In January 2023, Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths writer Joshua Williamson and Nightwing artist Jamal Campbell will launch a new, ongoing Superman title. In the new comic, which launches in the new year with Superman #1, "Superman has returned to Metropolis and his greatest enemy Lex Luthor is finally behind bars," according to the book's solicitaiton. "The future of the Superman family has never been brighter! As Clark Kent settles back into his life, iconic and new enemies erupt from the shadows to strike down the Man of Steel." And while Luthor may be behind bars, that doesn't mean he won't loom large in the series.
Williamson says his take on the Man of Steel is inspired by the "Triangle Era" of the '90s, which also plays into how Philip Kennedy Johnson's new Action Comics story is going to be written. He also says he plans to deliver some classic stories about Superman and his supporting cast, without giving up the more modern elements that have defined the recent years.
"When I started this book, I knew it was going to be about Lex," Williamson told ComicBook.com. "I knew that it was going to be about Clark and Lois and Jimmy, and it was going to be very much an iconic presentation of Superman, and it was me trying to find my way into Superman. And the way I was able to find my way into Superman was through Lex, and using Lex. He's a major player in this book. I don't think it's a surprise -- it's on the cover, and it's in the solicit that at the end of Action #1050, he gets arrested, and he gets put in prison. But because of the things that happen in #1050, and the stuff that happens in Superman #1, they are connected."
In something of a callback to John Byrne's original idea in The Man of Steel, Lex has decided that if he can't kill or defeat Superman, the next best thing is to control him. The city has rejected Lex's previous efforts to take on the Superman brand, whether as an armored crusader for good, or by creating his own Bizarro duplicates. So this is going to be a little more complex.
"Lex admits that at this point in his life, he has realized the world needs Superman," Williamson said. "Think about who Lex Luthor is, and his ego. For him to admit that, for him to actually come to the conclusion the world needs Superman, what does that mean for him? And how does Lex translate that?...And the way he does is, 'If the world needs Superman, it's going to be my Superman.' And it translates to, 'I need Superman to admit that he also needs me.'"
Exactly how Lex plans to do that, especially from behind bars, is anybody's guess...but he certainly has some advantages. Besides incredible wealth and connections on the outside, Lex is a guy who is always scheming.
"We know Clark has an ear out, and you know he listens for certain people," Williamson explained. "We know he listens for Ma and Pa Kent. We know he listens for Lois, and we know he listens for Jon. We know he listens for Bruce. You know he listens for Lex. And here's the thing, Lex knows that. So once you take that of the equation that Lex Luthor is aware that Superman can hear him wherever he is, how can he use it? How can he manipulate that?"
And, Williamson added with a laugh, "How much does he just...sh-t-talk Clark?"
Williamson promises it won't be all Lex, all the time.
"There's a subplot with Jimmy that's some of the most fun stuff to write in the whole thing," the writer promised. "I have a lot of cool stuff going on with Lex and Jimmy and Lois, but [the book is] about Clark, and who he is, and the things that have gone on in the past, and how he might be a little different now from what we've had before. But he's still Clark Kent."
That idea -- that Superman is, at the end of the day, a bit unchangeable, presents a challenge to Lex, and that challenge will shape some of how Clark reacts to Lex's new pitches. After all, Lex is a smart guy. The pair have been forced to team up before. So, where do you draw that line? And how do you know when you're being manipulated?
"Lex has already come to the conclusion that, 'I want to work with Superman, but I'm going to make him mine. You're going to be my version of yourself,'" Williamson teased. "What would happen for Clark to finally say yes to that? I think that Clark is somebody who sees the best in everyone, and wants the best for everyone. And in some ways, there are days where he sees Lex, and Lex is the only person he feels like he let down in that respect. So hearing all of this from Lex, there is that part of him that wants to believe it. Clark's no dummy; he's not a sucker either. He recognizes that everything Lex does is moves in a chess game, but it gets to a point where he can't keep ignoring the game. So, he has to play that game with Lex, and it's going to be really interesting. I think people will see the directions this takes involving that. But at the same time, I wanted this book to really feel like a Superman book."
Superman #1 from Joshua Williamson and Jamal Campbell will be in stores in January.