Hero Complex Dispatch – A Night with Superman


Last night I attended the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival, specifically the screenings of Superman and Superman 2, which featured two onstage interviews, one with director Richard Donner and a second with Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. For a variety of reasons, I got there pretty late and ended up only seeing the last part of Superman and had already bought tickets to see X-Men: First Class later that night, so was not able to catch the Donner-edit of Superman 2. I only had a glimpse of seeing these classic films on the big screen, which I regret. I haven't seen Superman in the theaters since it came out, and despite a technical issue which resulted in the picture being really dark (Donner said that he would have "booed like crazy" if he had been in the audience), it was still awesome to experience the film in the theater again, even though I was in the very front row.


The interview between Richard Donner and Geoff Boucher of the LA Times was a wonderful celebration of Donner's work and the mythos of Superman. After a touching (and very funny) introduction by Geoff Johns, the audience was treated to a fascinating discussion of how Superman came to be (Donner "saved it from the Hungarians" and a director who "never knew who Superman was) and some great stories regarding its production, including the struggle to get Marlon Brando to sign on, who wanted to play Jor-El "like a bagel in a world of green suitcases."  


Donner, whose wife Lauren served a a producer on X-Men: First Class, while clearly enjoying himself on stage, was very thoughtful though out the interview. He admitted to "not being able to look at" the very realistic statue of Christopher Reeve as Superman that stood in the lobby, and made sure to mention a variety of people who helped him with Superman, and was adamant that Superman was just as relevant in the 21st century as he was in the 20th.  


After an intermission, the discussion with Jim Lee and Geoff Johns began, which was basically a rehash of the recent news coming out of DC.  While regular readers of the site know about DC's plans, this was an opportunity for people who don't follow comic book news to find out about the relaunch of Action Comics and the other 50+ DC books coming out later this year.  There was much focus on the fact that the books would be coming out digitally as well, and Geoff really drove home the point that although he was very skeptical of digital comics at first, after playing with DC comic book app, he was very excited about how DC was using the panel view, how they were planning to "experiment with different things" as they leveraged the digital platform.  


Jim and Geoff discussed the new Justice League book in some detail, with Jim describing it as the "ultimate" book to work on, and that he was very, very excited to be working with Geoff.  The first arc of the book will take place in the past, telling the origin story of the team, why they had to be together.  The pair said they wanted to focus on what the characters were like behind the masks, with Geoff stressing that the three words behind the book were "art, humor and heroics."  This focus on relationships will be evident in the last issues of Flashpoint. I talked to Geoff before they went on and he said that that book had to be all about "the relationship between Flash and Batman."  I have the feeling we'll see a lot happen with Batman and Flash in these new books; Geoff mentioned that Batman was very intrigued that Flash was a human that was given specific powers by accident–as opposed to being an alien from another planet, which I thought was extremely compelling.


The highlight of the discussion was a special video from Grant Morrison, who discussed how excited he was to work with Rags Morales on Action Comics #1, that the opportunity to start a book over that had been in print since 1938 was not lost on either of them.  Action Comics is very much going to be about ACTION, about excitement. We're going to see a bold origin story, why he has the costume, Grant wants to recreate the story as new, and kept using the words "big" and "action" to describe the feeling of the book.  

Throughout the discussion, the pair discussed the tensions between trying to make these books and characters new and relevant without upsetting current readers too much. Given the relatively small number of people who applauded when the audience was asked "how many of you collect comics today?" I think that they understand that comics must change or that number will shrink. They admitted that change can be hard, but pointed out that comics have always changed, highlighting the changes that happened both in Superman and Batman early on. Jim admitted that change was hard, but the intent is to make this change so that people who love these books "will just love them more."  [In response, Lee later tweeted "interesting to note I thought a lot of ppl said they were into comics from my seat."]


Finally, when Johns was asked what he hopes will come of his efforts to bring more DC characters to the movies and television, he said he'll know he is successful "when a little kid comes up to me and says 'the oath.'"  He wants kids to dissect these films and create stories on their own, using the DC universe, much like he did after he saw Empire Strikes Back when he tried to figure out what IG-88 was all about (I did the same thing–so evil looking, but a robot! A droid bounty hunter!?!).  


Geoff Boucher did a great job with both interviews, his questions were interesting and relevant, and though he was clearly a fan (he grew up to be "Clark Kent instead of Superman" having been inspired by Clark and Peter Parker to work in newspapers), he was not fawning or anything like that.  Overall, the timing could not have worked out more fortuitously, both in terms of the comic book industry and from an almost symbolic point of view. Here was the father of the modern day Superman character, getting a chance to discuss the impact of his interpretation of the film, followed by the creative team who is re-introducing not only Superman, but a whole universe of comic books to a new world of audiences.  Both are leveraging different kinds of technology to tell their stories, but understand that this technology is only a tool, that, in the end,  these are stories about real characters, about relationships, about desires, needs, fears and hopes. (Indeed, Donner told the audience about how Stuart Baird, his editor on Superman, had never grown up with the character, that when he was editing the film, he had treat Superman as a real person, as someone who actually existed.)  The interviews between the two films served as an elegant and touching transition, transferring the mantle of the worlds greatest superhero from one generation to the next.  


  1. IG-88 > Boba Fett.

    Somebody had to say it.

  2. ha–couldn’t agree more

  3. Almost went to this; sounds awesome, though I don’t feel quite so regretful after hearing about the dark picture that even Richard Donner says he would have booed.

  4. Nice write-up Mike. After watching the first Superman I turned to my friends sitting next to me in the theater and said, “Thank god for Christopher Reeves and John Williams’ score…without them this movie is almost unwatchable now.”

    Being from 78′ I can understand that it is going to have a strange feel, but man…I laughed out loud (and so did the audience) at how ridiculous some parts were: the Christmas ornament ship, the Lois poem as they fly, and at the end…Superman’s last line when he drops Lex at the prison, he says goodbye by yelling,”Night!” It just seemed goofy.

    With all of that said, I was glad I got a chance to see the classic film in a theater. Plus, the interview of Donner was awesome.

  5. I do not know about the rest of the members, but after reading the title  A Night with Superman first thought came to my head is Superman geting a New porn Movie!

  6. I bet I’m more excited about Grant Morrison writing Action Comics than he is.

  7. Good report.  Thank you.

  8. Great review, feel like I was there, would’ve loved to catch Donner’s Directors Cut of Superman ii.

  9. Those movies are still as great now as when they were first shown.

  10. Well, except for what happened with II and…all that, aww #$@ it you know what i mean.
    It’s the sincerity of it all that makes you believe a man can fly.

  11. Lee: “I remember my parents taking me to see that movie when I was twelve, and like every kid in America I ran with my hands out, flying around the parking lot,” said Lee. With a laugh he added, “Then last night I saw ‘X-Men: First Class’ with our ten-year-old and his memory was, ‘Wolverine said the f-word!’ He had a different memory than I did!”

    Nice attempted swipe at Marvel there … but why are you taking your ten year old son to a PG-13 film? 

  12. So is that a picture of the statue? If so, that’s uncanny how real it looks. I thought it was a Chris Reeve lookalike.