This week, readers of Superman will be introduced to two men new to DC Comics: Ulysses, a strange visitor from another dimension; and the illustrator John Romita Jr, a decades-long veteran of Marvel Comics, making his DC debut.
Romita uses a cola metaphor to describe his change from Marvel to DC. “DC and Marvel are like Coke and Pepsi,” he said, explaining that his decision to move was about trying new things. “Staying at Marvel, I would’ve been doing the same stuff, character wise.”
Romita, whose first published story for Marvel was in 1977 and featured Spider-Man, would eventually draw most of its superheroes. He has worked with some of the industry’s biggest writers including Frank Miller (on Daredevil) and Mark Millar (on Kick-Ass). On Superman, he is working with the inker Klaus Janson and Geoff Johns, a popular writer who was named DC’s chief creative officer in 2010.
Previews of his Superman pages showed off Romita’s signature thick line work, hulking figures and dynamic action sequences. The first story line involves Ulysses, who is sent to Earth from his doomed world by his parents. The new creative team for the Man of Steel will likely give the series a sales boost. Last month, Superman was No. 48 on the list of comic book best-sellers with just over 40,000 copies sold of Issue 31. Batman was No. 4 with more than 107,000 copies. At No. 1 was Original Sin, a miniseries from Marvel that reveals dark secrets about its well-known heroes, selling over 147,000 copies.
As with the Coke and Pepsi rivalry, many fans divide themselves into DC or Marvel camps. Romita, who is not a complete stranger to DC — in the 1990s he worked on two stories that united DC and Marvel characters — is a bit more agnostic, looking across the industry at the work of compatriots like Miller, Jim Lee and Adam and Andy Kubert, among others, for inspiration. “Without competition, you’d be nothing,” Romita said.
He also said he drew inspiration from martial arts classes he’s taken with his son to dream up angles or choreography for fight scenes. “My art still isn’t as good as my storytelling,” he said. “But it’s getting better. By the time I’m 75 or 80, I’ll be a good artist.”
You could say that Romita, 57, is not just leaving Marvel, but also the family shop. His parents both had careers at Marvel: His father is John Romita, a renowned artist who, among other things, designed the look of Mary Jane, Peter Parker’s love interest; and his mother, Virginia, worked as a production manager.
Romita said that Scott Edelman, the Marvel editor who gave him his first break, told him, “I don’t believe in nepotism, but I don’t believe in anti-nepotism either”, before offering him the art chores on Iron Man. Romita’s parents’ approach was more tough love: “We never went out of our way to make his path any easier,” his father said.
Both father and son told a story illustrating that point.
John Jr was once running late on a Marvel assignment. His mother, the production manager, called him and threatened, “If you can’t do the pages, we’ll get someone else.” But she quickly followed up with a second call: “Hello, John? This is your mom. Are you feeling OK?”