2004)
- Interview with Mark Millar [Superman: Red Son] (March 2003)
- Interview with Min S. Ku (September 2001)
- Interview with Jeph Loeb (May 2001)
- Interview with Joe Casey (April 2001)
- Interview with Mike S. Miller (September 2000)
- Interview with Denis Rodier (August 2000)
- Interview with Grant Morrison (December 1999)
- Interview with Mark Millar [Part 2] (November 1999)
- Interview with Mark Millar [Part 1] (April 1999)
- Superman vs. Terminator - A Chat with Fight Promoter Alan Grant. (January 2000)
- Superman: The Dailies (1939-1940) Graphic Novel Review.
- The Rebirth of Superman (Part 1) - Superman is reborn... again.
- The Rebirth of Superman (Part 2) - Eddie Barganza on taking the character in a new direction.
- The Rebirth of Superman (Part 3) - Jeph Loeb discusses writing the Man of Steel.
- Lex Luthor For President - Forget Superman. An updated Luthor's new enemies are Gore and Bush.
- Superman: Last Son of Earth - Steve Gerbern Interview - The writer discusses flip-flopping the Man of Steel's origin. (August 2000)
Krypton Club Interviews:
When Lois & Clark started production in 1993, there was an obvious relationship between the comic book people and the Hollywood people.
A trade paperback Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was published, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher on the cover. It included reprints of comic book stories that were the inspiration for Lois & Clark, helping to define the characters. Comic's included are: The Story of the Century (Man of Steel miniseries #2), Tears for Titano (Superman Annual #1), Metropolis - 900 mi (in SUP #9), The Name Game (SUP #11), Lois Lane (in ACT #600), Headhunter (AOS #445), Homeless for the Holidays (AOS #462), The Limits of Power (AOS #466), and Survival (ACT #665).
A number of comic book writers and artists had roles as extras in the episode I'm Looking Through You (Season one, episode 4). Their presence was immortilized in the Sky Trading Card #34.
Craig Byrne, president of the online Lois & Clark fanclub The Krypton Club, carried out a series of interviews with comic book writers. The interviews are reprinted with permission of the Krypton Club.
- Interview with Roger Stern (June 1995)
- Interview with John Byrne (June 1995)
- Interview with Mike Carlin (July 1995)