Last weekend at San Diego Comic Con International, ComicBook.com was lucky enough to sit in on a panel celebrating seventy-five years of Superman.
With 75th anniversary celebrations going on around the country this weekend, we figured we would get our butts in gear and get the full panel--which we haven't seen transcribed anywhere, with only select quotes popping up in the media--transcribed for our readers. What do some of the most influential Superman creators of the last few decades have to say about the Man of Steel at 75? Read on.
The panel was made up of film/TV and comic book talent, which made it a pretty well-rounded group, and also featured a broad age range, from 15 to 85. For context, while Man of Steel star Henry Cavill (who appeared on the panel) posed with a copy of 1938's Action Comics #1 at the Warner Bros. party the night before this panel, The Adventures of Superman star Jack Larson (also present) actually owned one when he was ten and the book was new.
Here's the full list of participants:
- Paul Levitz, former publisher of DC Comics and longtime writer/editor.
- Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman
- Dan Jurgens, longtime Superman writer/artist and creator of Doomsday
- Molly Quinn, star of Superman Unbound's Supergirl
- Grant Morrison, writer of All-Star Superman
- Dylan Sprayberry, the teenage Clark Kent in Man of Steel
- Jim Lee, Co-Publisher of DC Comics and artist of Superman Unchained
- Tim Daly, voice of Superman in Superman: The Animated Series and several animated feature films.
- David S. Goyer, screenwriter of The Dark Knight and Man of Steel
- Henry Cavill, star of Man of Steel
You can also watch the panel here, as filmed by someone in the audience:
Gary Miereanu: Seventy-five years. I won't live that long but Superman has been around that long and he'll be around, I don't know--seven hundred and fifty years.
Goyer: Until the sun goes out.
Miereanu: That's right, until the sun goes out. What does that mean to you people as representatives of the Superman legacy, from a personal sense?
Morrison: The fact that Superman has lasted this long--we've all been able to participate in this fictional life--is really quite amazing. But as you say, this guy's going to outlast all of us. Just the fact that we've all been able to participate in that little bit of the legend I think is really exciting and profound and fun.
Sassaman: If you're like me and you grew up in a certain era, the best part of coming home from school certain days is that The Adventures of Superman was on once you got home. A lot of us grew up watching that show, loving that show. There were only about 103 or 104 episodes, so we knew them by heart but every day we came home and watched. It's my honor to be here today on behalf of Comic Con International to present to the real Jimmy Olsen, Mr. Jack Larson, our Inkpot Award.
Miereanu: As the elder statesman on the staff, what would you say is different between Superman then and Superman now?
Larson: Well, I've been there since 1951. The first Adventures of Superman, and my pal--or I was his pal--George Reeves, who was a terrific Superman. And Mr. Cavill is a terrific Superman. It's been my observation over the years that Warner Bros. has been very fortunate with all of their Supermen. Brandon, Dean Cain, everyone. So I've always been amazed--it's a magic part and I'm very very proud to be a part of it since 1951.
Lee: It's an honor to be a part of something that's really a piece of Americana. If you look at Superman, he really has changed over the seven and a half decades. he's really reflected the culture that he's doing his stories in.
So if you look at the thirties he was a social crusader; in the forties he fought the fascists and the Nazis; in the sixties all these different forms of colored Kryptonite were invented and if you ate colored Kryptonite it gave you weird powers and you had weird experiences; and then in the eighties he became more yuppified, in the nineties he had a mullet...
Lee: Well, no! That's--I love the mullet! I didn't mean that derrogatorily. And then obviously today it's a character who is very intense and it's amazing to see the CGI and all of the technology being able to finally capture the insane powers of Superman extraordinariliy well on the big screen.
Miereanu: I'm curious: Molly and Dylan, the youngest members of the panel, what does Superman mean to your generation?
Sprayberry: I think Superman's been around for a very long time and it really means a lot to me that he's been able to be such a role model for people of all ages, of all cultures, of all races all over the world. That's something that I think is epic and what's kept him around so long and hopefully for another 75 years and then another 75 years and so on.
Quinn: I think that Superman always makes the best of his situation. he always does what's right, which is great for people of our generation to see becuase standing up for yourself and standing up for what's right is something that's very difficult to do and it seems to be kind of lacking nowadays. Superman is a wonderful example to everyone. He's impacted my life and Supergirl as well; I can't help it, she's amazing; their partnership is wonderful and...yeah. I love Superman; he's great, he's the best, and I'm glad that he'll continue to influence other generations.
Miereanu: For our esteemed comic folk on the panel, if you had to recommend one or two Superman stories to a complete novice--nobody that had ever read a Superman book--what would it be?
Levitz: It kind of depends on teh generation. It hink the magic of what Jerry [Siegel] and Joe [Shuster] originally created is that it gets reborn in each of our work in its time. And I think if I were recommending to a novice today I'd probably recommend Scott [Snyder] and Jim's work on Superman Unchained. It's a wonderful story; it's not necessarily better than the stories of my childhood when Superman was being done by Mort Weisinger and his team but it's of this moment and this style.
That's what great--that we've each been able to step in and transform it and change it and make it of our moment and that you guys are possessing Superman with the magic of your time.
Jurgens: I think--and I'm terrible with issue numbers and things like that--but Alan Moore wrote a very beautiful story about Superman and the dreams he could have had if he'd been able to stay on Krypton.
[To Levitz] Help me out with the issue number.
Levitz: Annual #9 I believe.
Jurgens: Yes, I believe so. Thank you, Paul. Annual #9. But the beauty of that story is that it reall captures the idea of self-sacrifice with Superman and the idea of nobility and what he gave up and continued to give up to be Superman for all of us.
Morrison: I guess I'd choose a weird one, which is Superman vs. Muhammad Ali from 1978. And what I loved about that book is it was actually Superman with a guy that we recognized from the ring, from on television, and the two of them were duking it out with aliens. And it was so beautifully drawn with Neal Adams. It was a kind of preposterous story but it's also Superman at his best and Superman learning to box from the greatest. I just love that book.
Lee: I'm actually going to recommend Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman. For those of you who haven't read a Superman comic book (or a comic book), that is the book to get. Grant is a unique kind of writer in that he actually goes back and re-reads all of the issues. So seventy-five times twelve? What is that--quickly? Eight hundred and...twenty? No, I don't know [Laughs].
So he went back and he synthesizes everything. And there were a lot of weird Superman stories, especially in the fifties and the sixties, and a lot of people reject that stuff but what Grant does so well is he takes all of that, incorporates it and modernizes it so that you don't feel guilty for appreciating the past. And gives you a story that feels very, very contemporary. I would highly recommend that book; it's awesome.
Morrison: Thanks, Jim!
Goyer: I love all the Superman work that you guys have done but we actually quoted some of All-Star Superman in the new film, so a direct homage to that.
Cavill: Okay, I'll take this one.
Yes, I was fully aware of the responsibility. But when it came to it affecting me, I tried to push it to the back of my mind because it's so important to everyone--or certainly to a lot of people--and if I were to allow that kind of pressure and that responsibility to affect me, I don't think I would have done the role justice and so I just tried to focus on the task at hand which is representing the character properly as opposed to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of so many people out there which is a pretty daunting task--and even now, I still put that to the back of my mind.
Daly: I had a very different experience because when I started doing the voice of Superman, I thought I was doing a cartoon for a bunch of kids and I didn't realize that all of you people were out there. And yet, here you are. I was just talking to Henry about this backstage. It took me a while to realize that I was representing someone who was protecting truth, justice and the American Way and so I now realize the gravitas that it has and tend to take it a lot more seriously.
The other thing I want to say about Superman is that he's such an enormous personality, such a huge character, that so many actors have been able to embody him and he can handle it all--including our first British Superman, I believe. Correct?
Cavill: That I'm aware of.
Daly: He doesn't even have to be from America anymore. Apparently ther superheroes don't either; Batman, Spider-Man, they're both English too, right?
The next James Bond sitting right here! [Raises hand]
I also want to say that I've been doing the voice of Superman for twenty years and my son Sam just did the voice of Superman in the new Flashpoint movie that premiered last night. We're the first father and son Supermans, so we're an embodiment of the generational aspect of how Superman is passed down.
Sprayberry: I think for me, I saw the responsibility that I was taking because a lot of the scenes that I did had some heart that built up to what Henry carried on for the rest of the movie. For me, it was more about that I was representing kids everywhere who have a struggle with being different. Every kid at that age deals with that--or at least most kids. I felt that's what I was most representing along with Superman in the movie. I wanted people to be able to relate to the character and that's really what we all kind of worked on.
Quinn: Oh, Supergirl. Well, I have to say--poor thing to wake up and find her little baby cousin grown up into this man who no longer listens to her. That's completely infuriating!
And it's a lot like me. I've always felt so much older than my older brothers and always tried to take that control even though I don't have super powers even though I would like to. So for me, that power struggle--that trying to find my way and not wanting anyone's help...I unfortunately really relate with that and that was fun to bring to her. She's such a complex character and I had so many great examples before me. There were so many other great actresses that had done her voice and of course I would love to see her in live action as well.
Yes, I love her complexity and every day I discover more and more about her. Even when I'm nto voicing her I'm thinking about her. She's a character who really sticks with you and I love her.
Our first producer was Bob Maxwell, and he had done the radio show. Jimmy had been a creation of the radio but he was not a comic book character and I wasn't familiar. I was very familiar with Superman because as a little kid, I used to collect. I had the very first Superman ever, but my mother gave it to the Salvation Army.
But I had all of them--they came into the drugstore where I used to hang out as a boy. So I'd been under contract with Warner Bros. and had done a couple of big films for them--one with the great director Raoul Walsh called Fighter Squadron and then the studios ran into a bad time in 1951 and they closed the theaters and suddenly there was going to be television.
But there'd been no filmed television. It was live television and Lucy was filming with three cameras and becoming very popular and so somehow Jack Liebowitz--your boss at one time at DC [to Levitz]--decided to make a series of 26 episodes of The Adventures of Superman. I was cast as Jimmy Olsen. I had nothing to go on--not the comic book, not anything.
But the great thing I had to go on was that everybody was out of work and there were great character actors--Elisha Cook Jr. from The Maltese Falcon, just endless terrific people--who came in to work on Superman as villains or friends or whatever and so the joy of being a young actor and learning to act, which I had not learned on two major films...to learn from these wonderful people and try to do this one-camera show, which was the first one-camera show ever done with wonderful people like George Reeves who played Superman, Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, my wonderful John Hamilton, who was my Perry White and to work with all these great character actors.
And they let me have my swing with comedy so I was able to turn Jimmy into a rather comic character from being the juvenile under duress. [Laughs]
And so it just developed and I had no responsibility but later I had a responsibility because Jimmy became very popular and as Paul would know, they then put out a comic book called Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. And everybody loved Jimmy, so I had a responsibility then but not in the beginning; it was just a blessing to do the part, though I didn't know it at the time.
Miereanu: A question from Facebook, for Henry: What did you take away from past Superman roles and integrate into Man of Steel?
Cavill: When it came to me creating this character for me personally and with the groundwork and the framework that my friend David here had laid down, I wanted to avoid watching the previous live-action stuff purely because that was, in my opinion, someone else's interpretation of the character in the comic books.
I wanted this to be our interpretation of the comic book without anyone else's influence affecting that and therefore muddying the line between source material and live action. So I didn't use any influence from previous performances.
Miereanu: Also from Facebook for everyone on the panel: If you could have one of Superman's powers, what would it be and why?
Levitz: Flight sounds like a good one. I'd get around a lot quicker. Would have helped a lot when I had to commute to Burbank for meetings all the time.
Larson: I'd want all of them. [Laughs] But I've often said--not one of his powers, but one of the maxims: "Truth, justice and the American way."
Quinn: X-ray vision.
Morrison: Superman had a power in the 1950s which he doesn't have anymore to shoot tiny little Supermen out of his hand.
This is real--this actually happened in a story! It's called "Superman's New Power," and he develops the ability to shoot a tiny little version of himself out of his hand. [Laughs] And while he's flying around, Superman has no powers and basically has nothing to do. And he gets really angry about this little version of himself because it's getting all the fame and the renown and the whole story's just his anger at this tiny little version of himself so obviously that's the power I want.
Sprayberry: I'd probably want the power to have great hair all the time.
Morrison: You? Look what I've got!
Lee: I'm not quite sure. I guess...
I work in comics, so I'm always facing deadlines like Paul as well. I guess spinning around the world super-fast and turning back time, that would probably be a good one. Make a killing on the stock market, so...
Daly: Do we know what Superman is like in bed?
Goyer: Larry Niven wrote an essay called "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex."
Daly: I remember as a kid, they used to have these ads in the back of comics that you could get these glasses that had X-ray vision, so I always thought about that. But I think it would have to be flight. That's the coolest.
Goyer: I have to take one that hasn't been taken. Supposedly he has super-intelligence, like he can learn a language in an hour...
...I've always liked freeze-breath. Not one we've seen much of.
Cavill: Probably...what do I choose?
Well, I've got to say the one power I would choose, which I wish I had, which is probably the one thing that really ties him to humanity, is his unbreakable spirit. It's the one thing that he has that real connection with humankind with and yeah--all the others are great but it's his unbreakable spirit which is what I admire him most for.
Miereanu: From Twitter - Henry, what was your favorite part of the physical aspect of becoming Superman?
Cavill: Umm, how do I say this? You know what, getting in that kind of shape was incredibly hard work and it was a gruel and a slog every day to get up at 3 in the morning and train before work and it would ultimately be a fifteen-hour day and it was exhausting. But I got to be in that kind of shape.
I had an amazing trainer in Mark Twight and when you're feeling that strong, it's a good feeling, I'm not going to lie. You feel very fit and healthy and so just that feeling of health and fitness was probably the best part of it--just feeling healthy.
Goyer: I'll tell a funny anecdote. I brought my sons on the set but I timed it so that Henry would be in the costume when my kids are on the set. And I'd been saying, "Yeah, I work with Superman," and they said, "No you don't."
So my now six-year-old was, I dunno, four-and-a-half when we went on set and the cape a lot of the times was digital so Henry was in the costume but when I introduced my son to Henry and said, "Hey, this is Superman," he looked at him and said, "No you're not. Where's your cape? And it was like, "He's not Superman."
Cavill: I proved him wrong, though.
Miereanu: You comics artists and writers, do you have a favorite moment during the evolution of Superman over these many years, and do you see where we might be going next?
Levitz: Wow. Just...there's so much, it's so hard to pick a moment. For me, I think it's where I come in. If I could freeze-frame a moment I'd be sitting there as a six-year-old watching Jack and George and Noelle on Channel 11 after school with an open comic book that I had just managed to get from a babysitter telling a story of Superman at the end of the future with a dried-up earth and my eyes wide: Look at how much magic can be going on at the same time, how much magic can be there. It's the moment where he collides with my life that's what I'd love to recreate.
Jurgens: Yeah, I think mine would be a little bit similar in that I think back to it and what I always remember are the individual covers on the stands and the color that was there. One of the things that always seemed to be present was the sense of nobility and majesty that went with the character and somehow that seems to translate through anyone who draws it when they do it properly.
It's just more the sense of Superman than a particular visual itself.
Morrison: I guess for me I kind of like older versions of Superman. Like Batman, this is a character that's so malleable that we've seen a dozen different takes on it over the decades. As Jim said in the beginning, he was very much a gruff working man who was fighting for poor people at the time in the Depression. In the forties, he's a patriot; in the fifties he's kind of like the guys who come home from the war and are looking to set up homes and families so in the fifties Superman's surrounded by, you know, Supergirl and Superdog and all his relatives and friends from the future. Again, in the sixties he's a cosmic seeker.
So I kind of like...I think the real Superman is a culmination of all of those things and when we talk about where he is now, we've been through a lot of recent versions of Superman. In 2005, around then, after 9/11 he was kind of like a Messianic Superman and it was playing up the Jesus aspect and the Sky God aspect. What we're seeing now is a much more human Superman which I think is interesting because as humans and the idea of a superhuman get closer together, Superman becomes more like us, we become more like him and I think that's what we're seeing in the new movie. Almost a point of contact is happening here and Superman's much more reflective of how we all feel and he's dealing with problems that we have to deal with as well.
So I kind of see that and the evolution of...well, you'd have to talk to these guys about what they're going to do next but the evolution I think will be a much more humanistic Superman and a Superman that we can almost kind of reach out and touch and become that character.
Lee: Very quickly, I would also recommend The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. When I was in college, that's what inspired me to become a comic book professional in that it really took what I thought were professional stories and brought a whole new level of sophistication to them. He really represented Batman and Superman as almost these elemental forces that were representing all these different things--things that were very relevant in the '80s. In a way, Superman had lost his way a bit and was working for the Reagan Administration and--I don't want to spoil it--basically Superman and Batman fight in the end and I always thought Superman got robbed a little bit and it would be great to see a rematch between the two of them.
I don't know--maybe on screen? I don't know, something.
Goyer: So over in Hall H at the Warner Bros.–I guess most people know now–at the end of the Warner Bros. panel, Zack came out and he brought Harry Lennix, who plays General Swanwick in Man of Steel and we–actually, Harry read a bit from [The Dark Knight Returns] and so the next film we’re making, we’re already in pre-production, comes out in summer of 2015 and it’s–we’re actually not sure whether the title is Superman vs. Batman or Batman vs. Superman but yes, it’s–that rematch, that combination, the two guys onscreen and that’s happening.
I grew up reading these comics and read The Dark Knight Returns when it came out. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I'd be writing "Batman, blobbity blah-blah-blah, Superman, blobbity blah." That's...crazy.