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Interview: 'Chronicle' Writer Max Landis Talks Superman, Atomic Skull and His Passion for Comics

The screenwriter puts his mark on the classic Superman villain set to debut in the ACTION COMICS ANNUAL.

ACTION COMIC ANNUAL #1 (note: this is NOT Atomic Skull on the cover)

Where are all the classic Superman villains? Between the time he made his public appearance in the pages of ACTION COMICS in the New 52 to the present day stories, we haven't seen too many of Superman's classic villains.

It turns out we will be seeing the return of one villaiin, the Atomic Skull, in a back up story in next week's ACTION COMICS ANNUAL. Screenwriter Max Landis, known for Chronicle and the YouTube short, "The Death and Return of Superman" is bringing the character to today's comics, giving his own interpretation and spin on him.

We had the opportunity to talk to Max about the 8-page back up story as well as his passion for comics. Be warned, we let Max speak freely and he doesn't hold back.

Comic Vine: How did you get involved writing the back up story re-introducing the Atomic Skull? Why the Atomic Skull?

Max Landis: The offered me the job and I said I don't know. If I just have eight pages then I don't know if I want to write Superman. If I'm going to go into Superman, I really want to go into him and have some fun with him. I pitched them a Trickster story and an Atomic Skull story. They decided against the Trickster story because it made him too tough.

That's my thought on villains like that. I love low level villains because something about them is so fascinating to me. In our world, even guys like the Shocker, guys like Catman, would basically beat the shit out of any Metropolitan police force and some military on real life Earth.

So you take a character like the Atomic Skull, who has been lost to the winds of time, I don't know. Something about all that power is fascinating to me.

CV: You touched on the superhero genre in Chronicle and wrote and directed 'The Death and Return of Superman,' is writing comics something you want to do more often?

ML: If I can find the time, yeah. I'm tremendously busy with my film stuff. But I love writing comics and I love comics. If I could find the time for it then yes.

From ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1

CV: What made you go with the approach of a silent story for the Atomic Skull?

ML: When I was looking up villains I wanted to use, Atomic Skull jumped to mind. There's something, to me, terrifically creepy about him. Be it the version of the character that existed before this story or hopefully the version of the character that I've created. Just the idea of this scientist, with the image of the burning skull…you know you can talk about Ghost Rider but that's sort of more down the line of bad ass biker imagery.

The Atomic Skull…there's something almost creepy and sinister about it. I thought, wouldn't it be fun to tell this story kind of like a ghost story? You get some pieces at the beginning and then you slowly unearth the rest of the story as you go. When you're a screenwriter, you have to really write out things and think about how they would be shot. You have to think about your budget restrictions. You have to think about the actors, could an actor pull off this dialogue? I wanted to let the story be an exercise in not screenwriting. I wanted to try to work a different muscle in my brain, to tell a story just with pictures.

CV: Did you give Ryan Sook a detailed script specifically describing all the imagery you wanted?

ML: Yes, I laid it out very very carefully. I'd never written a comic book script before but I laid it out as carefully as I could. All the spreads and the way all the panels worked were my choices. I was very proud of that. And I think Ryan Sook was just amazing. It was like directing, working with a really brilliant cinematographer.

CV: Why the title "Anchiale? I looked it up and it's the Greek goddess of warmth and heat. Do you have an affinity for Greek mythology?

ML: I do. I think more importantly, Al, the character who is the Atomic Skull is an academic and is a guy who's lived his life with his nose in a book. I feel like the title, you see it, spoiler alert, you see it written in the sand there. There's something about the primal nature of fire and the primal nature of the atom and the splitting of the atom to me was compelling. I think he'd find that compelling too. I think he'd look at the fire that rises from his head and it would bring him back to those college courses and myths. It would bring him back to those books and I think he'd find something to hold onto there in an environment where he's sort of lost everything.

CV: You mentioned Al, so is this Albert Michaels and not Joseph Martin?

ML: Yeah, I'm sort of doing a new version of the guy and I definitely see using the Al name.

From ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1

CV: While the silent story does tell his origin, do you have plans to write more Atomic Skull or will he show up later written by someone else?

ML: I would fucking love to pop up later and write him. The way I've set him up, he's almost not a villain. He's a situation. If you don't go to that island then you probably won't have much trouble with the Atomic Skull. But if one of our heroes ends up on that island, I think they're in some pretty deep sheet.

CV: Do you have any other "rants" along the line of 'The Death and Return of Superman' planned?

ML: Would I make another one?

CV: Yeah, is there anything you'd like to get off your chest?

ML: Oh, other complaints?

CV: Just your views on anything in general in comics. Clearly you felt passionate about Superman's death.

ML: I'm passionate about a tremendous amount of comic book story lines. Both positive and negative. I could go on for hours and talk about any number of things. Do you want to get me going on how brilliant CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS is and how poorly it was executed? Do you want to get me going on INFINITE CRISIS and how that could have paved the way for a bunch of new amazing stuff and then didn't? Do you want to get me going on 'Death of Gwen Stacy' and how it changed comic books for the better forever? Do you want to get me going on like fucking Onslaught/X-Men, talk to me about fucking 'Death of the Family,' talk to me about fucking 'Knightfall'? Do you wanna get me going on 'Bruce Wayne: Murderer'? I can go, man. I can talk about this shit. I think about this shit. Do you want me to go into how Shocker from Marvel should have his own comic and should have had his own comic since the 1980s? I'll tell you, man. I never shut up. I love fucking comics.

CV: I wish I had more time to talk to about this. I would love to hear your views on any of this. I hope someday we get the opportunity and you have the time. I'll throw out the invitation if you ever want to use Comic Vine as a platform you could say whatever you wanted to say.

ML: That sounds fun, man. It all depends on how busy I am.

CV: Exactly. I do hope we see more of you in comics. You did a great job on the story. You're a great asset to the comic book community since clearly you know what you're talking about and and have feelings about them, which is good.

ML: Thanks, dude. It's one of my passions. I appreciate you noticing.

Be sure to check out ACTION COMICS ANNUAL #1, on sale October 31, 2012.

44 Comments
Posted by Pwok21

Makes sense on his views about The Shocker seeing as he wrote a really detailed fanfic based on Shocker going full on Anti-Hero.

Coincidence, I was reading it (am on chapter 9 ATM) only to refresh Comicvine and see this on the front page.

Also, Chronicle was badass and Death of Superman was mad funny.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

Max Landis is a douchebag

Posted by SoA

@Pwok21: sounds interesting where can i read that?

Posted by k4tzm4n
Do you want me to go into how Shocker from Marvel should have his own comic and should have had his own comic since the 1980s?

+100 respect points

Staff
Posted by davidearlhutchinson

They are letting a fucking Superman hater write a fucking Superman story? ARE THEY THAT FUCKING RETARDED?!?!?!

Posted by G-Man

@davidearlhutchinson: Where do you get an idea he's a hater? If you watched that video, you know he brought up several good points. The Death of Superman was not executed in the best way.

Staff Online
Posted by Or35ti

@davidearlhutchinson said:

They are letting a fucking Superman hater write a fucking Superman story? ARE THEY THAT FUCKING RETARDED?!?!?!

This is a little silly now that i think about it. In general Max Landis seems like kind of a douche. he really doesn't have to curse soo much in an interview. I like cursing when it's tasteful but hear he just seems like Billy Joe Armstrong at the iHeart Radio Festival. Does this mean that cursing on comicvine is ok now?

Posted by G-Man

@Or35ti: I don't see the need to censor an interview. I even made a note at the beginning about it. That doesn't mean you have free reign on the forums. I figured people would get that this was just part of the interview. He's expressing his passion. He was great on the phone. It's unfortunate how quickly people are in judging others. The back up is great. The points he brought up in the vid are over the top but that was the angle of it. Having an opinion and being willing to express it shouldn't be a bad thing.

Staff Online
Posted by Lvenger

Oh so the same guy who did the Death of Superman video is writing the back up? Interesting.

Posted by Zeeguy91

So...both Kryptonite Man and Atomic Skull? Sweet.

Posted by Pwok21
Posted by Pwok21

@davidearlhutchinson:

Death of Superman was executed with comedy in mind.

It wasn't a serious attempt at dissecting the event but general coverage, which with the cameos from multiple fairly well known actors and some good points it was worth a watch.

If you'd read the interview you'd know that he doesn't hate Superman, but hated his death and is bringing back lesser known villains to give them more of a spotlight.

Posted by Necrotic_Lycanthrope

While to this very day I harp on Max for killing the villain in Chronicle, he is a young mind in a field dominated a lot by old timers who still think Watergate is still happening and that Clinton did not do the dance with his secretarty. So I'm hyper excited for his venture into comics. Maybe he can pump in some life like Scott Snyder and his Bat/Vamp/Swamp/*upcoming*Super titles.

Posted by buttersdaman000

Why did you have to kill the black guy???!!!

Posted by BigPun

Yeah he even talks about how much he loves superman, and what he would cover if he wrote a superman comic in an interview with comicbookresources. I think he brings up some pretty cool ideas and I would love to see him write more comics. Oh and he's no douchebag...he's just ahead of the curve.

Posted by bladewolf

Love this dude! I'm so glad to see he got the chance to write a comic!

Posted by Gambit1024

I thought the Death of Superman video was funny... If it's the one that I'm thinking about anyway.

Chronicle was awesome, btw. I'll read what he's got to offer to the Superman books.

Edited by SicaFanta

He isn't a Superman hater. He hated the way the death of Superman was handled. His points very well thought out and also very true imo. I hated Supermans death too, it was a complete and utter mess.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

@BigPun: I didn't realize sipping a cocktail in-between crap jokes was considered being a head of the curve now

Posted by SandMan_
@davidearlhutchinson said:

They are letting a fucking Superman hater write a fucking Superman story? ARE THEY THAT FUCKING RETARDED?!?!?!

He loves Superman. He already said it in a video.
Posted by Danial79

I thought Chronicle was pretty good, and didn't stop laughing during his Superman video (in a funny-cuz-it's-true kind of way), so I look forward to reading his comic work. The dude obviously knows his stuff.

Posted by BigPun

Posted by knightofthechronicle

I watched the video as soon as I saw the link, really, I mean really, great stuff. Hopefully this backup will be as good as the others have been (Action #13) and will give a better take on a modern version of Atomic Skull.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

He definitely has some staunch opinions and has a lot to say, that's for sure! I'll definitely be ready to see how he's done Atomic Skull when I pick up the Annual (along with all my other October holds) next Wednesday!

Posted by doordoor123

@Jonny_Anonymous said:

Max Landis is a douchebag

More like an immature little kid that has no idea how to write dialogue. And his films are carbon copies of other stories. At least TRY to be original.

Posted by MR_TENGU

Well looks like I'm actually gonna be picking up an issue of Action Comics. >_<

Posted by FanofUltraman

@davidearlhutchinson: He's not a hater. He loves him so much he's very defensive of the character and the paths some writers take with him.

Posted by sethysquare

Man, I really really really hope we get to see this version of Atomic Skull somewhere along the line. Superman needs to build up his rogue gallery.

Why not bring in Joseph Martin as well and let him take another moniker.

Posted by nappystr8

Now I really want to see Max Landis write an ongoing Shocker series for Marvel!

Posted by InnerVenom123

Oh, man.

I want him to write a Spider-man issue with Shocker now.

Posted by Razeil

@G-Man said:

@davidearlhutchinson: Where do you get an idea he's a hater? If you watched that video, you know he brought up several good points. The Death of Superman was not executed in the best way.

Honestly I think he has a fair point, there is very little constructive criticism in any of what has done or said. It is very easy to point out the faults in someone else's work nearly two decades after the event; it's something entirely different when you're working with the assistance of hindsight and can see the project as a whole. Plus the shear language he used, half of the interview was swearing, altogether he came off as a childish young man trying to use shock tactics and trolling other people's work. Let's hope that twenty years down the line the same man can take the criticisms of his work being flawed and outdated.

Although I quite enjoyed Chronicle

Posted by lifeboy
I see will be getting that action comics, but im not going to set my expectations high. However i hope i am pleasantly suprised.
Posted by MisterKetch

@G-Man said:

@Or35ti: I don't see the need to censor an interview. I even made a note at the beginning about it. That doesn't mean you have free reign on the forums. I figured people would get that this was just part of the interview. He's expressing his passion. He was great on the phone. It's unfortunate how quickly people are in judging others. The back up is great. The points he brought up in the vid are over the top but that was the angle of it. Having an opinion and being willing to express it shouldn't be a bad thing.

That's a bit hypocritical don't you think gman? This guy didn't exactly give the most eloquent interview, i don't necessarily find his cursing offensive but you offer him the chance to use this site to say "whatever you want" I mean come on he's writing an 8 page back up story and a bunch of fan fic, a comic book writer he is not. Yet you have no problem offering him an uncensored blog on a comic book site then tell your actual followers and people who use this site regularly that the consideration's given to this random guy (i don't know what chronicle is and i don't read fanfic so random imo) is absolutely not allowed to them.

If fanfic writers and people who put up youtube rants are allowed to give unfiltered opinions just tell me where to send my stuff, would love to start swearing at wolverine fan boys.

Posted by Jonny_Anonymous

@BigPun said:

At what exactly?

Posted by JoseDRiveraTCR7

@G-Man:I think people get the idea that Landis hates Superman because at the beginning of his "Death of Superman" short he states that no one really like Superman, and those who do like Superman deep down actually don't like him. He has stated in multiple interview, and I think another video, that he does in fact love Superman and wouldn't spend so much time making that video if he didn't. I tend to believe him, but there's still a part of me that doesn't like that comment he made at the beginning of short.

Posted by Fuchsia_Nightingale

So Superman has two new Titles MOS and this ? o-0

Posted by JoseDRiveraTCR7

@Fuchsia_Nightingale:This is an annual.

Posted by BigPun

@doordoor123: so what is Chronicle a carbon copy of?

Posted by Or35ti

@MisterKetch said:

@G-Man said:

@Or35ti: I don't see the need to censor an interview. I even made a note at the beginning about it. That doesn't mean you have free reign on the forums. I figured people would get that this was just part of the interview. He's expressing his passion. He was great on the phone. It's unfortunate how quickly people are in judging others. The back up is great. The points he brought up in the vid are over the top but that was the angle of it. Having an opinion and being willing to express it shouldn't be a bad thing.

That's a bit hypocritical don't you think gman? This guy didn't exactly give the most eloquent interview, i don't necessarily find his cursing offensive but you offer him the chance to use this site to say "whatever you want" I mean come on he's writing an 8 page back up story and a bunch of fan fic, a comic book writer he is not. Yet you have no problem offering him an uncensored blog on a comic book site then tell your actual followers and people who use this site regularly that the consideration's given to this random guy (i don't know what chronicle is and i don't read fanfic so random imo) is absolutely not allowed to them.

If fanfic writers and people who put up youtube rants are allowed to give unfiltered opinions just tell me where to send my stuff, would love to start swearing at wolverine fan boys.

Honestly I wasn't saying that he shouldn't express his opinion, but I think using needless profanity as means to express passion is a little immature. I liked his video rant on the Death of Superman actually but when you hear someone trying to convey his opinion through use of the words "sh*t" and "f*ck" in every other sentence it kind of makes it seem like he's just trying to sound cool rather than express a thoughtful and developed opinion. Once again, I'm not saying he should express his opinion, he has every right to do so, I just wish he would in a more mature and respectful way is all. :p

Posted by supermanfan1234

max landis seems like a complete and utter douche.seriously does somone really have to have a whole paroagraph with fuck every two words.

Posted by TheNamelessOne

Great interview Tony. I think Max Landis is cool. I thought his Death of Superman was hilarious. And I'm a huge Superman fan, just as he is I'm sure. No need to call him a hater or douche. I don't really see how cussing bothers so much on the internet. And he seems to be very passionate about comics. He was just very casual about the interview and conversed like he was among friends. No need to nitpick on it. I'm looking forward to what he does in Action Comcis Annual.

Posted by Death Certificate

LOL at anyone taking the death of superman video seriously

Posted by cameron83

I don't really care that he used profanity.To be honest,we've heard it before.It would be a bit nice (IMO) if he didn't curse,but that is just the way some people express their emotions truthfully (like G-Man,or somebody said,it shows passion).So can we be mature and actually get the point of what he said,(good points and I agree with him,we need to make lesser known characters iconic.I am tired of seeing mini series that is just about batman's average night in gotham,like the other 500 stories like that.If it was something like batman gotham knight,I would enjoy it,but otherwise it is the same thing you always see).

Btw,batman gotham knight,for some who don't know is a movie (of approx 4-6 short movies.It is sorta how other people will see batman.Mainly the first short movie).

Posted by DonFelipe

So Comicvine's policy about not using any profanity does not apply on interviews and articles posted by CV itself?