Action Comics Clark Kent Hero Image

Dan Jurgens on his career-defining 31 years with the Man of Steel

Contributed by
Mar 28, 2018

One thing that may be lost in the buzz around Superman turning 80 years old and Action Comics hitting issue #1000 is one of the creators who has been connected to the Man of Steel, on and off, for 31 of those 80 years. As one of his earliest highlights, Dan Jurgens created the character Booster Gold for DC Comics in 1985, but he first drew a Superman story two years later for The Adventures of Superman Annual #1.

Four years later, Jurgens began writing and penciling The Adventures of Superman on a monthly basis. He helped launch Superman: The Man of Steel in the summer of 1991 and was part of the team that infamously killed Superman (and brought him back) in 1992. Jurgens scripted and provided layouts for Superman vs. Aliens and Superman/Fantastic Four.

He was there for Superman's wedding to Lois Lane, the New 52 run, and, most recently, wrote nearly 45 issues of the current Rebirth era of Action Comics.

Before the Brian Michael Bendis era begins, we must bid a proper farewell to Jurgens' stint, which has quietly been one of the strongest runs in the character's history. SYFY WIRE spoke with Jurgens about his career work on Superman, focusing on the past two years. So as a warning: spoilers will be discussed!

You've given us multiple versions of characters who gave us new insight into the characters we thought we knew. Could you share with me how you came to this approach?

Dan Jurgens: If we go back a little bit. Obviously, I've worked on Superman for a long time. From the '80s and '90s, we think of that as one particular version of the character. In New 52, that became another version of Superman and I worked on that, as well, but when I did, I felt like I didn't recognize that as a Superman I felt comfortable with. Sometimes that happens to you as a writer.

DC came to me about coming up with a way to rebuild this. I did the Lois and Clark series — we gave them Jon as a child and Superman matured a little, [and] I think it got us back to a Superman that, for me and a lot of people, worked better. It was a more centered character. It became a bigger part of a world of Superman where we understand where no matter how you cut it, whether they're married or not, Superman and Lois Lane are together and have been since day one.

That then allowed us to write more about Superman and who he is in the context of Metropolis and Jimmy and Lois. In a way, his contact with Jimmy and Perry comes through Lois and it becomes his contact with the Daily Planet. I think we sort of gave Superman back to fandom, if you will, and when I say "we" I'm talking about Peter Tomasi [writer on Superman, Super Sons], Pat Gleason [writer/artist on Superman] and all of DC. I think Rebirth was really good for Superman.

Action Comics #959 Cover

Action Comics #959 Cover

It was like a greatest hits reunion tour because you had so many two-issue arcs, but you were able to revisit a lot of the characters you've played with. Did you do this knowing you'd hit issue #1000 and figuring you'd have one last chance to put your stamp on them?

A little bit. Doomsday was a little different because it was actually Geoff Johns who talked me into it — because I didn't want to make it look like I couldn't think of anything else. He said, "No, Dan, he's in a movie, use him!" Part of that was, what could you do with him that's new? I think giving Doomsday to Mr. Oz actually became part of the "who is Mr. Oz" type story, which brought in Jor-El into the book, which gave us a new dimension, as well as Jon.

Superman who never had a son or a natural father, all of a sudden had Jon and Jor-El at the same time. That's what allows you to explore different dimensions to a character, which I think is important. I also think we re-established Superman as the leader of the DC Universe. He's the guy. When all the heroes are in the room and the chips are down and they turn to one guy to bail the situation out, they turn to Superman.

There's a wonderful father/son dynamic that you've made between Clark and Jon, the Mr. Oz reveal. And in Issue #999 you manage to try and repair the rift between Lois and her father, as a final act before you leave–

That's exactly what that was!

Action Comics #999 Page 3

Action Comics #999 Page 3

So what were you looking to explore with that recurring theme?

Obviously from the start as far as Superman and as far as Rebirth goes, everybody looked at it through the idea that we were doing it because of Jon and Superman when, in reality, we were heading somewhere a little different.

It allowed us to get into some of those aspects between Superman and Jor-El, and it, very intentionally, took us down the road with Lois and her father, but what got interesting to me is, as soon as we introduced all of that in the book, Jon had two grandfathers and that's what I really wanted to play around with. Here's one grandfather he never met because Lois and he were estranged, and the other grandfather he met because everyone thought he was dead. That's when it starts to become a family.

At the heart of it, if Superman is about Clark and Lois and their others as a family unit. That's what makes the book work.

The Rebirth run felt deeply personal and Jon was such a new entry point that I personally connected with. Did you look to your own experience in parenthood or think of others in reflection?

Yes, it was a more personal approach to the book. Some of that is having kids myself who are now grown and out of the house. Everybody tries to be the best parent they can be, right? But the reality is that we all make mistakes. I'm not saying that Superman isn't going to make those mistakes, but it's interesting to see him try to be this more aspirational father, especially when Batman was not for Damian. I think that helped in this thematic difference between Batman and Superman, which is always so fascinating.

So yes, it was something that was certainly a more personal work, even when I got to Issue #999, which dealt with Superman trying to deal with a bad guy, Cyborg Superman, in a different way.

Look, Cyborg Superman is a victim, too, and how do I treat him humanely? Something in comics that I often find we rarely do is see the hero concern themselves with the victim. Rarely do we see the hero concern themselves with the perpetrator. It's like, Batman comes down from the rooftop, beats up the bad guy who is mugging someone, then he goes away. Presumably, the cops arrest the bad guy, and the victim is left saying, "whew, that was a close call." But we never go beyond that and I wanted to do that with Superman.

You've worked on Superman over 31 years and the stretch of four decades. Where do you put the Rebirth run in terms of enjoyment in the process and satisfaction in how it turned out? I thought there were a lot of beautiful moments over nearly 45 issues.

Thank you, I really appreciate that. And I do too because one of the things I value so much is that when I worked on the Superman stuff previously, we were always part of a writing ensemble, we were a writer's group that was writing in a room together. Whereas [in Rebirth] we only did it once, which is where we did the big crossover story around Action Comics #975. Working with Peter and Pat, we told a cohesive story about the characters without intruding on each other. The characters were portrayed consistently, and it allotted me to, I think, develop what I wanted to develop more as a writer instead of handing off the third chapter of a story to the Adventures of Superman team, or something like that.

It was nice to tell a story that had a beginning, middle, and end, to be in control of it. At the same time, there was another Superman book that was basically written [with] the same sense of heart. That's what we always talked about and what we achieved, which was making sure the stories had a sense of heart. I think Peter and Pat did it [on Superman] and I think we managed to do it on Action Comics as well. I had a great time; it went so fast because the books were coming out twice a month, but I look back at it very fondly. I'm very happy with the way it came out all the way through to Issue #1000.

action988.jpg

Did the twice-monthly schedule give the process and the story a different pace?

Yeah, I loved it! If you do it twice a month, you get to skip some stuff that you don't normally get to do on a monthly book. In a monthly book, you have to spend a certain amount of time reminding the audience of where you were 30 days earlier. The thing I found in doing a bimonthly book — and I'd do it again in a heartbeat — is that it allows you to tell a story without having to give those reminders.

There's a certain sense of momentum you can get that really works, and when I say momentum, I don't mean for the action, a lot of it is for the character development. That you can take it and break it down a little more and it allows you to step outside the main story and get into the character stuff a little more than you would on a monthly book.

There's a tendency to take a monthly book and say, "okay, I've got 20 pages, and I've got to somehow find a way to tell the story in 17 pages and that gives me three pages for these other characters." What we did in Action was skim that back to 14 or even 10 and really explore the characters. That's why we read comics — for the characters.

Do you feel like you have more Superman in you, or do you think you can walk away satisfied having done everything you wanted to do with the Man of Steel?

I think that there are more Superman stories to be told that I think can be quite compelling, and at the same time, I am very satisfied to be where I am right now. Anytime you can work on a character that long and know that you contributed elements of that character that are going to endure for a long long time. I've been able to do it in a couple of different stints; I think that's when you can say you did your job well, and you have contributed to the character and there are things that will outlast you as a creator. If there's more, great — if there isn't, I'm very satisfied with where I'm at. So my answer to both of those, is yes.