For three years, DC's Superman was a pacifist. In writer Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman run in the early '00s he portrayed the so-called big blue boy scout as someone who pulled his punches and look for alternate ways to solve problems and save the day.
20 years later, and Joe Casey is returning to DC to do the exact opposite with Superman's exact opposite, Zod.
In the 2024 series Kneel Before Zod, Casey and artist Dan McDaid will be doing a 'Year One' style story for the Kryptonian general - showing what tipped him off to become the totalitarian we all know (and fear).
Ahead of Kneel Before Zod's 2024 debut (and a preview in Action Comics #1060), Popverse spoke with Casey about the book, his return to the Superman family, and return to DC as a whole.
Popverse: Joe, how did Kneel Before Zod come about?
Joe Casey: They came to me, saying they wanted a Zod series that took him back to his bastard roots. I’d written Superman proper for three years as a pacifist, so now I’m writing a bastard Zod.
I'm told the jumping off point for this series is that Zod loses his family to an armada. How much of that influences Zod from being simply an angry Kryptonian to someone for whom the readers might sympathize with?
When I did the research, I couldn’t believe he had a wife and kid!
When anyone has a family, that’s their Achilles Heel. Part of the process of making Zod a savage, evil bastard is to hit him where it hurts. That’s step one to turn him into the bad guy he needs to be. Then he sets up shop on a new planet that he wants to turn into the new Krypton. But that makes him a target for every other bastard across the galaxy.
I find that there’s nothing worse than getting exactly what you think you want. In the case of Zod, he wanted a planet to rule. He wanted to be with his family and to be the master of that that he conveys. At the start of our series he’s got all that… but that’s not what he needs.
With all of this set up in mind, is Zod being presented as a larger scale DC Universe villain, or will he be staying primarily in the Superman books?
Anyone that can be classified as an 'Evil Superman,' with all of the powers and none of the morality…that’s a threat to everybody. It becomes a cosmic threat, and that’s something I hadn’t really done back in the day. All of my stuff was mostly Earthbound.
So here with Kneel Before Zod, dealing with different alien races and cosmic characters is part of the fun of the book. I’m having a great time playing in the wider scope of the DC Universe.
Did you feel the need to go back to your run on Adventures of Superman and see if you needed to regain the sense of writing these kinds of characters, or had that been built up in you over time?
The last time I wrote for DC was about 12 years ago, so there’s been a lot of pent up energy.
I love the DC Universe, and I’ve had a lot of thoughts over the years about these characters, and yeah – a lot of pent-up energy to get back in this universe and mess around. A lot of that energy goes into this run.
I don’t know if I would’ve picked Zod to do, but I was totally fine when they gave him to me. And having done the research as well as remembering what I did on Superman, it’s kind of a perfect fit.
You mentioned earlier, with your Adventures of Superman run, how you made Superman a pacifist for a time. With the themes of pacifism and the 'Ending Battle' saga with Manchester Black, should we expect similar themes when it comes to Zod? Or is this cleared for readers to come into the story fresh without having read your previous work?
It’s meant for people to come into it fresh.
Zod has sort of a cultural currency. We picked the title ‘Kneel Before Zod’ because that phrase has more cultural currency than the character himself. You think of the movie Superman II, even though it was 40 years ago and not everyone has seen that movie, people still know that saying. There’s an iconography there that we’re leaning into, which I like.
I feel like I mined a lot of the pacifism with Superman in my run, so this is definitely going into a completely opposite direction. As a writer, that’s always fun for me. I’ve written some bad guys before, but this is on a whole new level that I’m excited about.
You mentioned "cultural currency." Recently Zod appeared as a villain in The Flash movie, and 10 years ago he was the major villain in Man of Steel. Was there any sort of mining from the media to build up this version of Zod?
Well, I loved Michael Shannon’s Zod. That was a very clear-cut, laser-focused character. A villain should always have that, so I took a little from that.
But moreover, this guy is evil Superman. He’s Superman with all the powers, none of the morality. I’ve never explored that in any of my work. From a creative point of view, that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.
I don’t believe a character has to be likable for a reader to want to read about them. It’s challenging though, to make someone actively dislike somebody and have them follow the story. That’s an interesting character to write about, and I’ll be writing him for a year.
Mentioning “Evil Superman” references a familiar archetype that’s been popular in recent memory. We think of Homelander from The Boys and Omni-Man from Invincible, and it’s been an incredibly scary archetype. Going into Kneel Before Zod, was there anything that DC instructed you to hold back on and prevented you from showing how evil Zod becomes?
Not so far.
The original discussions with the editor involved how far should we go. And there’s a difference between a type of savage evil which is shown on the page, and psychological evil which you can’t believe the choices that characters are making. I’m leaning more into the latter.
I told someone the other day I wrote Superman for three years. Writing Kneel Before Zod, it does feel like I’m writing Superman again. There’s flight, there’s super strength, there’s heat vision, all the abilities that Superman has. They’re just used for different ends. So the book is dark and violent, but the character choices I think are what I look forward to the most.
Zod does something in the first issue to his own family that you won’t believe how effed up it is. But he’s got to do it.
The first issue of Kneel Before Zod will be released January 2, 2024. Read more about it here: Kneel Before Zod: Joe Casey returns to DC's Superman line to align with the iconic villain .