Superman on Television
Exclusive Interview with Jeph Loeb
Clams Are Nice (Phantom Zone on Line One): An Interview with Jeph Loeb[Date: September 22, 2004]
By Neal Bailey
Somehow I managed to secure for the Superman Homepage an interview with Jeph Loeb, folks, and here it is! Actually, it wasn't that hard. Jeph is a really nice guy. I always expect a little inaccessibility with "names" in the comic world, but as everyone I know who's interacted with Jeph can tell you, he's really an all around nice guy, more than kind to the fans, and this interview he granted on short notice and with aplomb speaks more to that character than any testament that I could offer.
I lined up a slew of questions, half to appease the nagging fanboys who have badgered me with questions I cannot be authoritarian on regarding "Smallville" and the Superman comics as pertains to Jeph Loeb, and I tried to balance them with insight questions into the creation process and motivations that move the man. I hope it worked out. Of not, the fault lies with me, and not Jeph.
Jeph, as you likely know, has written Superman, Superman/Batman, episodes of Smallville, he produces, he has written many a screenplay including Teen Wolf, Burglar, Commando, and the story for Teen Wolf Too, and he's one of the key architects of the comic book Superman saga Our Worlds At War. In other words, he's a pop culture renaissance man, and one of the key figures in producing the Superman media that we know and love.
We conducted the interview through email, and it went like this:
THE INTERVIEW:Hi, Jeph!
This is, without a doubt, my most anticipated interview yet, so please, forgive me acting like I'm conducting an interview by Chris Farley here. I'm a big fan. Big enough fan to wonder whether or not I should say Jeph or Joseph in salutation...which leads into my first question:
Q: Do you prefer to be called Jeph or Joseph? Is it a friends/fans distinction, or did some executive pull you aside and say, "Well, son, Joseph just isn't movie star enough! From now on, you're Jeph!", or perhaps something else?
A: First off, I didn't have a vote. I was named "Jeph" by my mother on the way home from the hospital after being born. My legal name is Joseph Loeb III, and she didn't want TWO Joes in the house, so she took the "o" and "s" out of Joseph and got Jeph. That's the name I've always gone by -- If someone calls me Joseph I know they're either a telemarketer or a. um. telemarketer. It's a little confusing because when I wrote with my old writing partner, Matthew Weisman, we were Loeb & Weisman and I went by Joseph Loeb III. If you look at TEEN WOLF or COMMANDO, you'll see it that way, 'cause that's what I chose when I first started writing movies and television. Then, after I started to get a "name" in comics as "Jeph" (which I had done to separate myself from Weisman), after Matthew and I split up, I just went by Jeph. That's how you see my name on Smallville, Buffy Animated and Herobear & The Kid and, obviously, comics. Whew. are all the questions going to be this tough?
Q: Now that that's sorted out, to questions with more substance. I'll divide it into sections so that I can keep my own thoughts on track...
SUPERMAN/BATMANQ: Fans are wondering if the Supergirl from the current storyline will be around after this arc. Given that statues are being released, is it a safe bet to say that she'll be around for a while?
A: All I can say is that when this arc is over, the DCU will have one, true Supergirl. Whether or not that's Kara Zor-El remains to be seen. And after you read Superman/Batman #12, which will be out on September 29th -- finally! -- you'll have something to cheer or worry about. And then, #13 in October. hopefully
Q: Superman/Batman is by far the favorite title of the fans, according to the poll currently on our site. How long do you plan to continue writing on the series?
A: I've plotted out through #25. After that. I may have some stories, but I'd like to let someone else play with those toys. I'll have something coming after #25 that I think will make folks happy.
Q: In the upcoming storyline of a timeline where Superman and Batman are evil dictators, can you give us a little insight into how this comes about?
A: Without giving anything away, something happens that changes the face of the DCU. I wanted to tell a story where if The Kents hadn't found the baby in the rocket and the Wayne's killer was caught, how would that affect the boys. That set off a chain reaction and we have now ABSOLUTE POWER. I think it's Carlos Pacheco's best work to date -- and his desire to draw nearly every character in the DCU is so wild!
A: That's our biggest blow out yet! The first arc was the fall of Luthor. The second was the Supergirl from Krypton, the next is Absolute Power and as you can tell, each of them grows in size and scope. Absolute Power explores how Superman and Batman affect everyone on Earth. Now it's time to see how they affect the entire Universe. It's pretty insane, but MC2 is the man to pull it off!
Q: It is said that Batman and Superman are two sides of the same coin. Both search for the same good and use different means. Can you conceptualize a situation where the two of them would be unable to work together as superheroes?
A: A lot of it is what I set up in the first issue. Superman is here to inspire, to show us the best that we can be -- he's a hero in the most traditional sense. Batman is the Bogeyman, an urban myth -- here to prove that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. But, they both want to achieve the same goal: Justice For All. They just have two completely different ways of going about it -- thinking about it -- and acting on it. That gives way for really good drama, some comedy and a helluva lot of action!
Q: What's something about Superman/Batman that you're proud of that no one has brought up, or that few people have noticed?
A: That all the issues are tied together -- but you don't have to read all the arcs. There are little clues, open questions, (beyond things like "Where is Lex?") that I'm going to try and cover by #25. For example, in Issue #2, Kal, The Future Superman says something about the "alliances" Superman has yet to make. We'll see how that plays out -- but you don't have to have read #2 to make that pay off.
A: Where does anything come from? It's all magic to me. And if I start to think about how the magic trick is done, then all I have is a hat, a rabbit and a false bottom in the hat (sorry if I spoiled that for all you "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat" fans.). I've read comics pretty much since I could read, but I didn't start writing comics until relatively recently. I had a very successful (still do actually) career in film and TV, so I don't write comics based on writing other comics. It gives me a different sense of what I'm working on. I don't know.. Folks seem to like it for now and that makes me very happy.
Q: Luthor mentioned a Crisis, and I broke out in gooseflesh. Can you comment on the "crisis" alluded to? Does it have anything to do with what Greg Rucka just absolutely clammed up about when I asked if you guys had any crossovers in the vein of "Our Worlds At War" in the wings? Are you up to another Imperiex or some other greatness we can squeeze out of you?
A: Um. Clams are nice.
Q: I saw a WHOLE bunch of different colored Kryptonite at the end of the first Superman/Batman run. Do you have any plans for multi-colored Kryptonite?
A: Sure! And I hope that other writers -- throughout the DCU -- find uses for them. They are toys to be played with -- not just put into boxes. Although a LOT of it was collected by the JLA, JSA, Outsiders and Titans (as explained in Superman/Batman #8).
BATMANQ: In your run on Batman, you created an iconic moment of comic history with the return of Jason Todd, one of the few characters in comics that people believe can stay dead. Just curious, since the Todd in Hush turned out to be, well, I won't spoil it, but not the REAL Jason Todd, can you conceptualize a Batman world where Jason Todd somehow returns from the dead?
A: Well. Batman doesn't know where the body is, now does he.?
BUFFYQ: I read that you're working on a Buffy animated series as the creator and a producer. Any word on whether this has been picked up or not? I know a lot of the Smallville fans are the most intense of Buffy fans, so I'd be remiss if I didn't ask. In fact, I'd probably be staked to death, easily.
A: Stay tuned. There's something afoot -- and all I can say is that the best Buffy stories were tales of resurrection. The Animated Series had to die, so two years later, we could pull out the stake and make it even better. How and where remains to be told.
SUPERMANQ: Not trying to get you in trouble or anything, but what are your thoughts on the Birthright series? Was it appropriate to take the continuity and just interpose another continuity on top of it without a really plausible explanation for some of the paradoxes? IE, are we taking it too seriously, or is it fair to ask for consistency over some twenty years? (Even writing that question I gaffe at how it sounds, but if anyone is qualified to comment on it, it's the man who brings the old school magic back to Supes).
A: I don't know. Yes, I think folks are taking it ALL too seriously. This isn 't science. These are myths. Legends. They actually thrive BETTER when they are retold and retold and each time this part gets changed or that part gets changed. It's a testament to how great the characters are that we can reinterpret them in new and exciting ways. The funny part is, it happens every time a new writer or artist takes on the character. It's a reinterpretation of the character. Some you like, some you don't. But, it' s still THE SAME CHARACTER.
Q: Okay, let's run down the line. "Emperor Joker". "Our Worlds At War". The key acts of the Luthor presidency, including learning Superman's secret identity. Using Ed McG to his total potential, killing the Parasite...your run is epic. I've been reading Superman for a long time, and I can't think of, personally, a more accepted run for the fans beyond the Death, and even that is EXTREMELY controversial among long-time fans. I'm not trying to flatter you to death, I guess I'm more asking, how did you do it? Was it day by day, month by month? Did you have visions of what you wanted to do from the very start? How do you craft such a run, because there are many who try, and more who fail, to be sure, in creating something epic and meaningful in the minds of increasingly fickle fans?
A: First off, thank you for the kind words. This site has been very good to me and I don't take that for granted in the least. I feel very much the same way about the fans and readers. I see myself as a fan first, and a writer second. I go to the store every week, (Universal Comics in Studio City -- say Hello to Cat!) and buy my books. I buy books I know I'm going to be sent from DC and Marvel as comps later in the month -- but I have to have them NOW. (laughs) So, I guess I just start from telling stories that I would want to read. What would get ME excited? The other BIG thing is that I try and write towards an artist's strengths. The fun thing about working with MC2 was he has such a big imagination that you want to tell a story that meets that expectation and talent.
Q: Which Superman team is your favorite right now, Superman/Batman excluded?
A: Oh, hell, don't put me in that place. I like all of them for different reasons!
SMALLVILLEQ: Rumor has it that Lois and Lex can't be seen onscreen together. Is this the truth, and in the same vein, are there things that Time Warner expressly forbids you from doing on Smallville, with some examples, perhaps? That's a big curiosity for a lot of fans, they're always emailing me asking why we don't see Bizarro, the Eradicator, I figured you might be able to clear some of that up for them.
A: First of all, you know that all rumors -- particularly on the Internet -- are true. (laughs). There are lots of stories still to be told, they just have to figure into the world of Smallville. And yes, I'd very much like to do a Bizarro story too.
Q: Other than Mxy, Lois, Sam, and a version of The Flash (not that that's a short list...), are there any plans for characters you'd LIKE to use on Smallville, or will be using? I know you guys talked about Bruce Wayne and that got put right out by Batman Begins, we're told, but any plans for other characters? I've heard rumors of the Martian Manhunter in his capacity from the comics as a watcher of the young Clark as he grows...any truth to that, or any hints?
A: I have a deal with the show's creator and executive producer Al Gough that I don't speculate on the future and he doesn't lock me in the Phantom Zone -- which I think is a broom closet on the 33rd floor.
Q: Smallville fans love to speculate on when the show has or will "Jump the Shark", which, if you aren't familiar with the term, is a colloquialism that defines when a show has moved past its prime and has moved into the position of telling stories just for the sake of having the show go on, much as when Fonzie jumped the shark on Happy Days. How are you combating this factor on Smallville, and do you believe a change in setting and character is the way to combat this? Is there a "Metropolis" series in the future starring Tom Welling?
A: See above. But, we're well aware of the "Jump The Shark" term -- and where it came from. So unless you see Clark on a motorcycle near a shark tank, we 're pretty confident we'll stay on the side of good.
Q: I know that you guys say no flights, no tights, with rare exception. But all that aside, what percentage chance to we have of seeing, provided good ratings and continued demand, a graduation from Smallville to a Superman series for Welling? I ask only because people have stated it would be a four, five year show tops, and now we hear longer (No complaints on that one, by the way.).
A: People? What people? Show me these people! There is a plan -- a 5 year plan -- that also takes into consideration going out much further than that. but that would be Al Gough and Miles Millar's (the co-creators and Executive Producers) decision.
Q: Do you know when or how Chloe will be used in the Superman comics, and if so, can you evaluate?
A: I don't. Honestly. That's not something that comes into my world.
Q: With Smallville character Chloe debuting in the comic books, Lex retconned into growing up in Smallville in Birthright, Lana receiving a somewhat questionable treatment in Action Comics, and the apparent love triangle being restored in Superman's life, it's hard to ignore the influence that Smallville appears to have on the ongoing comics. What is your reaction to fans that have noticed this mirrored change in continuity to match Smallville? Further, what are your reactions on new Superman media projects taking a noticeable effect on the formerly distinctive (at least to the degree that amalgamated allegory can be) take on Superman in the comics. For instance, if they changed Lana to look like Kristen Kreuk, should we stop crying in the aisles?
A: Well, if Kristen did ANYTHING for you, I'd doubt you'd be crying! (laughs).
Like I said, these are myths and legends. Each thing helps the other. If you're reading Superman because you watch Smallville -- how great is that? And vice-versa. I think the show is VERY respectful to the mythology while making its own way in the world.
And keep in mind, the comics are about Superman -- the hero, the grown-up. The show is about Clark and the journey we'll see him to take to BECOME that hero. They are very different fish.
Q: Will this season resolve Jonathan Kent's health condition? And honestly, even if you can just evasively allude, will he bite the bucket in the series like in the movie?
A: Um. Phantom Zone on Line One.
Q: Can you say anything with regard to the resolution of whether Jor-El is an evil entity (per making Kara kill people and strangling Jonathan) or a good entity (a la the Jor-El we meet in 1961). Al Gough was defensive when I brought up the Eradicator and/or Zod. Do you have any comment on their potential hand in the Jor-El resolution, or the Jor-El resolution in general?
A: Al was defensive? Our Al? C'mon! You must've done something to get him that way!
Q: Will Gene Hackman ever guest star? Have you approached him for the show? If he does, what role do you see him in?
A: Wouldn't that be great?!
Q: Any chance of including Noel Neill in a similar vein? Do you have any plans for her in the Smallville series, and how would you envision her character?
A: Wouldn't that be great too! (is this fun or what?!)
Q: Fans are curious just what you do in the show. There are times I just step back and say, man, that's GOTTA be Loeb's influence. But then, you're only credited with a few of the scripts. Are you more of an idea man in breaking the scripts?
A: I work with the most talented group of writers in hour-long television. This year's staff is Al Gough & Miles Millar, Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson, Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer, Steve DeKnight, Luke Schelhaas, Holly Harold and myself. These people are my pals -- we hang out, we laugh and we work really, really hard on the show. We do drama, comedy, action, adventure, love stories, thrillers, CSI stuff -- there's nothing like it on TV. My name may not be on a lot of scripts -- but we all help each other. It's a team.
We have a saying up there -- there is no "I" in Team, but there is in "Dick." We try and not be dicks to each other!
Q: Follow-up: Things which fans think you had a hand in include Maggie Sawyer, Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Tang (as homage to Teng, who helped make Bizarro?), Claire Foster (who got killed, can you comment on that?), Bart Allen as Flash, and other little homages to the comics continuity. Are you acting as the liaison to the fans from the comics, or do you play a different role in the production?
A: I'm a Supervising Producer on the show -- and part of the writing staff. All that means at the end of the day is that we try and tell the best stories we can. It shows in the episodes. We are constantly reaching. Obviously, we put in winks -- that's part of the fun -- but you'd be amazed by the number that I have nothing to do with given that I'm the one who reads the most comics! Does my love for the character help out? Sure. But, I don't know that it carries anymore weight that my offering my storytelling, writing or producing skills. It's all good. It's all about the show.
Q: What is your favorite and least favorite episode of the show so far?
A: They're all good. Although I have a special fondness for Rosetta and The Pilot. The reasons are pretty obvious. I'm not sure that Redux was our finest hour -- but there are folks who love that episode so what do I know?!
MOVIESQ: Superman, the movie. The NEW movie. YOU VILL TELL US VAT YOU KNOW! Or ve vill be forced to bring up Commando! Which ruled, I say, but I have to make that joke so you can laugh. In all seriousness, please tell us if you know anything about the new Superman movie. At least, just enough so Time Warner won't send goons to hack off your head, which would suck for all involved. Except, of course, for axe manufacturers.
A: I know what you know. Honestly.
WRITER QUESTIONSQ: I know you've probably heard this one a million times, but again, I would be remiss if I did not ask. Do you have any advice for breaking into the comic business, or into writing in general? I know, I know, it's a tired cliché for writers to expect another writer can hand them the solution to success in an interview question, but perhaps you have some stories of what not to do, or an anecdote?
A: Yes. Keep writing. Every day. Write a page. Of something. Anything. Write what you love, what you know. Stay on it. If it's comics, get to know the editors. They are the ones who can hire you. Not other writers. Don't be a snob. Work for anyone. Get to know artists. Work for free and work up from there. And never, ever let anyone stop you from your dream.
Q: How long does it take you to script a comic, and how many drafts do you go through?
A: Depends on the issue, depends on the book. Sometimes they come very quickly -- a few days. sometimes it takes a few weeks of thinking, taking notes, coming up with moments and then finally sitting down and doing it. William Goldman who is one of my heroes and who wrote (among many, many things) BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was asked how long does it take to write a screenplay. He said that he thought about Butch & The Kid for 13 years and wrote it in 7 days. So. how long did it take him? A LOT of writing is done when you're not writing. That's hard to understand when you 're the writer's wife or girlfriend or boyfriend. It's hard to explain when you're on the couch for six hours, counting ceiling tiles that you're actually working. But, my mind never stops. There's a story being worked on right now while I'm doing this interview!
Q: How much say does the artist have in your drafts? I know when I write my books, I have my artist just change most anything he needs to, but I'm curious what is standard on a professional level?
A: First, I always talk about the story with my artist at the beginning so he knows what he's getting into. I try and keep mind his concerns, strengths and the things he loves to draw.
I write a full script -- very detailed description, all the dialogue, just like a screenplay.
But. and it's a BIG but. I tell the artist that it's there for him to interpret. I only ask that if they can, try to follow the pacing -- the rhythm -- of the dialogue, that'd be great.
Even so, when the artwork comes in, I re-dialogue the work to better suit the images. Sometimes that's a complete rewrite, sometimes, that's just putting the balloons on the page. I happen to work with brilliant guys who always astonish me with their work. It really is FUN!
Q: What was the hardest thing you've ever written, both in comics and as a screenwriter, or just in general? Or what were some hard experiences as a writer that made you question your future?
A: I never questioned my future. that's just not who I am. I'm not being cocky -- I'm very lucky to work in the trade that I chose and that I love. But, this is all I've ever wanted to -- so I can't think of anything else TO do. There's a story for everything, it's just finding the right one. The hardest thing? It's usually what I'm working on right at the moment. That' s the challenge. That's the hill. It's also usually my favorite thing. I have to think like that or else it's just work. After its done -- I hardly remember the process at all -- and that may have to do with working on one thing after another, there's very little time for reflection. Just keep moving.
FINAL THOUGHTQ: Thank you SO much, Jeph, I've always said to folks, though all of my interviews, that an interview with Loeb would be enough to let me die happy as a geek, and you've made me a truly happy man. Judging by common fan reaction, this interview will probably please a lot of fans, too, and really make their day.
Q: Any final comments or observations?
A: Why were the final thoughts actually final thoughts and they really weren't final thoughts but more questions? They were more like final requests. Were you trying to retcon the last four thoughts of your interview INTO the interview and where do you see them in current continuity?
See ya 'round the spinner rack on Wednesday!
This interview is Copyright © 2004 Steven Younis. It is not to be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the Superman Homepage.