Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Comic Book Confidential: It's A Bird... It's A Plane... It's...

A guy in jeans, a t-shirt, and some sort of silly looking half cape thingy.


Apparently this is the look Superman will be sporting in Action Comics, which will be telling the tales of his first five years as a superhero. Apparently this period will be defined by his desire to look like a reject from the Village People. A more armor like version of his classic super-suit, sans exterior scarlet undies, will be in all the other Superman related titles.

But that's not what I'm here to rant at you about.

What I'd really like to talk about is some of the changes being made to the Superman story during the DC Reboot.

So let's take a quick look at some of them.

1. Superman and Lois Lane are no longer man and wife. That I can understand. Do a reboot, have them meet for the first time, and slowly fall in love, etc... etc... Not sure how they're going to incorporate all the back-story that they're not getting rid of into all this, but that's a problem for DC and the audience to furrow their brows about in a feeble attempt to understand.

2. Ma and Pa Kent will be dead. I can understand this as well. Being a double orphan was a key part of Superman's original origin story back in ye olde Golden Age, so it makes sense to me.

3. Superman is "going to me more Kal El than Clark Kent," and feel like an outsider from normal Earthling humanity, something that will cause him to feel the dreaded ANGST.

This I'm not so keen on because it probably misses the point of the entire character.

What was the point of the character of Superman?

Essentially he is a big blue-costume-wearing-
crime-fighting metaphor for the Jewish experience in America.

He wasn't intended to be a metaphor which is why he is so good at it. Unintended metaphors are the best ones.

Think about it, Superman was driven from his home by disaster (the destruction of Krypton/pre-Holocaust Diaspora), he's taken in by America (personified by the Kansas farmers Ma & Pa Kent), and thanks to his new home realizes his true potential (The sun giving him his powers / American society giving the Jewish people a pogrom free home) and becomes a great asset to his new home (patriotic superhero / Jewish American scientists, artists, jurists, etc.).

Because of this Superman's supposed to embody optimism, be a symbol that there isn't a problem that can't be solved. That's why he clicked with audiences during the Great Depression, that's why he remained popular during WW2 as a symbol of democracy's battle with fascism.

Despite his origins as an alien, Superman was not created as a misunderstood angst-addled outsider like the members of the X-Men, nor an angry emotionally scarred vigilante like Batman. He's a supremely gifted immigrant, who was assimilated into the great melting pot, and is now using his gifts to give back, big time, which makes him a beloved figure.

So the first question is, does this desire to inject "outsider angst" into Superman spring from the intentional pursuit of a once original idea turned lazy cliche, or does it unintentionally reflect some sort of spiritual and/or philosophical ennui on the part of the creative team now behind the long running character?

The second question then is, if this is an unintentional reflection of the creative team's ennui, is it right for them to re-imagine Superman this way when the greater audience might want or need him in his more traditional role as an optimistic ideal?

Only time will provide the answer.


  1. I like to costume idea, with superman starting out. It makes sense that he would be wearing jeans and a t shirt until he makes a more proper outfit.

    For Angst, only angst I would have is Clark Kent, starting out I would have Clark's life be a total mess. He is just starting out working at the Daily Planet news service doing crap jobs one of them being forced to write stories that put Superman in a badlight because the company is part of a larger conglomo owned by Lex Luthor.

    This would be angst that would slowly drift away as his career and personal life improves.

    Luthor would be more of a in the shadows villain. He manipulates other people and events from the background while having a public persona of some Tycoon who cares.

  2. Mr. D - in several of your blogs you have commented that one of the crippling features preventing Marvel/DC from doing a "real" reboot, is because they want to make sure they can still sell action figures of Etta Candy when the Wonder Woman movie hits the big time.

    But why does a reboot prevent this? Say that they restart Superman from before he meets Brainiac or whatever. The Superman movie does well. Why not just go ahead and put Brainiac's mug on the Big Gulp cups despite Brainiac's absence from the current chronology? I mean, there are still hundreds of published issues featuring Brainiac, and no reason to suppose he WON'T return some day. I don't see what prevents a good reboot based on this. Even though they killed Green Lantern's sweetie, if I wanted a complete collection of Green Lantern imagery, I'd still want her portrait.

    On the other hand, I'm not a high-powered Hollywood lawyer so perhaps I am missing something that you, with your God-like wisdom, perceive only too clear.

  3. You have to think like a big corporation to understand this. Which basically means you remove all logic from your decision making processes.

    Just kidding. (sort of)

    But seriously...

    They could slap Brainiac on the Big Gulp before he's rebooted, but the folks at Time Warner would fear that he lacks the "brand awareness" that an active or already reintroduced comic book character would already have.

    I hope that answers your question.

  4. The costume thing is kind of a head-scratcher. Now, yes, most of the time, it's *only* the cape that was in the pod with Kal-El, but there've been times in which the entire costume was in there - formal robes of the House of El, or some such thing. So, if they're trying to make him *more* alien outsider (*leap into Grand Canyon and slam head into desk at the bottom*), why isn't he at least wearing his alien roots costume? And, by the way, DC - YOU ALREADY HAVE AN ALIEN OUTSIDER. This is the purpose of the oft-overlooked Martian Manhunter. Who, come to think about it, you *also* made into an angst-ridden idiot.

    As for the idiotic changes. Modern comic writers are far too selfish, and far too arrogant, to ever do something for the good of the audience or the character.

    All they care about is stamping their own personal legacy on whatever they're writing - even if it's only going to be a three issue run. Basically, everyone wants to be Chris Clairemont - always linked with the success of a title, even if they're not the creators (granted, Clairemont doesn't deserve this legacy, but that's another rant). That's another reason why there's so little reboot in the reboot - these guys *created* half the stuff that's remaining, because they're too selfish to undo their own 'legacy'. And the brand suffers for it.