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Good Bye, Mr. Busiek! We'll miss you!

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  • Good Bye, Mr. Busiek! We'll miss you!

    Poucos que escreveram o Superman conheciam o personagem tão bem quanto Kurt Busiek. Nesses dois anos, seu trabalho foi sinônimo de profissionalismo, competência, criatividade e amor pelo Homem de Aço.

    Que Rao o acompanhe e o abençoe, e espero que um dia retorne.



    by Troy Brownfield

    Many months ago, Kurt Busiek spoke to Newsarama about taking over as the writer on Superman in the wake of Infinite Crisis. Now, as Busiek departs (and prepares for his new, secret gig with Mark Bagely), we check back in to discuss the overall run and the responsibility that comes with steering an icon.

    Newsarama: Early in your run, you told Newsarama: "So we're not aiming for an "all-new all-different" Superman, but a solid, well-grounded Superman that is more of the classic Superman than we've seen in a while, with some modern polish to the storytelling." In what ways did your ambition match the tone of what you accomplished?

    Kurt Busiek: I think how well we succeeded is ultimately up to the readers to judge -- I see it all from the point of view of the puppeteer, after all, so I'm not the best guy to review the show. But I think things worked pretty well on that score. The Superman we saw over the last couple of years in Superman was a confident, heroic guy, one who didn't wallow in angst but wasn't an overbearing jerk -- he was a pretty classic approach to Superman, a guy who does the right thing because he believes in it and was raised in those kinds of values. We tried to face him with problems that didn't have easy solutions, but the way he reacted to them was to try to find solutions anyway, not by complaining about the job he'd taken on. It's a big job, but he's up for the challenge, and he doesn't give in to despair or weltschmerz. He pursues a solution until he finds it.

    Even without powers, as he was when Geoff and I were handed the character, he was still fighting the never-ending battle, on the level he was capable of as Clark Kent. Once he got the powers back, the level went up, but the determination never changed.

    NRAMA: In that same interview, you noted that Superman isn't as hard for you to write as some people might believe the character to be. At ground level, what things always work for a Superman story? Are there certain traits (psychologically, power-wise, etc.), that must always be present?

    KB: I don't think there's a formula to it -- if it were as simple as there being a bunch of ingredients that had to be present, and bam, you've got yourself a Superman story, it'd be easier than it is. One of the great things about Superman is there's such a huge range of stories you can do -- you can tell a story about a little girl looking for her lost kitten, or a story about and intergalactic war that could destroy all of reality, and both of them could be good, affecting, involving Superman stories, because Superman works in stories ranging from the very human to the very cosmic.

    It helps, of course, if there's someone for him to fight, some physical conflict or crisis that allows for the use of his powers. And it's always good if there's a role in there for Clark Kent and for others in the cast. But even those don't have to be present -- you can do a story without a physical conflict, as we did in the back of the Annual we did -- the picnic on the alien planet, which was very well received. Or you can do a story that's just Superman. You wouldn't want to do only those, because there's a reason all that stuff is part of the series, but the scope of what you can do with Superman stories is incredibly vast.

    In most cases, though, it helps to challenge him -- to give him a good meaty conflict to wrestle with, a piece of the never-ending battle to fight. What's key to remember, though, is that a physical conflict alone isn't enough. Superman's so powerful that if all you're doing is looking for bigger ways to smack him around, you wind up at the same place -- the point where the battle is decided by a punch. Nothing wrong with that, if there's more to the story that just that fight, but if that's all there is it'll be kind of empty. It's better if there's a problem Superman can't solve just by using his fists, so he's got a more complicated conflict to resolve. Something he's got to use his brain and his heart to deal with, rather than just his powers.

    NRAMA: One thing that fans enjoy about your writing is that you have a solid command of history (both Marvel and DC). What in particular prompted you to draw on Arion for such a crucial role for so much of your run? What are the challenges of handling a character that's familiar to a few, but needs a reintroduction for another segment of the audience?

    KB: Arion's involvement was actually something that came out of my plans for JLA, back during the time I was supposed to be the regular writer on that. I was looking for possible new JLA members to bring in, and my general rule of thumb for JLA members is that ideally, they should be someone who have or had their own series, someone who has enough stature in the DCU to have supported their own book. There are exceptions -- Zatanna has a strong history with the League, for instance, but most of the characters we think of as classic Leaguers had their own books. Others, like Fire and Ice, of G'Nort, may work well in their particular iteration of the League, but it doesn't seem to make them "belong" to the larger legend, to the classic take on the book.

    I'm sure there will be people who'll disagree with me, but that's the concept I was using to look for potential JLA members.

    Arion struck me as an interesting possibility -- he's powerful, he's ancient, he hadn't gotten a lot of play in the modern day, and he'd supported a book long enough to have some stature. Looking him over, I discovered early on that he'd gotten very cranky as he'd gotten older (see the Arion The Immortal mini-series) and that he was dead, killed off in JSA -- but by that time, I'd fastened on the idea that he could be pretty cool, this ancient, cranky, sarcastic mage who thought the superheroes were sending the world straight to hell in a tea-cart, and things had to be fixed. Not exactly JLA member material after all, but an interesting catalyst for some stories.

    And when I moved over to Superman, I realized he'd work well there, too, so I messed around with the story idea some, and it eventually turned out as "Camelot Falls."

    Arion wasn't meant to be present for so much of my run, though -- that was a matter of the delays, and of me leaving earlier than I'd intended to. "Camelot Falls" was supposed to be the big opening story that set the stage for my run, introducing Khyber and Subjekt-17 and Arion's concerns, putting Superman in a world where he was determined to do what he could to help humanity, but unsure that things were as simple as that any more, a world where unseen dangers always lurked in the shadows, where doing "the right thing" wasn't necessarily as simple as it looked. That, it seemed to me, would be a world conducive to hitting Superman with plenty of dilemmas that weren't easily solved with his powers, and "Camelot Falls" was just supposed to set it all up. Arion would return later, to take up an ongoing role with a slightly different spin, as he took a different approach to solving the problem of the looming darkness, but Superman would have gone on to other conflicts and other issues.

    However, it took so long to get that story fully done, and it got longer as it went, for one reason or another, and by the end of it what was supposed to be a multi-level story that played out over eight months was a ten-parter that took something like 15 or 16 months to play out, and some of the stuff I would have gotten to in the future actually got done in-between parts of "Camelot Falls," which wound up making what was supposed to be my opening arc seem like the whole backbone of my run. In the end, I went with that, and my final story deals with some of the unresolved issues from "Camelot Falls," bringing things to a sort of conclusion as I hand the reins over to someone else. Not that Arion's in it, but there are some thematic connections that get tied off.

    But getting back to your question -- the challenge of writing a character that has to be reintroduced to an audience isn't all that different, whether the character hasn't been seen for a year or hasn't been seen for twenty. Everyone's going to be new to some of the audience, so you've got to introduce any character you use, and do it effectively. Arion was simpler in a lot of ways, because we were bringing him from a point in his history that hadn't been seen at all, and we weren't going to involve him in old storylines -- his old enemies, allies, girlfriends and whatnot weren't going to be turning up, so we didn't have to fill readers in on all this stuff. In a sense, it was as if we were introducing him as a new character -- if readers familiar with Arion noticed that we were showing him well on the way to being the cranky misanthrope he developed into by Arion The Immortal, then great, but we didn't have to point it out. And new readers could just take him as we presented him.

    We did have to deal with a few continuity wrinkles, due to the fact that some people forgot he was dead, and he turned up in Infinite Crisis and the Day Of Vengeance special, but I managed to work that into the story in what I hope was an entertaining and satisfying way. And it meant I got to set a scene in the Oblivion Bar, which was fun.

    NRAMA: Certainly, artistic delays have been an ongoing topic of discussion. When an artist is late, how does that affect you as a storyteller? Does it alter your rhythm? Does it make you more conscious of how you play certain scenes?

    KB: I haven't participated in much discussion about artistic delays -- when a book is late, pointing at the artist is an easy thing for the audience to do, but it may be a lot more complicated than that. Was it just the artist, or did the publisher plan things out poorly, or build a schedule based on fantasy rather than practicality? Should other plans have been made, or other steps taken? Leveling responsibility for delays is almost never as simple as "the artist was slow and the publisher's hands were tied; they couldn't do anything about it."

    That said, and without pointing fingers at anyone in particular -- the Superman crew are all good guys who did their best in an often-difficult situation -- I'll decline to throwing the artists I've worked with under the bus, and just say that delays, for whatever reason they happen, are a bitch and a half. They're frustrating to deal with, they take up time and attention that would be better spent on doing the stories and planning for the future, they make collaboration harder -- if a book's getting done late and there's a sequence that doesn't work, there's no time to fix it; you have to make it work as best you can and get it out the door -- and of course it kills the audience's confidence, which affects enthusiasm and support and sales and all that kind of thing.

    As a storyteller, having a story that was supposed to come out over eight months take twice that long, with new stuff you didn't plan on inserted in -- I'm thinking of the New Gods stuff here, which was done at DC's request to help set up 52, but which I think we made work well for us -- other stories happening in between, well, it absolutely affects the rhythm of things. If you're getting to a point where you want a cliffhanger, but there's going to be a three-month break before the next chapter comes out, then you have to write it so that it works as a cliffhanger and works as an "end of chapter" moment, so people don't feel so much like you've left them hanging while they wait for the next bit. And when that next issue comes out, you need to bring readers up to speed in a way that'll work as a reminder for the serial readers but won't feel like it doesn't belong when the story's collected into a TPB and more. And because of the delays, things have to be done at breakneck speed, and it's harder to back off and get perspective on it all.

    The more balls you're juggling, the more likely you are to drop one. Or at least make inelegant fumbles from time to time.

    But that's just the way it goes. There have been schedule emergencies in comics longer than I've been alive, and late books, and books where a story had to be interrupted to get something else out that month, and so on, and there have been a lot of ingenious things done to deal with those emergencies, and I'm not by any means the first guy to have to face this kind of thing. There are comics, for instance, that were fill-ins but most readers don't know they were fill-ins, because they were integrated well into the ongoing storyline. I tried to make sure that whatever we had to deal with, readers would get good, satisfying issues of Superman out of it, even if the main storyline was delayed, and I think we succeeded more often than not.

    So in the end, the answer is: Yes, delays suck, and they cause all kinds of problems. But as a professional, my job is to suck it up and deal with it and do the best I can under the circumstances. I avoided complaining about it online because complaining about it in public doesn't help -- the only thing that helps is fixing the problem. And in the end, DC seems to have dug their way out of the schedule mess they were in on Superman, Action, Batman, Detective and Wonder Woman, and things are running better now.

    Which isn't to say there won't be problems in the future -- but I hope that they'll be dealt with more smoothly, now that people figured out how to solve them this time.

    NRAMA: When you're dealing with an iconic character, and one that's owned by a corporate structure, how does one "advance" the character? Obviously, there are certain things that DC would want to stay in place. How difficult is it to match the vision of the plotting process versus the character's nature and reputation in other arenas?

    KB: It depends on what you means by "advance." You're not likely to be able to have Clark get a promotion, or Superman conquer all crime, or Jimmy get Perry's job -- at least, not permanently. Any of those might make for good stories, but eventually, the status quo will reassert. But in serial fiction, unless you're doing something like Fables or Y: The Last Man, where there's an end in sight the whole way, you're not so much trying to change and advance the characters so much as you're trying to explore them, give readers a fuller or newer or different understanding of who they are and why they do what they do and what their relationships are with other characters, and so on. Instead of focusing on changing a character's setting or life situation or whatever, you go deeper into them, and advance the reader's understanding of them that way.

    And along the way, the character can develop -- new relationships, new friends, new challenges -- that don't have to be the kind of plot-based advancement most people think of when they think of things "developing." Take a character like Robert B. Parker's Spenser, for instance. He doesn't have constraints on him as an iconic, corporate-owned character -- Parker can do whatever he wants with him -- but over the course of the series, Spenser has gotten a little older, had his relationship with his girlfriend develop and collapse and rebuild, explored his relationship with his friend/sidekick Hawk and more, but he's still a sarcastic private eye who's too literate for his own good and overly concerned with the moral ramifications of what he does. There's plenty of character exploration, but it didn't involve the character undergoes huge changes that would alter the core series ideas.

    That's the way Superman needs to be approached -- you don't want to have him progress and change into something different any more than you want Gregory House to fix his leg and get all well-adjusted and meet a nice girl and settle down. The fact that there are Superman cartoons and movies and such doesn't really affect that, because you don't have to do what they do anyway, and keeping the comic running well means you're not going to blow up the series concept whether there are cartoons or not. Or at least, I don't feel any desire to blow things up, so at least for me, the question doesn't really come up. I want to write stories about Superman being Superman, not having him grow and change into something that doesn't feel like Superman any more.

    NRAMA: On a similar note, you were handling Superman as Justice League of America was relaunching. After the initial crossovers, Action went into different directions as well. As a writer, is it a difficult proposition to steer a character that must be able available for other titles?

    KB: Only if what you want to do is make big changes that would conflict with those other appearances, but that's just a general part of working in a shared universe anyway. The way I used to hear it described is, "You can't blow up the moon in Wonder Woman, because it's still going to be there in Batman, and it's supposed to be the same moon." When you're dealing with a character who appears in multiple books, it's a little more direct than that, but it's the same general idea. You can't change Superman's costume or powers unless you've arranged it so that it can be reflected in other books. You can't kill him or get him married and so on.

    On the other hand, DC's done all those things with Superman, so it's not simply a matter of not being able to do things because he's got to be available for other books, but of not being able to do them unless you've made the appropriate arrangements, and gotten the right people to sign off. Which is ultimately the same process as doing any story, since you can't do anything with Superman without first getting an editor to say "Yeah, okay." Doing it in a way that affects other books may involve more editors and more coordination, but it's still the same process.

    I've dealt with this sort of thing from the other side when I was writing Avengers, and had to deal with whatever was happening in Captain America and Thor. And on the Super-books, we haven't been stopped from doing stuff that gets reflected in other books -- Geoff had Clark and Lois take in Chris, which has affected stories in Superman, and I've had Lex Luthor kicked out of LexCorp and Lana Lang installed in his place, which is the kind of thing that should be acknowledged in other books, if LexCorp comes up in them.

    There's occasionally things you can't do -- I wanted to do something with Metropolis that Geoff didn't want to have happen, so I tabled the idea, because it would have affected his book as well as mine, and if he wasn't into it, I wasn't going to try to force it -- but for the most part you don't take on a book like Superman and immediately want to change things in a way that would cause drastic conflicts with other books. Don't exile him in space for a year without warning. Don't take away his powers and give them to Lois on a permanent basis. But do you really want to do that sort of thing?

    If you do want to kill him, then it can be made to work, as we've seen. It just takes more planning.

    NRAMA: Is there anything that you didn't get to do in your run that you manifestly wished had happened?

    KB: Plenty. Most obviously and notably, of course, are the two stories I planned that got as far as being solicited and then got yanked. The Krypto story is one I'm proud of, and I hope DC decides they can print it someday. And the Chloe Sullivan story was an exercise in frustration -- we worked for two years to get permission to bring her in, and I had the whole story outlined, and was just about to write the actual plot, when I found out -- at quarter to five New York time on the Friday before Christmas -- that the story was being spiked. And Renato needed plot by Monday, and there'd be no one in the office to talk to to figure out what to do for the lead-up to a double-sized anniversary issue that suddenly had no content.

    Luckily, I got in touch with Geoff to make sure my replacement story wouldn't mess up what he had planned for Action, and Fabian Nicieza served as a sounding board over a holiday weekend, which let me work out a new "anniversary" size story that will hopefully make a nice finale to my run. But it wasn't fun, dealing with that.

    Aside from those, sure, there's lots of stuff I wanted to do with Superman that I didn't get to -- when I started, I did an interview here teasing lots of upcoming stuff, and while I think we got to most of it, there was a bunch of stuff we didn't get to. The Vartox story. The Maxima story. The Silver Twist. Some of the repercussions from "Camelot Falls," the next Subjekt-17 story, my plans for Blackrock and plenty more.

    It's not as if I'm leaving Superman because I've run out of stories to tell -- I could write Superman for years to come, and not run dry. But I'm writing the much-hinted-at and much-rumored-about mystery project, with Mark Bagley art, that's going to take a huge amount of my time, and so the decision was made that I should give up Superman at least for the duration, rather than overload my schedule or try to co-write it with someone. And I think it was the right choice, and it'll serve the mystery project well.

    But I could still write Superman for years to come. Maybe when the mystery project is over, there'll be a Super-book for me in some form or another. We've certainly talked about it. Plus, I have two Superman-related special projects in the works that'll get done either alongside or after the mystery project; it depends on how the schedules work out.

    NRAMA: Has your time spent on the character affected your writing sensibilities in any fashion? Did you learn something from Superman that you could apply to your work going forward?

    KB: Probably. I'm not sure I can be articulate about it, because a lot of this kind of thing is instinctive, not conscious. But on a practical front, I've learned more about juggling a character with another writer who's also writing that guy's ongoing solo adventures, I've had the experience of reworking parts of a character's rogues gallery and introducing new members -- and I've had lots and lots of experience dealing with delays, of course!

    On a less nuts-and-bolts level, Superman is a fascinating character, and spending more than two years playing with that character, in different situations and from different points of view, gives me a better sense of control over what I can do with characters and themes, experience that'll help me in the next things I write, even if they don't involve the same kinds of characters. Everything helps; every experience gives you more to draw on with the next thing.

    NRAMA: If you were to handle Superman again in any ongoing capacity, would you alter your approach?

    KB: Superman, or Superman?

    I've left the latter, but not the former -- so I will still be writing Superman the character in some capacity, even if I'm not writing Superman the series. And yes, I'll be taking a different approach there, because the project demands it. But it'll be an approach that's informed by everything I learned and worked out and discovered and so forth while doing the regular book.

    And if I were to be writing an ongoing solo Superman series again, I've certainly got plenty of material for it. I'll have to be at that point, though, before I could say whether it'd be the same approach as if I just stayed on the book now, or if I'll come at it from a different angle. Things might change between now and then.

    NRAMA: Despite the fact that you've written a number of well-known characters, at the end of the day you spent a nice run on Superman. If I may ask, what kind of weight does that carry for you personally? Pride that you've got an indelible association with that legacy? General happiness at stories well-done? How do you see it?

    KB: I wish I'd been around longer and hope to be back later, mainly.

    I'm very happy to have had a run on Superman, and I'm pleased that, between the issues of Superman and Action I've done, I've written or co-written something like 38 issues of the books. But I still feel like I made it through about Act One of what I wanted to do, and put a lot of foundation stuff in that I wanted to build on, wanted to develop. If I'd known I was going to be around for 38 issues and out, I'd have planned something that would be wrapped up by now, but instead I feel like I got a bunch of stuff started, but don't get to finish it.

    But one of the great things about working in the DC Universe is that leaving a series doesn't mean you have to drop all the ideas. Some of what I had planned for Superman will find its way into the mystery project, just as some of what I had planned for JLA turned up in Superman. And I certainly intend to do more with Khyber and Subjekt-17 and Arion in the future somewhere, and hope I'll get to do more with Karsta Wor-Ul and the Insect Queen and Krypto and the Rude Mechanicals and the issues raised in #666. If Geoff and whoever follows me on Superman pick up the stuff I put in the book, then great. If they don't, it's there for me to pick up at another point.

    So I'm happy with what we did, and I'm glad to have had a run of Superman. But I don't feel like I've finished that run, so I don't feel like this is the end. Just a shift to the side, and hopefully a chance to continue things later.