web stats

CSBG Archive

Guest Post: T on “How to Treat Superman”

Here’s everyone’s pal, T – BC.

People always ask on message boards if Superman is outdated or relevant or why he doesn’t sell. I’m going to break it down once and for all.

For decades as a comic fan I’ve read stories proclaiming how inspirational Superman is to people. Regular folk just going on and on about how Superman makes them better people. The first book I read was an anniversary issue by Eliot Maggin which was just basically page after page fellating the character. What I’ve always wondered is, why exactly is he so inspiring. The first time I ever was inspired by Superman was Superman II the movie, and that was because he faced off against three people with similar godlike powers and went in willing to die. And he held his own! In the comics…he never really did all that much. The Golden Age one was inspiring because he was a lot less powerful and did so much, singlehandedly fighting wars, solving conflicts between countries, setting up public housing, etc.

But once he got godlike and could move planets, he pretty much was fighting fat pasty guys with no powers. Luthor, Prankster, Toyman…he started getting slightly better people with time like Brainiac and Metallo and Parasite, but come on, were they ever really that much of a challenge against pre-Crisis Superman? I mean, if I was a regular guy, what would be so inspiring about a guy with 30 superpowers and the power to move planets fighting the kind of guys Superman fights? if I had those abilities, I don’t think I’d find it that daunting to face the threats Superman does. I mean, Maggin had a story where this nonpowered security guard fights a group of armed robbers because he’s so inspired by the idea of Superman…but if you were to take any lesson from Superman, it’s actually don’t put your neck on the line unless the odds are ridiculously in your favor. Regular people, if anything, should be inspired to underachive because of Superman, not the opposite. Like as a real world analogy, if I see the most dangerous martial artist on earth restrict himself to sternly disciplining bad children, I’d think it was cool of him, but it wouldn’t inspire me to try any great challenge or reach deep against overwhelming odds.

Captain America gets the same “he’s so inspiring” treatment nonstop, but he basically has no powers and is always fighting people ridiculously more powerful than him or going against whole armys with uzis. The first really inspiring thing Superman did was fight Doomsday, but that was almost 60 years into his existence, so you can’t say going against overwhelming odds is in his nature cuz he did it once in like 60 years. And even then, he got killed! He couldn’t even do THAT right!

THAT is Superman’s big problem with relating to modern, younger readers. They’re too smart for that. You can’t just cram down their throats that the guy is so inspiring and great and not actually show it. Superman for All Seasons is another one of those nonstop Superman-fellating books, and what does Superman do in it exactly? The usual fighting people who he totally outmatches, then getting played by Luthor. And the moment Luthor plays a headgame on him, Superman, without checking for proof or questioning Luthor’s claim, turns tail and heads home to his mommy’s house in Smallville to mope. All the while every character in the book is droning on about how great His Holiness! Same for Kingdom Come, Superman has problems with the new heroes, throws a hissy fit and pouts and basically takes his ball and goes home and stops fighting crime to teach them a lesson. Meanwhile, the supposedly bad examples of heroes are the ones who stick around and keep fighting crime in Superman’s absence while he’s away pouting over his hurt feelings. And he only comes back after being begged and getting his ego assuaged. Meanwhile, we’re told the whole time how inspiring and great he is! Only someone who is already a big Superman fan and is not willing to even question the notion that Superman is beyond reproach would accept this notion.

Now I know a common response is, Superman is great because he has all that power but still doesn’t get corrupted. Big deal. He’s not SUPPOSED to be corrupted. That’s the equivalent of when someone praises a celebrity just because they meet him and he’s not a total dick. You’re SUPPOSED to not be a dick, that’s just the bare minimum of what it takes to be a good person, not something that warrants saintlike reverence and hero worship. And besides, Superman actually gets corrupted ALL THE TIME.

What DC needs to do is pretend they are not writing to people who accept Superman’s greatness without questioning or challenging the notion in the least. Pretend it’s writing for people who have no idea who Superman is in the least. And starting from that notion, SHOW don’t TELL what makes Superman great. Show him going against overwhelming odds. Show him doing great things that many of us wouldn’t do even if we HAD his powers. And never at any time have a member of his supporting cast regale readers with hagiographic descriptions of his greatness. Or at least save such chatter for near the end, after he proves to the readers that he’s worthy of it. A great template of this is Ditko’s Master Planner saga in Spider-Man. No one says a single nice thing about Spider-Man, except maybe in passing, yet no one reads that book without feeling inspired and coming away with a true understanding of what makes him so heroic. Although I know there are a lot of mangaphobes out there, take a look at the book Dragonball Z and look at Goku, a character with Superman-like powers, and the heroic nature of his conflicts, and tell me if the differences don’t jump out at you. Meanwhile we are rarely treated with nonstop soaring speeches and praise heaped on him without end. And any praise we see him given is given only after he does something truly extraordinary in the story to earn it.

Give Superman such treatment and the character truly can soar again in the hearts and minds of the non-converted.

60 Comments

Leaving aside all other ugliness — damn good post and right on, T. Deeds, not testimonials are what Superman needs, stuff like we saw in Morrison’s JLA. Give us a Superman who wrestles rogue angels and zips from disaster to disaster righting the impossible wrongs, a Superman who’s laconic in speech and effective in action!

I think it’s funny that the above commenter, Omar, agree with you and then uses Morrison’s JLA as an example of handling Superman well.
T, you don’t give any examples of Superman done right. You just seem kind if bitchy. So how about it, some examples of what you see as Superman done right? Complaining about how popular and inspirational a fictional character is for so many people is useless if there’s not point of comparison.

I’m thinking that someone just hasn’t read enough Superman stories. There’s a ton of great ones on that Superman through the Ages website. Or hell, Moore’s Supreme or Morrison’s All-Star Superman showcase why he’s so awesome.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen T. mention Morrison’s JLA favorably, or at least neutrally, in the past.

On the one hand he’s too strong, but on the other hand he’s too much of a pussy? What do you want, then?

Those are good examples of telling not showing, but there are loads of good Superman stories out there that show plenty.

My main problem is that you talk about Superman like he’s some freaking WWE wrestler. Maybe the comics you like all involve fight scenes and smackdown and powers and shit, and great for you if it is. But, for me, I don’t think that’s the sum total of what makes Superman who he is.

Depowering Superman has been done dozens of times. Doesn’t work. Superman just ends up all God-like again. Giving Superman villains on par, well that’s sometimes works (“Yield! No!”) but a lot of times it’s just boring (for me anyway. Others might get a geek orgasm watching splash page after splash page of Superman beating up Doomsday but I still think Superman #75 is the nadir of the character).

I think you discredit the entire Silver Age Superman in blanket terms that fits your paradigm of good smackdown = effective superheroing. The one thing the Silver Age creators understood the character was godlike and uninteresting in and of itself and so their solution was to honour the rituals and subvert the format as much as possible: imaginary stories, time travel, weird Red Kryptonite trippiness, anything to make a story fun to read with the inherent liability of a central character that can do anything.

It’s funny but I was just today thinking of a Silver Age Superman reprint I read as a kid that I loved. Superman (through the sort of contrivance that took Weisinger and his cronies to do in five panels that would be done in five issues today) winds up trapped in 1930s Chicago and winds up in Al Capone’s gang, trying to avoid detection and exposure and also trying to not do anything illegal as well. It’s a hugely entertaining yarn that amused me to no end as an 8 year-old (probably did even more for 8 year olds in the early ’60s as it was done concurrent with the Untouchables TV series). It’s a great example of subverting the formula. We know we have a central character who can do anything, so let’s do imaginative things with the stories themselves that make it work.

And I have to echo other commenters that you really have trash-talked a lot of other creators without actually coming up with any positive examples.

And I think you could use less crass verbs to describe reverent tendencies on the part of creators than performing fellatio.

Omar’s right, I have praised Morrison’s handling of Superman, especially in JLA. He wrestled angels, the Shaggy Man and a rogue planetoid machine engine called Maggedon and all types of cool stuff. And while Morrison had the reverent tone, he did it in moderation, and often after SUperman did something to inspire that awe (like the angel wrestling scene). Also, I used Superman II as an example of Superman done right, he faced daunting odds in that. All-Star Superman is okay too, but it doesn’t come out enough in comparison to the other books. I also held up the golden age Superman as inspiring because even though he didn’t fight superpowerful people, he tried to do an inhuman amount of good acts (set up housing projects, eliminate juvenile delinquency altogether, regulate driving laws, stop wars between foreign nations, singlehandedly wage war against the Nazis) The sheer scope of his ambition combined with lower power levels worked.

On the one hand he’s too strong, but on the other hand he’s too much of a pussy? What do you want, then?

My problem isn’t his sheer strength so much as his strength in comparison to what he fights. Take a look at manga like Dragonball Z or Naruto to see the types of ridiculous threats they have to face each time. It’s a ridiculously grueling uphill climb. I’m talking volumes straight of just struggling against all hope to beat up one impossibly powerful threat. Meanwhile, the average person doesn’t even know who the heroes are, much less pay them accolades. In Dragonball for example the heroes are virtually unknown to the rest of the world and get no glory for their deeds. I’m not bringing this up because I want to turn Superman into a manga and eliminate what makes him unique, but because you have to understand what kids nowadays expect from their entertainment and what their standard for a hero is now. This is why they’re bound to be disappointed by Superman Returns, a movie where Superman is taken out by a bald guy, some human thugs and a piece of kryptonite, all the while being held up as a quasireligious Jesus figure. They’re used to heroes that do a hell of a lot more and receive a lot less glory and praise for doing it.

I’m not much of a comic reader, but I got exactly this impression from the most recent Superman film.

While Lois was fawning over a mopey Superman, her husband was a genuinely nice guy, who did some very heroic things, but didn’t get the credit. This is what stuck with me most after leaving the theatre, and made Superman pretty unsympathetic.

Graeme, I could not agree more. It is not really a question of power. The issue is understanding the character and the stories that can be told using him. I find it amazing that I can still pick up a copy Showcase featuring 50 year old (and older) Superman stories and be entertained. The story-telling is cheesy, but the concepts are awesome. Conversely, I will try to read a lot of modern comics with amazing art and modern techniques only to put them down half way through. The same is true of the Fleisher cartoons, the Siegel-Shuster stuff and a lot of other stuff.

As a concept, Superman connected with a broad audience as recently as the first three, or so, seasons of ‘Smallville’. That show was watched by an audience, like, twenty times the size of the best selling X-Men, or Spider-Man, comics of the last 25 years. So, it is not like the concept itself is the problem.

The problem, frankly, is that the majority of the comic buying audience is interested in a very limited type of story-telling. It is like WWE wedded to soap opera. Some characters work great with those types of stories, but even with super-heroes a lot of them lose what makes them unique.

For Superman, that is the fact that he is the most powerful man in the world (universe, multi-verse, whatever…), but he is struggling with exact same type of romantic problems that afflict all of us. When the character works best that aspect is front and center.

You know, another good example of what T is bemoaning a lack of is Scott McCloud’s artistically underwhelming 3-issue mini (the name of which escapes me at the moment).

The McCloud mini was called Superman: Strength.

This may not be exactly what T. meant, but I once answered a challenge to provide 12 stories in which Superman might be as inspiring as he’s meant to be with no power drops thusly:

1. An artificially-boosted Weather Wizard, drunk with temporary power granted by a freak accident with his wand, starts a mega storm system into motion, but even as his senses return, his enhanced capabilities fail before he can undo the harm. Superman vs. a hurricane literally as big as a small country.

2. The Mad Hatter sneaks his mind-control nanotech into the Metropolis water supply while Superman is off in space on a mission, and orders literally the entire population against the Man of Steel when he returns…and the nanotech will issue a kill command at the first hint of heat-vision surgery.

3. Mr. Mxyztplk and the Prankster reach a deal, reordering Metropolis’ local reality such that it functions according to the logic of practical jokes. With Myxy in hiding to watch the fun, can Superman beat the Prankster at his own games?

4. Lex Luthor sends an untraceable e-mail to the Daily Planet announcing to Superman that one person dear to him will be killed in the next three days, but refuses to divulge any more information except to remark that he’s laid dozens of false document trails. Superman’s job is to stop the killing, without knowing a means or a target, and to determine what other plot Luthor’s surely going to use his distraction to carry off.

5. Toyman and Houngan (a Titans villain) team up to create thousands of commercially-sold Superman action figures that are actually techno-mystical voodoo dolls of the real deal that randomly activate his powers. Can Superman work out what’s happening to him and track down all those dolls before chaos ensues?

6. Demanding a proof that humanity deserves to survive, the Spectre challenges Superman to stop all crime on Earth for 24 hours. Can he achieve this impossible task, or at least stop the Spectre from executing his judgment?

7. A cult of Superman worshippers led by a reprogrammed Eradicator kidnap dozens of children from maternity wards across the country and launch them into space on random trajectories in warp-rockets resembling the one in which Superman came to Earth. Can Superman find and save them all, and if so, how will he deal with these unstable admirers?

8. Lord Satanus, as Collin Thornton, hides a “soul-sale” rider in the resubscription cards for his Newstime magazine, and then begins collecting his victims. Can Superman invade Hell and restore those taken without falling to that realm’s temptations…or its countless demons?

9. After Jimmy Olsen is fatally injured in a carefully-orchestrated auto accident, Brainiac takes the opportunity to restore him to health…at the cost of possession by Brainiac whenever he goes to sleep and serious mental blocks in the morning. Knowing that Brainiac is the only thing keeping Jimmy alive, how will Superman deal with the villain and save his unwitting friend?

10. An improbability device wielded by Chronos the Time Thief explodes in battle with the Man of Tomorrow, sending botht he villain and a destructive ripple progressively backwards through time itself — charged with tracking and fixing the anomaly by Waverider, can Superman prevent massive temporal havoc, especially without causing more historical anomalies on the way?

11. Seeking vengeance, Darkseid seeds Metropolis with the infant forms of a sentient fungal lifeform from another world. On growing, the lifeforms are intelligent and mean no harm, but generate massive quantities of toxic gas as part of their metabolic process and will die if they’re removed from the precise conditions under which they’ve achieved adulthood…in this case, the particular soil, humidity, altitude, and atmosphere of urban Metropolis. Worse, they’re expanding in size by the second, involuntarily asexually reproducing at an alarming speed. How can this dilemma be resolved?

12. Bitter at being eclipsed in fame by the Last Son of Krypton and inspired by the Flash, Abra Kadabra wreaks an ironic vengeance by erasing everyone’s memories and ability to perceive, not Superman, but Clark Kent. How will Superman deal with a world in which his friends, allies, wife, and parents no longer know who he is; especially since Abra himself, victim to his own trick, no longer remembers either Clark Kent or what he did?

I think it’s a little dishonest to bring up Kingdom Come in the way you do. All of what you say is more or less true, but you don’t acknowledge that Superman’s comeback is, essentially, a failure. A few people get back in the saddle and join up with Superman, but the narration boxes say that those numbers drop off sharply and Superman’s super-prison is at over-max capacity in short order. And when the prisoners stage a break out, Wonder Woman has to take the reins and get everyone off their space station to fight while Superman’s gripped by indecision. And the climax of the story really just helps make your point! If not for some normal guy, Superman would’ve just gone on a huge-ass temper tantrum and ruined everything.

So much of it serves your point so much more than what you do mention that I feel rather let down.

And besides, Superman actually gets corrupted ALL THE TIME.

A- First of all, the actual joke or line was that “Superman gets taken over almost as often as john malkovich.” NOT CORRUPTED. If you are going to mooch out of other people’s links and blogs (’cause you are too lazy to do your own research or prove your own point); then at least get your facts (or vocabulary) straight.

B- Second of all, the Goku template is more a kin to Captain Marvel/Shazam than he is to Superman. They are both, less interested in women and more adventourous, innocent and childlike than your average hero. If it seems like you are comparing apple and oranges; it’s because you are.

C- And third…

Well,

Sorry.

But, I don’t feel like explaining Superman’s “it factor” and what makes him an instant icon in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.

You failed to earn my respect, so I’d rather not waste my time.

But, I don’t feel like explaining Superman’s “it factor” and what makes him an instant icon in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.

The point is that that status is getting more an more wobbly. You wouldn’t get the impression that he’s an icon in the hearts and minds of everyone if you look at his sales over the last years. The mild succes of the last movie (in comparison to other movies with that kind of pricetag) was probably due to old-school fans for the larger part too. You can’t keep on saying he’s an icon and an inspiration ‘just because he is’. You need to show him make some effort, especially in the eyes of a new generation who doesn’t see him do that a lot but does so with lots of other heroes.

While Lois was fawning over a mopey Superman, her husband was a genuinely nice guy, who did some very heroic things, but didn’t get the credit. This is what stuck with me most after leaving the theatre, and made Superman pretty unsympathetic.

EXACTLY. That movie was a chance to showcase Superman to a whole new generation and it messed up falling into the “tell, don’t show” trap that comics often fall into when it came to displaying why he was great. Lois’ husband came off much more heroic. And I think the stark contrast between the heavyhanded worship and Christ metaphor (allegory? I admit I always get that confused) and his actual mopey, selfish and sometimes stalkerish behavior would simply not sell the character well to any who was not already a fan.

And the climax of the story really just helps make your point! If not for some normal guy, Superman would’ve just gone on a huge-ass temper tantrum and ruined everything.

So much of it serves your point so much more than what you do mention that I feel rather let down.

Two quick things: (1) I no longer have a copy of Kingdom Come so I tend to forget fine story points. (2) I figured it was okay to not be totally exhaustive because it leaves things for the commenters to debate and bring up, which is part of the fun. Not saying your criticisms aren’t valid, because they are. Just explaining why I didn’t always hammer the point as hard as I could have.

I think the good thing with many of Omar’s examples is that even when they don’t have him fighting someone as physically threatening, the sheer scope of the threat is so huge and widespread that it makes up for it. I especially like the no-crime-for-24-hours plot. And if the stories are done without the constant fawning we see these days it’d be even better.

I agree with T. in large part — and one of the few things I didn’t like about Morrison’s JLA was the way Superman was practically worshipped by his teammates. Not “well, that’s why he’s Superman!”, but something much more painfully awe-filled than that. It annoyed me. However, I won’t say Morrison didn’t back it up okay — and I’d rather have that, than a situation in which Superman’s being fawned over for not doing much of anything. Which we get a lot of, these days.

Two things, though: one, I think this is decently forgivable in any “Metropolis” stories — I’d idolize this guy too, if he was my hometown hero. Seriously, he’s saving people left and right. They’re falling out of windows, and he’s catching them. All of them. So I think that’s fair.

And two: back in the old days, while Superman was absolutely fighting doughy guys who couldn’t match him for power (or for smarts, actually), he had a couple other settings besides just “fighting” and “oh my God, Lois has been turned into a giant snowcone by that red kryptonite”. One of these was the Disaster setting: somebody’s solar-energy experiment has gone out of control and is about to destroy the entire Earth? Call Superman. Tidal wave? Superman. Asteroid filled with weird space-spores? Supes’ll handle it. This worked pretty well, as I recall, because the weird science-threats could screw Superman up in a way his villains never could…and Green Lantern might not’ve been able to cut the mustard with them, these are Superman-level disasters. God, I wish we had a proper pre-Crisis Superman back, at least I understood what his power levels were! So, they were huge: well, that’s pretty impressive. But now isn’t he pretty much just J’onn J’onzz without the telepathy? So what’s so amazing about that? It irks me.

Still another setting he had was “Boy Scout” — like that delightful-sounding Al Capone story described above, stories where it was all about Superman’s POV and his thought-balloons were always pretty good, because they showed that Superman was good, moral, honest, etc. This was a Superman with a very evolved sense of right and wrong, sort of a superpower in itself really. Lots of these were stories where a less ethical hero would’ve just turned on the super-jets and super-handled the situation, but instead Superman found gentler or subtler solutions to the problem, whatever it was. And, importantly, no one kissed his ass because of it.

And these were show-don’t-tell stories, in my opinion. But I agree with T. that we’re not getting too much show-don’t-tell with Superman these days. Maybe that’s why Busiek’s “Year Without A Superman” or whatever it was ended up being such a relief? Because if I have to take the hagiography along with the angel-wrestling, I’ll pass on the angel-wrestling, thanks. Superman could always beat anybody at anything, from day one; that doesn’t really need to change. I don’t need him to fight people who are tougher than him all the time. But I do need to stop constantly hearing his teammates talk about how he’s like a living, breathing god. That’s nasty.

I’ll also agree that the Golden Age Superman is pretty awesome.

I agree with everything, down to the fellatio allusion. It always bothered me to see everyone fawning over Superman while the guy itself doesn’t use his vast powers to do much beyond beating the occasional supervillian or make a last minute rescue. He even has LOADS of free time, while the Superman “avatar” from Astro City (Samaritan) was so busy all the time that he didn’t have much of a personal life! Not even that Superman does…

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

And if Superman were handled in the same way as Samaritan, there wouldn’t be much to the stories. Obviously, readers and the writers want Superman to have some free time to develop the character and for a change of pace from the punching and the breaking things. Samaritan has been featured in three (great) stories, but could he really carry a series?

I don;t think it’s fair to imply that Superman is lazy and thus unheroic. Giving him free time and a personal life is a storytelling convention that must be accepted as a given.

I’m just speculating, but I don’t think Pedro is saying that Superman has to be written to the actual extreme of Samaritan. It’s just to show that there is significant room to show him doing a lot more.

I was just thinking that my favorite iterations of Superman have been the “Smallville” series and the (gasp) John Byrne years. I prefer my Superman low-powered, for more or less the reasons T. mentions.

I’ve enjoyed the Superman in Morrison’s JLA, but I think it takes a very talented writer to make all-powerful Superman work for a modern audience. And not all of them can be Grant Morrison.

I also think Superman’s greatness also depends a lot on how Lex Luthor is depicted.

Luthor the all-powerful businessman, as shown in Smallville and the first decade post-Crisis, is a good foil for Superman because he is a man that owns Metropolis and has everyone in his pocket and he can’t be touched by the law, and yet there is one honest man he can never buy: Superman.

Conversely, mad scientist Luthor always seemed like a pretty sorry character to me. Particularly because he is usually paired with a super-intelligent Superman. Then what we have here is a non-powered super-smart bald guy that everyone despises fighting a godlike super-smart handsome guy that everyone loves. I feel sorry for mad scientist Luthor.

One word, T: AMEN! I completely agree with what you said. Like everyone before me has already said, if there’s no challenge, there’s no hero. A hero is someone that overcomes the odds, not the guy squashing the mosquito buzzing around him. The worship he receives in many of these books is ridiculous.

red-Ricky, I don’t know what blog the “…as often as John Malkovitch” quote came from, but you don’t honestly think that it was the first/only blogger to comment on the fact that Superman gets mind-controlled a lot, do you? That’s a pretty well known fact, and I know I’ve seen dozens of comments and jokes about it in blogs, print, and elsewhere. So to claim T was “stealing” that line from one particular blog, and apparantly changing most of the words in the process, is a bit of a stretch.

Oh, and I’d also say that comparing Captain Marvel to Superman is comparing apples to apples. I personally like Captain Marvel more, but they can be considered pretty similar characters.

Also, given that I properly attributed the source of the mindcontrol thing with a link to the original blog, I really don’t understand the stealing claim. It wouldn’t be fair to cut and paste the guy’s work into this article, even if I properly credit him, when I can just give him a link and traffic instead.

BDillon:

My problem with in-story Superman worship isn’t just the insane level of it, but also what he specifically gets worshipped for, which is supposedly inspiring the average joe to dig deep and do great, courageous things. I don’t see how a guy with Superman’s power settling for the little threats that he stops, can make a regular joe want to face insurmountable odds and be courageous. If the in-story worship focused more on “Wow, Superman really could be a bigger jerk with all that power, but he has incredible restraint. I’m not going to be a dick to my employees or people poorer than me anymore. And I’ll do volunteer work too.” that would be a lot more believable to me.

Rene said:
Luthor the all-powerful businessman, as shown in Smallville and the first decade post-Crisis, is a good foil for Superman because he is a man that owns Metropolis and has everyone in his pocket and he can’t be touched by the law, and yet there is one honest man he can never buy: Superman.

Rene, there are some very good things about this dynamic. But also, there is one fatal flaw to me: it’s really a Daredevil dynamic, and honestly, it works much better with Daredevil. In the short run, businessman Luthor, who is really just skinny Kingpin when you get down to it, is good because it shows how incorruptible Superman is. But when you get issue after issue of Superman confronting him on the last page with Luthor gloating about how Superman has no proof and Superman giving the empty threat “Next time Luthor, next time…” and flying off…after a dozen or so times of that, he comes off kind of impotent. It can work for Daredevil because he has less resources and money and status than Kingpin, but DG Chichester himself said that this impotency became a problem even with DD, which is why he felt he had to write the Fall of the Kingpin storyline. Superman, although not rich, is a highly respected superstar as well as a star investigative reporter for the Daily Planet? He can’t just tape record Luthor or launch his own proactive investigation to bust Luthor a la Woodward and Bernstein? And on top of that, he lets Luthor reach all the way to the Presidency? And his excuse? “I wanted to let people decide for themselves.” How can they decide for themselves if they don’t have all the facts? Forget being a superhero, what about your responsibilities as a journalist to investigate, find dirt and expose scandals?

So in a way, businessman Luthor makes Superman look MORE impotent because at least mad scientist Superman got locked away after each crime. (Although your criticisms of mad scientist Luthor are valid too)

T. I’m not sure I have a problem with that. Most of the greatest villains are at best contained temporarily. I’m not sure it makes DD, Superman, or Reed Richards “impotent” that there will always be guys like Kingpin, Doom, or businessman Luthor that you can’t really touch, you can only contain (and when you defeat them, someone will take their place). Maybe I’m just cynical, but I can live with the idea that society will always have a dark side that superheroes can’t erase and will always be exploited by bad guys. I’m okay with that idea.

It can get old? Yep, but I think that is true of all comic book dynamics. I suppose it’s the nature of the beast when you have characters that will go on for decades of storylines. And I think that, as unoriginal as businessman Luthor can be, mad scientist Luthor is even less original. I mean, he is mad scientist, for God’s sake, and he doesn’t have many other defining characteristics.

Businessman Luthor has an edge that Superman doesn’t: he is willing to work the system to his advantage, he has money, influence, connections. Mad scienstist Luthor has nothing, because as smart as he is, he oftens fights Silver Agey Superman who is just as smart and has so much more going on for him.

Not much of an archnemesis.

I don’t feel right criticizing manga, because I honestly don’t know much about it, it’s not my thing, but I am also not sure Superman could work like Dragonball. I know very little about Dragonball, but from what I know, it involves threats and stakes that are so far removed from ordinary people that these characters might as well live in a different world. An ordinary Earth person might not feel inspired that Goku (or whoever) went to some alien planet to fight some omnipotent time-traveller from the future or something of the sort (that is what I imagine Dragonball is like, I may be wrong). So, while making Superman fight these sort of stuff can be inspiring to readers, I’m not sure it would make Superman a figure of adoration in the world he lives in.

I’m not sure it makes DD, Superman, or Reed Richards “impotent” that there will always be guys like Kingpin, Doom, or businessman Luthor that you can’t really touch, you can only contain (and when you defeat them, someone will take their place). Maybe I’m just cynical, but I can live with the idea that society will always have a dark side that superheroes can’t erase and will always be exploited by bad guys. I’m okay with that idea.

I’m not inherently against this dynamic. I agree that it can work. I just think it works better for Daredevil because he’s not as publicly accepted as Superman or a world icon. He’s a upper middle class lawyer from a blue collar background against a tycoon. Reed Richards is very smart and respected, but Doom is a ruler of a country with certain legal immunities, which is nothing to sneeze at. With Superman though, he’s a god, Barack Obama and a rockstar wrapped in one when it comes to popularity, credibility and being trustworthy. Plus he’s an investigative reporter at one of the top newspapers. So in his case I think it’s a worse holding pattern. Just as a reporter alone, minus the Superman aspect, for him to know the depth of Luthor’s evil and not make a serious, sustained effort to expose him, even as he rose to become President? Just doesn’t work for me, and is just another reason why the worship is unwarranted…

Er… yes, he should make a serious, sustained effort to expose Luthor, I didn’t say he shouldn’t.

I didn’t read some of the stories you’re commenting on, the Luthor becoming President stories. I remember the fights over those stories, but since I didn’t read them, I won’t comment further, but it seems to me that was a problem of execution? That those stories were poorly conceived don’t invalidate the basic concept, I suppose.

Luthor becoming President may have been taking things too far. If you let the bad guy get away with too much, then you really start to undermine the hero’s credibility, I agree.

T – good article.

I’m curious, have you read either of Garth Ennis’s Superman stories in ‘Hitman’? If so, what did you think?

I dunno . . .Superman stories suck when they’re by bad writers and they don’t when written by better writers. (Generally.) The rest doesn’t mean much.

I think Superman’s ability to inspire has suffered from two major changes to his character.

The first is the shifting timeline. Back in the 1930s and ’40s, Superman was the first person in the DC Universe with extraordinary powers who decided to use them to help people on a regular basis. He essentially created the concept of the super-hero. That’s pretty inspiring.

These days, the Justice Society, Max Mercury, the Freedom Fighters and who knows who else have been fighting the good fight for decades before Superman came along. He’s just more powerful than they are. (Well, except for the Spectre. And Doctor Fate. And…)

The second, as other posters have pointed out, is the extent to which being Superman causes Clark Kent’s life to suffer. In the Silver Age, Clark could never marry or even date Lois, Lana or any other alliterative character because, well, he was busy being Superman most of the time. He was like a genie: powers of a god, but always being forced to save mortals from the problems they got themselves into.

Now he can be Clark AND Superman, a top-notch reporter, doting husband, captain of the Justice League and the world’s savior. That’s hard to identify with. Don’t get me wrong — I love the idea that Superman can be married — but at the very least, he ought to have to make difficult choices in order to do the job he does.

I’d love to see a story, for example, where Clark realizes that despite having every kind of enhanced sense known to the imagination, he still fails to notice his best friend’s birthday… or his wife’s new haircut… or that Bibbo’s is going out of business… because his priorities have to be different from the rest of the world’s. They’re little things, I know, but they’re the sort of thing that would help me to believe it’s hard to be a Superman.

I’m not inherently against this dynamic. I agree that it can work. I just think it works better for Daredevil because he’s not as publicly accepted as Superman or a world icon. He’s a upper middle class lawyer from a blue collar background against a tycoon. Reed Richards is very smart and respected, but Doom is a ruler of a country with certain legal immunities, which is nothing to sneeze at. With Superman though, he’s a god, Barack Obama and a rockstar wrapped in one when it comes to popularity, credibility and being trustworthy. Plus he’s an investigative reporter at one of the top newspapers. So in his case I think it’s a worse holding pattern. Just as a reporter alone, minus the Superman aspect, for him to know the depth of Luthor’s evil and not make a serious, sustained effort to expose him, even as he rose to become President? Just doesn’t work for me, and is just another reason why the worship is unwarranted…

T- you are really trying to have it both ways here.On the one hand, you say that Superman is too powerful to really inspire. On the other, you are saying that when the businessman version of Luthor rigs the system against him that it makes him appear to impotent.

Frankly, I think that you just don’t like Superman. It is fine if you prefer Daredevil-type characters, but that makes you uniquely unqualified to propose ‘solutions’ for Superman.

T- you are really trying to have it both ways here.On the one hand, you say that Superman is too powerful to really inspire. On the other, you are saying that when the businessman version of Luthor rigs the system against him that it makes him appear to impotent.

I don’t think Superman is too powerful too inspire. Like I said in my Dragonball Z example, it’s totally possible to be as powerful as Superman and still inspire. It’s what Superman DOES with his powers much of the time that is not inspiring, not the level of the powers themselves…which in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad if the books didn’t keep yammering on and on and on about how inspiring he is. That’s my main problem with the books, that they’ve stopped trying to even prove he’s inspiring, they just want to tell you over and over again and have you take it as gospel, even if the deeds don’t support the claim. Singer and company went this route with the movie and I think that’s why it didn’t connect with new potential fans like it should have.

I find Superman an okay character, but I loved him as a kid. Batman better than Superman? You must be crazy!
I find mad-scientist Luthor boring, but if I were a kid, I’d like him much more than businessman Luthor.
I find over-powered Superman uninteresting, but as a kid, he was the best. Because he was Superman.

Of all the super-heroes out there, Superman is the most kid-oriented. Superman is super-powerful, super-friendly, and super-upstanding. Teens and adults may look for more, but most kids don’t. I think most writers may write boring Superman comics because he’s not a character that supports the type of stories adult superhero fans seem to like. (No, I’m not advocating “dark” or “controversial” Superman stories) Do people read All-Star Superman because it’s about Superman or because Grant Morrison writes it? Kurt Busiek has been writing entertaining Superman stories, but that seems to be the exception. Good Superman comics can be written, but I haven’t read too many as an adult.

It’s fascinating to me that there are people who presume to know what everyone else wants.

And that there are people who will unqualifiedly endorse any scattershot complaint about something they, themselves, don’t like.

At all times, Warners is putting out a half-dozen or so versions of Superman. It can be the guy the guy in the comics (for the very few people who read comics), but it’s also Smallville, Superman Returns, the Legion cartoon, the Justice League cartoon, the coloring book Superman, reissues of the Salkind movies, and DVDs of the George Reeves TV show. You might like one of them and CAN IGNORE THE OTHERS.

Uh…you’re not ORDERING me to ignore the others if I don’t like them, are you, Bet?

I continue to agree with T., and also agree with Mike — somebody may think that the 150th depiction of Superman shaking his fist while floating outside businessman-Luthor’s window is great, but the little kid in me says it’s boring, and the adult in me thinks it’s lazy. Aren’t there enough criticisms of how the system “doesn’t work” out there in popular culture? Like, ninety percent of cop shows on TV? Why anyone would want to mix cynicism with Superman is beyond me — at the very least, back in Byrne’s day, this dynamic should’ve forced Superman to take Lex down as Clark Kent, if he couldn’t as Supes. This impotently floating at the window image that Byrne introduced is great, but if it’s become recognizable enough to be riffed on in the Lex Luthor miniseries, maybe it’s time to retire it.

And I like mad scientist Lex. He may not be quite as smart as Silver Age Superman, but he’s more ingenious. That works better for me than both of them being kind of averagely smart, but Lex just having more money. Byrne obviously enjoyed business-Lex a lot while he was writing him, but do we have to stay married to that? For Christ’s sake, that was the Eighties!

Action Comics #775.

Nuff said about what makes Superman important.

However, Rob R. hit it on the head. I read comics from 79-86 then came back in 96 and noticed a profound difference in how Superman was treated. Now using a single Earth history Superman was now the #459th hero on the scene so DC concocted this ‘inspirational’ angle. I can’t remember where I read it but it was a Crimson Avenger story that retconned what he was avenging – turns out he saw Superman die 50 years in the future and was so inspired by his heroics that he took up his own hero mantel. What a load of crap!

Since Byrne left the Superman book, DC has been handling the character more like a Ming vase rather than a baseball glove. Superman gets better the more and better ways he is used with the occasional polishing, not by keeping him on a secured pedestal under a spotlight. Yet that is exactly what has happened to him. What DC has done successfully is humanize him but I think maybe he’s now too humanized.

T, you make a false assumption and I’m going to turn your own argument against you. You say

“Now I know a common response is, Superman is great because he has all that power but still doesn’t get corrupted. Big deal. He’s not SUPPOSED to be corrupted. That’s the equivalent of when someone praises a celebrity just because they meet him and he’s not a total dick. You’re SUPPOSED to not be a dick, that’s just the bare minimum of what it takes to be a good person, not something that warrants saintlike reverence and hero worship. And besides, Superman actually gets corrupted ALL THE TIME.”

You’re missing something. Any average Joe Schmoe that had Superman’s powers would be a WORLD CONQUERING DESPOT or a SELF-SERVING HYPOCRITE. Why? Because that’s what people do with power. “Absolute power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – Lord Byron.

Yet he’s not corrupted – that link is unrelated to this topic. Getting taken over or influenced is not corrupted. Corrupted is being turned into a bad guy or otherwise deciding to dump one’s morals in favor of self-centered actions. He’s not supposed to be corrupted because those are the expectations we as humans place on the character, not because that’s the way things are in real life. He’s an analogy for what we should strive to be – use our abilities to help others and improve the world. That’s what he does. Whether or not he uses them to the best of his abilities is another argument. The fact is he DOES and he does it selflessly. That is what makes a hero and he does it all the time.

You’re mad because of his constant reverence in the DCU. I do think that was the intent of Superman: Confidential – to show why he is revered – but it has fallen flat. From time to time such stories do need to be told but I’m saying constant tails of Superman proving himself are dull and won’t sell. There comes a time when he’s PROVED himself.

And don’t compare Superman to Spider-man. The two are in completely different character leagues. Spider-man was never intended to be a tried and true super-hero. His is a story of constant redemption for a death he blames himself for in a world specifically crafted to dump on him. He only ever receives praise so that it can later be taken from him. That is no more an accurate view of the real world than Superman’s is.

You’re missing something. Any average Joe Schmoe that had Superman’s powers would be a WORLD CONQUERING DESPOT

Very valid point. At least a great many of them would.

I did like the businessman Lex dynamic in the short run, just not as a 20 year status quo for the reasons plok describes above. I like how the Timmverse did a few years of businessman Lex, stopped it before it got too stale and switched to power suit Lex and even did a pardoned Lex too. Great way to work in all different types.

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

February 7, 2008 at 4:18 pm

“Superman isn’t brave. He’s smart, handsome, even decent. But he’s not brave. Superman is indestructible, and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.”

George C Scott as Grandpa Ivan in ANGUS

Starting roughly around the implementation of the comics code, Superman’s primary conflict wasn’t so much in the villains he faced but rather in the struggle he had just trying to interact with the rest of humanity. Superman essentially had to use a huge amount of personal restraint from day to day and the stories used to reflect that better than many seem to now. Whether it was all the stories surrounding the lengths he’d go to maintain some semblance of a regular (by our standards) existence, or the often extreme lengths he’d go to avoid using his powers for fear of the damage they might do, both served to help his sympathy/relatability level with the reader in some manner.*

After the revamp, but mostly after his death and later marriage, Superman seemed to have a far easier time with the non-superhero aspects of his life and I think that more than anything else has hurt him as far as the interest of some readers go. Longtime readers (myself included) just sort of came to accept that he’s practiced and in control enough to not have the same sort of problems he used to.

* To further go with T’s comparison, I thought Dragonball had some moments that effectively showed the kind of self restraint someone like Superman would need to practice regularly. Like Gohan’s attempt at playing baseball or Goku patting someone on the back and accidentally sending them through a wall.

There’s one way Superman can be inspirational: if he’s heroic because of his human upbringing. A human child of the Kents, in this treatment, would be just as brave and selfless as Superman. He’d just have less dramatic ways of demonstrating his heroism. A Kal-El that stayed on Krypton would just end up a creepy super-scientist. And if humans can look at Superman’s heroism and recognise its origin in their own culture, that seems like enough inspiration to me. You might have guessed I don’t like “Birthright”, where heroism is Kryptonian cultural heritage.
There’s two problems here, though. The first is making Superman’s heroism come from a rural white American family raises some awkward issues. The second is that I’m not sure how much the DC universe public knows about Superman’s upbringing. Perhaps they even think he’s culturally an alien too.

Gareth, that is yet another reason why I tend to like Byrne/Smallville much more than I like the Silver Age/Superman Returns version.

I’m not American, yet I like the notion of a powerful alien from a heartless civilization being taught good values by simple farmers. I think it makes the character “human”.

And I don’t care much for the Silver Age version that presents Superman as a sort of perfect Kryptonian Angel from a Utopian Krypton that came to Earth to redemn us poor humans.

A bit too uncomfortably Christian for my tastes…

Another reason why I found Superman Returns just a little creepy.

Evil businessman Lex is very 1980s, true. But evil president Lex is totally current.

And that is maybe why the notion was a very controversial one too.

I loved the loved Byrne revamp and really enjoyed Smallville to a point, but that does not mean I don’t have a place in my heart for the Silver Age version, the Siegel-Shuster version and the old George Reeves TV series. For my money, the best version were the Donner-Reeves films. I doubt that is a controversial position. Even “Lois & Clark” had the Teri Hatcher version of Lois Lane to recommend it.

That said, all those takes on a character choose to include, exclude and invent different pieces of the Superman myths. It still surprises me how often I will miss something that I thought was not essential, or welcome a new take on some of the hoariest devices from the old comics.

For example, after the end of the Byrne run, I was shocked at how many of the Weisenger devices that I missed. The Fortress of Solitude was one, but so were Krypto and Kara Zor-El. The Bottled City of Kandor haunts me for some reason. The Legion is a really creepy idea thinking back on it as an adult. I mean, can you imagine a bunch of Elvis fans heading post-war Tupelo, MS to hang with young King? Ugh.

However, the big one was the emotional connection between Lex Luthor and the young Superman. “Smallville” has done an amazing job using that bond to make Lex more three dimensional. That, in turn, makes Superman more ambiguous. I mean, if Lex has a good side and our hero cannot (or maybe will not) reform him, then he isn’t perfect.

It is also a source of conflict, which is the essence of drama. What seems to have happened from the “Death of Superman” era forward is desire to airbrush out the flaws. Suddenly, he is happily married to Lois. That means no sexual tension, which was a HUGE part of Silver Age material (albeit in G-Rated form). Superman was constantly trying to decide whether to ‘marry’ Lois, or Lana. He once split himself in two to be able to ‘marry’ both.

It also ended all the games with double identities, which is a staple of classical comedy. That, in the end, is the genre Superman belongs to. He is the Last Son of Krypton. That begs the obvious question of if and with whom he is going to reproduce. That concern was the defining trait of an awful lot of the very best Superman stories, including the Chris Reeves films.

Honestly, as much as people enjoy bashing ‘Superman Returns’ the attempt to do something new in that area was very welcome. The question of “what happens if Lois and Clark don’t work out” is not one anyone had ever addressed before to my knowledge. The solution was very modern, which sets up an interesting status quo for the series going forward. It makes me sad that more people were not interested by it.

Just got a fax from the Fortress of Solitude. I think it’s from Superman.

Son, we live in a world that has spaceships. And those spaceships have to be caught by men with capes. Whose gonna catch Air Force One in the middle of a thunder storm? Wolverine? Spider-Man? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You? You and your kind keep making cars out of plastic and sending your scientists into the Sun. INTO THE SUN, GOD DARNIT!!! You know how hot the Sun is? Let me tell you, IT’S VERY HOT!!! AND IT BURNS, TOO!!!

And do you know how hard it is to catch a car nowadays and not end up holding a bumper? NO YOU DON’T! You have the luxury of not having to be perfect. You have the luxury of not having to catch a nuclear missile headed to Hackensack, either. You say it’s not daunting being Superman; but do you truly know the fastest way to get to Hackensack?

You call me outdated, and tell me I don’t sell. You weep for Superboy and curse Dan Didio. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Superboy’s death, while tragic, probably saved a boat load in punitive damages and legal fees. And my existence, in spite of being 70 years old, is so profitable that DC still had me appear in 28 of their comic book titles that shipped during the month of December.

You want inspiration because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on the sky, you need me on the sky. You use words like overwhelming odds, daunting, his holiness, fellatio, truth, honor, justice, loyalty and the American Way. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain how hard it is for a Safety Inspector to show up sober in Metropolis; or for normal people to buckle-up and obey basic traffic signs while voluptuous women cross the street. You mock me for being a nice guy, and then say that being nice is the bare minimum. Be honest. Can you be nice? Can you stay a Virgin for 60 years and still be cool about it? Well then, let’s see how calm and reassuring you can be to people who weren’t smart enough to realize that building a Ski Slope on top of a Skyscraper probably wasn’t a good idea.

Either way, I never said I was here to inspire you, just to help. And regardless of what you may think, I never wait for anybody to say thank you. I just fly away. Up, up and away. ‘Cause something tells me that you are the type of guy that who would question me on why I wasn’t able to save Oceanic Flight 815. Or worst yet, would try to give me “the best rimjob ever” for finding your lost dog, Skippy.

Yours truly,

Big Blue Guy in the Sky

I think it was meant for T.

And I don’t care much for the Silver Age version that presents Superman as a sort of perfect Kryptonian Angel from a Utopian Krypton that came to Earth to redemn us poor humans.

Rene,

I totally agree with your point that that is not that attractive a premise. But in fairness to the Silver Age, in the stories I read Superman wasn’t sent here to “redeem” us in any way. He was just sent to earth to be saved from death, and the redeeming earth thing was just an unexpected but positive development. I think Superman Returns added some stuff about Jor-El sending Superman to earth with the intent of inspiring and helping to redeem earth, but I don’t think that was an actual Silver Age component. I could be wrong though.

Either way, I never said I was here to inspire you, just to help.

Okay, now THAT was awesome red-ricky. Seriously though, if Superman was just portrayed as helpful that’d be perfectly fine. But you can’t lie, DC does say he’s here to inspire people. Constantly.

Hundreds of people died in preventable accidents in the time it took Superman to type and send that fax. Damn, T., you must’ve really pissed him off (can I say T’d him off? No? OK).

I love the idea of Superman having a fax machine. The guy can save the planet ten times before breakfast, but he still hasn’t figured out how to email. And I like to think of him waiting around for the fax confirmation notice to print out.

I love the idea of Superman having a fax machine. The guy can save the planet ten times before breakfast, but he still hasn’t figured out how to email. And I like to think of him waiting around for the fax confirmation notice to print out.

He’s just old school like that.

>I think Superman Returns added some stuff about Jor-El >sending Superman to earth with the intent of inspiring >and helping to redeem earth

All the Jor-El quotes in SR are from Superman: The Movie…

>“Superman isn’t brave. He’s smart, handsome, even >decent. But he’s not brave. Superman is indestructible, >and you can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.”

But he’s not indestructible. He’s immensely tough, yes, but not indestructible – plus he regularly dives into situations where he can be hurt or killed on a regular basis. Take Superman Returns – at the end he knows that the giant rock is laced with Kryptonite and that carrying it off the earth will most likely kill him (and it almost does) but he does it anyway without a second thought. You can’t say that isn’t brave, or inspiring…

Hundreds of people died in preventable accidents in the time it took Superman to type and send that fax.

I think he wrote it at super speed. But then he called to make sure I had plenty of paper for my fax machine.

He did wait on the confirmation.

He said so when he called again to make sure I’d gotten all the pages.

But that wasn’t all.

He called a third time, this afternoon as a matter of fact, to make sure he hadn’t hurt anybody’s feelings and to ask if it wasn’t too late to add a “you can’t handle the truth” bit. I told him Brian’s website didn’t have an edit feature, so we were stuck with the original.

As for not posting it himself, he said that someone gave him the I-LOVE-YOU virus. He said Best Buy won’t fix Kryptonian technology. Something about his kryptonian crystals not being compatible with Windows Vista.

I tell you, it sucks being Superman.

All the Jor-El quotes in SR are from Superman: The Movie…

Yeah, but I thought those were quotes that ended up on the cutting room floor of the first Superman and not in the actual film?

I think you did hit on one of the big problems I had with Superman Returns. I remember talking to one friend about the contrast between it and Batman Begins, why it didn’t work while the latter did, and he said, “The thing is, Batman Begins works with the idea that has to get the audience on its side– it needs to sell us on how cool Batman is. Superman Returns jumps in with the idea that the audience already thinks Superman in awesome, and doesn’t need to earn anything.” And that is the problem with a lot of Superman stories: too much of people saying how great Superman is, and not enough of him actually earning that.

>Yeah, but I thought those were quotes that ended up on >the cutting room floor of the first Superman and not in >the actual film?

The bit you’re talking about – the stuff about Jor-El sending him to Earth to show them the light, and their capacity for good and sending his only son and suchlike is definitely in Superman: The Movie. It’s in the Fortress of Solitude right before he goes to Metropolis…

1. Using Superman for Christ symbolism always sucks. It sucked in Superman Returns, and was the suckiest part of Superman: the Movie. (It is definitely there, I saw it recently. Superman is explicitly a Christ figure in that version.) It sucks, anyway, because it’s a lazy literary pretension and results in absurdly predictable story structure. Superman is a wish-fulfillment character at heart and needs to stay in that general region.

2. Using Superman for big fights and slugfests almost always sucks. The idea of “as strong as Superman” is impressive once every five, ten years, and only then if the fight choreography is up to the monstrous challenge of making Superman fighting someone not seem like an idiotic exercise in the man forgetting his own powers. Writing Superman well demands insane creativity to keep from feeling noosed by everything the character can do, and genuinely creative fight scenes are far more difficult than simply spinning a good Superman yarn.

3. Dragonball Z is in no way a decent story model for anything. There are numerous interviews from Toriyama himself stating that it was all editorially mandated and he wanted to end it as soon as the fight with Vegeta. By the Majin Buu arc he had long since lapsed into making fun of himself while he and his assistants reused old layouts. You can’t have a MOST DANGEROUS THING EVAR show up every story arc without long since lapsing into absurdist comedy. Applying this structure to Superman would just lapse him back into the basic problems of his Silver Age status quo, only I doubt DC would allow a modern Superman story to use comedy in the same self-effacing way DBZ does.

4. So my favorite Superman stories, beyond the ones that are just pure good writing like bits of All-Star Supes, are the old Jimmy Olsen stories. While repetitive, Superman also functions in an incredibly intelligible role here: he is a cross between Jimmy’s guardian angel and magic genie, showing up to bail him out of trouble regardless of what insanity would have to be perpetuated to do this. Superman was sometimes wise in these stories, obviously looking out for Jimmy’s goodwill, and other times his actions felt more inscrutable and a little threatening. I think allowing the reader to feel some discomfort with Superman makes him more tolerable in stories– then there is the relief when he proves utterly benevolent once again, and joy when he sets things right. By making Superman capable of being misunderstood, you keep him from acquiring the saint-like aura that’s so obnoxious in his modern appearances.

5. Lex Luthor is kind of a boring character at this point. He is inevitably the first subject of any new Superman revamp, and whether in business suit or ridiculous power suit generally devolves quickly into very predictable behavior. The Byrne interpretation was received so well, I think, simply because it was a break from pattern (and, likewise, the recent lapse back into power suit goofiness). A good Superman revitalization would stop being so enamoured with Lex and cut back on his screen time, I think, so his threat has some meaning. It would work on developing other supervillains for Superman to deal with, and also– I think this is very important– good, exciting stories in which Superman handles problems that are not directly related to supervillains, and that cannot be solved by the expedient of punching something. (Punching something is acceptable as part of the solution, of course.) A good Superman story tends to feature something like a puzzle to be solved, often one Superman can figure out a little bit ahead of the audience. If Superman is allowed into a wider variety of situations, he can become unpredictable– and therefore interesting again.

6. Basically, at the end of the day, Superman can only be revitalized if he starts being in stories that aren’t about the true meaning of Superman. He must be made to relate to his audience again, directly, and not through any superficial artifice intended to make him seem ridiculously cool or like a gigantic alpha male figure. Characters like that become the subsequent generation’s target for parody and derision because of their sheer monstrous exaggeration, and the fundamental need of a Superman reconcepting is to make the character timeless again.

Dragonball Z is in no way a decent story model for anything. There are numerous interviews from Toriyama himself stating that it was all editorially mandated and he wanted to end it as soon as the fight with Vegeta.

The fact that it went on too long and a lot of it was editorially mandated and forced to repeat itself in no way negates the value of what it got right. By those standards, every single American superhero character would fail to be a decent story model for anything because at one point every last successful one including Superman has fallen into that trap.

Hello!
I think this try.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives