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By Neal Bailey
Fabian Nicieza is a writer currently working for DC, Marvel, Teshkeel, Moonstone, Starlight Runner Entertainment†and lots more. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina (December 31, 1961), Nicieza is best known for his work on Marvel titles such as X-Men, X-Force, New Warriors and more. Currently he's working alongside Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek on Superman and Action Comics.
Superman Homepage writer Neal Bailey interviewed Fabian about his work on the Superman comic books...
The Superman Homepage would like to thank Fabian for agreeing to do this interview, and for fitting it into his busy schedule.
Fabian: That's a good question, but it's hard for me to answer. I wasn't taking the lead in the decision-making for Action Comics #850, since Geoff and Kurt are the writers, I was basically the typing monkey. I pretty much followed their lead on any creative choices as regards continuity.
We all have our own Superman Geek going, and we all have our own quirky preferences, so it's really a matter of spitballing and going with a gut feeling on what works or doesn't.
I think the unexpected nature of the scheduling of this issue forced us to make some choices that G&K possibly hadn't considered having to make just yet - just as a random example, expanding the Lang Family Tree based on Silver Age continuity rather than post-Man of Steel.
So was it a little more difficult? Not really, since G&K really know what they like - and better for the readers and editors - they know WHY they like something, so they can explain, expand and justify their decisions (rather than just rationalize them, which is what most writers do ;-).
So not more difficult, just more choices to make. I think very good choices were made for this issue, as it set a solid foundation while still leaving plenty of room to expand.
Q: What is your personal reaction to the backlash about the continuity?
Fabian: I honestly hadn't noted a "backlash," rather than mostly curiosity from various readers regarding whether "something happened" or not.
I understand that curiosity and even a certain amount of confusion based on how the "New Earth" and "new multiverse" is unfolding throughout the DCU.
Q: Who is Superman to you?
Fabian: To me, he is the strange visitor from a strange land who has worked very hard to adapt himself to society for his own benefit and the benefit of all.
He is the immigrant who achieved the American Dream (success, home, hearth, community and family) and as a result, understands it and respects it more than others who take it for granted (and as a result knows it is worth fighting for and safeguarding).
Q: How did you first encounter Superman, and why, given your long-term stature as a writer of note, did it take so long for DC to give you your shot?
Fabian: What an odd combined question.
I first encountered Superman as a very small boy, 3 or 4, in Argentina, where they were showing the black and white Kirk Alyn serials on television. When we immigrated to America, my brother and I recognized Superman and Batman on the comics rack and asked our parents to buy us the comics. And away you go.
As for why it took DC so long to give me a shot? Well, since I worked on staff at either Marvel or Acclaim for large portions of my comics career, that precluded me from trying to get work from DC. Between Marvel and Acclaim, I co-wrote the Justice League Midsummer's Nightmare limited series, and then after Acclaim I did the Supermen of America Limited Series and the Created Equal Elseworlds project, but, understandably, neither of the latter two impressed anyone enough to warrant regular work.
In recent years I have tried pitching DC ideas, but have had a hard time offering something that knocked their socks off. It's not incumbent on anyone to hire a freelancer no matter their longevity or success, it's incumbent on a freelancer to convince an editor why they should hire them, and in that, clearly, I hadn't been successful until recently.
I was able to develop a Batman Confidential arc with my friend Kevin Maguire, which flowed to Kurt asking for my help on the "Back in Action" three-parter last year, which led to pitching in a little more as needed, which led to Action Comics #848-849, and #850 and a JSA Classified issue, so...
... little by little, I hope to show DC editors that I understand and respect their characters and that I'm an asset to their titles and their schedules so that they'll want to offer me more work.
I'm like ivy that way. Slowly creep and crawl to the point where someone looks at the "stone wall of editorial" and says, "Hey, that ivy don't look half-bad..."
Q: How did you come up with the Auctioneer, and will he be returning?
Fabian: Kurt came up with that. He wanted a huge, enormous alien threat, Galactus or Imperiex level, but with a different hook. I liked the concept of a collector/seller so indifferent to the "things" he barters that entire planets become nothing more than open flea markets for him to pick at.
As for whether he comes back or not, I'm sure Kurt has something percolating for the character that will eventually spell trouble for the Man of Steel...
Q: Here's the controversial question: What's up with Superman and his focus on religious themes in recent issues?
Fabian: I don't know that it was any kind of conscious decision as far as the comics are concerned. I'm sure Bryan Singer thought about it a lot for the movie, but in the comics, it's been more a matter of fleshing out general story ideas.
Kurt and I broke down Superman #659 while at a Yankees/Red Sox doubleheader last year and it basically sprang from Kurt's initial idea: what if someone thought Superman was an angel?
Okay, great idea, so religious themes are inherent in the conceit of that story and creatively, you are obligated to explore them.
Kurt had nothing to do with the Redemption two-parter, therefore there is no "religious conspiracy."
I pitched Matt Idelson a wide range of 2-part stories and he chose the Redemption one. Fine by me, since it was a Superman-specific story I had wanted to tell since around 1983 when I came up with the idea of a metahuman whose powers are fueled by spiritual faith. I thought that would pose an interesting challenge and dilemma for Superman and based on overall response, the story was well-recieved.
I think a good Superman story should always pose a non-physical conflict for him - an emotional can't/must decision that forces Clark to make hard, morally complicated, choices. Putting Superman through an emotional ringer is more fun than putting him through a physical one.
Q: Many fans have asked me, why Redemption over Preus? Why Auctioneer over Mongul? In other words, why go with new creations over tried and true villains? There's a great argument that repetition breeds stagnation (We are in the middle of yet another countdown, after all), and that new creations need to emerge, which Kurt argued well, but is the lack of a mix due to waiting on Last Son? Why such an emphasis on non-mainstream villains, and new creations? Is that editorial direction, or writer emphasis, and will it remain policy, for the most part?
Fabian: I do think you should use pre-existing characters rather than duplicating powers when they are appropriate to a story. In other words, I would use Preus for a religous-themed story if it dealt with Kryptonian heritage and history, but I purposefully wanted to do a religious-themed story that applied to recognizable human culture.
Likewise, Mongul and Auctioneer couldn't be any more different in terms of character and how you would use them in a story. Just because they're both aliens and major "world-threats," doesn't make them duplicates. That's a bit of a silly comparison, I think.
Q: What would you do with a "super-kid?" (Cough). Or more specifically, what would you have Superman do with one?
Fabian: I won't touch that one with a ten-foot pole, since I wasn't thrilled with that aspect of Superman Returns and I have no idea how Geoff and Mr. Donner plan to play that out in Action. Though I have faith as a reader that they'll make smart decisions...
Q: Who are your favorite Superman villains?
Fabian: I like so many of them, but because of their long history, many have had dud stories as well as great ones. I love the tried and true Luthor, Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Parasite, even Terra-Man (okay, maybe not Terra-Man -- though Kurt had a great idea for him...).
That being said, I also quite like more "recent" creations like Mongul, Maxima, Gog, Imperiex and... Redemption. ;-)
Q: With Kon-El gone, Linda on the road, Krypto AWOL, and John Henry and Natasha on their own team, the Superman family, lamentations to the contrary about expansion, has actually shrunk. Is this a conscious direction, and where do you stand on the whole, "Superman should be the last of his kind!" argument?
Fabian: I am of two thoughts on it, since I see and understand both arguments. I get why someone thinks he should be "the sole survivor of the doomed planet, Krypton" since that was part and parcel of his conception. By the same token, serialized monthly publication, much less over nearly 70 years, is derived from the generation and expansion of story content, therefore, one way to create stories for Superman is to create an expanded supporting cast that will allow for a variety of stories to be told.
It's hard to put the genie back in the bottle once it's out. As a concept, Supergirl has been around a while, so it's hard to argue against her presence in modern continuity.
Until I see Beppo and Streaky, I'll argue they've kept it at a manageable minimum. :)
Q: Supergirl seems very moody in one book, and a positive role model in the next, with the only constant being her being somewhat unconstant. Will upcoming stories you write address this in any way?
Fabian: "Unconstant" is not a word, therefore I can't answer your question for fear of offending anyone currently hard at work on the Supergirl title. :)
Seriously, I haven't been asked to write Supergirl, so it would be presumptuous of me to say what I would or wouldn't do. All I will say is, having a 13 year old daughter, that it is very easy to write a conflicted young teenager who is BOTH a good person with solid moral values AND an occasional bitch. That emotional rollercoaster is the very definition of the word, "teenager."
Q: What do the writers think of Birthright? What do you think of it? Is it part of New Earth?
Fabian: Hmm. I can't speak for Geoff and Kurt, though I'd expect they'd say something similar to what I'm about to - which is the same you could say for ANY well-thought out re-conceptualization of a longstanding character: the story had a lot of excellent touches that wove Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern Age aspects of the mythos together in a very smart way, and that being said, doesn't mean I agree with all the choices Mark made.
Is the Birthright Superman the "New Earth" Superman? I don't think so, but again, I'm a utility infielder - if you want the tough questions answered, you have to go ask Kurt Jeter and Geoff Rodriguez (both will be thrilled I attached Yankee last names to them ;-).
Q: You're obviously well-versed in Superman and Pre-Crisis history. Which era do you prefer, and why?
Fabian: You know, I don't "prefer" one or the other. A lot of it depends on whether I want to wear a "nostalgia hat" for the Silver and Bronze Age stories or a "modern hat" for post-Crisis stuff.
Like any monthly title, there are great runs, sometimes for years at a time, and lulls.
I love the late 50's early 60's rush of creativity, Supergirl, Brainiac, Kandor, etc. - I love many of Elliot Maggin and Cary Bates' stuff from the 70's where they took the rigid responsibility of plotting under Julie Schwartz and crafted some very fun, complicated stories. I really enjoyed Byrne's initial explosion on to the title, and even working at Marvel at the time, his issues were the things I most looked forward to getting in our bundles every month. I loved Jerry Ordway's approach to the character and Roger Stern's work as well.
I think Jeph Leob and Joe Kelly, though sometimes not focused enough to maintain a monthly consistency, have done some absolutely beautiful, brilliant issues of the character, some of the strongest work on Superman of the last 10 years.
And I think current readers are very fortunate to have two writers in Geoff and Kurt who, because of their age difference and their approaches, bring a great combination of old time nostalgia from the 60's through the 80's with a solid grounding in current methods of storytelling.
All that being said, I'm sure I've forgotten to name some names, it's honestly a pleasure and an honor to have been involved in any capacity to the continuation of the Superman mythos.
Q: Is editorial pushing a line, or are the writers, with regards to Superman's direction? Meaning, is it you guys crafting the "New Earth" Superman, or is it more a dictum from above, and your pitches fitting into said dictum?
Fabian: Don't know. I'm a typing monkey. I think anytime DC chooses to have the word "Crisis" appear in any capacity in their publishing budget, everyone - from readers to editors to creators - should understand that means there will be changes made to the continuity of every character.
Q: What's your dream Superman story, even if they won't let you tell it?
Fabian: Well, I got to START one of my dream stories with the Redemption two-parter. There are a LOT more stories I could tell involving that character's development into a major threat to Superman. He's got a character arc in my mind that would rival the twists and turns and moral ambiguity of anything on THE SHIELD or SOPRANOS.
Otherwise, I've never been big on talking about work that isn't "real" in interviews.
Would, coulda, shoulda in interviews is a bit of hamster-wheel exercise as far as I'm concerned.
Q: What's your all-time favorite Superman story?
Fabian: Probably "For the Man Who Has Everything." Just for the line, "Burn." :)
I loved many of the Anniversary issues, Action #300, #400 and #500, Superman #200. I loved the Wolfman/Kane run on ACTION in the 80's. Loved it.
Q: What's a pitch you liked that was turned down?
Fabian: See above. Why talk about a story pitch that wasn't used just now when it could be used in the future?
Q: Got any more like it, for the coulda shoulda folks?
Fabian: When Matt asked me for two-part pitches for Action #848-849, I think my response was, do you want 100 or 200 different pitches? He asked for about 5. :)
Actually, at one point a few years ago, I had close to 100 Superman story pitches set aside in a file, but I had a computer crash and lost all of them. The world will forever be deprived of my revamp of the Galactic Golem. :)
Q: Do you have any other Superman related projects that you can divulge or are trying to get through? For instance, Peter David suggested he'd want to make a team of Superman's female allies, any side projects you're interested in outside of the mainline books? (Whether they'll happen or not.)
Fabian: No. I am trying to get Matt's attention to do some things for Superman's upcoming Anniversary, but right now it only amounts to the bald, enthusiastic kid straining to leap out of his seat saying, "Pick me! Pick me!"
Q: Following up, without Superman in mind, what else are you wanting to write in the DCU currently, and any chance we'll see that?
Fabian: Oy vey. Too many characters to list. I grew up on both Marvel and DC, and really gravitated more heavily towards DC in the late seventies and early eighties until I was hired at Marvel in 1985, so the list of characters I'd love to write besides Superman is nearly endless. Nightwing. Robin. Hawkman. Atom. Challengers of the Unknown. Teen Titans. JSA. All-Star Squadron. Outsiders. It goes on and on.
JSA Classified #28 is coming up this July, I have a Batman Confidential arc with Kevin Maguire tentatively scheduled for early next year and just yesterday I was asked to do a "Done in One" Robin issue for later this year.
Besides, since I don't plan on dying anytime soon, I figure that eventually, I'll get to write all the DC characters I've wanted to write since I was a kid.
Q: Okay. Let's say Superman and Batman get into a fight, but Superman is sick and Batman has some REALLY, like totally cool Kryptonite gloves... What do you think of Superman's philosophical pragmatism as a metaphorical allegory for American hope and how that potentially counteracts the current political administration in terms of the contrast of the group mind exposing its potentially fascist hegemonies through positive thinking Americana?
Q: Okay. That one was just a joke. I don't want to get you shot. Forgive me my indulgences. Interview questions are odd beasts. Insert pithy comment here:
Q: Is there a solid plan for Superman's past and future? I understand the "It's being told through story" hardline, and that's fine, but the question is more if you're building as you go, or if there's a kind of outline?
Fabian: I think any reader who thinks writers such as Kurt and Geoff don't have a well-thought through longterm plan simply don't understand what those guys are about. Period.
That being said, changes in artists, publishing plans, corporate decisions, etc. can always change the best laid plans, so knowing your destination doesn't preclude you from having to take some backroads along the path of getting there...
Q: Why the decision to start a new continuity without an origin story? Not blaming you or suggesting you're responsible, but we're hoping you have some insight. Is it an appeal to new readers? An editorial choice? As a fanbase by and large we haven't had enough time to decide, but we're curious as to the motivation, as no one seems willing to speak to it.
Fabian: I really don't know. I think if I were EiC - and I have been an EiC - I wouldn't do a "ZERO" issue with a neatly laid out origin. I think if you are reinventing your universe, even to a partial degree, you are better served slowly filling in certain spots throughout the house with spackle, rather than tearing the entire house down and building it all back up at once.
I am a monthly reader on many of these titles just like anyone else checking out this interview, I buy my comics in the store every week like you do, and as a reader, I can accept the approach of, "Let me put the puzzle pieces together as they are laid out."
As a writer, I understand it even more.
Q: Why are they putting you on "fill-ins" as opposed to making you a regular rotation writer? And why call it fill-ins, when it's obvious you guys are and have been doing the main books in the wake of the Kubert slow-down? Is it a PR thing, or a technical thing? Question aside, you're pulling equal weight with Busiek and Johns, it would seem, in terms of storytelling, and yet you get singled out.
Fabian: Nah, that's an illusion based on the fact a few issues hit at the same time. The truth is Geoff is the writer of Action and Kurt is the writer of Superman - longterm - short term decisions made to improve the schedule ARE fill-ins - they are meant to fill-in for what the original publishing plan was. If I'm being asked to help fill in those gaps - or Dwayne McDuffie - fine - that's the job we accept, in my case, with absurdly childish enthusiasm.
Unlike many in the comics industry, I come from a long history of organized sports and team play - as both a player and a coach - so I truly do understand the concept of teamwork. So basically, I'm a team player without an official team. But I can be rented and you'll get 110% out of me, 'cause that's how I play the game.
Q: A reader wrote in an asked me to ask the next creator I see why they made Clark Silver-Agey again, if it dehumanizes him. I don't know that I agree, given that it's obvious this Superman is an amalgamation of Byrne AND Silver Age, but it's a fair question: Byrne de-powered Superman, the Silver Age over-powered him to a degree. Does Superman having extraordinary power make him less relational, in your opinion?
Fabian: I really do think the early seasons of "Smallville" showed how you can have your cake and eat it, too. There is NO reason not to say Clark's powers didn't develop slowly, overtime, to the point where, when he was a teenager, he was capable of performing the feats of a "super boy."
I think that's the approach now and I applaud it.
Q: Clark was once a "boy who was super" (legal cough). This takes away a very treasured element of the Byrne Superman, that Clark had an entire childhood where he could hurt, think, and act like an ordinary human being. Why this choice, and what do you think of it? To make it more positive, what does having Clark have powers from birth add to Superman?
Fabian: I contend that anyone who read Action #850 with the great scenes of baby Kal-El and Clark with Martha, etc. and then claim Clark can't hurt or can't be an ordinary human being, simply doesn't understand the definition of "hurt" and "human."
What difference does it make if he can lift a refrigerator if he can't hold a baby puppy in his hands? How does his ability to withstand a gunshot to the chest make him invulnerable when his heart aches because he can't tell the girl next door he loves her?
Q: Beyond Smallville, why the decision to have Lex know Clark in high school?
Fabian: I don't know the answer to that. I loved Marv Wolfman and Jerry's updated Luthor concept, but I also understand why making them contemporaries age-wise is also cool.
Q: If you had to kill a Superman cast member, who would you choose, and why? And how would it happen?
Fabian: I honestly NEVER thought of it. Seriously. Unlike other titles, where I've often picked off characters to gratuitous excess, it's simply nothing I'd ever considered for Superman. The important characters are iconic, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, etc., and therefore killing them damages the mythos. The less important characters, Ron Troupe, Bibbo, etc., wouldn't make a ripple in the pond if they died, so why bother?
Q: And honest-to-god, you're obviously a nice guy for putting up with our scrutiny constantly, and we're a bunch of semi-mean, demanding, fickle fanboys. So enough grilling. Tell us a little about yourself, what you like, and how you hope to be remembered... who is Fabian, outside of our compulsive need to deconstruct Superman?
Q: THANK YOU, Fabian. You rock for answering any of these questions, and we all wish you the best in your endeavors.
Fabian: Thank to all the super-fans!
When Lois & Clark started production in 1993, there was an obvious relationship between the comic book people and the Hollywood people.
A trade paperback Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was published, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher on the cover. It included reprints of comic book stories that were the inspiration for Lois & Clark, helping to define the characters. Comic's included are: The Story of the Century (Man of Steel miniseries #2), Tears for Titano (Superman Annual #1), Metropolis - 900 mi (in SUP #9), The Name Game (SUP #11), Lois Lane (in ACT #600), Headhunter (AOS #445), Homeless for the Holidays (AOS #462), The Limits of Power (AOS #466), and Survival (ACT #665).
A number of comic book writers and artists had roles as extras in the episode I'm Looking Through You (Season one, episode 4). Their presence was immortilized in the Sky Trading Card #34.
Craig Byrne, president of the online Lois & Clark fanclub The Krypton Club, carried out a series of interviews with comic book writers. The interviews are reprinted with permission of the Krypton Club.