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Phillip Kennedy Johnson Takes on The Man of Steel!


Phillip Kennedy Johnson became a household name in the comics world through the incredibly detailed world he created in The Last God. The sword and sorcery epic demonstrated his ability to write a diverse cast of richly developed characters and earned him a position as one of the biggest rising stars in comics. It also led to DC Comics handing them the reigns of Superman where he'll be writing both Superman and Action Comics.

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With these and more high profile projects quickly filling up his days and nights, Phillip still managed to set aside some time to speak with us so that Impulse Creations fans can get the inside scoop on what he has planned.

IC: The world is excited to see what you have in store for the Man of Steel as you take over writing both Superman and Action Comics. How long have you had ideas for what you’d like to do with Superman before this opportunity came along?

PKJ: I don’t remember a time before I was making up Superman stories. As a kid, Superman and Batman were my very first heroes, and I was constantly pretending to be one of them. But as an adult and a writer of comics… honestly, so few people get this opportunity, I didn’t exactly have these stories ready to go. But as soon as I got the call, I knew exactly what kind of Superman stories I’d been wanting to read. The stories you’re going to read are epic, ambitious, and wouldn’t work with any character but Superman.

IC: What kind of responsibility do you feel to write the Superman that long-term comic readers are used to, versus the versions from movies, and putting your own stamp on the character?

PKJ: Honestly, writing Superman isn’t as complicated as all that. I don’t feel any pressure to match my version of Superman to my perception of what somebody else’s Superman might be. A perfectly clear version of Superman lives in my mind, one I have absolute faith and confidence in as the “true” Superman, and that’s the only version of him I’m able to write. To write him any other way would be disrespectful to the character, the readers, everyone.

The real Superman is the one who saves Lois Lane as she falls from the helicopter in the 1978 Superman: The Movie, and gives her that “I’ve got you” smile without any ego or arrogance. He’s the one who walks into the bar in Kingdom Come and, with a few words, turns his enemies into allies. He’s the one who quietly rescues the would-be jumper in All-Star Superman, and flies to the end of the universe to save one little girl in Up in the Sky. After the year we’ve all had, people need to see the real Superman, and it is one of the great honors of my life to be a part of that.

IC: You’ve mentioned before that you take some inspiration from the Christopher Reeve version of Superman. For many, that is the truest screen adaptation of the character but how do you define that version?

PKJ: Christopher Reeve’s depiction of Superman was singularly good, down to his core. I know that sounds like a ridiculously simplistic definition, but it’s the truth. I sometimes hear people say that there’s nothing to Superman, that he’s one-dimensional, that he’s too perfect, too powerful, whatever. That view relies on the false premise that a character can’t be compelling if he isn’t inherently flawed or broken in some way. To me, Superman is the most rewarding to read when he’s the most aspirational. Flawed characters can be easier to relate to, easy to become invested in their struggles, etc., but that’s not what I want from Superman. Superman is the one who shows us the way. He’s not tempted to take the easy path like we are. He demonstrates that power doesn’t have to corrupt, shows us how to treat one another…he’s the best of us, always. For me, Christopher Reeve embodied that, and he continued to in his personal life after the cameras stopped rolling.

IC: Will we see other characters from the DC Universe in your books or will you focus more on carving out a section of that universe to play in?

PKJ: You’ll see other familiar DC characters, but probably not the ones you expect to see. Some of them will be sorely tested, and we’ll see them change over the course of my run. New characters will also spring up, characters I’m very proud of with a lot to add to the DCU.

IC: Do you have any favorite Superman villains, even ones who may not fit within the stories you have planned?

PKJ: Darkseid for sure. I love seeing Superman’s world and the Fourth World collide in any context, and Darkseid has always been one of the coolest part of that mythology. General Zod is also among my very favorites, no question. Metallo has always struck me as pretty cool, and Doomsday made a big impression on me during the Death and Life events. I use Doomsday in kind of an unexpected way in one of my Future State stories, both of which I’m extremely proud of.

For my upcoming Superman books, one classic villain will be pretty prominent at times, and I introduce a few new ones that I think have the potential to really shake up the status quo in the DC universe.

IC: You’ve been working on The Last God for the past year or so and it’s clear to anyone reading it how much time you spent developing that world and the characters in it even before the first issue was scripted. With a character like Superman who already has his own mythos, how does that alter your approach to writing?

PKJ: As you say, Superman already has generations of lore behind him, and there are a lot of pieces on the board we can play with. And as I said, we ARE bringing other established characters into the mix. But as many worlds and races and cultures as we’ve seen in DC Comics and Superman comics specifically, there are a LOT of settings, races, cultures and characters that we don’t know half as well as we think we do. We might know a character’s name and what they look like, but that doesn’t mean we know their secrets. We might know the name of an alien race, but that doesn’t mean we know their history, their failings, their greatest heroes, or their secret tragedies. And just because we’ve heard the name of an alien planet doesn’t mean we know anything about the people or the creatures that live there, or the threats that lie under the surface. When you’re writing stories for a character like Superman, who has a longer reach than any other character in the history of comics, even the sky’s not the limit. The artists and I are hard at work building new worlds for our readers, and I very much hope that all the extra time, love and care will be clear on the page and evident to the readers.

IC: Besides Superman and Action Comics, what else can fans of your work look forward to?

PKJ: The final issues of The Last God, my latest graphic novel from Aftershock Comics, Kill A Man, are both still on shelves! Future State: Superman: Worlds of War #2 and Future State: House of El both come out in February, and I couldn’t be prouder of either of those titles. And finally this March, hitting shelves around the same time as Superman #29 and Action Comics #1029, Alien #1 comes out from Marvel. Every artist I’m working with has been turning in their best work, and I’m beyond excited for readers to see what’s coming!
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