How does it feel to be working on Action Comics, one of the longest-running comics in the world? Did you ever see it coming?
"When I got the first email from DC Comics saying, 'Would you like to talk about working for us?' we were outside a branch of an opticians. I actually turned to my wife and said, 'Well, I'll have to start at the very bottom again, won't I? It won't be Action Comics, will it?' And wow, it was. One of the lovely things about Lex Luthor is that everybody down the pub knows who he is. That's not always been the case with the comics characters I've worked with. The freedom of writing a character the man and woman in the street knows means that you don't spend a lot of time with continuity. I am saying, 'New readers, start here'. You don't need to know anything to join this story. Lex has got this big quest going and during that quest he will encounter and have conflicts with nine or ten of the most exciting, interesting and well-known villains in the DC Universe. Kind of a 'supervillain death-match', rather than a supervillain team-up. There are some fantastic characters from outside Lex's genre and comfort zone. We're having him encounter people from entirely different books. I'm really enjoying it. It's rather like Batman: Hush, which was a gallery among other things of Batman villains."
"No, in short. It's really Lex's title, and Supes is in it in as much as everything Lex does is about Superman. This is very much about Superman; it's the shape of the hole he leaves when he goes, a tactic used before to some effect in different media. Lex is endlessly fascinating and this is plunging deep into his character, putting him under some great duress and seeing what comes out. One of the things I'm really pleased with is that we're not allowed for one moment to think Lex is a hero. He does something absolutely despicable straight out. He doesn't find redemption straight away, if at all. It's not a series about wallowing in his villainy either. There are certain admirable things about him. He's Prometheus: he wants to grab the fire from the superheroes and, he thinks to himself, bring it back to people. Lex doesn't understand that Superman isn't an alien. He's Clark Kent, a very nicely brought up young man who has an interesting ethnic heritage. These are all the wonderful contradictions inside him and because this series puts him up against people who are worse than or just as bad as him, we might find ourselves rooting for him as the lesser of two evils."
Is this going to follow on from the 'New Krypton' storyline or is it a completely fresh start?
"This is a completely new start. We've just got three panels of flashback to what sets this up, which new readers can understand completely from that, and then off we go."
Were you surprised at the reaction to your 'Lois and Lex' gag?
"I was amazed. I'm quite pleased that people out there are so passionate about these characters. I thought the reaction to me saying, 'Lex and his girlfriend Lois Lane', was going to be, 'Oooh, that's interesting. It can't mean exactly that. I'm tantalised, intrigued. I wonder what he might mean'. Instead of which it was a psychotic scream. I woke up in the morning with a hundred Twitter messages. Obviously that's not really the case. What kind of loon would come on a book and say, 'These two characters seem to belong together. Let's put them together!' The reason I wanted to put an end to it rather than encourage it and make it a continuing story is that it's obvious what's going on halfway through the first issue. It's not made a big deal of. It's a trick; it's a joke."
Are you contracted for a limited run, or is it open-ended?
"It's open-ended. We have a set run for this story. We know how many issues it is. But I'm keeping on going with Action Comics."
Can you tell us anything about the rumour that you've entered into an exclusivity deal with DC?
"I can confirm or deny nothing at all. These are just rumours."
Are you excited about getting back into novel writing following your new deal with Tor?
"Prose is the thing I really love most of all. I'm really excited about this novel, which I can't really speak much about at all. It's broadly urban fantasy. I'm really looking forward to it. They're a wonderful team to work with. We went down to the SFX Weekender - me and my agent - and the Tor UK people had hired a cottage by the sea and had all their writers staying there like it was some kind of sitcom. We had a wonderful time."
What else have you got coming up?
"I have a story in a rather wonderful pocket book anthology coming out this summer called Masked. It's a superhero prose anthology edited by Lou Anders. It's got loads of comic writer folk and loads of SF writer folk. It's got Gail Simone, Bill Willingham, Marjorie Liu, Mike Carey and people like that, Ian McDonald and Stephen Baxter, so it's a real nice collision between the two worlds. It's out in July. And there's loads of comics that I can't talk about."
Paul Cornell's run on Action Comics begins in issue #890, which is released on June 30.