OK, I goofed. Although it's been amended since then, any of you who read this column before Thursday will have noticed that I misattributed the recent words of Warren Ellis to M. Ali Choudhury, who reported them to me. (Amongst those who caught the blunder was Choudhury himself, naturally.) It was purely my error: Choudhury's e-mail told me about the article, followed that with the link, and then followed the link with the text. Since I did not follow the link (why, I don't know), I assumed the text that followed was Choudhury's. Mea culpa!
I'm also reliably informed by James Somers and Andrew Rash (among others) that Joe Shuster was indeed Canadian and that his brother Frank was the Shuster half of the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster (whom those of us who grew up in Michigan might even remember). More info on his biography, and a Canadian heritage television spot dramatizing this, can be found here. Thanks, guys!
Now, onto the second half of the (lengthy) main event! As many responses as there were in favor of keeping the Man of Steel exactly as is he because he's a timeless figure, there were just as many (if not more) claiming that change is good and that the changes that DC is currently making are even better. So, without further ado...
Superman is Behind The Times: The Arguments For Change
John Fultz writes, "I just read your article on whether or not Superman should be changed or 'updated,' as DC is currently trying to do. I, for one, feel that yes, the character does need some changes. I'm a lifelong comics fan, but Superman bores me to tears. Until recently when, on a whim, I picked up the first Azzarello/Lee issue and the first Austen/Reis issue - they actually got me interested in what they're doing. So, from my perspective, it's about time DC did something anything - with this character to make him interesting again. Maybe even relevant.
"As a kid, I always liked SUPERBOY comics better than SUPERMAN. I suppose it was because I was a kid, and it was easy to relate to Superboy. But as an adult, there isn't much to relate to with Superman - he's the clichéd 'goody two shoes' and lacks the inner conflict that usually makes fictional characters interesting. But I decided to give this revamp a chance. So far, so good.
"As the old saying goes, 'Change or die.' DC/Warner Brothers isn't about to let Supes die. So they had to make some changes. Comics had a reputation for many decades for refusing to let characters change, grow, mature and adjust to the times. It's about time the Original Superhero got his chance to catch up with the 21st Century. I say kudos to DC for finally giving this classic character a chance to develop."
Interesting that you should mention Superboy, John, as I also frankly enjoyed the adventures of the Boy of Steel far more than his male counterpart (which led directly into my lifelong love of the Legion try saying that five times fast), and for much the same reasons. I think the reasons we felt so much more "connected" to Superboy, if you will, was not only because he was our age but because he made the same mistakes that we would have made had we had his powers at that age. Part of the joy of reading those older stories, and even the newer ones that were printed right up till the moment that the CRISIS negated his existence completely, was watching Clark come to grips with his abilities and how to use them and not doing so perfectly every time, as Superman always does (or did). I'm sure that's also behind the appeal of SMALLVILLE - by the time Clark gets to Metropolis at the series' end, he'll have his abilities under control, but for now, he's having to deal with getting a girlfriend, maneuvering through the intricacies of adolescent high school life, and not burning down the school with a sudden blast of heat vision.
One more related note: does anyone else remember the Keith Giffen one-shot LEGION OF SUBSTITUTE HEROES which starred Superman? It always struck me as odd that, even though the Subs had worked with Superboy before, they fawned over Superman as if they'd never met him. It just goes to show how completely separate the two characters were and how much more interesting the adult version would be (and is) if he had some of the same foibles as his younger self.
Tom Provencher addresses how other writers have approached Supes lately, and how important showing his dark side is: "To me the greatest Superman stories recently have appeared in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT. Aside from some liberties taken with Superman's powers, such as his ability to see the life force of animals, he is the Superman that has existed for generations. What separates this storyline from the others is the world around him. It is our modern world. It's a world where human kind accepts his help with open arms until it learns that he is an alien, then turns its back on him. [In my opinion,] most of Superman's titles have lost touch with reality, and to blame the character or his costume is absurd. He is caricature of himself. In one story I read a few months ago [in] a different title, he fought Dr. Metropolis, used his powers to stop the guy from blowing stuff up, then taught the guy a valuable lesson. It was silly. Superman is supposed to a myth of our time. [He is our] culture's Hercules - he is not supposed to be a two dimensional action hero.
"[Additionally,] Superman's dark side is necessary. All
"Superman will never be as popular as he once was. After all, when he was created, he was the only superhero that existed. A new movie based on his exploits might help sell more of his comics, but if the director of the CHARLIE'S ANGELS movie ends up making it, it's only going to leave a blemish on the iconic character's long celebrated career. But he will continue on - no matter what happens, he will continue on."
Roger McCoy writes, "There's no reason why Superman can't be an interesting character. Just look at Samaritan from Kurt Busiek's ASTRO CITY as an example, or even Peter David's Captain Marvel from the first issue of the new run, when he was just preparing to go insane. Samaritan was constantly moving in order to keep on top of everything possible, and Busiek even showed how he managed to get time set aside for the Justice League (or whatever he called it). CAPTAIN MARVEL #1/36 showed a character in a similar situation, except he was so overwhelmed by his powers that he couldn't decide what to do next. The responsibility was great enough to drive him insane. I'm not saying that Superman should be insane, nor am I saying that Busiek's idea is enough to support a series. What I am saying is that Superman's abilities give an amazing amount of story potential as he decides how to use them. What if he spent so much time rescuing [whomever] his super-senses detected that he couldn't find time to spend with Lois or keep up with his job? These are just a few possibilities. There's a lot of potential for human conflict, especially where the wonderfully awkward character of Clark Kent is concerned." (This is a conflict that AMAZING SPIDER-MAN used to good effect not long ago when MJ left Peter because his crime-fighting got in the way of their relationship. Lois is pretty forgiving about it all, but what would happen if she weren't albeit temporarily? TBW).
"Incidentally, I don't think that the black background for the S-shield was ever supposed to stick - I'm pretty sure that was just the KINGDOM COME alternate future. (Please correct me if I'm wrong - I haven't followed the book in years.) There are a few changes that have stuck, though. Remember that from ACTION COMICS #1 through at least SUPERMAN #1 the chest logo was a simple 'S' in a triangle, and not the more stylized version that we've known for the last few decades. It's not a huge cosmetic change, but it is a noticeable and notable change. We've also seen [similar] major (and permanent) costume changes for Green Lantern, Wolverine, and Iron Man over the years, to name a few."
"Colin" brings the focus back to Superman, though his argument is not so much for change, per se: "I agree that to an extent Superman is outdated as a concept in that cynicism is too predominant in most people's psyches today to accept Superman's inner naivety, all round do-gooderness, and unflinching belief in humanity at face value; the idea that you can use the good, small town boy analogy for today's America won't wash. I would like to think that something like Superman's essential belief in moral values and the need to good would in some way inspire modern audiences, that it would allow them to escape for a couple of hours and forget the horrors of the outside world and give them hope, but I don't believe enough people are capable of suspending their disbelief and believe in that type of idealism in the same way they were even 20 years ago. They would find it more believable if he reached his belief system as part of a 'journey,' that he came to believe in humanity and its beliefs as a result of experiencing the good and bad of humanity and coming to some sort of reasoned judgment based on that (that he believed in us in spite of ourselves) rather than just because he was brought up 'right.' That's too simplistic for us to swallow - he needs to have seen his parents gunned down or killed men in cold blood on a battlefield to be a believable character.
"I was intrigued by the idea that Superman would attempt to take over the world in order to protect humanity from itself. It might be a good one to explore cinematically (I presume it's been covered in the comics since you mentioned it and couldn't be any worse than what I've read about the current script for SUPERMAN V). It could work as an analogy to current world events, the idea that we (Superman) know best and so must impose our ideology on you, whether you want it or not. The idea that someone with Superman's backstory and outlook on humanity could do something like that would be a stretch; he would have had to undergo some form of a 'dark night of the soul,' which might not be a bad thing if he became a more rounded character and stayed that way - i.e., as you said yourself, if they didn't reset the character afterwards and make out that everything and everyone went back to 'normal.' If the success of shows like BUFFY and, to a lesser extent, ANGEL, have shown us anything, it's that audiences expect everything to carry consequences, and those consequences must be lived through and dealt with properly, not just shrugged off as if nothing happened. People don't, necessarily, need everything to be wrapped up in a neat bow by the time the credits roll; rather than pure escapism, they want reality (albeit as analogy) writ large in front of them.
"Having said all that, I'm not that keen on characters being changed or 're-imagined' (I hate that word) as such because I believe people created them a particular way for a reason and as such the artist's/author's vision should remain intact. (I hate that word, too my spell-check refuses to recognize it, and with good reason... TBW) However, I'm not totally averse to updating characters, if [their previous] raison d'etre is now obsolete, which may be the case with Superman. If a credible way to update him can be found, then fine, but otherwise leave well enough alone. As can be seen from things like VAN HELSING, just updating characters in order to fit into your convoluted plotting and at the expense of proper characterisation doesn't work and ends up generating more resentment than anything (the TOMB RAIDER comparisons to the latest draft of the film script made me nauseous).
"This brings me onto his abilities. I understand where you're coming from with regards to his array of talents and especially his indestructibility and the over-reliance on Kryptonite to bring him down. (I believe a major fault with SMALLVILLE is its over-reliance on Kryptonite as a plot device to create any kind of monster/power they want that week, with little or no explanation of how or why, but that's another matter.) I think [one of the things] that made the MATRIX sequels so disappointing, and there are a lot to chose from, more than the endless stream of gobbledegook, the pretentious self-importance, or the side-lining of the central characters, was the fact that they made Neo seemingly invincible. If, as you said, the audience doesn't ever believe your main character is in mortal danger, then you automatically dissipate any tension because you know nothing's going to happen to them. You stop caring about them because you know they're not risking anything. People want their heroes to be 3 dimensional today, they want to see them bleed and struggle and doubt their purpose; they want to see them crawl their way up the dirt of Mount Doom on their bare knees, not fly straight from the Shire and be home in time for tea (that might be over-simplifying things, but you get my meaning).
"Finally, in terms of the movies, I believe they
On the topic of change, "Jake" writes, "I have to be honest. I have never bought a Superman comic. Why? Why buy a comic to read about someone that is almost completely invulnerable and acts like a Boy Scout? Yeah, I have read JLA and his actions there. But to me, a book focused on an invulnerable Boy Scout compared to a dark tormented man with a belt filled with gizmos seems crappy. Am I just bitter about Superman beating Thor? Well, a bit. But let's look at the reasoning behind it even more. People can see themselves more in someone like Batman (or even Green Lantern). With Batman, there is this human side. He gives up here and there. He has had to kill people [to save] other people's lives and out of anger. He's much more human. Superman is treated like an alien. We see him rescuing damsels in distress and knocking the villain unconscious, then putting the villain in jail. Granted, I see how Superman reflects a lot of values of America. And DC isn't the only place with the problem of Boy Scouts...Yet with DC almost every [other] character has a human-like quality. They have fear and insecurities. What does Superman have to fear but a glowing green rock! Granted I do like Superman because of the morals and values he has inside of him. When he shows his dark side it truly is amazing. But my suggestion to DC would be to take after the other media Supermen. [In SUPERMAN II, for example,] when he gave up his powers, we saw this new man. [In] the JLA cartoon we see a Superman that needs other people. Heck, SMALLVILLE is my favorite show, and you can see the issues that Clark Kent faces. You see him lose so often. Maybe they could allow Superman's dark side to come out more than often and let him slowly change back into the Boy Scout, only to have to be dark again."
Alexandre Winck writes, "I think I feel about Supes like I feel about a fifties sitcom, like FATHER KNOWS BEST. Of course these kinds of shows represent beautiful, even if often thoroughly conservative, ideals. Harmony. Happiness. Nobody is drunk, nobody uses drugs, nobody has to worry with STDs - nobody has sex, or at least nobody talks about it... But, in the end, these shows made people feel terrible about their own family lives, because no real family was like that. The real families were complicated, conflicted, what we call now 'dysfunctional.' That doesn't mean there was no love or happiness in these families, it just meant that rosy idealized perfection was inaccessible for them, so human and flawed they were. But at the same time, the real strength of these families - and the best modern family shows get to that, like ONCE AND AGAIN or EVERWOOD - was that, with all their imperfections and flaws and conflicts, they still manage to love and support each other.
"Which brings me to the analogy with superheroes and the controversial comment that'll get me death threats and such: people keep saying Superman is the standard, the ideal of moral fiber that all heroes should follow. Of course he's an ideal, so ideal [an ideal] that it loses its strength. I honestly believe it takes much more moral fiber to be Batman than to be Superman. Before you call me insane and request my banishment - I don't live in US, so there's no point telling me to "go back to China" or whatever here's the thing. Clark Kent had everything to turn out a good guy. He had loving parents, even if adoptive ones, who taught him all about right and wrong, how to use his powers wisely, etc.; he grew up in a farm in a small town; on top of that he's handsome, strong, smart...it's no surprise to anyone he turns out to be Mr. Nice Guy. Batman is darker, of course, but think how much darker he could be...Seeing your parents be brutally murdered at the age of eight could have created much worse than a dark vigilante; it could have created a Joker, or a Ted Bundy, if you wanna be more realistic, or at the very least a depressed, drugged, potentially suicidal individual. Batman has lots of inner demons, but somehow he finds enough strength in him to fight these demons, much trickier and stronger and permanent than the ones from outside, and he manages to keep doing pretty much the same job that Superman does: fighting crime without taking lives and protecting the innocent. And at a much greater risk, for he's far from being bulletproof and has all the scars to prove it. He wasn't blessed by nature with powers, he had to work his ass off to become who he is, with tremendous personal sacrifice. Of course he's more violent than Supes, of course he barely smiles, and of course there may be a greater risk of his dark side finally taking him over... which makes him more flawed and conflicted, and ultimately stronger because, despite all of that, he finds it in himself to be a hero."
You make some excellent points here, Alexandre, especially the one about the ideal circumstances little Kal-El is lucky enough to be tossed into that allow him to become the ideal hero. I'm sure that some Elseworlds story has already been told in this vein and if not, I'm sure someone now will but imagine what might
Vallen Tucker expands on the idea of Clark's very life being the issue, but he goes in a different direction and proposes some truly radical (and interesting) changes: "In my opinion, the problem with Superman has very little to do with his powers. Being invulnerable is not the issue. It has more to do with how invulnerable his life is. As Tarantino points out in volume KILL BILL 2, Superman is unique in that he has to become his secret identity rather than vice versa. ( Really? I may actually have to go see the damned thing, then... TBW). Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, but it is still Peter Parker beneath the mask. The same is true of Batman and Bruce Wayne and almost all other heroes. Someone once defined a hero as being an ordinary person doing extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances, something which Superman has almost never been. The solution to that is not a lessening of his power but rather a more concentrated focus on his personal life. [For example,] nobody reads AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to see Spidey fight Doctor Octopus for the ten billionth time but rather to see what is going on in Peter's life and how his friends and family are. We care about Aunt May and MJ, and we cry over Harry Osborne and Gwen Stacey. These are real three-dimensional characters, with lives affected by the world around them, and so is Peter. Superman goes out and fights Brainiac and is home in time for dinner and recovered enough for work at the Daily Planet the next day; Peter dislocates a shoulder and covers his wounds as he works as a teacher. To quote every advertisement for SPIDER-MAN 2 and the first movie: 'No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, the ones I love will always be the ones who pay.' Superman has never has that kind of drama." I might argue with that a bit, Vallen, if only because Clark would have the same problem if he ever revealed to the world that he was Superman but the spirit of your comment is dead accurate.
Vallen continues: "'The Death of Gwen Stacey' is a great story because of Peter's relationships with Gwen and Norman Osborne, not because of how Spider-Man took out the Green Goblin. 'The Dark Phoenix Saga' is heartbreaking because every panel has a pervasive sense of doom about it as Cyclops faces the looming reality of his love's sacrificial death, not because the X-Men have to fight some cosmic godlike entity. Superman has no story with even comes close to that kind of personal intimacy outside of the CRISIS or an ELSEWORLDS special. 'The Death of Superman' would come close, except everyone and his brother knew it wouldn't stick. You want to read a great Superman story? Then how about KINGDOM COME? Here we have Superman with all of his powers facing a disaster that makes him look more human than any Lois rescue or Doomsday blow ever did. Superman is vulnerable through of the ones he loves, and nobody has tapped into that nearly enough.
"Here's an idea for how to shake up Superman: reveal his secret identity to the entire planet! Force Lois to live in a world where she's a celebrity reporter who married the scoop of the millennium and did nothing with it. Have every exclusive the Daily Planet has ever landed be discredited because of the inside source they had on payroll. Have Lex Luthor hunt down his family and friends. Force him to change every relationship he has ever had and make the changes permanent. They did something similar to the Flash recently, [but the Spectre came in to fix everything]. Shakeup the DC universe in ways nobody has imagined. But most of all, write great stories. It's all about story, and if they can create real drama and change that lasts, then people will return to the comic. It's not just about the power and the ideals but how he relates to a changing world and those around him." Good ideas, Vallen! In fact, I've long thought that an interesting way to renew the Superman universe would be to reveal his secret identity it would be at least as radical as allowing him to finally marry Lois Lane, which used to be the stuff of "imaginary stories," too. The only difficulty I could foresee with such a direction is that it might lead the character into such a morass of troubles that no writer could get him back out again. How completely would such a change affect the character? Would there no longer be a Clark Kent (just as Batman tried unsuccessfully a little while back to do away with Bruce Wayne altogether)? Would Clark and Lois' marriage be able to survive? I suppose those questions prove just how much of a permanent shake-up you're proposing and how much anxiety there would be in making such changes permanent. Still what a way to go, eh?
Warren Mianecke also "feel[s] that a radical approach is called for. I believe the problem lies with the universe in which he operates, or, more specifically, the Earth which he protects. He lives in the DC universe. That means, an Earth and a universe filled with superheroes. Despite being the "only" Kryptonian, Superman is not alone. He's not burdened by the decisions of how he should help humanity and why. He's not burdened with the realization that even he can't be everywhere at once. If he goes on a jaunt into outer space for a month, he can count on the JLA, JSA, and lots more to look after things, even specific to Metropolis. Frankly, as a reader and fan, I'd feel much more involved with the character's adventures if he operated in a separate universe, on 'another' Earth, where he's the only (at least, the only super-powered) superhero. Where he is the last Kryptonian, with no other aliens to relate to.
"I was inspired to cast my vote further in this direction after watching a bunch of the old Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons from the 1940's. I was totally engaged, totally involved, thrilling along with Superman's adventures for the first time in a while. And, here, in a format that barely gave Clark Kent 'screen-time,' let alone featured supervillains or other aliens or other powered heroes. [And] the team-ups have been done to death. They've been enjoyable (well, some of them.). I recommend a Superman (not necessarily Year One, either) to read about and wonder 'Wow. What would the real world be like with him in it? Wouldn't it be cool?' (This will probably reveal the fact that I haven't read it, but wasn't that what SECRET IDENTITY was supposed to be? TBW) A character with the 'hook' of being truly alone in the world, trying to find his place in it. Someone who can pass for human but knows he isn't. A Superman with no super-relatives to show up a few years down the line. A Superman whose existence inspires his all-too-human foes to use their wits and intelligence to try to defeat him. Oops, went on quite a bit there. This'll never happen, but, out of all the heroes, Superman is truly diminished by the existence of the tons of other DC superheroes." That's an interesting notion, Warren, though sadly the only way it could ever be explored in depth would be in an Elseworlds miniseries and that probably would not be as "in depth" as it needed to be in order to be truly interesting. If DC has the equivalent of an Ultimates line such as that of Marvel, it could possibly reboot everything to such a degree that this idea could be explored for a while but then, as we've seen with that very same Ultimates line, it would eventually accrue its own major cast of characters and continuity until it became less truly "different" and more accurately just another "approach" to the same characters. Still, that might just be worth it, if only to make Superman even more interesting.
David James is far more blunt in his criticism: "Superman works more as an idea than an actual character. He is pure goodness, the alien who came to Earth to not only save us but to teach us. He is defined by those small town values of honesty and truth and family which make us better human beings. In this age of cynicism, it's kind of refreshing to see a character who brings that to the table. The problem is that the writers nowadays always have him strutting around like some godlike being and know-it-all! It's hard to relate to him as a person. They need to bring him down a bit, I think. There's something much more compelling about the idea of Clark as this very humble, almost shy guy who doesn't crave the spotlight and only puts on the costume out of a sense of duty. Everybody expects him to have all the answers, but he has to struggle just like the rest of us. I think that would make him a much more interesting character, instead of this overconfident, overbearing guy that he is now."
Something you said there struck a chord with me, David, and it's the parallel I've sometimes heard drawn by fans (most often when they're in their cups) between Superman and Jesus. Before you start sending me letters condemning me to Hell for my blasphemy,
Lamar Henderson addresses the problem with Superman from a different (and less potentially sacrilegious) perspective: "First, I'm not a big Superman fan. The only time I read any of the Superman books with any regularity was back in the '80s when John Byrne did his big post-CRISIS reboot. However, like a lot of people, comics fan or not, I'm well familiar with most of the elements of the iconic myth that Superman has become. The character long ago became one of the cultural touchstones with which pretty much everyone in America, and a lot of people beyond, are familiar. That's pretty much where the problem with Superman as a contemporary comic book character is, I think. If someone wanted to do an update of some obscure Golden Age character, it would be possible because no one would care if the contemporary creators jettisoned off big chunks of the character's history, revived his personality, even changed his costume. It's all but impossible to do that with Superman because he has moved into the realm of myth, and people just don't stand still for having their myths altered. With any serial story, however, you reach a point where you've done everything that can be done with the characters in that story. After a certain point, everything is just a revision of what has come before. There's nothing wrong with that. We're still telling stories about King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, et al., and those stories are often perfectly fine. But there's nothing new that can be done with them, not really. Superman entered that territory 50 years ago. There simply isn't anything new that can be told about the character. I may be wrong about this, but the best Superman stories I'm familiar with are those Elseworlds tales that play on the myth of Superman as much as anything, such as KINGDOM COME, not the stories in the official continuity.
"This cycle is something that happens to all serial stories, no matter how we may wish otherwise. It happened to the STAR TREK franchise sometime during the run of DEEP SPACE NINE. It happened to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and X-FILES around the end of season 5 for each. It happened with X-MEN after the 'Dark Phoenix' storyline in 1980. The thing with TV show and most movie franchises (James Bond being a notable exception) is that there comes a time when the show has to end. Not so with comics. A series can continue with the same characters indefinitely, in spite of the fact that there's pretty much nothing new that can be done with the characters. And that's the problem with Superman, in my humble opinion. There's nothing new that can be done with the characters and the series can't be significantly changed because of its mythic status. If DC were going to make a bold move with the series, what they'd do is let Clark Kent and company retire and pass on the name to an entirely new concept, something different but still true to the basic principles of the Superman mythos. That, however, will never happen." Perhaps not, Lamar but the other difference between comics and television/movie series is that, while each may run through periods of stagnancy or times when even fans get well and truly sick of them, comics tend to push through those periods until a moment comes when true innovation occurs and the character is revitalized. Batman was one of the most boring characters around during the late 70s and early 80s, for instance, but no one would say that about him now. Wonder Woman is enjoying a similar renaissance now, even though her last big heyday in the public eye (apart from George Perez and Phil Jimenez's much-admired run in the 80s and early part of this decade) was the late 70s. STAR TREK itself came back to television after a long period of "hiatus," broken only by movies and ongoing fandom. Perhaps we're experiencing that same sort of renaissance for Supes right now?
Chris Ruhf writes, "You pose a lot of interesting questions, mainly if you can't change a character like Superman because of public backlash then how do you make him more relevant? I think you touched on it slightly, and the way you do it is change the world around him and I see a little bit of this in ACTION COMICS the last couple of weeks. Supes' world is not our world, things are a little too perfect, and D.C. needs to change this. Superman cannot be taken as relevant character if he does not face the same fears and threats as we do. SUPERMAN is finally going to show a version of the Iraq war and Lois is going off to report it. Right now Supes said he cannot be seen there, because that would show support for the war, but I have a feeling that beside a few interesting Lois stories that's all that will happen with this plot. What needs to happen is [for the title to] show the average DC Universe American's reaction to his non-action. Because, after all, by not acting, does this not show what his true feelings are? These types of plots would add a new dimension to Superman's universe. What would our world be like if a world icon as large as Supes existed? Would truly everyone in America love him, or would the conservatives try to use him politically and the liberals lambaste his every move to discredit him, or vise versa? Would foreign powers truly allow him to come and go with not a word, and would the rest of the world not hate him as much as they do the rest of America? If you can't beat him in a fight, can you destroy him politically? This could be some different ways to get rid of the 'Boy Scout' image without ruining who he for to the hard core readers like myself. I like what Superman stands for, but I think what he stands for would be highlighted even more greatly if his world became more real."
"AtomicGod" has a whole shopping cart of changes to propose: "If I was going to revamp Superman, I'd turn him into a character who was fixated on avenging crimes committed against the weak and the innocent. Like the sixth Doctor Who, Superman would become indignant when he saw or heard about some injustice. I've read that originally the character was rougher when he was first conceived, so I'd make him a little more like that. The bad guys should get a little scared when Superman shows up. They shouldn't be scared because Superman going to stop them from committing a crime - they should be scared because of what he might do to them. This seems to be the way that BIRTHRIGHT is going, but I'd push it farther. I'd like to see a Superman who could make a morally wrong choice or a mistake that costs lives because it was the best choice he could make. He would make such a choice not because he's an idealist but because he's pragmatic and makes the best choice he could with the information that he has. I'd [also] make his Clark Kent persona like [that on] the George Reeves TV show. He was mild-mannered, but no one thought he was a push over or a joke. It's a little unrealistic that a guy who can move planets would put up with people's crap for long periods of time. Also, why not divorce Clark and Lois? I think that would open up new story possibilities and offer writers the chance to show human emotions in a new light. This is also very realistic. UPN has had a lot of success with HALF AND HALF and ALL OF US. Both of these TV shows depicted divorced and blended families. I think a lot of people would respond to this type of story line. This would also be a good way to make Superman relevant.
"One thing that bothers me is the way Superman's intelligence is portrayed in comics today. Back in the 70s and 80s
"I think that the people who say that you can't change Superman are the ones who are hurting the character. Superman has obviously changed over time and he has to continue to do so in order to be a viable property in the future...The character and the audience's relation to it have changed and continue to change. [But] the real problem with Superman is the bad writing. I don't buy comics all the time, but the few that I've seen and brought are pretty bad. OUR WORLDS AT WAR was total garbage from what I saw. BATMAN/SUPERMAN is entertaining but there's not a lot to it and it's so plot-driven that the characters have no motivation. They only exist to move the plot along. Before anyone makes a change to the character, DC needs to hire good writers and let them write good stories." I'm still trying to figure out how something can be plot-driven and yet have characters without motivation, to be honest, but ok...
Darcey McLaughlin reminds us that "the subject of how to update or change Superman has been a hot topic for many years. DC wrestled with the question as far back as 1971, when Superman was revamped beginning in SUPERMAN #233. Back then, DC made Clark Kent more stylish (ditching the blue suits for more contemporary looks), made him a TV reporter, and made him more confident (because let's face it, reporters aren't mild-mannered). They also made Kryptonite useless and Superman less powerful. It was a big change - and it didn't take. By issue #243, the old Superman was back. John Byrne made big changes to Superman following the CRISIS in the mid-80s. Again, Byrne didn't last long and neither did his take on the Man of Steel. Like many (and obviously you as well), I've often wonder why Superman is not allowed to change. Batman has changed lots [and so has Wonder Woman]. So, why can't Superman change? While Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin and many other comic book characters are popular and well know, none has reached the level reached by Superman. He has become an icon. His story, his look, his personality is known worldwide. There are few places on the planet where people wouldn't know Superman. I'm sure there are countries in the developing world where if you showed someone a picture of Batman, they wouldn't have a clue who it was. Show them a picture of Superman, and they know...The problem for DC and Marvel, of course, is that icon status might be all well and good, but without the ability to change and grow their characters, they will lose readers and their icons will become money losers. They have to find ways to tell compelling stories without making even the slightest, let alone fundamental, change to these characters."
Dewey Yeatts writes, "I have to admit, Superman has held little appeal for me over the years. I had a few Supes comics back in the day, and I watched the TV show. It wasn't until the first movie that I really thought Superman as a character was interesting. The second movie was fine as well, and then I promptly sidelined the character in my mind for a long time. The next time I thought Superman was cool? Two words: Grant Morrison. His version of Superman in his JLA run was the coolest Superman I had ever seen. Grant's big brain made the Big Blue Boy Scout...well...alien. And confident. He didn't crack wise, but he just was curt, to the point, and focused. And then there was Kevin Smith, who picked up that thread, and had that great conversation in GREEN ARROW #1, where Batman and Supes spar verbally. Smith may have just been taking off from Morrison's interpretation, but the dialogue was sparkling. And then another Big Brain, Mark Millar, gave us one of the more radical, but still relevant, interpretations of Superman in his SUPERMAN: RED SON miniseries. Sure, it was Elseworlds, but putting Superman in a story that damn big made it all worthwhile. Millar blew my mind with the story, and Superman seemed to increase in stature just by being a part of the Millar madness...So, what's the secret to writing Superman? I don't know, to tell you the truth. But I think finding writers that are witty, imaginative, and not afraid to go for the Big Ideas is a good way to start.
"So, what is the problem? Are writers are cramped by the idea of Superman? Is he out-of-date? Maybe. Is he too powerful? Perhaps. Is he just a big Boy Scout? Could be. Has he just been around for so long that writers are running out of ideas? Hmmm. But these writers found something cool to bring out of Superman, and they were
Andrew Getting writes, "While this is an apt metaphor, saying that it's impossible to update him to the present isn't really accurate. Supes may have aged better than the WWII ideals that birthed him, but this isn't to say that his character can't be remedied. Both America and Superman are all but invulnerable to overt attacks, suffering major losses only when his enemies forgo direct war in favor of attacking innocents, and it is those times when Superman could easily display a real dark side. Similarly, America regrets many of its actions, most visibly Vietnam and slavery/Jim Crow, but a hundred other things easily come to mind. Superman, being all the greater than mortal men, is no more perfect, and both can and should feel a greater burden whenever he fails. This would be remarkably easy to use if the Superman creative staff started borrowing a page from the Flash's handbook, and incorporating some physics into Supes' powers. For instance, Superman misses a punch, but the concussive force continues on, shattering a nearby wall. This would let Clark Kent's unconfident mien be a little truer, and would make Supes a little less perfect in the eyes of even his closest friends, as Superman would have to pick and choose when the risk is worth his intervention (a very American concern right now). If anything, I think the Seinfeld ads show the way best here - nothing in Supes' arsenal of powers should always be of benefit.
"Another concern is in the supporting cast, not of Supes, per se, but in the DCU in general. Despite what you said in your article, Batman is not Supes' polar opposite, but rather his ideological one. Superman is an idealist, and Batman a pragmatist. Unfortunately, they've played off each other like this so often, that it's almost invariably Superman that comes up short. Like Scully somehow disbelieving everything, even after several seasons of drowning in
proof, it no longer rings true. Despite all the comments about Supes not being sympathetic, it's Batman who's far less human, as Batman written as imperfect always feels a little 'off' (witness this characterization in the JSA trade paperback FAIR PLAY). In this respect, Supes deserves far more than he's getting, both from fans and from his writers. The biggest problem, though, is that of potential unrealized. Two of the Superman villains really stand out here: the new Zod, and Luthor. Zod represented a threat on a global scale, but one that Superman couldn't argue was primarily personal in nature. Zod could wage a deliberate and careful psychological war with Superman, carefully staying within the letter of the UN's law even as he violates its spirit. Superman would have to struggle with whether he could justify stopping Zod by breaking the rules himself, or letting the enemy reign free - allowing Superman to become more the UN than the US. Likewise, President Luthor, that one heavy-handed issue of JLA aside (where Lex and real-life President Bush were compared, unfavorably to the actual president), was a golden opportunity, as Superman's whole world view became a paradox - that the American people will do the right thing, but America voted Lex in. Here again, it was not Superman's characterization that failed, but Lex's. Lex had long wanted to best 'the alien,' and by winning the presidency, effectively had. Unfortunately, Lex indulged in petty and criminal behavior ever since, leading to the BATMAN/SUPERMAN exposure of his true nature. How much more interesting it might have been had Lex simply ignored Supes from the election, as befitting a defeated and powerless opponent, and Lex actually and genuinely tried to be the leader he felt America needed. Lex has shown such potential before, but rarely has it amounted to much."
"It's not that Superman can't become relevant - powers and origin aside, very little separates Supes from Captain America in terms of basic characterization, and Cap's modernization has gone off fairly well overall. It's just a question of whether the writers and DC are willing to make Superman as socially relevant as he once was, without delving into parody or making Supes a talking head."
James Lee writes, "I don't know why some writers say Superman is a difficult character to write. Even now, he is still rife with story possibilities. I always feel that not enough is being done with Superman. Spider-Man and Batman sell more books than he does, and people have the nerve to say that Superman is an overexposed character? I mean, at last count, both Spider-Man and Batman must have five monthly titles focused on them, not to mention spin-off titles and innumerable miniseries. Superman has four but he shares billing in one with Batman. Yeesh!
"Greg Rucka got me rolling with these words, "How can Clark Kent prove something that he can only know as Superman?" Now, that's something to play with. Writers Greg Rucka and Chuck Austen swore they will play up the reporter angle - let's hope so, because I think that's one aspect of Superman that been largely ignored. In this regard, I propose the following changes:
"1) Play up the investigative reporter angle, and keep that one. It leads to story possibilities. Think about it: Superman has his adventures, Clark Kent has his own. Batman can only have adventures as Batman.
"2) No more 'American Way.' Continue removing Superman from too much Americanism. We readers from other countries know he's American, but we don't need to have that fact continuously rammed down our throats.
"3) Consciously veer away Superman from the rest of the DC Universe just as was done with Batman. At least in his own books, I think putting Kal in the same room with a group of other superheroes tends to dilute him. I enjoy the stories more with Superman only in them. We don't need Wonder Woman or Green Lantern shoehorning their way in to Superman's books. I want to see Superman triumph on his own.
"4) Superman doesn't have many villains that stick around for long anymore. There's still Lex Luthor and Metallo, but we need more. (Um...are either of those two still with us, actually? TBW) Brainiac evolved, Toyman disappeared, Maxima's dead, Conduit's dead, Dominus is too hard to use. It would also help that the more usable villains appear with some regularity, not disappear for five years and expect every reader to remember them. Why do you think Batman's and Spider-Man's rogues gallery continue to be popular?
"5) Less end-of-the-world scenarios. A city in danger is enough for me. The stakes can't be that high all the time... Anyway, those are my thoughts, the thoughts of a reader from another country."
Vaar Aragon writes, "I'm not a diehard comics fan, just your standard all-things-escapist geek, but it always seemed to me like the problem with Supes isn't a problem with Supes, but with his supporting cast and environment. One of my favorite movies is EL CID starring Chuck Heston as a quasi-historical figure who's rather like Superman in many ways: supercompetent, excruciatingly honorable, reasonably compassionate. And the entire plot of the movie is how this character keeps getting into trouble because everyone around him is, well, more morally ambiguous than he is: he loses the love of his fiancée because he's honor-bound to fight and kill her father; he loses his country for complicated reasons related to the possibility of his current monarch having killed the previous monarch; he tries to make a living as a mercenary without having to fight against his home country, etc. Most of the people who are in any sense dear to Supes/Clark are fairly bland goodies-goodies themselves, especially with the post-CRISIS Lex being what he is. Most of his enemies are flatly Nasty Uncharismatic People Who Deserve No Sympathy. The only remotely morally ambiguous 'friends of Superman' that I can think of offhand are Bruce Wayne, the World's Most Police-Friendly Vigilante, and Hal Jordan, the Formerly Undead Psychotherapist, and they are for obvious reasons not people who can turn up in Metropolis on any kind of permanent basis....What if Lois really and honestly threw her journalistic integrity to the winds for some perceived Greater Political Good, choosing Justice over Truth, so to speak? What if Clark's boss were more like Peter Parker's? How would he cope with their misdeeds? How would he go about 'hating the sin and loving the sinner,' since he does have a compassionate streak a mile wide as well as that famously uptight ethical code of his? If Supes had a White Queen or a Catwoman in his lovel ife, he'd be a much more interesting character. Heck, if Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire had been created as a love interest for Superman instead of Green Lantern, we might not be having this discussion today....It isn't the superpowers that make Clark's life easy, it's the bland supporting cast of white-hats and black-hats. Give him real moral dilemmas caused by the people he cares about, don't give him any easy outs, write him well, and see how fast he regains the readers' respect."
Mathew Pifer writes, "Changing SUPERMAN, while a wonderful thought on the surface, is like trying to go and change the bible in a sense. Pre-conceived notions will always be the killing blow for SUPERMAN. Having said that, however, I've actually been in the process of trying to devise a way to help this title, as well as the character, to conceivably 'change'...Over the past five years, I've slowly been collecting every issue of every title involving SUPERMAN..Since March, I've been reading every issue, and making reference notes concerning each issue and storyline. I think the key to change could actually be...wait for it...continuity. How many times have we been told that a publisher is 'deconstructing' this character or that, only to have everything back to normal within a month or two. Why is this? I believe it to be as simple as lack of continuity. Nothing has a lasting effect in comics anymore. The comics publishers are too busy trying to accommodate whoever the current writer and artist are at the time, and by doing this, you can't really have the 'restrictions' of what another writer or artist did maybe a year, or in some cases, a month, ago getting in the way of maybe drawing a small handful of new readers. It seems obvious to me that nothing attempted by DC has worked in making SUPERMAN a character to be watched, not since his 'Death' back in the 90's. SUPERMAN has become predictable to everyone from young and old, dedicated fanboy to casual bookstore pick-up reader. When something doesn't work, it's time to fix it.
"So, how exactly do you change the Man of Steel? My idea is simply this: create a situation or enemy that is constructed from the history that is Superman. I would love to see an enemy that has, let's say, spent most of his/her life studying Superman: his victories, his losses, his strengths, his weaknesses, his relationships; everything that is Superman is known to this individual. Then, armed with this information, the enemy sets out to capture Superman, achieves said task, and then takes measures to recreate what Superman has become. References to the past, combined with an enemy dead-set on manipulating/changing everything that Superman has become would keep readers watching the title, but one thing must be done to make it all work. Superman must lose! The enemy must be greater than the Man of Steel, and effectively creates/changes what Superman has been in the past. This enemy must completely and totally abuse Superman, he must completely destroy all that he is, and everything he has come to believe. Not an easy task, I know, but unfortunately, this is the only option I can see that would make a difference. Would readers of the Man of Steel really be interested, or even care? I don't know. Would DC ever allow such atrocities to happen to Superman? I don't know. Would I love to see this go down? You bet I would."
Dan Finnegan writes, "The problem with Superman? As a Thor fan, I like to compare the two. Supes is an alien who was raised on Earth as a human, he doesn't seem to have the same problems we humans have. He's married, but do he and Lois have any kids? Do they have money problems? Do they own a home, and have all the problems and joys that come with that? How often does he do things with his friends? Perhaps most telling, he keeps his secret identity from his friends. It took them being ready to get married before he told Lois. Keeping secrets from your friends is not conducive to being a good friend. Yes, I know all the reasons that have been given for his not telling anyone, but you think someone would have figured it out by now, like Jimmy Olsen. And in his recent travails as Clark regarding his job, how does he cope with it? He changes into Superman and goes out and beats up bad guys and gals. How does he differ from Thor? Thor has a contentious relationship with his father, they argued constantly. When was the last time you saw Clark and Pa Kent have an argument? When Thor first assumed the identity of Jake Olsen, it didn't take long before Jane Foster realized who he really was. In 65 years, no ordinary human has figured out that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same...I'm a Thor fan not because I don't like Superman, but because Thor is a more interesting character than Supes. He has his faults, he makes mistakes, and he has a few skeletons in his closet. Superman needs to find something to challenge him as a character, make him more interesting to we the reader. His team-ups with Batman and Wonder Woman provide some interest via the contrasts between himself and those two characters. That's when he seems to be at his best and most interesting.
"By the way, your little digs at Thor in your recent columns have been cute, makes we Thor fans want a rematch in the worst way. Remember, lightning happens." I'm glad to hear someone has liked them, Dan! And yes, I wouldn't mind seeing that, either the changes made (albeit briefly) to Superman's character in JLA/AVENGERS made him pretty interesting to me, as did the whole Supes-Thor smackdown.
Whew. That teaches me to try to include everyone's ideas and that wasn't even all of them! I'm sure some of you would still like to talk about Kal, however, so if you do, send your ideas via the web site contact address here or to me directly. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title since I do the HTML coding on this column every week, having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! Next week, I'll be covering something that has nothing to do with the Man of Steel promise! Now, here's what you can find in the shops today:
Zoinks! The kiddies will just have to make due with SCOOBY DOO #85 this week unless they're feverishly rereading those Marvel Age books they got last week, as I know they must.
No kiddie books from Dark Horse this week or, indeed, any week but they are giving us BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL #90 and LAST TRAIN TO DEADSVILLE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY #2 (Of 4). Isn't that lovely?
Spidey fans have quite a bit to pick up this week (in addition to those costly advance movie tickets): there's the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL 5: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES trade paperback for $12.99 (collecting what, I'm not exactly sure, but I'm sure you do); MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN #3, which I can also find no information about; the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE: SPIDER-MAN
2004 for $3.99, which you probably don't need any information about;
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #15, which has something or other to do with the Avengers shake-up coming up; and the SPIDER-MAN 2: THE MOVIE trade paperback for $12.99, which tells you far too much about the movie (such as the plot, etc.). Oh, well, at least there are two or three surprises in this batch...
The Teen Titans guest-star as Superman and Gog have a "throw down" in Metropolis in ACTION COMICS #816. A "throw down"? Yup, this is written by Chuck Austen, all right.
Oh, joy what's-his-name from TRUTH is guest-starring in CAPTAIN AMERICA #27. Luckily, Eddie Campbell is doing part of the artistic chores, so maybe it won't be so bad.
Arthur finally finds out who's behind the destruction of San Diego in AQUAMAN #19, and for once, Donald Trump's not to blame for any of it.
Trouble's brewing in DISTRICT X #2, and the man behind it is known only as Mr. M. I hope for his sake his first name doesn't begin with a B.
Speaking of men whose names begin with B in both lives, actually! Batman's got a whole belfry full of titles with his name on them this week, including the concluding issue of the nine-part BATMAN: DEATH AND THE MAIDENS; Batman discovers the one place he's never been in Gotham City (probably the KB Toys store) in BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #180; the BATMAN: NO MAN'S LAND VOL 2 trade paperback is available for $12.95, ,, to those who just can't m, ove, on; and NIGHTWING #94 is available for those who want to see just how well former Boy Wonders do on their own.
Meanwhile, in EMMA FROST #12, the young Emma's first solo adventure concludes, and she begins her career as a conniving, husband-stealing uber-biotch. Well, she will...
Vertigo gives you something to sink your teeth into this week with BITE CLUB #3 (Of 6) hey, I've been good for three months now, so give me a break. Meanwhile, the Adversary (no, not Bill Jemas) brings his war to Fabletown in FABLES #26; if you're not sure exactly what any of that means, you can pick up the newly reprinted FABLES VOL 1: LEGENDS IN EXILE trade paperback for $9.95; and some comic called 100 BULLETS or something is celebrating its 50th issue by raising its price to $3.50. Don't know why, really.
It's flashback fever in FALLEN ANGEL #12, as we discover how Lee and Doctor Juris met in New Orleans. Um, since this is the DCU, shouldn't that be St. Roch? Ah, well, it's all the same to me, seeing as I live here.
Can't find out any info about HAWKEYE #8, for some reason, but I assume it has something to do with trick arrows, hard shafts, and other innuendos too fierce to mention.
Speaking of tricks and shafts, the "City Walls" story arc concludes in GREEN ARROW #39 as Ollie tries to save Star City from a horde of murderous demons. No, the Republican National Convention is not in town behave, now!
Talk about a series that takes a while to end! Image describes SOUL OF A SAMURAI as a "four-issue bi-monthly finite series." Guess that means that #4 (Of 4), available this week for $5.95, could be called the summer issue, huh? How weird. Even weirder, there's no mention even on the company's web site of what PVP #7 is about, or even if it's actually coming out. Honestly, they're getting as bad as Marvel...
Jerry thinks that Robby Reed, the original owner of the dial, might be a bit crazy in H-E-R-O #17. Gee, ya think? Good thing they have a serial killer mystery to solve otherwise, that would be a no-brainer...
And speaking of mysteries...Exactly what the secret that the heroes of the DCU have been hiding is the main mystery behind IDENTITY CRISIS #1 (Of 7, available for $3.95) this week, as is the identity of the person(s) who dies to protect it. But whatever it is, it's going to change the DCU forever. Again. Might want to buy it, then, huh? (See this month's print issue of CINESCAPE for an interview regarding this series with Don DiDio, written by yours truly. No, really, go pick up a copy! I have bills to pay!)
OK, this is the way to remember which series comes from which publisher: if it has a D in the title, it's not DC. Marvel's IDENTITY DISC (#1 (Of 5) of which is out this week) may confuse some people because the title is so close to that must-buy title I just mentioned, but they have nothing in common. Still, we know the story of this one, and it sounds cool: a mysterious agent gathers six supervillains together to retrieve a disc containing the secret identities and home addresses of every hero in the Marvel Universe. And here you trusted Yahoo when they said they don't sell your personal information to third parties...
JUST IMAGINE STAN LEE CREATING THE DC UNIVERSE BOOK THREE - or just don't. Either way, the trade paperback featuring the last four issues of Stan the Man's...um...interesting work for DC is out this week for $19.95. Provided you didn't pay the exorbitant amounts for each of the original books, that is.
Hey, here's a thought: just imagine Stan Lee creating the Incredible Hulk! Oh, wait, he did. Well, just imagine Stan Lee writing it now. Heh. Like that would ever happen...but if it did, the Green Giant would probably still be duking it out with Iron Man in INCREDIBLE HULK #73.
If you aren't spending enough money for comics already, this should do in your pocketbook for good: it's the NEW TEEN TITANS ARCHIVES VOL 2 hardcover for $49.95. Cheap!
Oh, my it's conflict-of-interests time when Secretary of State Tony Stark must retrieve sensitive documents from Avengers Mansion in IRON MAN #84. Betcha this has something to do with that Avengers thing going on next month... Honestly. At this rate, Marvel will be doing a "reload" of the Defenders next...
If you can find any mention of GLOBAL FREQUENCY #12 (Of 12) coming out this week on DC's site, you're doing better than I am. Oh, well at least we only have to wait six more months for the first episode of the TV series, right?
Wildstorm's also not mentioning that STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES #23 will be the last issue of that series. Might have something to do with certain other pieces of fiction that Micah Ian Wright has written lately. Oh, well. Enjoy it while you can!
Think anyone would have said anything if Wright had claimed to work in Vietnam with Frank Castle? No? Probably no one would have cared after that abomination of a movie... Anyway, THE PUNISHER #7 is out this week, and it has nothing to do with the movie or with Micah Ian Wright. Two reasons to say yay!
Haven't been hearing good things about TOUCH, either but hey, at least issue #3 is out this week, so that's good news. For someone.
Oh, yeah, there is something for kids this week: THOR: SON OF ASGARD #5 (Of 6) is out. Trust me the regular series is just likely to confuse them right now. It sure as hell confused me...
OK, repeat after me: if it has a C in the title...oh, forget it. WITCHES #1, featuring Jennifer Kale, Topaz, and Satana, has nothing to do with the DC/Vertigo series THE WITCHING that will soon be starting. Nothing at all, even with a character named "Satana." (Hey, at least she doesn't speak backwards and if she did, she might cast a spell saying, "Levram, emoc pu htiw emos lanigiro seltit, ydaerla!")
And finally, something's killing mutants in New York City in ULTIMATE X-MEN #47. Dang it, I still think it's just the male ones, and I still think we're going to see a monkey before this story arc is out! (It's written by Brian K. Vaughan of Y: THE LAST MAN fame, you see. Ah, there's the light bulb...)
See you in seven for more about Truth, Justice, and the American (and/or Canadian) way but from someone completely different! (And no, it's not going to be another columnist you don't get off that easily...)
Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.