By Todd Matthy

Dan Jurgens didn’t really kill Superman, but he did write Superman #75, the penultimate issue of the infamous “Death of Superman” storyline, where the Man of Steel fell defending Metropolis from the unstoppable monster known as Doomsday. The issue would go on to be one of the highest selling comic books of all time, spawning multiple printings, a media sensation, and creating a boom period in comics industry. So, how did this story come about? That and many other questions about Dan’s illustrious career is only one part of my conversation with writer/artist Dan Jurgens.

I believe you were originally an artist on Superman. How did you get the job writing the title? What was the pitch that got you the gig?

There was no pitch.

I may have started on Superman as an artist, but by that time, had been writing other series at DC for several years, so my credentials as a writer were established.

When I first started, the general thought was that George Perez would be writing the title I was drawing. However, that only lasted a couple of issues. Mike Carlin, who was editor at the time, asked if I’d like to take over. We’d already had a number of discussions about who Superman was as a character and where we wanted the stories to go so it was a natural transition.

 

Because of who he is, Superman is very difficult to write. He’s all-powerful and has a very strict moral code. How do you come up with threats for him to battle? How does one create an exciting, compelling, Superman story?

I don’t find Superman difficult to write at all.

Yes, it’s true that he’s all-powerful, but that means the writer has to create environments, situations and enemies that match up with that.

But, beyond that, you have to understand who Superman is the choices he makes and the things he doesn’t do are just as important as the things he will do.  Putting Superman in situations where he has to make those tough choices are always important and key to a good story.

 

Do you have more freedom as the writer and artist of a book?

Probably as writer. Once you’re just drawing the book, you have to follow what the writer wrote. Ideally, the artist works with a writer to fashion the book together. However, it’s more common now for writers to exercise greater control over a book.

 

How did The Death of Superman come about? Who proposed it? Were there any objections? How was the story shaped? How did you determine what would ultimately kill Superman?

There’s some difference on that. All I know is that I walked in with a yellow legal pad that had two ideas written on, “Death of Superman” and “Monster/Beast wipes out Metropolis”.

At the time, there were four books and the creators got together along with editorial to fashion the stories. That’s what we did in that particular case, and the two ideas described above were merged into one story.

 

An early sketch of Doomsday. The killer of Superman

Who came up with Doomsday?

I drew the original design, in that meeting, on the same yellow legal pad described above. And, yes, I still have it along with the original sketches, which you can see here: http://danjurgens.com/fun/

 

Do you think DC should’ve killed off Doomsday after the death issue? Where else can you go with a character that killed Superman? He did the worst thing that could possibly happen in the DC Universe.  

No, I don’t think Doomsday should have been forever removed from the DCU. He is a character that continually evolves to adapt to new threats and enemies, however. At the same time, I’d say that he should be used only in the most special stories. He should not speak or become intelligent, as we understand the term, as he is a force of nature. He’s the weather– a hurricane. Unstoppable.

 

Why did DC decide a new character should be the one to kill Superman as opposed to an established character like Lex Luthor?

DC didn’t decide it, the writers did, along with Mike Carlin, editor.

My problem with Superman’s enemies was that they were too “talky”… too “brainy”. Luthor, Toyman and others had no powers. Nor did Brainiac, when you get down to it. Mxyzptlk was extremely powerful, but cartoony.

Doomsday was a raging, unstoppable beast He didn’t reason. He destroyed.

I think that attribute, so different from Superman’s typical group of villains, was key to the story. It helped make it very different from previous Superman stories.

 

How was it decided that you would write the death issue?

We’d had some different plans for SUPERMAN #75 that we had to delay. So, with that in mind, we were looking for something special and came up with “Death of…” which stretched across all the books.

As a group of creators, we were probably at our absolute best and the three stories, “Death of Superman”, “Funeral for a Friend” and “Return of Superman” is a high point that likely won’t be equaled again.

 

Was Superman 75 originally supposed to be the wedding issue?

Yes, that was the general plan. We sort of had it written down as a definite possibility, though always felt it might change.

Who came up with how Superman would be brought back?

The creative and editorial teams met in the midst of the “Death of…” insanity. Mike Carlin very clearly said, “We have to make this good– the whole world is watching.” At the time, fandom was speculating wildly as to how we’d bring Superman back

Everyone had some different thoughts and ideas and eventually we got on to the idea of, “What if we actually used more than one idea?” We started to play with that general idea and pretty soon the four different characters emerged. At that point, I thought it’d add drama if one was a villain and the Cyborg Superman character was pushed to the evil side of the tracks.

Who decided he should have a mullet?

We never decided on a mullet. We said “longer hair”. Some guys drew his hair longer than others. For example, I never gave Clark a ponytail. I felt it was out of character. Jon and Tom both went for the ponytail. Jon gave Superman a wild mane while mine was more reserved.

But we all liked the idea of longer hair because it looked a bit different and helped signify the return.

You eventually explained where Clark was during the time where Superman was dead. But did you ever consider having Lois reveal to the Daily Planet that Clark was Superman? What about someone from the Planet putting two and two together?

No. To do so would have been to endanger Jonathan and Martha Kent and she’d never do that. As for the Planet, we flirted with that just a bit but generally felt we had it covered.

Did you ever flirt with the idea of a reporter from The Daily Star (Daily Planet’s rival) investigating the connection between Clark, Lois, and Superman? 

I don’t recall us really going that way.

During “The Death of Superman” you increased the size and number of panels per page of each issue you wrote/drew. Why did you decide to do this?  

We did that to increase the sensation that the fight was picking up speed.

For example, the issue before the “Death of…” had just two panels per page. The issue before that, three. The issue before that, four. Structuring it that way allowed the story to give the readers the sense that things were happening faster and faster and the action was getting bigger and more important.

Can you describe what the editorial meetings are like where you hammered out the beats to an event like “The Death of Superman”? 

Like any meeting, we had a great deal of fun putting it together, though there were some hurdles to get over. But everyone got more and more enthused about the idea of telling a story about a world without Superman. We knew we could make a strong statement about the character by actually removing him from the stories and having people react to his death.

Were you surprised or overwhelmed by the media attention “The Death of Superman” received?

Absolutely. No way anyone involved could ever see that coming. I can’t imagine anything like that being replicated in this industry again.

The Death of Superman wasn’t your only Superman “event?” The Death of Clark Kent, the Wedding, Electric Superman, how did you as a writer deal with all of this? Did it throw a monkey wrench into any of your plans? If so what were some of your stories that were changed?

I wouldn’t say it threw a monkey wrench into my plans. I wrote plenty of stand alone, single issue and outside projects that told other Superman stories I wanted to tell.

However, as the pressure mounted for us to do more “events”, there’s no doubt it became harder to get done. Earlier, every cross title story we did felt more natural, while some of these began to feel more forced.

 

Whose idea was “Electro Supes?” Were you for or against it? Did you or any of the other writers voice any opposition? Were you one of them?

I think the general idea started with the concept of changing Superman’s powers a bit. Plus, we had always wanted to find a way to do a “Superman Red/Superman Blue” storyline.

By then, the creative teams had changed quite a bit and I think it’s fair to say that we weren’t synced up as well as we’d been previously. Different people meant some different views and interests– not in a bad way, mind you– but just in a way that mean we weren’t all quite as much of a unified band as we’d been before.

As for Electro Supes, I think that was very much a compromise/consensus that emerged from the group it’s one of those things that, as we left the room, I’m not sure anyone was 100% thrilled with. Nor was anyone 100% against it.

When did you realize that Electro Supes wasn’t working?

First of all, I wouldn’t quite agree with the question. It didn’t work as well as some of the other stories, but I don’t know that I’d throw it in the disaster category. But, yeah, there was a point fairly early where I got the sense that it just wasn’t “right”. It’s like baking a cake where you have all the specific ingredients, but the cook put them in with improper measurements, in the wrong order.

How do you create a memorable Superman villain?

It’s hard to do it with that sense of specific intent. You have to work at it and trust your gut.

When I first introduced Hank Henshaw, none of us, me included, thought he’d turn into the level of character he did. Yet, because I started to see some possibilities and was allowed to bring him back and work and develop the character, we got to the point where he took off.

In 1995, the Peter Parker we knew and loved was revealed to be a clone and replaced by Ben Reilly, the “real” Peter Parker. Dan Jurgens wrote the issue that put Ben into the Spider-Man costume.

In addition to working on controversial Superman stories, you were part of a controversial revamp of another company’s icon, Spider-Man. You wrote Sensational Spider-Man, the comic book that put the “original” (though it later turned out to be a clone…) Peter Parker, Ben Reilly back into the Spider-Man costume. How did you land that gig?

Marvel approached me and asked me if I’d like to do Spider-Man. Of course, I was immediately taken by the fact that I’d be working on the company’s top characters simultaneously. I’d also been a big fan of Spidey and was really excited to take a shot at it.

In order to come aboard I asked for a new Spidey title and Marvel was gracious enough to agree.

What made you change the costume?

That wasn’t my doing. Mark Bagley actually designed that look, though we were all in agreement that we wanted to have something a bit different.

How did you come up with Ben’s supporting cast? What made you have Ben take a job at a coffee shop rather then working at the Daily Bugle?

We wanted to change things up a bit. There had been a history of coffee shops being a part of the Spidey-verse, if you go all the way back to Stan’s issues, so we thought that might be fun. It allowed Ben to come into contact with a lot of different people.

 

Do you think the jettisoning of the familiar Spider-Man supporting cast hurt Ben Reilly’s chances or did you think the character was doomed from the start?

I don’t know that it was doomed from the start. Marvel wanted a younger, unattached Spider-Man. That was their solution at the time and something they would clearly address a few years later.

When did Marvel realize that Ben Reilly wasn’t working and they needed to get Peter back into the costume?

I don’t know that was quite how the decision was made. It involved more than just Ben and whether or not he was working.

When I first started, they said Peter Parker was going to go away not be seen. They were going to commit 100% to Ben. But that never really happened. As long as Peter was going to be on the scene, he had to be Spidey.

 

Did you pitch an idea that was different from what we got? If so what was your solution?

I had some ideas out there that I’d rather not get into. However, at that point, it was fair to say that I thought going back to Peter was the right decision as well. You couldn’t have two. And if Peter was around, Ben had to go.

 

In terms of character how is writing Spider-Man different from writing Superman? 

Obviously, Spider-Man is a much more jocular character. He’ll make more jokes while fighting, but also has a more complicated personal life. His power level is far less, so that makes that aspect of things a bit easier. It also helps that he has a great rogues’ gallery.

How did you come to write Thor? Why did you decide to give Thor a new civilian identity rather than Donald Blake?

Thor editor Tom Brevoort gave me a call to ask if I was interested and we started talking over ideas. Marvel had offered me Thor once before, but I turned it down. However, even after I had done so, I started thinking about story possibilities.

As for the Jake Olson character, I wanted Thor to have a human identity of some kind, because it helps to humanize him. He’s a god, of course, but the human identity helps to put him in touch with mankind.

We talked about using Don Blake, but felt much of that character was played out. So we then went the idea of something new, and came up with Jake Olson.

 

Were you building to the Reigning story from the beginning or did it develop gradually? 

We were actually going to do it as a stand-alone graphic novel. However, that situation changed as Marvel was stepping back from original GNs and we decided to move the storyline into the main title. That was a great advantage as it gave us far more room to play with the idea.

Where did the inspiration for Thor taking over the world come from?

From the start, I wanted to focus on the idea of Thor being a god. If you stop to consider what that might mean, the ultimate direction “The Reigning” had to go was clear.

Thor Girl

How did you come up with Thor Girl? Do you like how she’s currently being used?

I wanted to give the book a younger character with a lighter persona, so Thor Girl was the result. As for how she’s currently being used, I think they could do far more with her.

The Reigning had a deus ex machina sort of ending. Was that always the plan or was it the most logical way to undo all the changes you made?

Oh, we always knew we’d have to find a way to end the story. We knew we were building a bit of a trap for ourselves.

Unfortunately, I always thought I’d get to write the next chapter of the story, which was “Atonement”. Sadly, that didn’t happen. It would have brought things to a close while also turning the page to a new direction in natural fashion.

What was going to happen with the “Atonement” arc? How were you going to redeem Thor? Would “The Reigning” have had a different ending?

I don’t like to get into the particulars of a story that didn’t appear, but “The Reigning” was constructed with a very different end in mind. In addition, as I said, we were certainly at a point where Thor had gone over the line and needed to be rehabilitated. He also needed to be brought back into the Marvel mainstream hero community.

You created one of DC Comics brand new “Post-Crisis” heroes in Booster Gold. Recently, you were brought on board to reboot him for the New 52 as part of Justice League International. How do you “reboot” a character you created? 

Not every character needed a complete overhaul or reboot and Booster fit into that category.

He’s unique and unencumbered. By that, I mean that key aspects of his character haven’t been compromised, as has happened with so many other characters.

The key in dealing with any character is to find the traits that make them unique, interesting and strong and focus on those. In that regard, Booster is largely the same today as he was when he was first created. In that case, I’d argue the character’s creator is exactly the person who should handle him.


Apparently Booster has a major role in the New 52 DCU. (Not being thrilled with Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship being one of them) Can you give us some hints as to what we can expect?

Sorry— but I can’t at this point!


A lot of people have been wondering this. When you were given the Justice League International assignment did DC provide you with a new “timeline” or information sheet about what events happened and what didn’t in the New 52 universe?

We discussed general ideas regarding those things as it pertained to the book and the individual characters that I was working with.



For awhile, Booster was considered a “comedy character.” Yet, the weekly series 52 turned him into a major player in the DC Universe and rekindled interest in the character. How did it make you feel knowing that DC’s “rock band” (as the team behind 52 was dubbed) appreciated a character you created? In addition, what’s it like reading another writer’s interpretation of your character? 

It’s always cool when your colleagues appreciate the work you’ve done, just as it’s cool when fans do.

With Booster, if you go all the way back to issue #25 in his first series, we said that he would ascend to a more important character in the DCU. Having him become something of a time cop was certainly consistent with that.

“52” was a lot of fun– a great project. And the fact that Booster played a key role was lots of fun. As a kid, when reading comics, I always liked stories where one of the secondary characters saved the day, rather than Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman.


What was co-writing the recent Booster Gold series with Geoff Johns like? Can you describe the co-writing process? Who did what task?

When we brought Booster back, Geoff’s co-writer was actually Jeff Katz. They got together on the particulars of the story but, from time to time, we’d all get on the phone and discuss ideas. And it was fun to be able to tell them some of the secret stories of Booster’s past that may or may not have made it into print.


Why do you think Booster is so popular? What qualities make a character like him endure?

As I said, he’s unique. He’s fallible — very capable of making a mistake, though he’s trying to do the right thing. He’s among the most human of DC’s heroes, especially since he’s trying to make up for the sins of his past.

In addition, the fact that he’s media savvy and generally uncompromising about that makes him even more relevant now than when he first appeared.


Are there any other projects you can tell us about? 

Just started writing and drawing FIRESTORM for DC. My first issue– #13, is out in October. Be sure to pick it up.

Superman teamed up with a familiar girl named Kara to save a Kryptonian city from HR Giger’s acid blooded killing machines.

Finally, a fanboy question. What happened to Kara after your Superman/Aliens crossover from 1995?

Mike Carlin, editor of the Superman books, as well as S/A, and I discussed various ways of bringing her into DC continuity. I always wanted to find a way to make her Supergirl, but we already had a Supergirl that Mike didn’t want to give up on. So, sadly, she remains where we last saw her.

A big thank you to Dan Jurgens for taking the time to speak with me.

Comments
  1. […] Dan Jurgens has discussed this a number of places, but let me plug an interview he did with a pal of mine, Todd Matthy… […]

  2. […] hammering out a rough storyline, writer/artist  then came up with the character of Doomsday, who he described as a force of nature who, rather than being a whiny bitch like most of […]

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