‘Pure Blackness’ – John Ridley and Edwin Galmon Give Grace to Earth Two’s Superman for DC Power 2024
Earth-2’s Superman, Val-Zod, gets a mini spotlight in DC Power 2024, with a story by John Ridley and incredible art by Edwin Galmon. Since his debut in 2014, Val-Zod hasn’t had much of a focus on him. That’s changed with this mini-story focusing on his need for peace, inside and outside his head.
“There’s not a lot out there about Val, right? When they called and said, do you want to do a Val-Zod story? Oh my god, I can’t there’s no way you know, it’s a version of Superman can’t do it. Then I started reading up on Val,” Ridley explained, adding that wasn’t much out there on this version of Superman. He decided to embrace that.
In a previous call with Ridley discussing his IDW series, he was full of praise about Edwin Galmon’s art and continued during our call about the DC Power anthology. “And your shout-out to Edwin, Edwin is great. Let me tell you that’s one of my favorite stories and it has very little to do with the words on the page, that art is amazing. I work with some of the best artists, the best partners, and they just keep getting better.”
If you haven’t seen Galmon’s artwork yet (he had an amazing 2023, with numerous covers and interior art), check out some of his work here in this article and his other issues. I asked Galmon how he gets his art to look “so moisturized” with the shading, depth and color all taken care of by him.
“When I first started drawing, one of my first things I wanted to get right was definitely the proportions, but I mainly wanted to be just a penciller and an inker. I started reading mainly DC comic books and I started to notice that these people are dynamic in their art,” Galmon shared over a Zoom call.
Artists like Jim Lee, Jorge Molina, Jorge Jiménez and Ivan Reis were among his listed inspirations. “They put their proportions in a way that really fits their style and I wanted to figure out a way that works for me. The more I started working on my style, I started to figure out what I like, which is shapes, figuring out what the form of everything is. So when I do color, it doesn’t look flat, or it doesn’t look like two different artists did it. I wanted to really highlight my inks by doing simple shapes in my coloring,” Galmon said.
The way he draws characters, particularly Black heroes, is incredibly affirming, especially growing up in an era where mostly white artists were struggling with how to draw Black hair in all its diversity and texture. Previous iterations of Val-Zod had his hair looking a bit dated or, frankly, unremarkable.
“I also have to compliment the writing too, because the writing gives me the visual idea of how this character is supposed to be drawn, how this character is supposed to be,” Galmon said. “But when it comes to drawing the characters, particularly with Val-Zod, I really wanted his look to be Black. Like there’s so many cool black characters out there now and we can make [them] stand out more. We can make this character shine more. Val-Zod never really kind of got that.”
“I wanted to draw Val-Zod in a way that this person feels like his mannerisms. To me, he was always a loner. He was always like a reclusive person. So when John wrote that story, I automatically knew how I was going to draw his look, his hair especially. Marquis Draper, the editor, came to me and asked have I drawn Val-Zod before? I asked ‘can I draw him with a fade? Can I put a little bit of waves on, a little bit of fade?’” Galmon said, laughing.
“For most of the characters, when you mentioned hair, whenever I see fades, it’s always a hard fade, like the hair just kind of disappears. I wanted it to actually fade out there, I want it to be like a taper. I wanted to basically be this man’s barber,” Galmon chuckles, explaining his hair process.
“It was just fun drawing Val-Zod, because I got used to drawing Kryptonians a lot, but drawing Val-Zod felt different, I can now relate to a look. With that look, I kind of formed him after my father a little bit. I went from there and it just came alive from that point. I made sure to make it look like he’s not just ordinary, even though he wants to be, he still is extraordinary.”
In ‘Pure Blackness,’ Val-Zod consistently seeks the same peace and quiet he got growing up isolated in his pod, growing up an orphan and feeling abandoned. Ridley and Galmon come together, crafting a somewhat sad, but relatable story about Val-Zod’s particular anxiety.
“One thing I would say and what I really appreciate, you really gave Val grace,” Ridley said to Galmon, explaining that a lot of heroes are often drawn as “buffed up. I’m gonna pound your head in.”
This visual often plagues Black heroes, more often than not. “I do think with a lot of the heroes of color, it’s a lot of that beast mode, I’m gonna come at you. Part of that is cultural, but part of it is like we’re not all that,” Ridley said.
“Everything that was done from the cape, from the grandeur, or from a strong black man to a graceful black man to a tender black man; to a black man that wants to be alone, be a child in the sense that I just wish I could be back in that pod. I didn’t really have my mom, but that was the womb, that’s the safe place,” Ridley explained, sharing insight into Val-Zod’s mental state.
Galmon said when he received the script, he read it multiple times. “This is how I want to draw him, like he doesn’t fit, but he will still do the job, because it’s still in him to do it. But sometimes you just need to be alone. Just let me reflect about who I am. It’s all of those elements combined, it helps me really try to draw that into the character. For Val-Zod, I really wanted him to feel like he was an alien, but he’s also Black, he still came to Earth.”
Expanding further on he gets to play more with this version of Superman being a Black man, relating to the character. “I get to show like Black expressions a little bit. It sounds really sad, but there’s that Black expression that is kind of universal,” Galmon said. “I just need a moment before y’all bother me again, but I will always be there to help. Let me deal with this for a minute. So whenever I see his written words on page, if I was put into that place, how would I react?”
Val-Zod’s reluctance to be a hero, but still stepping up to do so is a bit different from his predecessor, Earth-2’s Clark Kent. He doesn’t manage crowds as easily as Kal and he prefers his privacy.
“There’s a page where he [Val] meets Kara in the middle of the street. There’s a scene where he is getting photographed, a panel where he’s annoyed, but sighing,” Galmon said, explaining how he drew the panels, with the crowd “fading out to blue.”
It’s pretty clear that Val-Zod is not a people or a “crowd person. I’m not trying to be Clark Kent. He just wants to be alone. He will always be there to save people, but Val-Zod, to me, feels like he’s just a guy who is Superman, but he wants to be more Val-Zod than Superman. Still has his responsibilities, but not being Clark Kent’s version of Superman,” Galmon shared.
Ridley also expressed admiration for the way Galmon draws superhero capes. The way each cape floats feels almost angelic, floating gently behind their respective super-person.
“When it comes to capes, my favorite thing to draw to make it dynamic, these characters are like demigods or like these deities, but they also are just people. So as they fly in the air, you can see the form of a man there, but the cape allows them to have that gentleness. I like to show that in the cape, because capes are fun to draw. That drapery around them makes them otherworldly. I’ve made the cape the character too, to make it fit what the character is doing,” Galmon said.
“There’s one page where he’s off in space and he reaches the end of space. The first panel’s him just there, there’s space around, nothing is there. I wanted to draw the cape on the side because it flows as if it’s trying to go into the nothingness of space, but you also see his body there which is unmoved.”
The unfettered passion about Val-Zod was apparent with how much Ridley and Galmon talked not only about the character, but each other, their editors, and DC at large.
“The space behind me,” Ridley said, gesturing to his gallery art wall in his house. “His art is going up there. I really want to praise what Edwin did and I want to praise what DC did, because to have the opportunity to be put together with a terrific artist, then put in an anthology with terrific creators, then it’d be put on the shelves by a company, with audiences respond by going, ‘Oh, can you go to a second printing or third printing?’ I just want to give praise all the way around. I just cannot praise Edwin enough for what I’m seeing, because what I saw was just spectacular.”
“Edwin mentioned Marquis Draper, who’s the editor on this, I don’t think editors get enough credit for what they do. They’re really like producers, in my other job, they would be producers. They’re not afraid to give me notes. They do an amazing job,” Ridley said “It was great to be together with people who got it just on a bigger level. If I’m gonna do a person of color, I’m gonna approach it on this level, but put together something that everybody can enjoy. It was an amazing experience. I’m proud of so many things I’ve done, but it is probably the one piece of anything that I’ve worked with that has made me the happiest and made me the most proud.”
“These characters need more shine, this is the place to do it. I’m glad that it’s a Black editor, with a Black writer, and Black artists,” Edwin said.
DC Power 2024 is available now in celebration of Black History Month and DC Comics’ Black heroes, villains and vigilantes. Want more on DC Power? Check out our recent interview with author N.K. Jemisin about her Far Sector story in this year’s anthology.