Thursday, March 02, 2006

Superman, Pt. I

This post may not make a whole lot of sense, because I have a lot of thoughts around this and I'm finding it hard to crystallize them. I'll give it a shot, and if you have questions because this is incoherent, please comment and I will absolutely respond, because this is important for me to get out. Part 2 will follow tomorrow, with additional thoughts.

I finally realized what's been bugging me about Infinite Crisis.

(Insert joke here.)

Regular readers will have noticed that I tend not to review any Superman comics. I have not bought a Superman comic in 10 years. I've read others' copies, but never been moved to buy one.

For better or for worse, Superman will always be the archetype for "superhero". And the thing about archetypes is that once you're familiar with them, you start looking for variations on them. So in the superhero archetype's case, most of us are fans of one hero or another because of what we perceive makes them different from a generic "hero".

But poor Superman has been saddled with the cross to bear of being the original 4-color demigod, the template from which most, if not all, others derive. The bright colors, the flying, the cape, the chest emblem --- they're all his, like it or not.

Which means that I don't have to read about Superman, because I know what he is and what he does and how he acts and what he'll do.

Which means that the only Superman comics I would ever be likely to pick up are Elseworlds tales. That's all fine and good --- I think Elseworlds tales are great fun --- but it also effectively means that whatever in-continuity Superman is doing, I don't have to care.

And it's DC's job to make me care about Superman again.

And Infinite Crisis, the showpiece event of the decade for DC, has done precisely the opposite.

There is nothing in IC to make me think that Superman will be any more interesting after this is all over. And I was really kind of hoping there would be, because dammit, I want to like Superman again.

So far, IC --- and the titles leading up to IC --- has focused on Power Girl, Batman, Flash, Donna Troy's Combat Whackers, Superboy, and Wonder Woman. Hell, even Nightwing has gotten better character moments in this thing than Kal-El!

And IC #5 --- Golden Age Lois dies, GA Superman fights "our" Superman in a ridiculously one-sided fight, then spends two pages realizing he's been an idiot --- is also guilty of short-sheeting the Man of Tomorrow.

So even with all the lip service given to Supes by other characters -- and villains -- the physical evidence, the stories that make me excited about Superman -- just aren't there, where I expected them to be.

And that makes me kind of sad for him. And me.

DC, you don't need to reinvent him. You need to show why he is the single most resonant character in the history of comics, and why everyone (Batman included) should be dropping a load in their pants if they even suspect that they might have done something to piss him off.

You've talked the talk with IC; now we need to see you walk the walk.

And that's what's been bugging me.

Tomorrow: More reasons why the archetype is crippling, some thoughts from Jake, and ideas on how to improve.


Blogger redlib said...

Chris, so far this week I've learned that you think Aquaman is stupid and that you don't read Supes. And you call yourself a comic fan, young man.
At least you are on board with Sword of Atlantis.

But I agree with you-- it seems now Supes is like a bit part [unless he is Earth2 Supes] while every other character actor has been elevated to marquee status.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I never said Aquaman was stupid. I just think that if you're about to have your hand bitten off by piranhas and you have telepathic control over sealife, and you won't use it to tell the piranhas to NOT bite off your hand, then you probably need to rethink your priorities. :-)

But I've never had much use for water heroes in general. Their adventures tend to boil down to protecting Atlantis and being assholes towards the surface-world, and that's it.

And in the interests of fair play, I never liked Namor either, lest you think it's a DC bias. :-)

Thanks for the comments!

12:38 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

For starters, Aquaman tried to communicate with the pirhana, but they wouldn't listen. Think of it this way:

Imagine the King of Belgium was walking down a dark alley in Chicago when a gang of thugs emerged from the shadows.
Thugs: Give us your wallet, asshole!
King: I'm the King of Belgium! Begone with you!

What are the odds the streetgang would genuflect and disperse? That's what happened when King Orin of Atlantis demanded the hungry river fish not eat his hand.

As for Superman, I'm not sure which of my ideas you're going to use, but I'll repeat what I said over on Scipio's board the other day. The best way to make Superman interesting is to make the book not about Superman, but about Clark Kent and what it's like to be responsible for the entire planet while trying to keep your marriage working, pay the bills, and meet your deadlines at the Daily Planet.

If you want a really good story that they couldn't do with Superman, but would be perfect for him, read the relaunch of Peter David's Captain Marvel from a few years ago. The basis was "If with great power comes great responsibility, doesn't with infinite power come infinite responsibility?" He went mad being responsible for everyone's fate.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arrrgh!!! Use SPOLIER WARNINGS, you bastard!!

4:11 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

The main problem with Superman in IC is that Johns has violated the classic rule of "show, don't tell."

I agree with Jake that focusing on Clark Kent is the answer. The early part of Rucka's run on AoS did that pretty well, broadening the spotlight to include Clark, Lois, Jimmy, the hot SWAT cop whose name escapes me at the moment... Of course, the Ruin plot was too tied into continuity I wasn't familiar with, and then IC was looming, so I ultimately dropped it.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Bored_Yesterday said...

Wanna make superman relevant again? Have him retire or semi-retire. Replace him with the Earth-2 version or some other excuse for making him old. He is more meaningful as an archetypal representative of the Super hero ideal than he is as a practicing super hero. Let him retire from saving the world. He is the guy that Batman and Firestorm and everyoen else go to when they're feeling disponent about the scope of their heroric purpose. Turn his comic into "Adventrues of Grandpa." Make him an analog to the "greatest generation" he is a part of. Says me.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Mallet said...

I also second PAD's Captain Marvel.

Lordy that was a good book.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Law Dog said...

I dunno, Jake. I was under the impression the Aquaman(AKA Fish Cracker) could impose his will on aquatic life forcibly if necessary. It be more like the King of Belgium walking around Brussels and having muggers popout and then the Royal escort ninjas pop out and put them in the hurt locker.

5:44 PM  
Blogger David Campbell said...

Re: your comments about Superman - word up.

10:01 AM  
Blogger The League said...

"DC, you don't need to reinvent him. You need to show why he is the single most resonant character in the history of comics, and why everyone (Batman included) should be dropping a load in their pants if they even suspect that they might have done something to piss him off."

How would making Superman a guy who scares even Batman not be "reinventing" Superman? And, in fact, would that not pretty much make Superman as people perceive him, not Superman?

I'm not shy about the fact that I'm a Superman fan, but the whole stigma Superman gets for NOT being Batman is absurd. I'm not suggesting anyone has to like IC if they feel it isn't working for them. However, Superman is about a different kind of character than the post-Dirty Harry vigilantism that comic shave embraced.

5:10 PM  

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