June 11, 2013 at 12:20 PM ET
When "Man of Steel" opens on Friday, moviegoers may be surprised to meet a Superman whose battle for “truth, justice and the American way” doesn't necessarily mean he gets along with the U.S. government.
But for comic book readers, this young, anti-bully Superman is part of a new direction for the character at DC Comics, as the publishing company launches a highly anticipated new comic this week called "Superman Unchained."
The hope is that people will like the modern Superman they see in the movie and pick up a copy of the new comic. DC is pulling out all the stops on the comic, from a bonus poster with the first issue to the red-hot creative lineup of superstar artist Jim Lee and author Scott Snyder.
"Anytime you have a huge, big-budget movie do great business, it creates an incredible awareness of the character. And that's something that we can definitely tap into," said Lee, who also serves as DC co-publisher.
"It's a really big, bombastic story," said Snyder, who's already turned DC's "Batman" title into the company's best-seller. "You're going to see things that I think really surprise you, that add to the mythology of Superman. And yet at the same time, you'll see the big cast that you all know and love — from Lex Luthor to Lois Lane to Perry and Jimmy and so on — in ways that hopefully feel both classic and also really modern and fresh."
And even though Superman is 75 years old this year, Snyder is taking a few risks in his portrayal of the hero.
"We wanted to tell a story where there weren't really any limits on it," Snyder said.
Thus the title: "Unchained."
"The mission was to not be afraid to do anything different or new," he said.
As a result, Superman echoes many of today's headlines. In an era of immigration reform, Lee said the character is the "ultimate immigrant," who "embodies truth, justice and the American way the same way any immigrant that comes to the United States would hopefully feel."
With the media focused on questionable superspy activities by the U.S. government, that conflict is reflected in one of the driving plotlines in "Superman Unchained," as the Man of Steel goes up against the military.
"It's a story that definitely pits Superman against public opinion, and against some of the things he's usually aligned with — the government being part of that," Snyder said. "We tried to do a story that has him completely out of place with all the things that he normally thinks he's fighting for. It's really him on his own and challenged in these really huge physical and emotional and psychological ways."
"Superman Unchained" is the latest in a series of new comics that DC has been launching over the last two years since the company shocked longtime fans by completely rebooting its decades-old comic book universe in 2011. At the time, DC started over its numbering with 52 new No. 1 comics called the "New 52."
According to the new stories, Superman has been fighting crime for only about five years.
For Lee, who's been drawing comics for decades, the reboot of Superman into a "younger," "fresher" hero means he draws the character very differently now than he did early in his career.
"This Superman feels lighter physically," Lee said. "He's not as bulky. He's younger in age. There are subtle things I do in terms of the jawline, the hairline, the overall bulk of his torso in proportion to his legs. There are several refinements. But at the end of the day, I think it presents a more youthful, dynamic Superman."
And although the movie Superman may feel similar to the one in the comics, Lee and Snyder warned that the stories in the comics don't tie into the movie. In fact, Snyder admitted he hasn't even seen "Man of Steel."
"I don't know what the [movie's] story is beyond what everybody else knows," he said. "But I can't wait to see it."
But Snyder also said that no matter how much the character changes over the years, his core stays the same.
"The secret of the character — and the thing that's made him appealing all these years, and relevant and endearing — is that he's also the most deeply human of any superhero, because of the morals and the ethics and the lessons taught to him by his parents, the Kents," Snyder said. "That kind of mythic home on the Kansas plains, and that sense of growing up in that small town and having that moral compass given to you — that's what makes him Superman and Clark. The powers — and all the amazing things are part of the fantasy that we get to be if we're Superman — are almost incidental, to me at least.
"What makes him the greatest superhero is that sense of doing the right thing," he said, "even when the right thing is incredibly difficult to do even in global or cosmic terms, where everything you know and love is threatened, to do the thing you think is right."