‘Zero Year’ turning back the clock for Superman

(CBR) DC Comics‘ ongoing “Action Comics” is getting a brand new creative team and outlook this Fall as writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder take the Man Of Steel through “Zero Year,” an incursion of subterranean people and a rotating mix of allies, new and old.

The writer for the new “Batman/Superman” series with artist Jae Lee, Pak has spent the past few months detailing the secret first meeting of Superman and Batman five years ago, and will dive back into the “jeans and t-shirt” Superman for his first “Action Comics” issue, a “Zero Year” tie-in that sees Clark in Gotham and a mysterious woman meddling in his affairs.

New permanent “Action Comics” artist Kuder is also a familiar face to fans of the Green Lantern corner of the DCU where he’s spent much of his time drawing “Green Lantern: New Guardians,” and was both the writer and artist for the Villains Month “Parasite” issue. Turning his pen and pencil to “Action Comics,” after the flashback to “Zero Year,” Kuder and Pak jump into a story set in the current DCU, pitting Superman against a new foe, a new character named Ghost Soldier and a mysterious woman from Clark’s past.

Ahead of the November 6 release of “Action Comics” #25, Pak and Kuder joined forces to speak with CBR News about their goals for the title, their place in the larger two-year story building over the Superman line of books and what characters will not appear in their title (sorry, Giant Turtle Boy Jimmy Olsen fans)!

CBR News: You guys are beginning your “Action Comics” run with the “Zero Year” tie-in before moving into your first present-day New 52 arc in December. Why kick off your run with a tie-in, and does it have anything to do with the story that comes afterward?

Greg Pak: Yes, it will. I loved the idea as soon as I heard it; Scott Snyder and I had been talking about the amazing stuff he’s doing in “Batman” and he told me about it months ago. When the opportunity came up to tie this first issue in with that it totally made sense, because it was a chance to tell a story with Superman when he’s very young and lets us start at the beginning. I’ve joked about this before but its totally true, in comics its very rare to get the opportunity to start at the beginning. We’re dealing with characters that have been around for decades! I’ve loved coming to work for DC because of the New 52 and having the chance to get in at an early point with all of these characters as they are being reintroduced. This is kind of taking that to the max where we’re really going to the earliest days of Superman. That’s really a special and fun place to start our run together!

CBR TV: Snyder Dives Into Batman’s “Zero Year,” “Superman Unchained” On the note of starting your run together, let’s talk about your collaboration — is this the first time you’ve ever worked together?

Pak: Yeah, definitely first time working together.

Aaron Kuder: This always gets back to the fact that I’m really new to the industry, only having been in it for three years now, I think. But the most amazing part of how I got into and how I’ve evolved in the industry is just the fact I’ve been able to work with so many amazing people. The people I’ve been teamed up with throughout these three years have been absolutely some of the most creative and supportive people I could imagine working with, and Greg is definitely high amongst that list.

Pak: This has been a fun one! Aaron and I got to meet each other briefly at the DC summit that happened months ago, and we had no idea we would end up working together — its always nice to have met someone face to face. Then when we started working together we got on the phone and I think I’ve probably talked more with Aaron on the phone than any other artist I’ve worked with. It’s just the way we’ve been doing this. I give a lot of credit to Eddie Berganza, our editor, for first encouraging that. Also, because we’re working plot first on this particular story I’m writing out really detailed page-by-page and panel-by-panel outlines but I’m holding off writing the dialogue until the art comes in, so it’s a way to really focus on what the story’s about and what the visuals look like. So I send that outline and plot-first script to Aaron and then we get on the phone and talk it through, page by page, panel by panel, which is amazing!

Kuder: It really is!

Pak: We’re both good on the phone, we like to talk a lot!

Kuder: We’ve gotten to the point where we finish each other’s sentences — but not necessarily with the sentence we were going to end it with. [Laughs]

In general, what are both of your goals for “Action Comics?” Do you want to concentrate on Superman’s past mythos or really look to inventing new characters and villains for him?

Pak: We’re doing both and I think this is one of the really exciting things about this. For me as a writer — and as a reader, frankly — the New 52 has been a blast because we don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining past history. We can totally draw on and play with great stuff from the past, and we totally are, but we’re able to tell stories fresh and come up with new stuff to dive in for the first time. These are the iconic characters we’ve all loved for years, but we’re getting the chance to dip into them all over again. That’s huge. Also, we’ve been given a lot of opportunity to create totally new friends and adversaries for Superman. We’re building a big emotional story — we had a big Superman summit with various Superman writers right before New York Comic Con and we’ve got a big, big plan! We’re looking at the next two years of stories and there’s tons of stuff happening with this character. There’s a real arc that we’re building that has the potential to be really powerful, and “Action” is a huge part of that. In these first issues of “Action” we are laying seeds for things that are going to pay off over the course of the next two years throughout all these books. You’ll definitely want to jump in and buy them! [Laughs]

Kuder: Absolutely, buy our book! [Laughs]

Pak: So part of that is creating new characters for that arc and having fun bringing in characters people love from the past. In “Action” #25 we are bringing back a beloved Superman supporting cast member and you’re going to see a whole new side of her — I guess I’m going to say it’s a she. She’s awesome! And actually early on when we were talking about this character to Aaron he had a few very key suggestions that were great and play a big role in how we are developing her. She’s going to be a lot of fun and a big challenge for everybody in the book. So — yes! [Laughs]

Kuder: From the side of drawing this stuff, its just amazing that with the old stuff I get to honor the comic book creators I loved in the past and with the new stuff I get to make my own mark. It’s really great.

So we know there’s going to be a female character from the past popping back up, and you’ve mentioned before it might be one of the many characters with alliterative initials! [Laughs] With Superman appearing in so many different books, are you two bound at all by what’s happening in the other titles? With this two-year, line-wide plan for Superman, how much are you able to do your own thing versus being constrained by the other books about things like what characters you’re using?

Pak: We talked a lot about this at the summit; all of the characters in Superman’s life have the possibility to show up in Superman books but at different times different characters are going to be more focused on in some books than others. I think that’s awesome because there are a lot of really fun characters that different books can explore in different ways. In “Action,” this mysterious female character I’ve been hinting at is definitely going to play a big role and the fact she’s in the book will open up different aspects of Clark’s life and past and it will allow us to do a lot of fun things and show previously unseen moments from his past that I think will surprise, perhaps shock and certainly shed new light on the character. I’m thrilled to be able to play with her in particular, but at different times you’ll see all these different characters show up in “Action.” The other thing I’ll say is that in “Action” we are going to be true to the title — there is going to be tons of action in this book. But all that action is always going to be informed by Clark Kent’s emotional story. I love Superman, which means I love Clark Kent; I think there is tons to be told about the everyday guy who is at the heart of this Superman.

Kuder: And that is something I really, really enjoy about working with Greg. He has the ability to create, and I’ve said this before, the macro and the micro. He does these overall sweeping stories but he doesn’t lose the human element and that is so key for good storytelling and so fun to work on a book where that side is covered so well.

Pak: Thanks, man. To return the compliment, what’s fun about working with Aaron as well is that, my god, does he deliver that massive, big action! [Laughs] At the same time, we are working on issue #26 right now and there’s a scene in there in the middle of a huge fight there’s this subtle exchange of looks that happens. Its quirky and kind of funny and he just nails it. He finds the space for this little glance between these characters and this small little moment totally works.

Kuder: What moment? [Laughs]

Pak: It’s so subtle he doesn’t notice it himself.

Kuder: I’m busy working!

Going back to the beginning of your run, story wise, what can you tell us about the “Zero Year” issue and your first arc on “Action?”

Pak: I’ll tease the name of one of our new characters: Ghost Soldier. I’ll say no more but be prepared for some crazy stuff with the Ghost Soldier. Also, we’re going to meet subterraneans in the DC Universe, they are the world beneath our world —

Kuder: Spoiler alert!

Pak: Exactly! Yes, there’s a world beneath our world — and worlds will collide with Superman caught in the middle. I think thematically one of the big things we’re trying to do is to look at this young hero, because even in the modern day DC Universe right now Superman is still young. He’s not Uncle Superman from the Silver Age. He’s still young and figuring out the extent of his powers, he’s still figuring out how to handle this tremendous responsibility he has and he’s still trying to figure out how he is viewed by the world. I think there’s great opportunity to throw situations at him where the right thing to do is going to be tricky to figure out. He’s Superman, he can do anything — but what should he do at any given moment? That’s always the key question. What I love about Superman and what I love about Clark Kent specifically is that Clark’s heart is always and forever exactly in the right place. But he might not know the right way to do what needs to be done; he makes mistakes, and that struggle to figure out how to do the right thing and what the right thing is at any given moment is very true to character and makes him compelling and fun — and honestly, totally relevant. It’s been a blast working with our editor Eddie and our assistant editor Anthony Marques, and also Ricky Purdin who is the assistant editor on “Batman/Superman.” We’re all having fun asking these questions and seeing where they lead.

Kuder: Yeah, I think that element of how we’ve become who we are is a universal truth, and it’s true for Superman — it’s true for anybody. Anybody makes mistakes, anybody has problems, and I think that’s the direction we’re going in.

Pak: The other compelling thing about that is we wall want to do the right thing, but in any given situation the right thing to do may be — we may think we know what the right thing to do is, and then you find out later it totally wasn’t. Our sense of how the world works may change over time; we may have that same moral sense but in practice what we do moment to moment may change based on what we’ve experienced. I think it’s fun and compelling to throw those challenges at Superman.

Kuder: One of the things I’m really excited about in this upcoming story arc is that I really feel like we get to tell a modern Superman story. This is going to be something that really feels like Superman in the moment. Without any spoilers. [Laughs]

With that in mind, while you’re focusing on this new and young version of Clark, being the geek from the ’90s I am, when you mentioned subterraneans I immediately thought back to the Underworlders and people underground in Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanov’s “Superman: Man Of Steel.” Were there specific eras as Superman fans that inspired or influenced your approach to the character?

Pak: That’s a good question; some of my favorite Superman stories, off the top of my head, I love the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale “Superman For All Seasons.” I think as an exploration of the character it’s just great. Speaking of Jeph Loeb. I love the sheer fun of the Jeph Loeb/Ed McGuinness “Superman/Batman” issues. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of affection for classic Silver Age and earlier Superman stories, just the crazy hi-jinks that go on in those books! [Laughs]

Kuder: His back is covered in tattoos of the Silver Age Superman. [Laughs]

Pak: The stuff I love the most won’t necessarily show up in my writing — maybe on some level it does, but we’re not necessarily planning on bringing in Turtle Boy Jimmy Olsen or anything like that! At the same time I really love the darkness of the “Dark Knight” Superman, the idea of a Superman who has basically become the United States secret weapon. That is a really chilling exploration of what Superman can be. The glory of all of these characters who have been around decades is that they are rich enough you can tell all kind of stories, from so many different angles. We picked out our own angle here for the time being and we hope you like it, but I’ve definitely been inspired by a lot of different ways people have played with the character.

In “Zero Year” we have the jeans and t-shirt Superman, and then at the beginning of your “Action Comics” arc you move into the modern day with Superman. Should readers expect to see you guys doing more jumping back and forth in the Superman timeline to tell more stories about younger Clark Kent?

Pak: I’ll just say yes, I think we are looking to do some jumping around in time. You may or may not see jeans and t-shirt Superman exactly like that, but you will see stuff you haven’t seen before. We’re definitely taking advantage of the chance to jump around and give you glimpses of our characters pasts. That I’m honestly really excited about, so I hope you guys enjoy it as much as we’re enjoying putting it together!

Kuder: If you enjoy it half as much you’ll be picking it up. [Laughs]

What else should fans expect this month when your run begins?

Kuder: Well now I have to throw in a Turtle Boy Easter egg somewhere.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Newsboy Legion and Flippa Dippa showing up next. [Laughs]

Kuder: I’ll do my best!

Pak: I will say, we’re striving to make every issue pay off as a complete little story itself, but we’re also building themes and certain story elements and characters — we’re building things that will pay off big time in the next two years. There’s a crazy plan.

Kuder: Definitely.

Pak & Kuder take over “Action Comics” #25 with a “Zero Year” tie-in November 6.