Novelist Kevin J. Anderson has produced more than 100 books in his 20-year career. And while the Colorado resident is recognized for many original creations, he's best known for the licensed universes he's written in, including Dune, Star Wars, The X-Files, and Titan A.E. With an appearance at this weekend's StarFest on the horizon, Anderson spoke with Decider about his two recent novels set in the world of DC Comics: 2007's The Last Days Of Krypton, which describes the calamities precipitating Superman's arrival on Earth, and his upcoming Enemies And Allies, which chronicles the epic first meeting of Superman and Batman.
Decider: Enemies And Allies squares Batman off against Superman. Which character was more fun to write?
Kevin J. Anderson: Batman traditionally is more fun to write than Superman. He's the dark, tortured tough guy willing to break the rules. He's not as bound by legalities as Superman. But when I recognized that, I spent a lot more time and effort on Superman. Instead of just having him be this brave hero fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, I really wanted to understand this guy. Because he's an outsider—the only one left of his race. He's been raised to believe that the law's the law, and that there are certain rules that need to be obeyed in order to keep society going. It's a real conflict when you put Batman and Superman together because they have totally different approaches to how you're supposed to solve a problem.
D: In Enemies And Allies, Batman has all sorts of cool gadgets, such as the motorcycle that leaves "breadcrumbs" of infrared paint. How did you go about imagining and researching his gadgets?
KJA: I worked for 13 years at one of the largest research laboratories in the country, so I've dealt with scientists and their whacko ideas that sometimes work and sometimes don't. The constraint here was that the book is set in the late '50s. So, Batman is not like his current incarnation in the comic books, with graphic computer displays and all sorts of interactive things. He deals with reel-to-reel magnetic tapes. I had to give him high-tech gadgets, but they still needed to be stepped back to '50s-era technology. I made up things that seemed plausible—that somebody operating outside the government at that time could get.
D: In researching for The Last Days Of Krypton, how much reading of Superman comics did you have to do?
KJA: I read tons and tons. I have been reading comics all my life, but as any comics fan knows, you will rapidly go insane if you try to make sense of every Superman story because there are dozens of contradictions. Interestingly, I did manage to pull together almost all of the character's major conflicting story lines in The Last Days Of Krypton. What couldn't fit were the ones in the current Smallville TV show, which are so far outside the other Superman continuities that you can't even pretend to explain them. But when you deal with the last days of Krypton, Superman's home planet, you go back to the fundamental story that everybody knows. It's this advanced planet, and Superman's father, Jor-El, is the smartest man on that planet. He says the world is coming to an end, and he believes it, so he builds a little spaceship to put his own baby in. Everybody knows that part of the story, but if you stop and think about it for a few minutes, then you go, "Wait, if this is the most advanced planet in 28 galaxies—a super-powerful technological society—why was there only one spaceship on the entire planet? Why was everyone home the very day Krypton exploded?"
D: Did forcing all that continuity together get you some feedback from diehard Superman fans?
KJA: They loved it. The Last Days Of Krypton is one of the best reviewed, best received books of the 100 or so I've written. The fans know there are contradictions, but this book pulled them all together. I'm primarily a science-fiction writer, and now I've written an epic science-fiction novel about a planet everyone's heard of. They know about General Zod. They know about Brainiac. But they never saw all the pieces put together like this.
D: What's the biggest challenge in writing prose about superheroes?
KJA: Things that work in a comic book can seem unrealistic and silly when you're writing a novel. In a comic book, when Superman shoots heat rays out of his eyes, that's fine. But when you're in a novel and inside Kal-El's head, and he's got to shoot heat rays out of his eyes, it's hard to write that in a way that doesn't sound silly. I hoped I pulled it off in the book, but that's the problem: How do you deal with a guy who says, "I'm going to exhale and use my Arctic breath to make a gun freeze?"
D: Were some things inherently easy about the project?
KJA: Everybody knows these people. The cover of the book Enemies And Allies has the Batman logo and the Superman logo. Before you even pick up the book and turn to the first page you know who Bruce Wayne is, and you know who Clark Kent is. You don't have to waste a lot of time telling people where they are.
D: Are there any other superheroes you would really like a chance to write about?
KJA: The next big one, obviously, is Wonder Woman. That's the big three: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. DC Comics loves the books that I'm doing, so we're talking right now about what my next project for them might be. I'm sure I'll be doing something else—we just don't know yet what it is.
D: What about supervillains? Any of them you're dying to get at?
KJA: That's another thing I did in Enemies And Allies: I really developed and got into Lex Luthor's head and made him into a really nasty villain who's understandable. And I liked him so much I might stick with him next time. I wanted to do the Joker, but I think after Heath Ledger's performance, you don't even want to go there. It's been done as well as it could be.