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Tom King and Chris Burnham detail the Superman story in 'Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League'

Comic Books

Tom King and Chris Burnham detail the Superman story in ‘Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League’

The first issue of a five-part miniseries shows our heroes’ deepest fantasies.

As the event’s mere name suggests, Dark Crisis has brought some real end-time energies into the DC Universe. (And, as mastermind Joshua Williams hinted at recently, they’re only just getting started). But there’s a wrinkle to all this, as the Justice League may not, in fact, be dead; Williamson told Newsarama that the essence of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and company live on in so-called “happiness prisons.” That concept then lays the groundwork for an interesting spin-off title, Worlds Without a Justice League.

There’s five such books about five Leaguers: Superman (out today, July 12); Green Lantern (August 9); Wonder Woman (September); Green Arrow (October); and Batman (November). For an idea into what the books actually explore, we need only look at the Superman debut, from writer Tom King and artist Chris Burnham. Here, Superman lives an idyllic life as he recaptures those missing years with his son, Jon, as the pair save the universe together. In a world that seems to expertly blend stories, canons, and aesthetics, it’s a gripping tale about father and son as well as the power (and punishment) that comes with holding onto hope.

To get a better understanding of this story, we caught up with King and Burnham via Zoom shortly before today’s release. We spoke about the design of both Clark and Jon Kent, the lasting appeal of Superman stories, referencing other Man of Steel stories and creators, giving readers what they want, and much, much more.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1

Main cover by Chris Burnham. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Between this book and Superman: Space Age, it’s a real renaissance for non-Superman fans like myself.

Tom King: As someone who’s written more Batman issues than anyone alive, Superman is more fun to write.

AIPT: Which leads me to my first question: what’s the appeal in writing Superman? And has that importance changed in the last couple years, what with the world imploding?

TK: I mean, I don’t think you can say the world is more imploding now than it was when Superman was made by two Jewish kids in the late ’30s. When their cousins and grandparents are being killed overseas. He [Superman] was born into an imploding world as an American ideal — he’s always stood for that and been that.

But why he’s so compelling to write is that he does the right thing and you follow the story that. On a thematic level, that’s what makes it fun. Superman makes the right decisions. And you just let that story play out. And you put hard decisions for him, but you make him make the right ones. And for some reason that that can really lead you into beautiful stories. And, but that’s on a on a very thematic level.

On a practical level, when you’ve written enough Batman, you can say, ‘OK, Batman is on a rooftop. No, I did that last scene.’ Or, ‘Batman is in an alley. No, I did that last scene.’ And then you run out of locations. But with Superman, he’s having a conversation on top of the Eiffel Tower. Then he’s playing Frisbee with his dog, and the dog is flying out of the silhouette. That’s why it’s fun to write — because there’s no limitations on your imagination.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1

Variant Cover by Steve Beach. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Chris, given that no limits approach, how is that then to draw Superman? Is it more terrifying? Is it inspiring instead?

Chris Burnham: No limits is definitely hard.

Fundamentally, I just draw what the script says and hopefully that’s as clear and emotive away as I can, but then what does he look like? For me, Superman kind of looks like my dad, who kind of looks like me. There’s also John Byrne in there. There’s a little bit of Henry Cavill in there. Superman, to me, is that perfect adult white male.

TK: Your dad is the ideal white male?

CB: For sure! I will show you a picture of my dad, when he was trying out for the New York Jets. He is the handsomest guy to ever live.

TK: I will note that earlier you said you looked a lot like your dad.

Well, I mean… OK, I got lost.

CB: I know. I interrupted.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1

Interior Art. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: This is great, and from it I’m curious: What was the collaborative process like? And how did it influence this particular story?

CB: We’ve never worked together before, but we’ve been casual convention buddies since he [Tom] was writing Grayson however many years ago.

TK: A long time. But it was easy, a real joy. We were texting and emailing, and I put together a script and you [Chris] did it perfectly. I mean, the dude’s a pro. He’s the artist’s artist. I have a running conversation with Doc [Shaner] and Mitch [Gerads], and he’s the kind of guy they show each other like, ‘Have you see what Chris has done?! He’s a rock star!’ So I was very excited to work with him.

CB: That’s good. I’ve begun to blush. Thank you.

AIPT: This first has great stuff; I just love Jon Kent’s design — it feels very classic but also sort of weird. Chris, can you talk about that and maybe some things you referenced in creating the look and feel?

CB: I did 20 versions of [Jon’s costume]. Like, how do you make a more classic than the classic version? So we went with the Earth Two version that has the slightly different logo that’s almost impossible to draw. And then we went with gray instead of blue.

So it just feels a little pulpy, or maybe a little grittier. Because there’s no one else here in this world, it’s just Superman and Superboy. So it’s not like the shiny Silver Age, where there’s heroes everywhere.

Tom King and Chris Burnham detail the Superman story in 'Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League'

Interior Art. Courtesy of DC Comics.

So, with the Superboy design, we took the classic Robin design and then spun it around enough so that it reads as both Superboy and Robin at the same time. I did, like, 12 different color combinations; what if the gloves are blue or what if the gloves are red? And, of course, the first one I did is the one we picked. It’s just the way it works. I just had to try it a bunch of times just to make sure that my initial instinct was right.

There’s also a visual gag that I don’t I don’t know if anyone’s going to notice unless they read this interview, but there’s a scene early on that takes place in the kitchen. And I made sure to reference the exact kitchen that they use in the [Brian Michael] Bendis series when there’s that little flashback sequence from Jason Fabok. I made sure to draw the exact same kitchen. So, if you’re a super continuity nerd, I wanted our story to start… Bendis yanked John off into the far flung future or whatever, and we dragged him into teenagerhood instead.

AIPT: Tom, I know you have an eternal connection to comics’ other Tom, Mr. Tom Taylor (for better and/or worse).

TK: Yeah, we have lots of fights about the way the toilet flushes. Clockwise or counterclockwise.

AIPT: Did you touch on his work with Superman at all? I got the same sort of familial tone and connection. If his is a shinier sitcom, maybe yours is a gritty HBO drama?

TK: I read Tom’s book, and I think I think it’s excellent. I think he’s a little more optimistic, and a little nicer than I am, which I think is good. Because I would think comics need both things. I don’t want to compare myself this way, but you need [Steven] Spielberg and [Stanley] Kubrick, but that’s an insane thing to say about myself, so pretend I’m modest.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1

Interior Art. Courtesy of DC Comics.

But I definitely I love Tom’s work. Tom has an ability to find what people want to read in a comic. To find the heart of the thing that people want to read — sort of the golden core of things. So that when you put down a Tom comic, you feel good about the world. And I liked that, and hopefully I put some of that into this.

AIPT: Not to choose Toms or anything, but when I read yours I feel a little more depressed, which is nice.

TK: Sometimes you want uppers, and sometimes you want downers. Depends on the party.

AIPT: Downers all the time.

In terms of the Jon-Clark dynamic, how would you describe their connection? And why is that so interesting in that they’re basically butting heads.

TK: I mean, I would, I would describe it as a father and a son. My friends are of the age now where we have certain teenage children. And none of us as fathers want to have kids that we don’t want to butt heads with a little bit. We want our children to be independent, and to find themselves and find their own voice. Something that’s not our voice.

That’s not to say we want them to make huge mistakes, but teenagers are supposed to rebel, and they’re supposed to tell you what’s wrong. They’re supposed to tell you how your generation messed it up and how they’re going to fix it. I mean, that’s all I spent my teenage years doing. And I hope my teenagers do that to me as well. I think Jon here is making Superman a better person, ad Superman is making John a better person.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Superman #1

Interior Art. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I love that this whole thing, this dream or fantasy or whatnot, has Clark/Superman wanting his son to rebel. Like, this pure version of his son is somehow who stands up for himself and is willing to fight and willing to do things that are maybe dumb, but do them because he believes they’re right.

TK: From the very beginning of Superman, he’s been sort of set up as this anti-fascist icon. If Lex Luthor had a fantasy about what it was like to raise his teenage son, it would just be the two of them in suits agreeing on everything, right? Superman is not like that. He’d say, ‘I want to raise someone who is as free as I am, who has the freedom to make bad choices and learn from those choices and become a better person.’ Superman from his origins has been the antidote to that kind of Lex thinking that everything has to be my way, and that there is one best way.

AIPT: Wrapping up, why should anyone pick this book up? Why’s it important, and maybe what does it add to Dark Crisis in general?

TK: First off, the pictures are real nice.

There is, right now, almost a lost year in Superman continuity, where Superman had a child and that child was torn away from him. And we as an audience never got to see Superman raise a son between the ages of 12 and 18. Now we’re giving the audience that. And that’s not just Superman’s ideal world, it’s me as a writer and a reader. From the beginning, Joshua Williamson said, ‘Write what Superman’s ideal world would be. Write your ideal world for Superman.’ If I was Superman, the thing I’d want most is those years back, and as a reader, the thing I want most is a window into that world that I never got to see. That got robbed from me by a supervillain. Yeah, we’re giving that back.

CB: He said all that better than I could ever hope to.

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