Greg Pak on the Anger and Identity Politics of Superman

Action Comics - Cover

There have been a lot of changes taking place in the life of Clark Kent at DC Comics recently. Superman has not only lost most of his power, but his secret identity as well. Action Comics has focused on the aftermath of these radical changes in the acclaimed run of creators Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder. caught up with Action Comics writer Pak recently to discuss these changes and what he hopes to accomplish with the Man of Steel.

Action Comics changed dramatically after Convergence ended. Obviously, Superman was powered down with only limited strength and invulnerability, and no flight. The change I find most interesting though is beyond the physicality of the character. Within his internal monologues, you’re focusing on Superman’s anger and that has to work to keep that emotion controlled. What made you want to address anger issues with Superman?

Greg Pak: The whole reason for doing what we’ve been doing is to put our character in as much trouble as possible, which is a smart thing to do in serial storytelling. You want to create big problems for your characters; you identify what is the greatest thing about your character, and then then the villains will attack the greatest thing about your character. Seeing how your hero deals with and overcomes that reveals the strength of the character.

So taking away his strength and his secret identity, and endangering all of the people he loves pushes him not just physically, but emotionally as far as you can push him. The challenge becomes how is Superman going to respond. Does he succumb to the temptations a lot of us would and just become a creature of vengeance? Or does he rise above that and do something different?

That’s a very human story to tell about someone who is faced with the worst situation imaginable, and we’ll see what he’s made of. It has been a great story to write so far, just facing those kinds of challenges as a writer. I love Clark Kent and I’ve loved every minute of writing Clark Kent. I love him even more when he’s in so much trouble, when he has to struggle.

This is the key. We always know Superman does the right thing, but that’s not easy. What makes the character compelling isn’t that he just does the right thing, but that he fights to do the right thing. He has to struggle to do it. This story has really given us the chance to do that, to watch him struggle.

Action Comics - Stay Calm

And in the comics medium, you don’t just want to spell that conflict out in text. Working with Aaron Kuder certainly makes it easier to let that rest on his face as much as his thoughts, and visually convey the struggle.

Pak: Aaron and I are now co-writing. We take the page-by-page and panel-by-panel outline together. We know exactly what is happening beat-by-beat. He draws it, and then I go in and do the dialogue at the end. Since we’ve been doing it all together from the beginning, all of those little nuances are there. The beautiful thing about that is that I can pull back in how explicit I am.

Just as a reality of working in comics, sometimes internal dialogue necessarily has to be used to explain things that you’ve failed to explain better in other ways. Sometimes there’s a little exposition in there, sometimes you have to clarify a little bit, but hopefully people understand and don’t mind. But when the internal monologue really sings for me is when you can use it to bring out the emotional moment in an unexpected way. You don’t have to use it to say, “Boy am I angry” because you’re already seeing the emotion in the art. Then you can use the internal monologue to bring out something different.

For example, in Action Comics you learn that he can feel his blood pumping and throbbing in his eye balls. He didn’t use to feel that because when he was so pumped up, he wasn’t exerting himself as much. All of our emotions move through our bodies, so Superman is feeling all of that. We’re noting that he is just now experiencing that and it’s another way to convey his emotional state without just saying “I’m angry.” And working with Aaron is just a dream.

Action Comics - Anger

Has co-writing with Aaron on Action Comics affected how you script and think about utilizing the medium?

Pak: All of us are storytellers. All of the great artists are just phenomenal storytellers. So we’re always thinking of the same challenges. How do you convey the information you need to in order to tell the story you want? How do you dramatize it so that it’s happening through action rather than just people talking or telling each other? How do you express a character’s emotional journey in new and surprising ways?

Even before we started co-writing, I was working on all of this using words on paper and he was working on the same things using drawings. When we put it together, it was pretty seamless. Aaron is also a writer in his own right; he has written other comics. It has been great and I love working with Aaron.

Action Comics - Alien Go Home

There’s one last thing I want to address before we have to go. An interesting thematic point in Action Comics with the revelation of Clark Kent’s secret identity has been the concept of passing privilege. Clark is an immigrant, but has never had to handle the public perception of him as an immigrant until now and that privilege has been taken away from him. What interested you about this aspect of the character.

Pak: Superman is an alien and he’s not from here, but at the same time he is totally from here. His enemies sense that others would exploit that he is an alien to create fear. That resonates with me and feels like a real way that some folks work in this world. On a personal level, I’m a biracial person. I’m half-Korean and half-white. I think the experiences of Clark Kent have always resonated with me. He’s a person from two worlds, but at the same time he is wholly of the world he is in and villains could identify him as something to be feared.


He was originally created by Jewish creators and that his experience comes from them. I think his experience resonates with millions of people in this nation for that reason as well. It’s nothing new. It’s a return to the roots of the character. That’s part of the glory of Superman though, he can be explored in so many different ways. That’s why we’ve been telling stories with this character for 75 years.

Chase Magnett is a freelance journalist, critic, and editor working with comics, film, and television. He has been hooked on comics since he picked an issue of Suicide Squad out of a back issue bin fifteen years ago. When Chase is not working with comics in some way he spends his time rooting for the San Francisco 49ers and grilling. He currently contributes to and other outlets.