Last year, with the Man of Steel busy walking the country in the Grounded storyline in SUPERMAN, Matt Idelson and I knew we’d need another hero to temporarily take over ACTION COMICS. Many characters were in contention, but we soon realized we had one of the most fascinating characters in the DC Universe right under our noses, someone who had just played a key role in a big event mini-series and now had a sea of story possibilities open before him -- except he wasn’t a hero. (Well, he thinks of himself as a hero, it’s just that no one else does…)
So we wanted to have Lex Luthor take over ACTION and explore the fertile story ground that his role as an Orange Lantern in BLACKEST NIGHT had created, taking him on a tour of the top villains of the DC Universe -- a premise so ripe with potential that even über-busy superstar artist David Finch couldn’t turn us down when we approached him about drawing the covers!
OK, so the setup for the new direction was in place, but who could write a character like Lex in such a way that would stay true to the character’s villainous nature while at the same time making him someone readers could get invested in and cheer on?
Enter the brilliant Paul Cornell. Paul is, hands down, one of the nicest, most polite and enthusiastic people working in the industry today -- which is why it’s a little strange that he writes a character like Lex Luthor so well. It’s not my place to say so (‘cause I’m obviously biased), but I think the case could be made that Paul has told the definitive Lex Luthor story here.
Paul has taken a character who is known mostly for two things -- 1) he's bald, 2) he hates Superman -- and he's fleshed him out into a three-dimensional protagonist, one with more depth and motivation than most heroes show in entire series. Read these stories and you'll learn things about Lex's conscious and subconscious mind. Read these stories and see Lex learn things about his conscious and subconscious mind. This Lex isn't just brilliant and evil -- this Lex hesitates; this Lex gets his hands dirty; this Lex explores; this Lex gets lost in his own thoughts; this Lex wants companionship; this Lex learns; this Lex grows; this Lex tries (and usually fails) to overcome his worst habits. Yes, he's still brilliant and evil (and he's definitely still bald, and he definitely still hates Superman) -- it's just that this time that's not all he has going on.
And Paul brought so much more to the title than just a well-written lead! We’ll never forget the phone call with him where we were discussing potential guest stars and he casually threw out there, “What about Death from SANDMAN?” “Haha, yeah sure, Paul, good one.” But apparently Paul was serious! So we investigated, made all the proper inquiries (big thanks to Vertigo’s Karen Berger!), and eventually made it happen, culminating with Neil Gaiman personally giving Paul his blessing to use the character.
No discussion of THE BLACK RING could be complete without talking about the invaluable Pete Woods. I say “invaluable” because Pete is the kind of artist who doesn’t simply illustrate a writer’s script and call it a day; he immerses himself in the world of the story, creating designs not just of the cast, but of the settings, too. Lex’s armor, his lab, his office, his helicopters, even the portraits on the walls of LexCorp -- the designs just pour out of Pete. And Paul’s ACTION scripts allowed Pete a lot of leeway in terms of panel descriptions and layouts, which is the kind of environment Pete flourishes in, resulting in these gorgeous issues, some of the absolute finest work of his career. (Ably aided by the sublime colors of Brad Anderson, of course!)
The perfect summation of Paul and Pete’s collaboration is The Black Ring’s leading lady, RoboLois. Turning what could have been a simple gag (“What if Lex had a robot sidekick who looked just like Lois Lane? Superman would hate that!”) into an actual character -- one who both provided readers a way to connect to the more human side of Lex and one who could be counted on to provide a visual splash at any moment (check out those gun arms in the first chapter!) -- RoboLois ended up becoming the favorite character of all of us who worked on the title. And judging by your letters, it seems like she struck a chord with you readers, too!
We’re thrilled Paul and Pete’s story has been so well received by all of you out there in the DC Nation. But hey, you guys ain’t seen nothing yet -- wait until you read the 51-page epic they’ve cooked up to conclude The Black Ring in this month’s ACTION COMICS #900! It’s a story so packed with wicked twists and turns, even Lex would be pleased! (Not that he’d ever admit to admiring someone else’s work, mind you …)
- Wil Moss, Associate Editor