John Romita Jr. was not rocketed to earth from Krypton, but the veteran artist is nonetheless an alien on a new world at DC Comics. The son of Marvel Comics royalty, Romita has been a legacy creator at the publisher for more than four decades. But beginning with Superman #32 (on sale now, with #33 streeting July 23), "JRJR" has made a big leap in a single bound from the land of avengers, defenders and mutants to working with DC for the first time, and on the first superhero. In "The Men of Tomorrow," a story arc by Geoff Johns inked by Klaus Janson, JRJR kicks off his adventure with the publisher in a tale about Ulysses, a superpowered arrival in Metropolis very similar to Supes.
When I step into a back room at New York City's Midtown Comics Downtown to interview Romita and Janson, the first thing I notice is how much JRJR is looking like Tony Stark these days. But while the artist could give another junior, Robert Downey, a run for his money as ol' shellhead, it's a man of steel, not an iron one, that I'm here to talk about.
And talk we did, about how to add something new to a 76-year-old hero, what was off limits and what fans can look forward to from the John Romita Jr. and DC Comics relationship.
Blastr: What are you adding to the Superman mythos?
JRJR: I wasn't actually that familiar with Superman before this, other than Jim Lee's work ... [But] if I ever did Superman, I wanted to do the size and the weight. That's what I like to do with most of the heroes; if they are going to be 6'5", 250 pounds, they have to have the feel of it. But this guy is supposed to be young in the New 52, so all I'm trying to do is cement what I've always wanted to do with characters and give them weight and power.
Janson: There are certain things about Superman you don't want to fool around with. He is the embodiment of "Truth, Justice and the American Way." I think there is certain innocence to him we all try to monopolize and capitalize on. There are certain things you don't want to change about him, but he's become a bit more of an action-oriented character because John is penciling him. John is notoriously good at action and drama. He brings a lot of that to the book.
Blastr: Any other visual flourishes you wanted to contribute to the character?
JRJR: Getting into it, and seeing what we could do with it, I wanted even the smallest of things ... him sitting on a chair differently instead of standing, like this [strikes classic fists-on-hips Superman pose]; sitting on a barstool, hands on his knees, anything to make him look different than what's been done before. It is almost impossible; he's a nearly 80-year-old character.
Blastr: What can't you really do when taking on the first superhero, the big guy?
JRJR: Again, you have to make him look a certain way. You can't tug on Superman's cape and so on. He's got to have the costume, he's got to have the S, front and back. He's got to have the hair -- but they've played with the hair a little bit [laughs]! But it's a limit. Even if we do fry his costume, what do you do? Are you going to redesign his costume? You can't redesign his costume! He's not going to have a black costume all of a sudden [although he was the Superman in black following the "Death of Superman" arc]. There are limits. Once I got into it, I was comfortable. But before I did, I was almost intimidated that there's nothing you can do with it that hasn't been done visually that you're able to do with the blue, red, yellow.
Blastr: Do you prefer working with the characters of Superman or Clark Kent?
JRJR: They're both fun. Right now I'm still getting into it, I'm still getting my footing. I love doing the action stuff; then again, having Clark walk into his apartment with his phone on his neck and a bag of groceries and cooking his own meals ... I get a kick out of drawing that as much as the Superman stuff.
Janson: That brings his humanity out. He is an alien, and to see him in everyday situations allows the reader to connect to him in a way that's relatable.
Blastr: Was it a smooth transition to DC?
JRJR: It was only un-smooth because it was in my head. No one else made it difficult for me. I tend to do that to myself. I intimidate myself, but I'm working with Klaus, the best ink artist in the business, and Geoff Johns is doing his best work. But all the DC people have been special; the whole thing has been fun. Even my wife is happy, and that's not easy to do.
Blastr: What has been the best reaction you've received so far since you joined the title?
JRJR: Best reaction? "You should have done this a long time ago." That was from someone very important to me. The second-best reaction? "You a**hole, you should have never tried the character!"
Janson: The best reaction I've gotten so far is nobody has complained about my inking! That is a miracle, so we must be doing something right.
Blastr: What other DC characters would you like to take on?
JRJR: The character I and other artists always want to do is the Batman, because of the dark visuals. But I told someone recently the first comic I ever saw was a Metal Men one, and I think if I ever did a group book again, I'd want to try that. [My favorite] is Lead. Is the big bulky guy Lead? I love that guy.
Blastr: Is there anything coming up you can tease within Superman?
JRJR: Anything with Ulysses [shown here in Superman #33]. Any book with that character in it is going to be special. I can't get more excited than upcoming issues with that character in it. But the one I'm finishing up, issue #34, has some revelations about the character that are pretty special.