EXCLUSIVE: Smallville Meets Twin Peaks - An Interview with Superboy Writer Jeff Lemire
If David Lynch directed an episode of Smallville, you'd get a good sense of writer Jeff Lemire's approach to the Superboy comic starring Conner Kent, the Superman clone made up of the DNA of the Man of Steel and Lex Luthor.
In its biographical sketch of Lemire, Wikipedia offers, "Lemire was born and raised in a small farming town in Essex County, Ontario, near Lake St. Clair. Lemire attended film school, but decided to pursue comics when he realized that filmmaking did not suit his solitary personality. After self-publishing the Xeric Award-winning comic book Lost Dogs in 2005 via his Ashtray Press imprint, Lemire found a home at Top Shelf Productions. He produced the Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated Essex County Trilogy for Top Shelf in 2008–2009. Lemire serializes a science-fiction strip called Fortress in the quarterly UR Magazine.
"In 2009, the DC Comics Vertigo published Lemire's The Nobody, a two-color tale of identity, fear and paranoia in a small community. Lemire is currently writing and drawing the new monthly full-color Vertigo series Sweet Tooth. He then moved over to the DC Universe to write the one-shot Brightest Day: Atom, with Turkish artist Mahmud Asrar, designed to act as a springboard for an Atom story to co-feature in Adventure Comics. He also relaunched the Superboy series featuring the character Conner Kent."
In the following exclusive interview conducted by Earth's Mightiest's editor, Ed Gross, Lemire shares his feelings about the cloned Boy of Steel.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Where does the whole Superman mythos stand with you?
JEFF LEMIRE: I grew up reading DC comics, so growing up I was always drawn to DC characters more than the Marvel stuff, and Superman is always at the center of that. His mythos and the different creators who've taken him on over the years have all influenced me. It's really fun to be working with some of these characters, but at the same time, I'm glad this version of Superboy is kind of his own, separate corner of that mythos. I have a little bit more freedom to kind of do things with the character, because the original Superboy was obviously Superman as a kid and you know right away how that story is going to end up. Anything you do with the Superboy character, you kind of know down the road that it's not going to matter – you know where the future is going to end. But with this Superboy, the future is unwritten, so I can do things to change the character that will last, and I like that aspect of it.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: How would you say the character has evolved from the point he was introduced to where he is now?
JEFF LEMIRE: Well, everyone is going to have different versions of the character that is their favorite – but for me, the original version of him, I actually found really annoying for some reason. He's like this whiny, hot-shot kid, and I guess I can see the appeal of that back in the 90s, to make him stand out from the other ones, but that doesn't really appeal to me that much now. In the 10 years that he's been around the character has obviously matured as a person, and when Geoff Johns was writing the Teen Titans and put him in that, he really took a step forward in that respect. Then they added the component of Lex Luther being one of his fathers to the mythos, which is a really cool twist. That's where I kind of picked it up and I'm slowly trying to build the next stage for this character as he grows towards manhood and decides what kind of Superman he wants to be when he gets to that stage.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: What was the genesis of this take?
JEFF LEMIRE: For me, I obviously wanted to have an original take on it, because you can go back and read the old comics if you want, but I wanted to introduce something new. The way I approached that was to make Smallville itself a really big character in the book – because for me, this book is about Superboy's relationship with Smallville and how that reflects the choices he has to make for his life I thought an interesting way to do that was to make Smallville this really quirky place that was, on the surface, a typical small town, sort of like Twin Peaks or something like that, but underneath it's bubbling with secrets and mysteries, and that provides great fodder for storylines. And even though each storyline is one or two issues long, it's allowing me to be this bigger mystery that's going to go on throughout the entire run, which ties to a secret history of Smallville and some of those quirky, creepy things we're talking about. I’m a big fan of shows like The X-Files, Lost and Twin Peaks, and I thought it would be an interesting take on a teen superhero to put him in one of those worlds.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: So there is a growing mythology?
JEFF LEMIRE: Yes there is. It's touched on in most of the issues – there are one or two issues where it takes a back seat, but it's something that's slowly building and it’ll come to a head in the issues coming out over the next year.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: So your interest lies in the weirder areas rather than the typical, “Superboy takes on Brainiac” type story.
JEFF LEMIRE: There’s a lot of that out there right now, and I just feel like I want to offer something new, otherwise why do it at all when you can just go out and read those other books? I try to find an interesting take on it. And to be blunt, the part of the superhero comic I find the least interesting is sort of the fights between the superhero and the super-villain – it can get pretty tedious and pat, so I want to add something else so that when you do have those fight scenes or those action sequences, they're kind of tied to something unique and they reflect the character. This was my way of doing that.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: When you went to DC and said, “This is my take,” did anyone bat an eye?
JEFF LEMIRE: Not really, to be honest. I think they had read my work, which was not superhero work at all – it was all darker, quirkier stuff – and the fact is that they approached me to do this book; they had an idea of what they were looking for, so I don’t think it's a surprise that my take was more from my field.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: How do you view Conner Kent?
JEFF LEMIRE: Well, at the start of the series he's kind of in this nebulous spot where he's the metaphorical son of both Superman and Lex Luther, so that’s pulled him back and forth over the last year. Now he's come to this point, where my series begins, where he's put that behind him and he's his own person now, and not letting them dictate who he's going to be. That's sort of where my series starts, having him go back to Smallville, and trying to bring some normalcy to himself, trying to be a normal kid, you know, to figure himself out. Of course, being a superhero keeps getting in the way of that. I don’t want to give things away, but his character is on a little bit of a journey, where he's trying to figure out who and where he's meant to be. That’s totally going to reveal itself over the next year.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Do you see the scope being limited to Smallville?
JEFF LEMIRE: It’s going to be limited to Smallville for the first year of stories, and then that story is going to naturally dovetail into a bigger story that will take him out of Smallville. I don't want to say too much more than that at this point.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: And then when that big story happens you'll want to get back to Smallville again?
JEFF LEMIRE: I don't want to say. I don't have the idea that I'm going to be writing this book forever – I kind of have an ending in mind where I want to leave things, and whether he stays in Smallville is kind of the ongoing question of the book. I don’t want to reveal that answer yet.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: For people who don't know this version of Superboy, how would you introduce this character to them?
JEFF LEMIRE: He’s a young character who has the legacy of Superman to live up to, but he also has the legacy of Lex Luther tainting that, so we have this superhero who's torn between being the greatest hero in the world or the greatest villain in the world, and we get to watch to see which one he leans towards as he grows into manhood. I think that's kind of fun.
EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Is that conflict something you're going to play with?
JEFF LEMIRE: I want to leave it alone at the beginning of the book, because there were some stories that had been done touching on that right before I started, so I thought I'd give it a breather. But that's the thing that's at the core of his character, so at some point that's going to come back and it's going to play a part in everything else that he's doing.