Jim Lee & Brian Azzarello take on Superman

Brian Azzarello is the writer of DC/Vertigo's popular 100 Bullets. Jim Lee is the fan-favorite artist who has worked on such titles as Marvel's X-Men, WildStorm's Wildcats, and DC's Batman. Now, they join forces for a 12-issue run on DC's Superman. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently contacted them both to find out more about their upcoming work.

Artist Jim Lee recently finished his popular run on Batman with writer Jeph Loeb. Writer Brian Azzarello is in the midst of a well received run on Batman with artist Eduardo Risso. Now, Lee and Azzarello are working together on For Tomorrow, a 12-issue story beginning in Superman #204. How will their work on Superman compare to what they did with Batman? "Superman's certainly not going to be as dark. I don't really see Superman as that type of character anyway. Batman's tortured. I think Superman would like to be," laughs Azzarello. "He wants to be human."

According to Lee, "Simply in a visual way, the traditional approach has been to make Batman very dark and filled with shadows and to make Superman very light and bright. On Batman, I tried to inject a little more light into the shadows to make him more of a superhero than an enigmatic, darker, brooding type character and on Superman, so far, it looks like I am introducing more shadows and atmosphere than one would typically see in a Superman story to make Superman that much more of a beacon for hope. Working against the grain has its benefits though in that if you succeed, you end up showing the readers something new, something they may not have seen before and that really is the key with these iconic characters. They've been around since forever and every creative team needs to redefine them for their run, for the times."

How did Azzarello become involved with Superman? "Jim asked me to do it. That's really how I did. I was like, 'You're kidding.' I said to him, 'Jim, haven't you ever read anything that I've done?' And he said, 'Yeah. You're the last guy that I would think to write Superman, so I want to do it with you.'"

What is the collaboration between Azzarello and Lee like? "I leave all the heavy lifting to the writers," says Lee. "If and when we talk about the story, I may suggest visuals, scenes which I think people haven't seen before, scenes which I think would be dramatic, ya know, to spur his imagination? to challenge him to push the story towards that end. To produce something people haven't seen before. And he uses or doesn't use what he sees fit. I trust him and his instincts implicitly. That's the nice thing with working with veterans. You can really just mind your own business and focus on part of the work having full confidence that everyone else on the team will be doing their usual best and making everyone look good in the process."

"We talked about it ahead of time. I'm not working any differently with him than I do with anyone else," states Azzarello. "They know the basic gist of what the story's going to be. With Jim, you expect a certain sort of grandeur, for lack of a better word. His work's very in your face."

As far as what readers can expect in For Tomorrow, neither creator wants to give too much away. "If you're expecting a typical Superman story, you're not gonna get it," says Azzarello. "There's going to be plenty of action and world-shattering events, but at the heart of the story it's a character piece."

"I can say that it is a story which makes Superman make some very tough decisions and we will see him in ways that have been unexplored in recent years," adds Lee. "It's a story which tests his values and beliefs as much as it challenges him physically."

Brian Azzarello does say that there will be quite a few new characters introduced in the story. When asked if there's anything he wants to say about them, he simply states, "He needs some new villains."

Jim Lee adds some details. "There's a human character named Orr, who will become very important not just in Superman but in the entire DCU. He is a freelance former black ops operative who makes life for Superman very difficult and I think fans will find this new mysterious character very interesting and appealing. The idea with the title was to introduce some new super-powered villains as well so in that respect, this run on Superman will be very different from Batman where we explored Batman's pre-existing Rogues Gallery."

Will readers need to pick up all the Superman family of titles to follow the story in Superman? "All of our stories are going to be stand alone, but they all are informed by the other stories," Azzarello replies. "There's not going to be crossovers. I didn't want to get involved in something like that. That's just not something I'm interested in pursuing. Greg Rucka and Chuck Austen are fine writers. They can tell their own story. They should have the autonomy to do it and I want the same autonomy."

"The Superman writers know what each other is doing so that they don't repeat elements or themes. I think reading them all gives a fuller picture of who Superman is. So readers get the best of both worlds depending on the level of commitment to the family of titles," adds Lee.

Aside from Superman, is there any of the classic Superman characters Lee is enjoying working on? "Not yet... I think we are really focusing on the main character of Superman. The other supporting characters are really getting the main attention in Action and Adventures of Superman. Our focus is squarely on Big Blue's shoulders."

Many creators have worked on Superman over the years. What do Lee and Azzarello think they bring to the character that's uniquely them? "Hmm, it's difficult to say at the moment," responds Lee. "I know that my take on the characters when I work on a book change over the course of working on them. In other words, my take on Batman changed and evolved a lot I think from the first issue I did to the last issue. And I think that is the fun and challenge of working on a character for over a year. That the work does change. That you do explore and find new elements, new aspects of the character to focus on. So the jury is definitely out on this one... for now."

"It's not love, which might be unique," laughs Azzarello. "I'm driven to find an aspect of that character that I find compelling. He's more than a superhero I think. He's an icon. He's the icon. Every other character that dresses up in a costume and goes out and fights crime is his bastard child. He's the original. And why can't he be cool?" This is the challenge of working on Superman for Azzarello. "I want to make that character inspirational. Because obviously, he was."

Lee also finds challenges in working on the Man of Steel. "He's a character everyone thinks they know and understand completely, so any deviance from that pattern of knowledge tends to make big waves. That being said, I think Brian is talented enough to take some of those notions and give it his trademark twist. He can definitely make an old dog learn new tricks."

For fans of both creators, there's more to look forward to than Superman. Brian Azzarello explores one of Superman's classic foes in the upcoming Lex Luthor: Man of Steel with artist Lee Bermejo. "I have a lot of empathy for that character," he laughs. "I think he's a very, very complex character. There's a lot of stories that can be told with him. He's Superman's greatest villain, but I don't think he's evil. And I'm sure he doesn't find himself to be evil at all. At the end of Man of Steel, maybe readers will have a different viewpoint of Superman than they had before. Maybe understand why Luthor does what he does."

And, of course, Azzarello continues to write the popular Vertigo title 100 Bullets. The series begins as the mysterious Agent Graves approaches someone with a briefcase with proof positive of someone who did them wrong and an untraceable gun and 100 bullets. "You say that, and then you read it, and it's like, wait a minute, it's not about that," says Azzarello. "100 Bullets was a little bit of a bait and switch. There was a con involved in selling that book, much like the subject matter of the book itself."

So what's on the way? "The 50th issue is going to be big. Really big. A lot of questions that people have are going to be answered in the 50th issue. And new questions will be posed. Once we get issue 50 out of the way, everything you thought was true might not be. I don't want to give too much away.

"100 Bullets is hard to talk about because I think one of the things that makes that book what it is is that readers don't know what's going to happen next and are constantly guessing," he continues. "They're second guessing me, they're second guessing themselves. That's part of the excitement of that book."

Are there characters in the book Azzarello particularly enjoys writing? "Y'know, I end up killing 'em. I really liked Lee Dolan from the second story arc. Dead. I liked Milo. Milo was just a blast to write. He's dead. It's funny because Milo, once we were into the story, he seemed to be really taking off with the readers. Will Dennis, the editor, is like 'you have to kill this guy.'" Azzarello laughs. "'Will, he's dead from page one. The whole story's like our flashback. He's dead. He's already dead.'"

Azzarello has stated in the past that 100 Bullets will end with issue #100. How tightly plotted is the series between now and then? "The major outline is pretty rigid I'd say, but I leave myself enough room to explore things that might crop up along the way. There are certain beats I have to meet by certain issues so that by the end, the last 10 issues aren't just shot after shot of Graves' head explaining everything that's happened in the previous 90 issues. The big outline is rigid. I know where things are supposed to be. Say, by issue #65, these questions that I've posed will be answered."

Aside from being an artist, Jim Lee is also the Editorial Director of WildStorm. What upcoming projects from WildStorm is he excited about? "I just finished up the first issue of Coup D'Etat: Sleeper. It's the first part of a 4 part mini event in February this year which really shakes up the status quo for the entire WildStorm universe. We wanted to create a storyline which would serve as a good jumping on point for new readers because frankly, I think the Eye of the Storm line is pound for pound one of the best and intriguing lines out there now and people are just not aware of it. Coup was designed to raise awareness of the incredible work Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Micah Ian Wright, Sean Philips, Dustin Nguyen and crew have been doing for years. Sometimes you have to pull stunts to shake up the status quo and hopefully Coup will do that for us. 'Cause the books deserve the attention."

What else can you look forward to from Jim Lee and Brian Azzarello? "Hmm. I'm barely keeping up with all the work I have already!" says Lee. "I know there are some very cool statues and toy sets which are coming out for both Batman: Hush and my new run on Superman. For those who collect toys and statues, I think the work Georg Brewer and Tim Bruckner have been doing on the various projects has been nothing short of fantastic, and it's a real treat to see the 2-D work I do get interpreted and translated into 3-D. I'm also getting back into the trenches and creating new characters. The first project out is something I co-created with Joe Casey and Giuseppe Camuncoli called The Intimates. It's the latest incarnation of the super-teen group but for the new Millennium and anyone who has followed Joe's work knows that he always surprises and The Intimates, coming out later this year, is no exception."

"Besides Superman? Everything else kind of pales," states Azzarello. "Superman, Luthor, 100 Bullets. That's what I'm going to be concentrating on probably for the next six months or so. Then we're talking about more creator-owned work. Joe Kubert and I are discussing another project. It was great working with him on Sgt. Rock, so there might be something else."

"Come to Superman with an open mind," concludes Azzarello. "Maybe we can, all of us - me writing it, Jim drawing it, the readers - maybe we can all find some inspiration in that character that seems to have disappeared lately."