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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)
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.


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.


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?

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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.