In an interview with CBR, Mark Russell and Mike Allred tease the grounded scope and humanistic themes in their comic miniseries Superman: Space Age.
20th-century history collides with the DC Universe in the upcoming comic book miniseries Superman: Space Age by Mark Russell and Mike Allred. Set in a vision of the DCU that has its heroes inspired by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the story depicts a new origin for many of DC’s most iconic characters, including the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. In this world, Clark Kent tries to find his way in the wake of the national tragedy, learning of his Kryptonian heritage as the Cold War against the Soviet Union heats up. Creating the superhero mantle of Superman, Clark is ready to inspire the world to believe in hope again but the Man of Tomorrow is not alone.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Russell and Allred lay out the historical stakes in Superman: Space Age, explain some of the book’s deeper humanistic themes, and tease a different and badass take on bringing Batman into the fray. Also included is preview artwork illustrated by Mike Allred and colored by Laura Allred.
CBR: Superman: Space Age comes after Superman and the Authority and DC New Frontier which also prominently featured the Kennedy Administration. What is it about the Kennedy legacy that looms large over the DCU and Superman?
Mark Russell: I think it represented hope in a way that Superman wouldn’t have to take up the torch for because hope is the surplus that we invest into a person on top of what they actually are. Beyond what Superman or JFK was, we just needed to feel that there was somebody who cared enough to be the standard-bearer for the human race at a time when it did not look at all hopeful that the human race was going to survive.
There is an undercurrent of war and the threat of war in this story, including glimpses of Jonathan Kent’s World War II past. What was it about incorporating those wartime elements and grounding these characters in 20th-century history that appealed to you?
Russell: I think we’re all products of history in the sense that the world is largely out of our control. But what’s meaningful about us is how we respond to the world. That’s what makes us who we are, and that’s what I wanted to show, ultimately, with Jonathan and with Superman.
How was it bringing those wartime scenes to life visually, Mike?
Mike Allred: Challenging! It’s important to make it as authentic as possible, and I think having those scenes in there takes you into a much deeper appreciation of Superman’s family and what makes him the man that he is, with two fathers. We get to see how they’ve inspired him to be the best person that he can be, so there’s a hopefulness to him even though we see these very dark moments that his Earth father survived. At that point, it’s easier to get a deeper understanding of why Clark became Superman. [Jonathan] is a good person.
More than just Superman, Kennedy’s death also inspires Bruce Wayne. How was it showing Bruce trying to save the world as himself before jumping into the fray as Batman?
Russell: Batman, in a lot of ways, is the response to the world, with the Kennedy assassination and the near-miss with the Soviet Union in a nuclear exchange. It prompted him to go, “I can’t just assume life is going to be smooth sailing for a defense industry billionaire anymore. If I want this world to continue on, I might have to actually dive in and help it somehow.”
Allred: Batman is the biggest surprise for me. Everybody in my family and circle of friends knows that Batman is my all-time favorite character. It might surprise people knowing that, with how little I’ve worked with him. I did over a hundred covers for the Batman ’66-themed books. That’s how I entered the world, with the Batman TV show. [laughs] It was always there and on TV every afternoon. It was very much a part of my life; Adam West’s Batman was my second father. From that TV show, which I took very seriously, I learned to look both ways before I crossed the street and how to make sure to wear my seatbelt.
As silly as that show is, it wasn’t for me as a child. The seriousness of Batman in this book is exactly how I saw the TV show as a child. It’s a vague, real-world version of Batman, and we get to see his metamorphosis. Being given the freedom to show the development of the suit, gadgets, and their progress and evolution is just a real gift and probably the biggest surprise from this project in how much fun it has been to do Batman in this way and the other super characters who show up, but Batman, in particular, has been very gratifying.
Russell: I will say that I think Mike’s Batman is the coolest Batman I’ve ever seen because, like Superman, he’s a guy just finding his way. He’s learning and puts together his suit in such a way that’s both badass and believable. But this is a guy that’s more dangerous because he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing yet, he just knows it has to be done.
How has it been working together on this?
Allred: For me, it’s been a gigantic gift. When the project came together, the first thing we did was have Mark come down and stay at our house; Mark lives a couple hours north of us in Portland, and we live in Eugene, Oregon. We just walked through town, and I gave him the Animal House tour. Typically when we have visitors, if they’re fans of Animal House, it’s a weird little treat. It wasn’t a distraction for Mark and me, we were into daydreaming and brainstorming about how this project was in front of us. I feel like I bonded with Mark there and very much became spiritually a brother in the creative process, and from there, it was just a matter of knocking down the pages.
Russell: It’s been a dream working with Mike as well. Mike is precisely the kind of artist that I love working with where you can give them a script with the description that these are just suggestions and that they can ignore them and just do what they want art-wise, and you just know it’s going to come back better. He doesn’t disappoint. His art is just amazing, and every page where he overruled my page breakdowns and created his own has been a massive improvement.
It’s just overwhelming to be able to work with somebody who is that good and able to improve upon your own creativity. I had a really great time hanging out with Mike and Laura, and I feel like we really got on the same page there. I felt confident when I sent him the scripts because he knows exactly what I’m talking about and how to make this better.
Hal Jordan plays a prominent role in this story, even before he gets that Green Lantern Power Ring. What did you want him to bring with him in Superman: Space Age?
Russell: In a lot of ways, Hal Jordan represents the majority of people back then. He’s my everyman because he has this very Cold War “Us vs. Them” mentality where a nuclear showdown is inevitable. So he thinks we should be the ones to strike first but he quickly realizes that he’s got to grow up and hurry if the human race is to survive. I think that’s the challenge to all of us. In the ’60s with the nuclear standoff between us and the Soviet Union, but also now — we’ve got to be willing to shed our old paradigms and xenophobic way of thinking or we’re condemning each other to death.
Allred: I also think he’s a great representation of how power can be used responsibly or irresponsibly depending on our perspective and what’s in our periphery. We all have our standard perspectives on existence, and, as individuals, our perceptions are incredibly different from each other. Depending on how we approach something or feel about a political situation, depending on our power and influence, we can either make things better or we can pull a trigger without knowing who we’re aiming at and cause a lot of damage.
I really love Hal in a very subtle way that is driven home and made very clear. I think that Hal Jordan has a “Just following orders” mentality of just seeing the target, going for it, and just having faith that you’re taking down the enemy and that the power at your fingertips is being used responsibly, justly, and effectively.
The prologue opens with a window to the future, with the world seemingly coming to an end. Why did you want to open up the book with such apocalyptic intensity?
Russell: I think it’s easy to represent hope when everything might turn out alright, but how do you inspire hope and the ability to carry on when it’s clear that not everything is going to be alright? That’s what I wanted to do with Superman. How do you continue to be Superman when you know the end is coming? What does that do to how you live if you ultimately know it’s going to be for nothing in the sense that it’s going to be destroyed?
I think Superman’s answer is that it’s not for nothing, that if you do something, it’s going to reverberate throughout eternity, whether it ends or not. That’s where hope resides, not in the idea that this will be successful but in the idea that this is who we are, and this needs to be done whether we’re successful or not.
Allred: I think that’s the key to hope in the entire project. From the beginning, we’re told everything we’re about to be is for nothing because it’s all ending. You’ll go year after year with these characters, and you’ll see people fall in love, children being born, and you see these world events in our history. You see life existing, and you think, “For what?” I think this is where the title of the book is significant because, since the Space Age, the world we live in could realistically end at any moment, we’re capable of destroying ourselves, let alone some entity from outer space. The progress of the human race has also created the ability to destroy the human race.
You have to embrace every moment that you have in your existence. Each of us are sharing our turn on Earth, and we hope our existence and relationships mean something. If we were to know there was a guaranteed impending doom, we’d do things differently. What’s fun about this doom aspect, if you can approach it that way, is the fact that you’re reading a Superman book, that’s where the hope comes in. You’ve seen this impending doom, but is there still hope? As you go through the lives and decades of these characters, is there hope? How is this going to end? It’s thrilling knowing what you’ve seen at the beginning of the book.
Russell: This book really asks the question, “Can hope exist outside of outcome?” Superman’s answer is, of course, “Yes.”
Written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Mike Allred, Superman: Space Age #1 goes on sale July 26 from DC Comics.
Sam Stone is a 10th level pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, DC who knows an unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can follow him on Twitter @samstoneshow and ask him about Nintendo, pop punk, and Star Trek.