INTERVIEW: 2023 Eisner-Nominated Author Mark Russell Talks Superman at San Diego Comic-Con
2023 Comic-Con International: San Diego – Multiverse of Color sat down with Mark Russell, Eisner-nominated writer of the acclaimed Superman: Space Age to talk hope, humanity and heroism in the face of complete and utter annihilation. Russell was nominated for Best Writer and Best Limited Series for Superman: Space Age at this year’s Eisner Awards.
Interview edited for clarity. Mild spoilers for Superman: Space Age.
Vanessa: I really want to just dive into the messages of hope and despair. Jor-El and Jonathan Kent, throughout the book, are saying, “hope is a lie” or something that you “make come true”. That theme kind of reverberates throughout the book. Why is that important for Superman and readers?
Mark Russell: Well, I think it’s sort of important for me, because this is how I feel, I feel like there’s so much to be worried about. It makes me feel like we’re doomed. But I don’t want to feel that way. I don’t want to go through life that way. I have to look for reasons to feel hopeful. And I think that’s kind of what the book is about. You’re never quite as doomed as you think you areand if you look for reasons to hope, you’ll find them.
Vanessa: For some people, it does feel a little bit hopeless and Superman has always been a symbol of hope. Marrying that sadness and despair with hope, how do you want the readers to feel?
Mark: What I want them to feel is that they themselves have power that they themselves are what will determine whether or not we are facing a hopeless situation or whether or not there is hope. That’s the realization Superman comes to too. It’s not really his world to save. He’s not the one taking care of everybody relaxing on the beach with a margarita. He realized that he needed other people to contribute, in order for the human race to survive. I feel like that’s where I draw my hope from, is from the fact that I’m not alone, I’m not beating my head against the wall. There are millions of us who feel this way. We all, in a way, can change things.
Vanessa: There’s a moment in the book that really resonated with me, when Superman helped out sex workers who were dealing with an abusive pimp, why was it important to include that?
Mark: A symbol has to meet people where they live, it doesn’t do any good to just be a flag or be a sign on the wall. It’s a false hope, you’re putting your hope in something which cannot really love you back. Superman is, first and foremost, someone who loves people, someone who loves humanity. Somebody who actively wants to know the people he’s trying to help. That’s the first step and helping people is meeting them where they live and getting to know them and their problems. Not just being this beacon for people to somehow make their way towards.
Vanessa: Let’s talk about the history part of it, why the decision to include a historical timeline?
Mark: The original idea was one issue per year from 1963 to 1985. We scrapped that idea, just focusing on the different decades. I’ve always been a fan of history. It’s a shame that when they were writing these comics, during when all these historic events were happening, they weren’t really writing about the historic events, they might have made their way into the writing here and there. But now looking back, knowing how important these times were, we needed to see those superheroes living in the world that we identify as our own.
Vanessa: With the inclusion of Pariah, means the inclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths, how do you keep the story fresh especially when he came out in the 80s?
Mark: One of the original guiding lights, the series that we want to tie into: Crisis on Infinite Earths. To me, Pariah was the most interesting villain in Crisis on Infinite Earths, because he’s somebody who didn’t intend to be a villain. He got soaked up in the mess that he created and I found that really compelling. I wanted him to be somebody who’s given up hope, sort of the antithesis of Superman. But also somebody who, in a way, sort of helps Superman, because he’s challenging and telling him what’s going to happen. He’s telling him that there is no hope. It’s all gonna end. It makes Superman want to prove him wrong.
Vanessa: It’s hard to refresh an idea that has been done. We just had Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths, and we saw Pariah again. The difference between the two is that we really see the humanity in Pariah [in Superman: Space Age] versus him just being straight up “ahhhhh.” [Dark Crisis] (Editor’s note: This is me trying to make an ominous villain noise, anyway…)
Mark: One of the questions I get asked a lot is how much research did you do? I like to say, first of all, I did almost none, because I think in a lot of ways, the research would have hurt it, because I didn’t want it to be like the versions we’d seen before [in Crisis on Infinite Earths]. I wanted to do something new. So yeah, it was true to what I was feeling. I thought the best way to do that was to not worry about the continuity and the details, to write them the way I thought they should be.
Vanessa: How was the process working with the Allreds, Michael and Laura?
Mark: It was great. I went and stayed with them for a few days in Eugene, which is where I’m from, weirdly. We hung out and we talked about our vision for this series, walked around Eugene and talked about the places that mean things to us. I really got to know them on a personal level, we’re still really good friends. I feel like it really helped, because once you’re on the same page, personally, creatively, we’re able to talk easily, weren’t worried about stepping on each other’s toes and stuff. And of course, when you’ve got Mike Allred drawing, you don’t have to worry too much anyway. Because what you’re seeing is probably going to be brilliant. The highlight for me was just waiting for the pages to come in and see what he’d come up with.
Vanessa: One thing about Allred, is that he will always include Hourman somewhere in the background. I love their work. How is that process? Is it a give and take, a collaborative story? Are you coming in with a story fully?
Mark: I give them the story, but I think the tempo and the pacing really owes a lot more to Mike and Laura, because I would send the story scripted out, I would write two-five panel pages, and he would move almost all the panels onto one page and turn one into a splash page, which worked brilliantly. He knows which moments are going to really pop but what he feels like he can really pour himself into, it really added a lot of gravity to the story. He was able to sort of move my panels around for me, fix my script, and then just go with the Allred magic.
Vanessa: Are there any other artists you would want to work with on your next project and do you want to do another Superman project?
Mark: I would love to do another Superman project. There’s always more artists I would love to work with. One artist I’ve really tried several times to work with, but fate hasn’t aligned for us is Marguerite Savage. Every time you see one of her covers, I think this is like magic, I get the same sort of feeling from her that I do from Mike, she has a very sort of clear visual style that’s bordering on magic.
I’m always happy to work with Steve Pugh. He’s one of my favorites and I love working with him. I would love to do a series with Doc Shaner or Christian Ward sometime.
Vanessa: Is there another superhero outside of Superman you’d like to work on?
Mark: I would love to write a Green Arrow series. I would love to write Batman. Of course, everybody says that. It almost doesn’t need saying. It’s like saying I’d love to have pizza at some point. Those are the two that immediately come to mind. Also, it’d be really cool to write a Rex the Wonder Dog series, because that’s really the back of the book. I think that would be really cool to write. A whole series about a character doesn’t speak.
Especially me, someone who’s really wordy and relies a lot on captions. I think it’d be really cool to write something that had a few, if any words.
SYNOPSIS: Meet Clark Kent, a young reporter who just learned that the world will soon come to an end (Crisis on Infinite Earths) and there is nothing he can do to save it. Sounds like a job for his alter ego…Superman!
After years of standing idle, the young man from Krypton defies the wishes of his fathers to come out to the world as the first superhero of the Space Age. As each decade passes and each new danger emerges, he wonders if this is the one that will kill him and everyone he loves. Superman realizes that even good intentions are not without their backlash as the world around him transforms into a place as determined to destroy itself as he is to save it.
Uniting the critically acclaimed writer Mark Russell (One-Star Squadron and The Flintstones) and Eisner-winner Mike Allred (Silver Surfer and Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams) for the first time, this series promises fans an unforgettable journey through U.S. history and culture starring our beloved characters.Superman: Space Age is available at your local comic book store!