Interview: ‘Chronicle’ Writer Max Landis Talks Superman & ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1

Action Comics Annual #1

Sometimes it’s good to get an outside perspective on things. Outside the usual thinkers, but someone cognizant of the players involved. And DC has done just that for Action Comics Annual #1, as they’ve enlisted Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis to write a special back-up that will introduce classic super-villain the Atomic Skull to the “New 52” DCU.

Coming to comic stores on Wednesday October 31st, this Ryan Sook-illustrated story is Landis’ formal debut into DC but not his first brush with comics. People know him well for his revisionist take on superpowers with the film Chronicle, but Landis has a secret origin of his own writing a little-known miniseries for Bluewater in 2008 titled Back To Mysterious Island. Comics are in Landis’ blood, and after the success of Chronicle his name has been attached to a number of superhero-related films and television shows, including rumors of the young writer penning the sequel to next year’s Man of Steel. While the University of Miami grad couldn’t talk about that directly, he did talk to us at length about his vision of Superman.

iFanboy: Thanks for talking to us, Max. What can you tell us about “Anchiale,” your story for Action Comics Annual #1?

Max Landis: First of all, there’s no words – no dialogue in the whole thing. It’s very exciting for me, because as a screenwriter you don’t get that chance. But I found in writing for comics your artist is your actors, your cinematographers, your editor and co-director. It’s startlingly different, and I love it.

iF: What does the title of the story, “Anchiale,” mean?

ML: Anchiale is the Greek goddess of heat and warmth. The guy in the story is an academic; he has his nose in books and is a deep thinker buried in college and studying. But along the way he essentially loses all the tenants of society and all attachments to academic life. He finds himself losing his mind a bit due to the nature of the situation. While he’s losing all this he finds a foothold in Greek mythology and Anchiale.

iF: What Greek god would you most identify yourself with, Max?

ML: Hades, but I want to be Zeus.

iF: This story introduces the Atomic Skull into DC’s New 52 timeline – with this chance to tweak what he’s about, what’s your take on the character?

ML: As you’ll see in the story, the Atomic Skull isn’t so much a villain as a situation. The guy’s already a time bomb emotionally, so I turned that outward into his physical abilities – harping on the compulsive nature of the human self.

iF: This isn’t your first jaunt in comics – besides the comic-inspired Chronicle film, you also wrote a comic series in 2008 called Back To Mysterious Island. Is comics something you’d like to do more of?

ML: Back To Mysterious Island was a train wreck, I don’t look back to it fondly except for working with the cover artist Matt Frank. But if I can find the time, I’d love to write more comics. There’s something very compelling to me about the medium. I think that’s why comics have been so enduring, going back to pictograms. It’s an experience you don’t get anywhere else; it’s almost like invading someone else’ s mind and showing them things and putting voices in their head. It’s like a form of creative telepathy.

Page from “Anchiale” in Action Comics Annual #1

iF: A lot of rumors are swirling about you being in line to write a sequel to next year’s Man of Steel movie. I won’t ask you about that, but let me ask you this: What do you think are the essential pillars of Superman to make him work, whether it be movies or comics?

ML: Well, to me it might be different than other people but I really love Superman. I need to rant a little bit, but it goes like this.

Bruce Wayne is a mask that Batman wears. The person there is actually Batman. And Spider-Man is another side of Peter Parker’s personality; it’s all the shit he wishes he could say. Hulk is something Bruce Banner represses and turns into. Oliver Queen is pushed by an intense ideology and belief system. And if you look at Wonder Woman, she’s been doing this since she was a kid. The Green Lanterns are police; it’s their job to be good guys.

Superman, however, is a guy that for no other reason than he’s a really good person is a superhero. It’s altruism without consequence; the idea of doing the right thing for doing the right thing. He’s not doing it because his parents got shot or he was stranded on an island. For him, it’s about doing the right thing; what’s more exciting than making the right choice?

I love how Superman was written by Grant Morrison and how Mark Waid and Alex Ross handled him in Kingdom Come, but I have a slightly different take. Superman could be our man on the scene. He’s a Kansas boy, and he’s not ready for the likes of Two-Face or even a malevolent billionaire like Lex Luthor. They have bigger personalities and are scarier, but Superman doesn’t have to be a bad ass… he just believes in himself.

There’s something to the idea that he’s an everyman, but he’s not an average Joe. The key is making Superman the everyman you want to watch.

Superman is your friend; he’s your good guy, and he’s not used to any of this. The fact that he can fly is still surprising to him. The fact that he can go into space after growing up as a normal kid watching E.T., Aliens, The Day The Earth Stood Still and even Mars Attacks, Starman and Guvyer, it’s amazing. Then he finds out he is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He’s 16 or 17 and he finds out he’s a fucking alien. Trying to deal with that, I don’t think it would ever sink in completely. Seeing the inside of the Fortress of Solitude, meeting Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman with these crazy personalities, he would say “Wow! Holy Crap! This is incredible!”

Superman hasn’t been written like this before. When he first sets his sights on Gorilla Grodd, he’s the guy who would say “Hey! That’s a talking gorilla!” You don’t see that kind of stuff in Kansas or even in Metropolis.

He’s a compelling Joe – not a dumb average Joe. He’s this cool guy set in a world of mortal gods, metahumans, aliens and universe-ending lunatics and sociopaths. There’s inventors in their garage making things that could change the course of reality. I love it that there is this guy, this alien, who works at a newspaper,  has a girlfriend, and is also Superman.


Action Comics Annual #1 hits stores October 31st.


  1. At MorrisonCon, Landis outlined beat-by-beat his original ACTION COMICS ANNUAL story pitch that DC rejected and I have to say that one sounded really awesome. I’m curious to see how his second story turned out.

  2. “The fact that he can go into space after growing up as a normal kid watching E.T., Aliens, The Day The Earth Stood Still and even Mars Attacks, Starman and Guvyer, it’s amazing. Then he finds out he is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He’s 16 or 17 and he finds out he’s a fucking alien. Trying to deal with that, I don’t think it would ever sink in completely.”

    someone put this guy on the main book or a mini-series. I love the sound of that take on Clark

  3. I still haven’t seen Chronicle (I know! I know!). But based solely on this interview alone, I like this guy.

    He’s refreshingly honest (calling your first work a train wreck is an awesome admission to make!). And I dig his take on Superman. It’s exactly what I think gets overlooked too often. It’s nice to see the good guy who is….well, just a honest-to-goodness- GOOD guy!

  4. His retelling the the Death and Return of Superman is on YouTube and it’s pretty great. I would love to see him write a Superman movie because he grew up reading comics.

  5. Would you guys color me a Pollyanna for being hopeful right now?