Ever try to explain the history of one of your favorite superheroes to an interested co-worker or friend who happens to be a casual fan in an attempt to introduce them to the wonderful world of comic books? It’s not always that easy is it? Sure, when you’re just dealing with the icons like Superman or Batman there’s a general knowledge that seems to be pre-programmed into every American but once you start scratching the surface, it gets a little nutty. Even a character like Superman comes with his own brand of confusion – is he the last survivor of Krypton? Or one of many? Is Clark Kent the disguise or Superman? Are you going by the traditional origin story, the John Byrne revamp, Birthright or current continuity? And for that matter, just what the hell is current continuity anyway? It’s been a mess since Infinite Crisis and we won’t get a clear answer until Secret Origin wraps up… and even then, it’s anybody’s guess. Today’s Comicscape takes a look at the challenges of introducing new readers to the fold and some of the odder retcons and revamps.
Okay, we’ll get these guys out of the way first. For the most part, the truly popular heroes are easy to explain. Last Son of Krypton, bit by a radioactive spider, billionaire son of murdered parents and all that. Even when their origins change, they generally stay the same for the most part. But what about when you’ve got that casual fan who picks up a few Superman trades on Amazon or at the local bookstore?
“Well these older ones say that he operated under the name Superboy but these other ones say that he didn’t take up the hero business until moving to Metropolis!”
Yeah, that’s because of the Crisis. Some of the stuff you bought is Pre-Crisis and other stuff is Post.
“What’s the Crisis? Is that like Infinite Crisis? I’ve heard of that.”
No, that’s the second Crisis. The third if you count Identity Crisis. The first one was the Crisis on Infinite Earths and … see, there used to be a multiverse in DC comics. That’s because some characters like the Flash and Green Lantern got revamped with all-new identities while others, like Superman and Batman, stayed the same. So they came up with this whole alternate reality thing where these other heroes existed in the 1940’s and…
“Okay, but what’s the Crisis?”
Well the Crisis on Infinite Earths was an attempt to clean house and appeal to new readers by erasing all of their old history and starting over fresh. They got rid of some of the cornier ideas, merged everything into one earth and just kind of made an attempt to make everything a lot cooler. The only problem was that they didn’t really have a fully realized game plan before they did it and they kind of half-assed it by not really starting over fresh but by sort of coming into everything in the middle. Anyway, when they revamped it, Superman no longer operated under the guise of Superboy and there’s no Supergirl and he’s the only survivor of Krypton; but in Pre-Crisis continuity, he did and he had a dog and…
“Superman had a dog?”
Yeah, it was a dog from Krypton and he flew around with a little cape and had all the same powers.
“That’s f***ing retarded.”
Well yeah, kind of but it was quaint and they brought Krypto back a few years ago and now he lives in Smallville with Superboy.
“I thought you said he wasn’t Superboy. And I thought you said they got rid of all the corny ideas.”
No, there’s another Superboy and he’s a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor. He was dead for a while because of some copyright issues but now he’s back. And Krypto is really cool now! He’s funny and … well, it’s probably funnier if you’ve been reading comics for a while and remember the Pre-Crisis stuff because a lot of the jokes play off of that era.
“Okay, whatever. How about Power Girl? I like her costume… she kind of seems like Supergirl though. Is there any relation?”
Sort of. See, Power Girl is the Earth-2 equivalent of Supergirl. She was Superman’s cousin and…
“I thought you said they got rid of the alternate earths?”
They did, but she survived the Crisis somehow and got transplanted onto our earth so she’s like the last survivor of the history that got erased. And anyway, Infinite Crisis brought back the idea of a multiverse.
“How do you survive history being erased? And if they brought back the multiverse, didn’t everything just go back to the way it was?”
No, see now there’s a multiverse but it’s not like the old multiverse. There are alternate realities but they aren’t the same ones that used to exist and a lot of Silver Age ideas are being put back in place. They haven’t really explained all of it yet, sort of like the first Crisis. Power Girl is just sort of… hey, what else did you pick up? We can get back to this discussion later.
“Oh, I just got some Legion of Superheroes and Hawkman comics. I’ve got a few questions about those as well…”
Here’s another fun conversation we’ve had.
“So what’s up with Spider-Woman? Is she just a female version of Spider-Man?”
Not really. Originally her origin said she was infused with spider venom as a little girl and later developed powers but they changed that and I guess her mother was hit with some weird DNA laser while she was in the womb. She emits pheromones and can shoot bio-electric blasts from her hands.
“So she’s not really like a spider at all.”
No, not really.
“So why is she called Spider Woman then?”
To protect the copyright. What else did you buy?
“What’s up with these ads that say 2010 is the Year of Spider-Man? And is that Mary Jane in a wedding dress? I thought they were already married?”
They were, but One More Day undid all that. See, Spider-Man made a deal with the devil and … you know what, I’d rather not talk about it anymore, actually. It was our New Years’ Resolution in 2009.
“And what’s this about a baby? Whose baby is that?”
Well, Pete and MJ had a baby when they were married but it’s pretty much just been ignored lately and…
“I thought you said they weren’t married after that One More Day thing?”
Brand New Day, actually and yeah they aren’t married but I guess they’re bringing the baby back.
“Is that sort of like Power Girl?”
You know what? Maybe you should go read the No-Fly Zone. Kurt tends to steer clear of all this confusing stuff.