In April of 1994, Dan Jurgens, best known for his work on "The Death of Superman" and its best-selling follow-ups for DC Comics, released the first issue of Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, a prestige format miniseries that brought characters and concepts from the death and return saga, including the rampaging Doomsday monster and Hank Henshaw, the villain who would come to be known as the Cyborg Superman, back into the fold after the events of "Reign of the Supermen" seemingly got rid of both of them.
Twenty-five years after its initial release, writer/artist Dan Jurgens joined ComicBook.com to discuss Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, the miniseries that gave Doomsday an origin and seemingly inspired at least some of what fans will see in the upcoming second season of SYFY's Krypton.
A good place to start: over the course of your career, what is the fight that people complain to you the most about? Is it something from DC Versus Marvel, or is it the Doomsday/Darkseid fight?
It would probably be the Doomsday/Darkseid fight. I don't know that complaint is the right word. Question might be the better word.
Was that really just a matter of not having enough space to make it a long fight to say that "yes, Darkseid's a badass."
In part, yeah. It also plays in the idea that everybody knows who Darkseid is and what his power level is. It was a very efficient way to communicate something about Doomsday. I think that was really the goal of the scene, is to be able to say, "Here's an opponent we can put Doomsday up against, and you'll understand what that means when you see it, because we know that you know who Doomsday is, and you also know who Darkseid is."
Where did you get the idea to have that the monster in the basement as your recurring bookend? And are you bummed that apparently that is not in-continuity anymore since Geoff Johns said in Doomsday Clock that Superman doesn't dream?
Look, I think first of all, I'll say it, it's in continuity, so there. [Laughs]
The second part of it is, I think that one of the things, if you look back on how I always approached Clark, I always tried to make him as human as I possibly could. I think that was really the point of what we were going for there, is this idea that I don't care who you are -- I don't care if you're Superman, I don't care if you're the world's toughest guy, I don't care if you're the toughest six year old that might be around. Everybody has something that they're afraid of. That's why we can always relate to that; there is always that echo of something in the night. I have always tried to approach Clark from a human point of view, which is what I think ultimately makes Superman that much more relatable, and in a way, that much stronger. I've always thought that that is the kind of thing that works well, and helps to ground Superman in the process.
One other thing that struck me real early on is the amount of blood. Did they give you a little bit more leeway because of the fact that this was a Prestige project coming off of The Death and Return of Superman?
Yeah, I think so. I think if we explain -- because it's somewhat a format we haven't seen in a long time, and I've always thought hands down, this was my favorite format to work in -- back then we called it the Prestige format. It'd be 48 pages without ads, a square bound thing. Because of that, it gave us that leeway just to elevate some of that content a little bit. I think you saw that with Dark Knight when Frank Miller did that, that we obviously saw women with exposed breasts, and swastikas on their nipples, for example. It is something you could do in a format that might not have flown in a newsstand comic that we would have been submitting to the Comics Code Authority, if anybody even remembers what that is.
Was there ever the idea that this would just be part of your monthly Superman? Or was it always, "No, this going to be a standalone Prestige book."
I think it was something that as I started to put together an origin for Doomsday, I think when I first started talking about it, it was me saying, "I want to do it in this format. I don't want it in the Superman books. I want to do this myself. I want it to be in this format." DC was more than willing to have that conversation and say, "Yeah, by all means, let's go ahead and do this."
Is it a little weird that the idea of Doomsday being a Kryptonian cloning experiment has been so embraced by outside media, but we've never actually seen Bertron?
A little bit. I certainly understood in the Batman v Superman film why they had to change the Doomsday origin to something that involved Luthor for the economy of storytelling. Obviously if you really start to show it, this becomes 15 minutes of the film. I understand that they had to take a bit of a different approach. At the same time, I think the downside to not working with it more is when you really get down to it, there is something rather horrific, I think, about taking a creature and trying to cultivate something that can evolve to face whatever the obstacle is on a much quicker rate. To watch them die over and over again, and recreating them so you push that evolutions progress along at a much faster rate -- I think the kind of mind that would engineer something like that is something that is worth exploring, and I think it is also something that has helped make Doomsday's origin unique. I think that's part of what really makes the character work.
What goes into your spaceship designs? I don't think that I've ever, outside of Henshaw's original rocket, seen you draw a "traditional" spacecraft.
Yeah, I like doing it. I'm one of the weird guys who likes drawing tech. For example, I know this is somewhat further afield, but if you go back to when we did "Reign of the Supermen," and then at the conclusion in Superman #82, when we had what we were calling like Engine City, I had everybody plowing through all these gears and cranes and everything else. I enjoyed trying to come up with something that looked like they were fighting inside an engine. When it comes to spacecraft and hardware and stuff like that, I generally enjoy that. It's fun to try and design something that, while also hopefully looking cool, is also saying something about the species or alien beings that might have created it, so it looks a little bit unique.
For example, if it's a more warlike species, it might have a lot harder edge to the design. If it's a more pacifist type of species, it might use a lot more rounded corners, things like that, so you can say something about it. Granted, as I say this, that's a very shorthand approach to it, but it's one that you might use as an artist, and have it work out okay.
No, no. That's the same answer I have to anything I was doing then. Look, I think it's important to know that when I would have started working for DC, there was really no thought that anything we did was going to be reprinted. If it happened, it might show up in a DC digest once, or something like that. Having stuff reprinted just wasn't part of the conversation, or collected was not part of the conversation. The thought that we would be discussing it 25 years later, no, I could not have conceived of that.
And, did Matt Ryder's father spend the rest of his life just thinking that Superman was an a-hole? It was (to Ryder) such an odd passive aggressive remark for him to make for no real reason.
Probably, but potentially what happens when you get mixed up in adventure of that kind!
It feels like, even though this is a very stand-alone book, the Waverider stuff plays into the bigger theme of the Linear Men at that time in the books, which is, "Do something, you jerks."
Right. It's weird, I think I probably didn't realize it at the time, but I look back at this now, and realize that what I was doing, I should say, was assembling a group of characters that I created that would function in that world. I think Jim Starlin did a great job of this. When he was doing Captain Marvel, when he was doing Warlock, he created all these characters. They became very much a part of his writing language, and his visual language. All that stuff existed to the extent that it was Jim Starlin-world. Now we see that times 5,000 on the screen. I think what I was doing was a lot of the same thing, which is I said that I have all these characters that interact and they make sense to me. They don't just have to interact once in November of 1992 and then we never see them again. We can use them to address different ideas and different topics.
They became very much a part of -- this is going to sound real egotistical, and I don't want it to-- it becomes part of like "Jurgensverse," as far as I was approaching Superman a little bit. It made sense to me. Whereas at that time, it might have been [convenience], I look back on it now a little differently. It made sense in a lot of different ways. These are the characters I wanted to continue to explore, and there was no reason they had to interact once and then not interact again.
And a lot of these characters and ideas you would continue to work with all the way up through the mid-2000s with your Booster Gold run.
Also, if you look at Waverider, which was a co-creation with Archie Goodwin, you have all these things that fit together and work. think it's a group of concepts that have been probably under-used by DC. I think there's a lot more than could have been done with it, and fortunately that stuff is still out there, so there's a lot more that can be done with it. I think concepts like the Linear Men, like Vanishing Point, and all that stuff, I think that's the kind of thing that has a place in comics. I think there's some cool things there that can still be exploited, still be used.
A side note, but it's so interesting re-reading this and looking at the '90s comics. The rainbow background to Vanishing Point. It very much reminds me of the Temporal Zone, where they hang out on Legends of Tomorrow.
Right. For us, really, okay so one of the things we had so much fun with in this takes us back to one of your earlier questions. When we were doing "The Death of Superman," when were doing the first Linear Men stories that happened before "The Death of Superman" and all that stuff, it was getting printed on newsprint with the old printing technology. By the time we got to doing this as a Prestige project, one of the reasons was we really wanted to use the higher quality of printing, coloring, and the tech that was available at that time to make this stand out. Part of the things we got excited with was from the standpoint of color effects, and using it for time travel and all that other stuff, we could really make it look better than we could during the newsprint comic days. That was another one of the reasons that I wanted to do it in this particular type of format.
That makes sense with Greg Wright being on the book, because [Superman colorist] Glenn Whitmore has said before that he's not only never gotten into the newer styles of coloring.
Right, right. Greg Wright was the colorist. He was doing these brilliant and really incredibly beautiful color guides where he would paint all of this stuff really on these wonderful, basically printed-size type copies of the book. Then it would be interpreted as part of the separation process. He was coming up with something that I think was remarkably gorgeous for the book, and at that time when this came out, again, very different from the way that normal Superman books were looking at the time.
This series also brought back Hank Henshaw. When you put him on that asteroid with Doomsday, did you always know the two would probably come back together down the line?
Yeah, absolutely. Yes, I think that at that point, I think what we were looking to do was find a way to make Henshaw a more permanent player. We had used him a couple of times leading to "The Death of Superman," and then obviously once we had that story, that became a rather all of the sudden, it elevated him a Superman villain. Yes, we knew that from that point on, we wanted to find another way to use him and have him be around longer.
I think if we go back to that time, the only reason he ever put on the Superman costume was to masquerade as Superman himself. Plus, Superman already had, for example, Bizarro, as someone who wore a version of the Superman costume. I think at that time, I looked at that as being something that almost got in the way of identifying who Hank Henshaw was. What I wanted to do was help craft something a little more unique for him as far as that went.
Now, of course, everyone still looks at him and says "Cyborg Superman" because that's the tag that he was known by when he was masquerading as Superman. The funny thing is, before then, he was just Hank Henshaw, right? That's what we wanted to keep playing with, is this idea that the Cyborg Superman was the story of one moment, if you will, in Henshaw's life, but not necessarily someone who was forever and always wanting to wear a copy of Superman's costume.
Then you went the other way, just referring to him just as Cyborg. Vic was off the table at the time, but it eventually became a problem too.
Was that ever a conversation you guys had? Like, "Hey, maybe we want something besides Cyborg because we have Cyborg already?" Or was that just it didn't even occur to anybody because at the time, he wasn't in use?
Honest to God, what happened is when we started -- and so if we go all the way back to Hank Henshaw's very first appearance -- at that time, there was never any thought that one day he would be Cyborg Superman. Even as I did that story, there was no thought he would ever come back at all. I was getting done with it, I thought, "I wonder if I have something there. This is a little interesting." So we came back a second time, and then went away. When he was Cyborg Superman after "The Death of Superman," that took everybody by surprise. In a perfect world, had I know from moment one what his trajectory would have been, I would not have come up necessarily with "Cyborg Superman." I would have had something else. We didn't know. In a way, I think what's cool about that is, here's what happens in comics: You get walked into the editor's office, and the dictum comes down from above and says, "All right. You're supposed to create the world's greatest-ever villain."
When you try and create the world's greatest-ever villain, you don't often get there. Really what happens is you create a villain you start to see potential in, and you bring them back two, three times. All of a sudden you realize you've got something. This was a case where yeah, after three or four times, if I had it to do all over again with perfect foresight, I would have come up with something different. As I said, he first showed up as a one-off, and I had no way of knowing that that would happen, much less that we'd have this conversation now -- that must have been 28 years ago -- so a long time down the road.
Around this time in the Superman books, there were a lot of new creations.
I remember reading in the letters columns, people basically saying, "When are we going to see [insert Silver Age villain here]? These new guys are taking up all of the oxygen in the room." Is that a balancing act in and of itself? You have to bring these guys back a couple of times to see if they float, but a the same time, if you bring them back too many times in a three-year stretch, it potentially alienates the fans because they've seen them all the time?
It's always that fine line that you walk. I think it is a perpetual problem in comics, that I think you always want to, as a writer: bounce back and forth a little bit. You've got to have some new villains, you've got to have some new concepts, and not constantly rely on the same three, four, or five, ten villains that have always been there. I think one of the things we're doing very, very wrong as an industry right now is we are not seeing enough of the new stuff.
What we're seeing is derivative stuff over and over again. "Oh, I'll take this guy and put him in a Popsicle Man suit, and he's the 15th version of Popsicle Man." That's true whether Popsicle Man's a hero or a villain. I think that the lack of creation that I see now in the two main universes is something that is affecting the industry in a bad way. There is this constant reliance on older stuff. In some cases, it's the fans asking for the older stuff, but in other cases, it really is, [creators] who keep going back to it. How many times can you do that?
Right now you're doing Batman Beyond. Does that kind of fly in the face of that philosophy, since a lot of that book is finding creative ways to reintroduce old characters and concepts?
Well, actually, I don't think the book does that. Part of that is because, if you go back and look all the different villains that have appeared in Batman Beyond on the TV show...they were not old villains redone. There were a couple that were, but by in large, they came up with a lot of new villains for the show. We just did a Joker story. I also did Scarecrow. Those are the only times I did. Otherwise, it's been a book that has a lot of its own newer villains.
Wanted to get a little bit to Doomsday's actual origin story. First of all, Doomsday's birthplace in Hunter/Prey really does look like the Outlands on Krypton.
Theirs is ice, and yours is fire, but it's basically the same basic visual design. Something that struck me was Bertron telling the Kryptonians in the experiment that the baby was not of their world. Did you ever think about exploring who Bertron was, and where he began, and where that baby might have come from?
We had a couple of conversations about what that might be, and would we ever go back to that, but as much as anything, what we really wanted to do and did here, is focus on Doomsday. Doomsday is on earth when we first see him, and he's buried below earth's surface, and he comes breaking out. Right away, everybody is asking, "Well, who is this guy? Where did he come from? What's his origin?" Right from the start, I always knew we needed to have something different, and I think that as much as anything, we wanted to come up with something that would meet that criteria. I think we did that.
Did you worry at the time that making him Kryptonian was like easy? Because it was like, "Oh, well the only thing that can beat Superman is something that's even worse from his own planet." I remember hearing something like, "What a great coincidence that all of Krypton's garbage ends up here."
Right, but I'll tell you, to me, it helped to explain something else, which is, once Doomsday broke out of the chamber that was buried deep underground and he started moving, and he grunts, he goes, "MM-tr-plss," or something like that. Why? Why go to Metropolis? If there's some ability to sense Superman as a Kryptonian and as a threat, then I thought that is something that helped tie that particular problem up and pull it all together.
Why did you want specifically to do the New Gods? Was it just because you knew as you said earlier, that a fight with Darkseid would establish the power levels and the stakes right away? Or was there other stuff that you really wanted to do to bring Doomsday face to face with those characters?
Well, I think that the answer would be yes, all of the above. It helps to take Doomsday and put him on that level, as well as Superman, I might add. This is one of the great things about Superman, which is yeah you can do a concept that is as small as Clark and Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville, or as big as the entire Cosmos and the New Gods and everything that goes along with it. The other part of it is that when we did this at that time, Kirby had done the New God stuff, we had seen the Legion stuff. There had a couple of other attempts to do the New Gods. They hadn't quite become the measuring stick that I think they are even now. Using them was a way to help keep them onstage because they weren't being used terribly much.
I remember hearing at the time that Roger Stern had wanted to use some of the New Gods stuff and there was editorial resistance.
By the time I would have gotten there, there already had been a point where, for example, they were playing with some of the Kirby concepts in Adventures of Superman through Jimmy Olsen and the Whiz Wagon. I think that was there used some before I even got there. Some of it had already been there.
As the story moved on, we got the snazzy Superman costume that on the toy on my desk.
Right, I was just going to say, plus yeah, we had the line of action figures.
Oh yeah, that was a big deal when we did that. Yeah, that was like, "Oh, really?" It was one of those things that was fairly out-there, and I don't think that DC was yet doing the DC Direct stuff. This is Kenner who was doing these. Complete with the special edition comic books inside, which were a lot of fun to do.
Once we gave Superman the new suits and we got him ready for the big final battle, you head to Catalan and The Radiant. Did you ever entertain the idea of keeping that character around for a while, or did you think that introducing a character that powerful, it needed to be tied up in the same story?
I think it needed to be tied up, yes. Part of really playing fair with an audience, I think, is that every story needs an ending. There can be a few things that hang out there for possible use later, but there are other things that really do have to be resolved.
In superhero comics, when you have a character that's like that, where he's incredibly powerful and also fundamentally good, his existence in the universe does raise the question like why wasn't he there for such-and-such an event.
Yeah. The other part was that this was designed to be a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. It was this didn't have next month in Hunter/Prey, it was, this project comes out and it does come to an end.
I always liked the idea of throwing Doomsday at the end of the universe. Was that like a thing where you were working on Zero Hour and thinking like, "This is a great place to capture people?"
Well, potentially, but that also gets into the nature of, "what are we going to do with the end of the story?" What do we want to have that could potentially exist beyond this? And what do we want to resolve for the last and final time?
Doomsday became a character who was immediately wildly popular, so you could really get rid of him permanently. For a while, though, you guys managed to make it special whenever he showed up. Do you feel like giving it a sense of finality every time and putting him in increasingly absurd situations for him to get out of helped build a contract with the reader who realized there's no way you can put him in a zoo in the Fortress because eventually that'd never work?
Right. That is correct. Some of that is, "Okay, so if we put him..." -- because I think this was one of them -- "...there's there's a transporter booth on the moon, and we put him in the transporter booth, where he's never fully materialized, or always stuck in mid transportation, never fully integrated, things like that. Yeah, some of it is you always have to find that next way that Doomsday is imprisoned that he can "never get out of" and that's fun for the readers. I also think from a writing standpoint, it's fun to have to come up with those things too because I know when I was a kid reading comics, I would always get frustrated when I would see a bad guy imprisoned, locked away, whatever, in what looked like a very final way, and then all of a sudden he would show up and they would never explain how he got out of the trap or whatever. "Geez, last time I saw him, he fell off a bridge and he was dead, and you didn't explain that." That always frustrated me as a reader. It's a way to challenge the next writer.
Which for you, the next writer was you for like ten years on Doomsday.
Well, again, when you write that and set that up, you don't necessarily know that's going to be the case.
Taking out of story mechanics and into you personally, what did the story mean for you? Obviously "The Death of Superman" put you in an entirely different place career-wise, and in the eyes of the fandom. What did it mean for you to be revisiting Doomsday for the first time, and how high was the pressure to not mess it up?
I think the real pressure was just doing an origin that would work for the character and not seem contrived or stupid. I did want to make sure that we came through with something that was cool, and something a little bit different. I truly believe we did that, and I'm not saying that because it's my opinion, it's really the feedback I got then and continue to get for many, many years. It was, "Yeah, that was cool. I didn't see it coming." He wasn't tied to Luthor, he wasn't tied to Brainiac, he wasn't tied to any of those things. It was different, and it was new, and it worked on its own.
I think it did make Doomsday, with that highly accelerated rate of evolution, different from anything else in comics. That was what we wanted to do, and I think we managed to do that. I think therefore it worked.
I do think it's funny because every time he talked, whether it was the Brainiac story or whether it was later when some writers made him intelligent for a minute, it was always weird. Doomsday is basically a tank, and somehow he can be the pinnacle of evolution and never have to actually have enough brains to put together a sentence.
I think there was every argument to be made -- and this is my argument -- that if he had intelligence, he would be regressing. He has one purpose, which is to survive against all else. If you are a force of nature -- you are the wind, you are a hurricane, you are a tornado, whatever, you are an earthquake -- your chances for survival are better than if you all of a sudden have to reason, and think things out, and go through the process of, "Should I do this or not?" Because then you start to theoretically introduce the concept of choice, and perhaps backed up by some sense of morality. That at that point, does Doomsday become a lesser, weaker creature?
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