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The coming of Superman: Joshua Williamson & Jamal Campbell take us inside DC's relaunch of its flagship title

With DC relaunching the main Superman ongoing series this February, Joshua Williamson and Jamal Campbell set the stage for their epic story in a Popverse interview.

Superman 1 2023 Campbell Cover
Image credit: DC Comics

As the 'Dawn of DC' era begins, marking a bright future for the DC Universe following the cataclysmic crossover event Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman is getting a relaunched ongoing series this February. Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Jamal Campbell, the new series picks up the major plot threads from December’s Action Comics #1050 as Clark and Jon Kent have their superhero secret identities restored by Lex Luthor against their will. Popverse has gotten an early look at the creative team’s opening issue and sat down with Williamson and Campbell to talk all about it ahead of the series launch.

While Superman adjusts to his new status quo of a restored double life and having Lois Lane as editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet, he faces off against familiar foes in noticeably different ways. And all the while, Lex Luthor plots a more sinister revenge from the comfort of being locked away in maximum security. With threats growing all around him, the Man of Tomorrow will have to think faster than a speeding bullet if he wants to stay one step ahead of the opposition while continuing to defend and inspire Metropolis and the wider DCU.

In an interview with Popverse, Joshua Williamson and Jamal Campbell offer a preview of February’s Superman #1, reveal some of their major influences in crafting new adventures for the Man of Steel, and tease what readers can expect as a bold, new era for the iconic hero begins.

Superman 1 2023 Campbell Full Cover
Image credit: DC Comics

Popverse: This really is a kitchen sink of an issue. You’ve got scenes in Smallville, classic Superman villains, both aspects of Superman and Clark Kent’s lives. What was it about coming out the gate with this grand statement across the board to relaunch the series?

Joshua Williamson: I didn’t really think of it like that. I knew I was putting a lot of stuff into it, but I guess I didn’t know I was touching on so much. Whenever I work with an artist, particularly one that I haven’t worked with before, I do try to keep in mind that I want to give them all the cool stuff to draw. It was the same thing when I was doing Batman #118 with Jorge Molina. I went in there and I was like, 'I’m going to put a million villains in here but villains you want to draw. You’ve got Batman jumping off a building and all the iconic pieces.'

Here, it was similar, but I wanted to say something about the book. We’ve had Superman off-world for a long time and, with this, we wanted this to be an iconic Superman book, say that visually, and that meant adding all these different pieces. We talked a lot about Superman: The Animated Series as being a North Star for the book, so I really wanted to hit all that. I really wanted the first issue to feel like a statement piece.

Having Parasite, Livewire, Lex, Clark, Lois, and Jimmy – and I forgot about Smallville until you said it – I really did put everything in here, we have Ma and Pa Kent too! We have all these pieces because I really wanted it to feel like a Superman #1. You only get so many shots at something like that and, with something as impactful as a Superman #1, I wanted to go for it but I also wanted it to breathe.

Originally, this comic was 24 pages, but then we stretched it out to 30 so we could let those things breathe in the book. I’m really glad that we did that, so we could get a bit more character moments. I didn’t realize it was a kitchen sink but, now that we’re talking about it, I really did put everything in here. The only thing that it’s missing is a Batman appearance-- maybe I should’ve dropped in a Batman cameo, then it really would’ve been nuts. [laughs] I guess I’ve got to leave some things for Action Comics to do! [laughs]

Superman saves civilians from Livewire
Image credit: DC Comics

There is a lot of space and, visually, it’s a very cinematic issue. You’ve got double-page spreads and big splash pages. Jamal, how was it working with that big of a canvas and really letting those big moments shine?

Jamal Campbell: It was great! The thing about working with Superman is, before this, I was on Naomi and Far Sector. Those are two new characters, so I’m creating something new and starting from scratch vs. Superman – we all know Superman. I’ve had visions of Metropolis, Lois, Clark, and The Daily Planet in my head for 25-30 years now. I’m not starting from zero; I’m pretty much hitting the ground running, so I can have fun with it and everything in the book is pretty much me doing that!

When Josh says 'We’re having Superman rip his shirt open and it’s the big Superman ‘S,’' I have exactly in my head how that looks. When we have Superman vs. Livewire, I’ve had that scenario running in my head since I was eight-years-old, so I know exactly how I want to draw that. That gives me room to just go wild with it!

Superman battles Livewire over Metropolis
Image credit: DC Comics

You mentioned Superman: The Animated Series and you really do wear your influences on your sleeve with this issue. There are visual callbacks to Bruce Timm and paraphrasing of Superman: The Movie. What lessons did you learn from those past iterations of Superman, how did you want to incorporate them here, and how did you want to differentiate from them?

Williamson: With this book, I wanted to leave all the pieces on the table, take all these things that we love, all the iconic Superman moments. DC came to me and asked if I wanted to do Superman and I wasn’t sure at first. They were like, 'We’re going to give you all the toys, all the pieces, all this stuff.'

I went and watched Superman, and I’ve seen it many times but I was trying to sit down with a very different point-of-view on it. I started watching The Animated Series again and started diving back into that world. I know Superman really well, but it’s a different experience when you’re going to work on it. It’s a different tone. I started diving in, re-reading everything, and watching all those pieces.

It’s something that Jamal and I talked about at the very beginning, that you want to have all these pieces and go back to what’s iconic, but you don’t want to go backward, you still want to go forward. That was the goal from the beginning, to get all the pieces on the table and then move forward. That is about referencing some of that stuff, playing the greatest hits, and getting some of those fan-service-y moments in there. You put that there, and it builds a familiarity with the audience and you take them somewhere new.

All that stuff is there for a reason, and you go 'All the old stuff is here, here is the cool new shit,' and then you start moving in that direction but still honoring all that stuff. We’re not burying it, we’re playing with it and shining a new light on it, that’s my goal for it. I remember when Jamal turned in the first sketches of Clark and Lois, and it was so interesting to see that first sketch. I think the cover was the first finished piece he did, but he did some sketches of Clark and Lois first. I remember seeing those and that was before we had talked, and I was like 'This is going to be good.'

I was already in the headspace of the cartoon and so was DC editorial, and he was taking these ideas, turning them into his own, and moving forward with it. You see it automatically in how you view Clark and Lois and it’s awesome.

Campbell: I started those sketches right when our editor Paul Kaminski came to me with the job and I accepted. I was still working on Naomi Season Two at the time .and Naomi and the whole Wonder Comics line were very much like 'These are young characters inspired by Superman,' so I was already in that headspace.

The way I was introduced to Superman was through The Animated Series, so it’s funny how all these things worked and came together perfectly. When I started drawing the book, it was very much like The Animated Series, and I love the Alex Ross/Paul Dini book, that’s my foundation. That’s where the tapestry starts for me, and I’m just carrying that and building up on that from there with how I view how Clark looks and acts versus the scenarios and characters we’ll be putting in the book. That’s all additive for me and how I want to bring it forward.

Williamson: I’ve been a big of yours since you were on Prowler. When Paul called me about doing Superman, I was still deep in Dark Crisis at that point and still working in Dark Crisis Land. Paul was like 'I already know who I want to draw it,' and normally I like to be involved in that conversation. Paul was like 'There’s only one artist who can draw it, and I know who it’s going to be!' and I was like, 'Who’s that?' and he said, 'Jamal.' I was like 'Alright, let’s go!'

I fully believe Paul was right!

Lois runs The Daily Planet
Image credit: DC Comics

Jamal, you mentioned imagining Metropolis, and we get to see a lot of it in this opening issue. How did you want to depict DC’s City of Tomorrow for this story?

Campbell: Just very bright. With my previous comics, I was [very] much into rendering stuff and making them contrasting and dynamic. When I knew I was going to do Superman, I knew very much from jump that I was going to color it brighter than I usually color it. I wasn’t going to rely as much on my inks or dark spots. When I do my inks now, Josh can see that it’s just linework, and then I add in my blacks and darks wherever I need to add it in.

I want Metropolis to feel like light. If Gotham is dark and heavy, I want Metropolis to feel light, airy, with highways in the air as this shining example of sprawling city. I like drawing cityscapes and architecture, the design of stuff always fascinates me. Getting into that with Metropolis was something that I was very excited to go into.

Williamson: I feel a little bit bad that the next issue is all at night. [laughs] I knew we were going into Dawn of DC at the same time, so I tried to write everything during the day, but the next issue is all at night. [laughs]

Campbell: And there’s the contrast!

Williams: And Superman still pops, he’s still a bright figure in there. There’s little stuff you do in this issue and choices that you made that are so smart. There’s a two-page spread at the end and you have [the perspective] over Superman’s shoulder. You didn’t put any detail into Superman in that part, and it creates this really cool artistic balance in that moment. Seeing Clark without any shading in him, he’s flat color, whereas everything else is very rendered, I just love it. There are little moments like that throughout, and I love that this book has bright, poppy, vibrant colors.

When our editor Paul Kaminski was looking at the rest of the line last year because our executive editor Ben Abernathy looks at the entire line, but his focus is also as the Batman group editor. We knew Batman was taken care of, what Chip Zdarsky was doing, and the characters over there. When Paul came in and started looking at Superman and all the different groups, he thought a lot about color. That’s why in the Dawn of DC advertising that Dan Mora did there are all those color-popping pieces, because he was very much about color. Jamal, I’m not sure if he talked to you about that or not.

Campbell: No, not really. [laughs]

Williamson: This is why Paul was right in you being the person for the job and that it could only be you, because I think that you really got that from this and it just works really well.

Superman faces Parasite
Image credit: DC Comics

All three villains who appear in this opening issue challenge Superman in different ways, with the New Age hotness of Livewire, the mind games by Luthor, and Parasite being more physical. How was it contrasting all three of those dynamics over the course of a single issue?

Williamson: You just nailed it, I was trying to hit those pieces. Lex is the person who messes with your head, Livewire tests Clark’s patience, and Rudy Jones is the physical, that’s really it, those are the three pieces. The fact that Clark approaches each of them from a place of respect and humanity, I’m not even sure that Clark sees them as villains, I don’t think he approaches them as enemies.

Clark talks about this, saying that the only person he feels like he let down was Lex and that he gave up on Lex. I don’t think Clark sees Lex as an enemy, or anybody as an enemy, but they do test him in different ways. Regardless of who Clark sees as enemies, there are people who feel that he is their enemy. [laughs]

That’s what I was trying to do with this issue, and - talking about The Animated Series - we wanted to hit that vibe. But also Parasite and Livewire hadn’t been seen for a while, so I really wanted to hit all these fun beats with these characters so that’s why they’re all in here and there’s more villains too. There’s actually five villains in this issue.

The supervillain sequences really bookend the issue. Jamal, how was it contrasting those two sequences?

Campbell: It was great because the more variety in what you can draw as an artist, the more you can stretch out different muscles. Josh really emphasized in our talks how he wanted to bring different genres to the book, to drop Superman in different scenarios and see what happens. With Livewire, it’s the classic supervillain vs. superhero. He wants to protect the city while also helping Livewire.

With Parasite, we’re starting to get into the new stuff with the book. He approaches Parasite the same way but Parasite has changed and he’s changed in this way that we don’t often see Superman confronted with. That was fun because it was this tonal shift. I was doing smaller panels like footsteps leading up to this moment of a Parasite we haven’t seen before. It’s really creepy, in your face, inescapable. And Superman has to deal with it right now. Those are two very different energies, and it’s very fun contrasting both because you get to stretch different muscles bringing different ways to choreograph each fight and character.

What else can you tease ahead of Superman’s launch?

Williamson: We’re doing shorter A-plot arcs, so we’re going to be able to bring in a lot of really cool elements to the book really quickly. We’re going to show Clark in different scenarios that you haven’t seen before. There are a lot of cool new villains alongside iconic villains-- I think that’s a good place to start.

I hope a lot of people read issue #1 because it pretty much has all the clues to what we’re doing. [laughs] I hope you check out issue #1 to see all that, you definitely get to see a lot of Clark and Lex.

Superman #1 is written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Jamal Cambell and goes on sale Feb. 21 from DC Comics.

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