The writer who teams up two of the world's most popular superheroes every month says that Superman probably plays a lot of iPhone games. Batman? Civilisation all the way, with old school board games in the mix, too. But a next-next-next-generation console being used by a supervillain might prove to be more than either the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight can handle.
Forget the Xbox One or PS4. Oculus Rift and CastAR? Pff, whatever. The video game technology seen in Batman/Superman #5 — out tomorrow in comic-book stores and digital storefronts — makes the imaginary real, with digital avatars that become actual physical entities. So what do the gamers beta-testing this new tech want to do? Oh, you know, just take down the Justice League's master strategist and get bragging rights for defeating Batman.
Veteran comics scribe Greg Pak has been scripting Batman/Superman since the series' debut a few months ago and spoke to Kotaku about why a PvP set-up makes perfect sense for two characters like Superman and Batman.
Kotaku: Greg, talk to me about how you decided to have a game device be the instigating element of the conflict in this issue.
Greg Pak: I loved the way Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness re-invented Toyman in the Superman/Batman book back in the day. I knew that I wanted to play with that character, to bring him back, but to make him older, and give him a slightly different focus. Thinking about how toys and games have evolved, it just seemed like a fun thing to make him a game designer. That was a fun way to set up some crazy action.
Pak: Exactly. We talk about virtual reality and all of this. We talk about immersive experiences. Certainly things like Google Glass, and even the various head-mounted devices that are around that surround us with a virtual world. But the next step is eventually going to come, and this is exploring what would happen if we had that next step in hand right now.
Kotaku: We see Jimmy Olsen as one of the ultra-competitive players in this issue. Did you base him on anyone in your life?
Pak: Back in the day, I was pumping quarters into Robotron, pumping all of my one and only quarters. I have a huge affection for that kind of crazy, shoot 'em up action stuff. Much like Jimmy Olsen, I have a lot of affection for that kind of game. I'm just not very good at any of the new ones. Nowadays, I am not a huge gamer. There's some stuff I do play. I'm not coordinated enough to play most games. I'm a terrible first-person shooter gamer. If anything has more than like four different things you can do at a time, I'm terrible. But, the best games I've played in recent years have been the ones from ThatGameCompany. Flow, Flower and Journey… those games blew my mind. They're obviously a different kind of thing, of course, but I loved how immersive and strange and evocative they all are.
Kotaku: Superman and Batman are two foundational icons of the superhero idea, old media creations that have survived in a new media world. The struggle is in making them seem fresh and relatable to current audiences.
Their relationship to each other changes over the decades, with the last big status quo shift arguably coming during the John Byrne Man of Steel re-boot where they weren't all "old chum, old buddy, old pal" anymore. They were more antagonistic. Their tonal differences weren't subtext anymore. They were the main text. Superman didn't necessarily approve of Batman being so ruthless. Batman thought Superman was naive. While they get along better after The New 52 relaunch, it seems like there's still differences to play up here.
Kotaku: Where are the tensions coming from in their dynamic as far as you're concerned?
Pak: Well we're definitely going to explore that in the very issue that we're talking about. That's where I started my whole run on Batman/Superman because I was looking at their very first meeting in The New 52, which is roughly five years ago when they're very young, very new to this whole thing. Each of them is seeing another superhero for the very first time, and it's crazy. They immediately assume the other person is a super villain basically.
I think what we're doing in issue #5 is exploring how two rivals push each other, and eventually learn how to become heroes by challenging each other. What I love about these two characters is that I think deep down in their hearts they have almost the same goal. They want to keep people safe. They want to help. But, in a lot of ways, their whole style and way about doing that is very different.
Each looks at the other guy and realises, "That guy easily could be the most dangerous guy on the planet. Probably is the most dangerous guy on the planet." But when you're as powerful as Superman, and when you're as smart and in control of things as Batman, you have assumed a huge amount of responsibility. You have to be aware of who the most dangerous person is on the planet.
These guys, I think that they have a lot of suspicions of each other. They're constantly challenging each other and constantly testing each other. We're definitely going to see that happen big time in this storyline. To me, that kind of constant challenging is fun to write, of course, but it also makes total sense because each one of these guys feels this tremendous responsibility to the people he thinks he's supposed to be protecting.
If he doesn't challenge the other guy, he's not doing the right thing in order to protect the people that he's here for. It's not motivated just by being a jerk, although there is certainly from time to time some stupid alpha male rivalry that young guys sometimes indulge in. But it's also part of being a hero, part of taking that responsibility to figure out what's going on in the world, to test yourself, and to test your allies and enemies.
Kotaku: In issue #5, the big reveal is that Mongul is the guy behind the technology powering this super-console. What is specifically different about him from before?
Pak: Mongul is a character who we've seen pit characters against each other. He's got this floating war planet called War World. If you're going to have a Mongul story, eventually people are going to end up fighting each other. He's a conqueror. He is seeking out the greatest battles and the greatest warriors and culling the weak.
I think that he's also a particularly fun character to play with in contrast with our heroes because that's where the extreme versions of our heroes can go that far. If you have this monomaniacal desire to check your people, then maybe that's what leads you to getting rid of everybody who's weak, and only building up just the very strongest. That's kind of a very twisted extreme version of it all.
But our heroes of course are not about culling the weak, they're about protecting the weak. But Mongol is a fun character because he can pick at what they're doing He can almost relate to it and suggest that there might be a smarter way to go about it, which is of course inhuman and abhorrent. But he's able to provide one way of challenging our heroes using what sounds like their own terms.