Dan Jurgens on Batman Beyond, The History of the DC Universe, and More

From Booster Gold to Death of Superman to Batman Beyond, we have an epic, career-spanning interview with Dan Jurgens!

Pick one of your favorite comics from the ’90s and chances are it was written or drawn by Dan Jurgens. Jurgens is best known for overseeing the classic “Death of Superman” story (where he created Doomsday, the monster who brought about Superman’s end), introducing Booster Gold to the world, writing and drawing one of the better received crossover events, Zero Hour, writing the best-selling Tomb Raider comic for Image, and serving as writer and artist on some of the most beloved runs on Superman ever.

He helped kick off the DC New 52 with Justice League International and Fury of Firestorm. He worked on the massive weekly book Futures End…which led him to his most recent project, Batman Beyond, which finally brings the sleek future Batman into proper DC Comics continuity. 

Jurgens was kind enough to chat with us not once, but twice, in order to complete this interview.

(Editor’s Note: That’s my fault. Marc submitted the first part of this interview ages ago, it was swept under the rug, and then we were offered another shot for Batman Beyond. Mea culpa. – Mike)

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Den of Geek: What were your favorite comics growing up, and what creators inspired you to actually get into the business?

Dan Jurgens: My first favorite character was Batman. I didn’t even know comics existed, but knew of Batman because of the old 60’s live action TV show.

One hot, summer night I was out playing in the neighborhood and saw some friends sitting on a front step reading comics. I’d never even seen a comic book, but once I realized that they had Batman and Robin in them, I was hooked.

Then next day I went to buy a comic and the local drug store was all out of Batman books. I ended up buying Superman #189. A little later I scored an 80 page Justice League of America giant and I was officially hooked.

For creator inspiration, there was obviously Kirby and Neal Adams, but I also add guys like Gil Kane, Mike Grell, Walt Simonson, and John Buscema who came along at various points to catch my attention.

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Your first pro work was a book as an artist called Sun Devils from DC written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, how did you end up the series writer?

That wasn’t actually my first work!

My first work for DC was Warlord, which I started with #63. I think I’d been on that for about a year before doing Sun Devils.

Gerry Conway and I then did a couple of Batman stories that crossed from Batman into Detective Comics. He then mentioned that he and Roy Thomas had created a new book called Starbirds, which was eventually changed to Sun Devils.

Gerry and I worked Marvel style with him plotting. He eventually had to step away from the writing end of things and since he was also editor, he asked me if I’d like to write the book. I jumped in and haven’t stopped since. I owe Gerry quite a lot for giving me that opportunity.

From there, you went on to create Booster Gold. Can you talk about how that happened? Did you pitch the character? What inspired him?

Dick Giordano had become editor-in-chief—or at least functioned in that capacity—and made it known that he was always looking for something a bit different. We were doing a convention in Dallas and I described the basic concept of Booster for him and he really jumped all over it. He was ready to do it right then and there and all but gave it a green light.

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I went home, did some sketches and a paragraph or two on the character, sent it in and we were off and running.

The character was inspired by two things: The fact that I’d heard TV announcers describing an Olympic swimmer with an endorsement deal and my own desire to find a way to do something different with the superhero concept.

When you aren’t writing Booster, did you follow his adventures? What do you think were some of the character’s highs and lows?

I certainly followed Giffen’s Justice League stuff with Booster, and ended up writing that book myself for a while, which gave me the chance to do Booster again.

In general, anything that keeps the character in the public eye is a positive, though I think it all got a bit too absurd at times.

Strange thing is that fans constantly clamored for a Blue and Gold/Blue Beetle Booster Gold book, yet it never happened. Nor will it, now that we’ve moved on to the New 52. That was an opportunity lost.

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Moving on to Armageddon 2001, there has always been conjecture that Hank Hall was not supposed to be Monarch? Can you talk about the genesis of the series and what changes were made from the original inception of the story?

True. Captain Atom was originally intended to be Monarch.

Unfortunately, someone who ran a 1-900 comic scoop info line—obviously pre-internet!—got wind of it and spilled the beans.

We talked quite a lot about whether we should stay the course or make a change. Since the whole point of doing the story was to have a big reveal moment at the end, it was decided that a change was the best way to go.

What was it like working under Jeanette Kahn?

I can’t say I had a tremendous amount of contact with Jeanette, but found her to be genuinely creative when I did. She generally brought a different point-of-view than me, which can always be beneficial.

There was some superb talent working on the Super books at the time. Any stories to share regarding Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, or any of your other collaborators?

I always thought of us like a band, where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. At times we all wanted to “make our own sound” and there was room for that, but when we came together firing on all cylinders, we hit some great moments. I think we genuinely took the books to a very, very solid level that was a bit new for comics. At times, we were doing a weekly book, which can be incredibly difficult, yet we pulled it off.

It’s been well documented that the Death of Superman was not going to be as long as it was. How and when did the decision take place to keep him dead? What was your reaction?

I really can’t say I agree with that. When we made the decision to kill Superman, we knew he was going to be dead. There would be no books. We didn’t know how or exactly when we’d bring him back. There was no determination of any kind that said, “He’ll be back in three months!”

After the death, we all got together and discussed the idea of HOW Superman could come back. We then came up with the four different characters claiming to be Superman, which kept the roller coaster ride going. But there hadn’t been any pervious determination that we had to break.

Comic fans knew he wouldn’t be dead for long, but the general public seemed to believe the hype. Why do you suppose that was?

I suppose the general public didn’t realize the nature of death in comics, which is that it can be somewhat temporary. We certainly never said it was going to be permanent.

We were simply a group of storytellers trying to tell a good story.

How did your life change after the biggest comic event in history? How was writing Superman different before and after Doomsday?

Something like that can certainly elevate a creator’s profile, no doubt. Before “The Deaath of…” I had to work a bit to do what I wanted. Afterwards, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted just by picking up the phone.

Talk about the creation of Doomsday. Why create a new character instead of having someone like Darkseid, Luthor, or Brainiac be the guy to kill Superman?

I thought Luthor and Brainiac were far too “talky.” And Darkseid really wasn’t a Superman villain.

I wanted something raw—something that really was a complete opposite to what Superman was. Something capable of random carnage. When we all got keyed in we talked of Doomsday as a force of nature—almost like a living earthquake or tornado. Something beyond reason.

Doomsday is certainly a powerful visual design. What inspired his look, both the hooded version and the full reveal?

As I said, I envisioned something totally raw. Something far different than Superman’s other foes and it worked. Doomsday was actually great fun to draw. Jon Bogdanove really got into him in a fun way—I loved what he did.

It’s been over twenty years since of “Reign of the Supermen,” wrap your head around that for a second, discuss how this project came about.

As I said earlier, we hadn’t resolved the idea of how to bring Superman back. We were all gathered in a room, often pitching our own ideas. Seems to me we had four basic ideas on the table.

Louise Simonson said something like, “Why don’t we do all four?” Things sort of fell into place after that and those different ideas became four different Supermen.

Can you give us an idea what inspired the creation of Cyborg Superman?

I’d written the Cyborg into a couple of Superman stories earlier as a living tech villain for Superman. As we discussed the four, I thought it would be a great idea to have one of them by a villain. That presents a tremendous moment for a great unmasking and betrayal. I had great fun doing it and the scene where Mongul sort of kisses his ring while kneeling is still classic, in my book.

Was it a challenge writing a book where the protagonist was secretly the villain of the whole arc?

Playing it straight so you know it will all make sense later. The motivation has to work as does every previous story.

In this case, turning earth into a giant engine seemed to fit. And having Coast City get destroyed gave birth to years of stories for Green Lantern.

In the Death of Superman, Doomsday was a plot device, in Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, he became a fully realized terrifying character. Can you talk about your approach in making Doomsday a better conceived, and tragic threat for Superman?

After we did the “Death of…”, everyone wanted to know Doomsday’s origin, where he came from, etc.

So, without every losing the idea that he was a force of nature, we set out to do just that. The most interesting villains, to me, always have a tragic sense to them. Psychotic villains don’t interest me at all because they lack any sense of motivation. It’s the easiest thing to write in the world.

Giving Doomsday a tragic story was a bit more difficult, but I think he became much better rounded out.

A few years later you did the Superman/Fantastic Four tabloid size crossover with Art Thibert. How did that experience differ than the first crossover? Which book, if either, are you more proud of?

Oh, Superman/FF for sure, if for no other reason than we got to do a tabloid size book, which was no easy sell. We had to get down on our knees and beg, but it was well worth it.

I’d also done a Superman/Aliens team-up that was a tremendous amount of fun. I’m very happy with the way that turned out. Mike Richardson, Mike Carlin, and I had dreamed it up years earlier and it took us a few years to finally get it done.

How involved was 20th Century Fox in that series? How were you approached to do the series?

Mike Richardson, Mike Carlin and I were at a convention in Australia in early 1992. The three of us, along with our wives, went to dinner one night and got to talking about the two properties. One of the Mikes, I believe it was Mike Richardson, mentioned the idea of a scene in which the alien bursts out of Superman’s chest.

After that, the project languished for a while but we always knew we wanted to get back to it, which we were able to do.

Eventually, once we got past the “Death of Superman,” we were able to do so. I didn’t have much in the way of direct contact with 20th Century Fox as the good folks Dark Horse were able to handle most of that.

There certainly was a very familiar blond girl in that series, were you hoping she would continue beyond the crossover or was she just a wink to the fans?

The answer to that would be BOTH. Yes, she was a wink to the fans. And, yes, I had a few thoughts on how I might get her to show up again.

Sadly, we never got that done.

You killed Superman and then you took part in marrying him. Which was a better idea? Did you like the idea of a married Man of Steel?

I thought it probably would have been better to have a longer engagement between Superman and Lois, with a relationship that might fracture a time or two and then come back together. It was certainly a major step that, on one hand, can limit stories, but on the other hand, open more and different types of stories.

I would probably have preferred to write a single Superman, though one who was totally committed to Lois.

Zero Hour is still pretty fondly remembered as being one of the better company crossovers; did you hit your goals for that series?

For the most part, yes. I would have been a bit more drastic in what we did.

I’d wanted to end up with two earths, with the JSA pretty much put back on Earth-2 but few people wanted to go that route.

However, we accomplished most of what we wanted and a month of zero issues was a great idea. Some writers really missed the mark and the opportunity there but, overall, it worked.  I still take a great sense of pride in the fact that, in an industry where a lot of guys can’t get more than three issues in a row done, I wrote and drew six books that shipped that one month. 5 issues of Zero Hour, which was weekly, as well as Superman #0.

What were your hopes for the Tangent Universe? Were there any further plans for those characters behind the initial push of books?

We put a tremendous amount of work into the series and always hoped it would get some chance to endure. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen. Too bad, because I think there are still some outstanding concepts there.

You had a criminally underrated run on Teen Titans. How do you reflect on that series? I fully endorse a teenage Ray Palmer.

I actually enjoyed doing the Teen Titans quite a bit. It was great fun and it was also a kick to work with George Perez.

In terms of character, I think I managed to hit most of the points I wanted to hit with the series, but we missed not having Dick Grayson and Donna Troy. I always think of them as being the Scott Summers and Jean Grey of the Titans and without them, it doesn’t quite feel right.

We’d been asked to do new characters and that’s what we tried to do.

On part of the Titans series, you were inked by Mr. Titan himself, George Perez. What was the collaboration like? Did you feel pressure to be working with a man synonymous with the book?

I always enjoy working with George. He is an incredible talent with amazing attention to detail.

The only pressure I feel in working with George is the same I’d have on any project with him: I’d hate to send him a batch of pages and think I wasn’t doing my best.

You wrote Spider-Man at the most turbulent time in the character’s rich history. Were you aware of the extreme backlash against Ben Reilly? How did you write a character that was considered an ill-conceived idea not of your own making?

To be clear on a couple of things…

When I signed on to do Spidey I was aware of the presence of Ben Reilly. Marvel clearly wanted to get back to a younger, single, more footloose and fancy-free Spider-Man, which they accomplished years later with the Mephisto story.

I wanted to do good, fun Spider-Man stories and could have done them with either Ben Reilly or Peter Parker. What complicated everything was having them both. At that point, there was no reason to have Ben around.

You never got to write Peter. What would a Dan Jurgens Spider-Man story be like?

Fun, footloose and fancy-free, though burdened with the weight of responsibility.

Nevertheless, he enjoys being Spider-Man.

You wrote Aquaman for a while. What were some of the challenges that character presented?

The biggest challenge was overcoming what was, by then, a fairly bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The book was already slated for cancellation but DC wondered if I’d like to take one last swing at making it work.

Steve Epting and I gave it our best shot and I think we were perceived as producing a very credible book. But we just couldn’t get over the hump of cancellation at that point, and after a year our time was up.

But we had fun. We told the story of an Aquaman set a few years in the future when he really was a regal sort of monarch.

Can you give us your thoughts on the Metamorpho: Year One mini? It was such a love letter to the Silver Age, but it seemingly got lost in a crowded market.

Yeah, it got a bit lost, and was, perhaps, a bit too much of a nod to the Silver Age. Either that, or not enough.

In truth, if you want to acknowledge that period of comics, maybe you just have to for it in a very overt fashion, somewhat like Batman ’66 is doing these days. If you don’t do that, you might as well abandon any idea of doing so, and embrace something new in terms of direction and style.

After all, it’s not like we write and draw Superman and Batman as they appeared in ’38, ’68, or even ’98.

In 2003, you returned to Doomsday with Superman: Day of Doom, how did your approach to the character change in the intervening years? Did you see the whole event differently in hindsight?

Given time to reflect, with ten years having passed, I think anyone looks on an event in their life differently.

I tried to get some of that into the story itself while also “celebrating” the fact that ten years had passed since the “Death of…”. I introduced a couple of concepts that I had always hoped to follow up on but never had the chance.  

Leaving Marvel and DC for the moment, Tomb Raider #1 from Top Cow was the #1 comic in 1999. What was it like working on such a popular license?

Tomb Raider was a real kick. It was a very different sort of project for me as I hadn’t really worked on a licensed property too much, nor had I written a female lead. On top of that, the book was obviously a very popular video game so I had to be conscious of trying to somehow get that atmosphere onto the page.

I think we did a fairly nice job of fleshing out Lara as more of a real character and did some good stories in the process.

To this day I’m quite proud of the Tomb Raider: Greatest Treasure of All graphic novel I did with Joe Jusko, who did an incredible job painting it. That got a bit lost in the market place because it didn’t come out until 2004 or so.

What was it like returning to Booster Gold with Geoff Johns? How much narrative input did you have this time around? Was it tough to see someone else guiding the destiny of your creation?

It wasn’t tough at all as I had tremendous respect for Geoff’s talent, as well as his overall body of work. It should also be noted that he had a co-writer—Jeff Katz.

Both of them were fans of Booster and brought great energy, talent and caring to the book. It doesn’t get much better than that.

How were you brought aboard the New 52?

I was working there at the time and as they started to make the switch, we had a few conversations about what I might end up doing.

They were quite general in nature—the kind of books that fit me, what I like to do, what I like to say, etc.

Did you pitch Justice League International or did DC approach you?

They approached me with the idea of writing JLI and drawing Green Arrow. Both were just fine with me.

There was a lot of tremendous energy and momentum at the time… a great sense of trying to build something that had never really been done before in comics.

Did you pitch anything else that didn’t make the cut?

Not in an official sense. We had a lot of “If this, then that,” types of conversations, which is quite typical in a creative endeavor. Writers really do have a lot of conversations that never pan out or end up taking different directions.

Frankly, some of the ideas we talked about are still alive in terms of discussion points and projects I hope to get to one day.

Why was JLI canceled? Can you give us insight to what was to come?

I think they wanted to remold the JLA franchise a bit overall. Because JLI was a standalone book, I think they felt that the only real connection was the name. We kicked around the idea of a title change a bit, but they decided to cancel it.

I’ve always felt that was a bit short sighted. Had we continued, I’m quite confident that a year later we would have had higher sales than a lot of books they ended up keeping and trying to save.

The New 52 Green Arrow series which you penciled had a very rocky start through no fault of your own. Can you take us through the project from inception to premier?

It was a weird situation. JT Krul and I were working on it together and were keying in on the right rhythm for the story beats and direction. Before JT wrote the first issue there was a change in editors and that put us at the point of starting over a bit.

Somehow we just never got everything in sync. That happens sometimes.

JT stepped out, Keith stepped in and we tried to salvage what we could and find a direction for the book before moving on to Superman.

Your New 52 Firestorm seemed like a classic approach to a new character. It was unique in that you embraced the new changes but gave it a classic feel. What were your hopes for the character?

I’ve always liked Firestorm and felt the character’s original concept, in which he was something of DC’s to Spider-Man, was fairly sound.

So I tried to bring that same sort of feeling to the book while also making it feel like a modern DCU book. I wanted to get him more involved with the DCU and have him target JLA membership as a goal.

Unfortunately, when so many people have sampled and then walked away from a book, it’s really hard to get them to pick it up and give it another try.

Many believe that today’s comics scene is a new golden age, with two healthy major companies delivering the classic characters to mass audiences in film and television while there is a new creative freedom with companies like Image and Boom thanks to the Walking Dead. Others feel that corporate super-heroes have sucked the soul from the classic characters. What side of the argument, if either, do you fall on?

Neither.

There are a tremendous number of really good books coming from a variety of places these days. Image has obviously made tremendous strides over the past couple of years, as have other independents.

But I don’t think I’d agree that corporate superheroes have had their lives sucked out of them. I continue to read plenty of good superhero books.

What I’m tired of, however, is the tremendous repetition of villains and stories. My god. Writers seem to be going out of their way NOT to create new villains. Do we really need to read the 355th story of a 50 year-old villain?

I’d also extend that to new heroes within the respective universes. As a reader, I loved to see the Iron Fists and Blue Devils of the Marvel and DC universes emerge. I’d love to see them commit to new characters within their universe.

New characters and new villains would create new story dynamics and a fresh feel.

What comics are you reading these days?

Most of the Marvel and DC universe stuff, Walking Dead, Saga, Lazarus, Bounce, Mind MGMT, and quite a few more.

Great time to be a reader.

If you can work on any character with any artist, what would the combo be?

Wow. I’ve been fortunate enough to do most everything I’ve wanted with most of the people I’ve wanted to work with.

And the million dollar question, what did you think of Man of Steel? Particularly that ending?

I didn’t object to Superman killing Zod because I thought it was set up well. Zod had made it clear that only one of them was going to walk out alive. On top of that, it was quite clear that Zod was about ready to kill some innocent civilians.

In addition to that, I had worked on the stories in and around where that happened in the books back in ’88 or so. The movie was actually more pardonable because Zod was about ready to kill innocent people. In the comic, Superman flat-out executed Zod and company.

I liked the movie. My only real complaint was the amount of destruction and death in Metropolis. Superman should have limited that in order to save lives—not to mention the global economy, which likely would have crashed after something like that.

Overall, however, I enjoyed the film a great deal. The cast was great and it’s easy to see them playing those parts going forward.

What went into the decision to have the new future Batman be Tim Drake? How did that come about? Was that your choice or DC’s?

Back when we were in the planning stages of Futures End, we knew we wanted to make Batman Beyond a strong part of the DCU.

We also wanted to elevate Tim Drake and make him a stronger part of the DCU. Eventually, their stories would cross over, Terry would die and Tim would replace him. All of that was set in place.

What Tim provides as a character is a great opportunity to tie DC’s present into this new future we’re building, which combines elements of the Great Disaster future along with the animated Batman Beyond future. Those things, combined with the characters and concepts of those two futures, can make for a great story.

Talk about this new version of Tim Drake. After so many years away from the cape and cowl set, why is fulfilling both Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis’ legacy so important to him? 

There are a couple of important elements that add to all of this.

First of all, Tim Drake is a great character in his own right. As a kid, he was smart enough to figure out that Bruce Wayne and Batman were one and the same.

Secondly, he was the leader of the Titans. In the Futures End five years from now storyline, his friends and comrades died fighting the Earth 2 invasion, so he walked away from being a hero.

However, his experience with Madison Payne and other events, combined with Terry McGinnis’ sacrifice, brought him back to the point of being a hero. He put on the Batman costume to defeat Brother Eye.

He succeeded in part—stopping the Earth 2 invasion. However, Brother Eye survived, which means Tim’s mission, which was originally Terry’s, is not yet complete.

Tim Drake is a hero and man of true honor. He intends to honor Terry’s sacrifice by carrying on in his place.

What are some of the major differences between Terry and Tim as Batman?

Terry was a little more rash and headstrong. More emotional.  

Tim is more of a tactician. Not as bombastic. More likely to consider different courses of action.

Any classic Batman Beyond villains, classic or future, that you particularly want to bring to life in the pages of the comics?

Batman Beyond has a tremendous rogues gallery. If you’ve seen the cover to issue 2, you’ve already seen Inque. Beyond that, I find Shriek, Spellbinder, Blight, and even Mr. Freeze. I also like Rewire quite a lot. Lots of story opportunities there.

What’s it like working with Bernard Chang?

When Bob Harras asked me who would be right for the book, Bernard was the first name I put on the table.

His style blends quite well with some of the design concepts at the core of Batman Beyond. On top of that, he has a tremendous design sense of his own. His training as an architect is crucial to building the look of a world that might truly exist 35 years from now.

I’ve told him that of all the stuff he’s done to date, that this is the book he was born to draw. I truly believe that.

How deeply will the events of Batman Beyond tie into the present day DC Universe? Are you coordinating anything with the other Bat books?

We are. And I think we have some very exciting plans laid in that will help pull DC present and DC future together.

Batman Beyond was widely popular when it aired, to you, what is the legacy of Terry McGinnis and Batman Beyond on today’s comics?

I think the strongest aspect of Batman Beyond would be what it did to extrapolate and build the legend of Batman. The idea of Bruce eventually training a young man to replace him is a great one, especially when set against the dynamic world of the future they envisioned.

What were some of your favorite Batman Beyond episodes?

I start with the “Rebirth” episodes, parts 1 and 2, which introduced Terry and all these concepts in very effective fashion. A great way to hook a generation or two of viewers!

Beyond that, “Disappearing Inque”, “Terry’s Friend Dates a Robot”, and most notably, “The Call” episodes and “Out of the Past” are my favorites.

There have been many potential futures over the years at DC, from the Legion of Super-Heroes, to the Great Disaster, to Kamandi, will there be any parts of these classic futures that you plan to explore?

We’ve absolutely indicated we intend to do that by virtue of the cover on issue #1. In addition, it’s important to note that we showed Ben Boxer—one of the Kamandi characters—on that cover and introduced a woman by the name of Nora Boxer, as well as the Global Peace Agency.

As I’ve said, we have all of these elements at our disposal, which make for a fun, exciting and very intriguing series.

Dan Jurgens, thank you very much!