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Superman and me - erstwhile comix fiend...
January 6th, 2014
03:26 pm

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Superman and me
I like to present myself as someone who likes the more obscure characters, not someone who goes for the big obvious household names.

But let's be honest, I have been a fan of the big names too. I watched Happy Days when I was a kid, and I loved Fonzie; stuff like that.

When it comes to comics—for all that I might say Steve Gallacci, Alan Zelenetz, and Jaime Hernandez mean to my sense of the art; for all that I deplore the reliance on super-heroes over other premises by certain publishers; for all that I might tell people I'm a fan of Black Canary or Amanda Waller—I certainly had lots of opportunity to read Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman as a kid, and I have been a fan of those, too.

Superman wasn't my favorite. I liked Spider-Man more. Superman was one of DC's ridiculous mesomorphs with jet-black hair and oddly blue eyes, overblown, overpowered, and oversold. But Superman (and Superboy, of the young-Clark-Kent variety) got into my head in a dangerous way.

You see, I am rather seriously nearsighted. I got glasses in kindergarten. I got to accept them as part of my face. It was after I got glasses that I could see people's facial features well enough to differentiate adults by them and not mainly by hair color, clothes, and voice, or something. So I learned to see faces when I was internalizing glasses as part of my sense of my own face. But wait, why would I internalize them that way?

I loved cartoons, right? So here was this major cartoon hero, who didn't wear a mask, but put on glasses, and was taken as a different person! Could that actually work?

Well, it can throw a kid, right? People looked different to me if they curled their hair, or colored it, or wore glasses. Learning to recognize the face underneath was something that took a while. I think it's one of those skills we all have to work on as children. People I don't know really, really well still look different to me if they gain a lot of weight.

Anyway, in the Superman comics, apparently everyone was assumed to be a little bit faceblind. Because adding glasses, using a different voice, and combing one's hair differently was supposed to be enough to confuse things, and (though I think this had faded away in the Julie Schwartz era) there had even been a lot of coincidental doubles running around.

So I wondered. Maybe when I grew up, I could stop wearing glasses and change my name and get far, far away from my youth. I'd have a face no one quite recognized.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, Superman was too powerful, too much a hotshot, too ridiculous, but somehow nerdy little Philip wanted to be like Clark Kent—really something grander under the specs.

I'm old enough to remember Superman before the Crisis. Excuse me, Crisis on Infinite Earths, COIE, but the Crisis to that generation. He had two kind of, sort of, love interests in newspaper reporter Lois Lane and television reporter Lana Lang. I kind of shipped him with Lana, which may have been contrariness.

I used to muse about a superhero with a dual identity having one girlfriend under one name and another girlfriend under the other name. Lois could marry Clark and he'd cheat on her, as Superman, with Lana. Well, that's an awful idea, and as an adult I grant it wouldn't really work. And of course, Clark in the comics was too decent to do it, even if everyone in his world was face-blind. Good for him.

Anyway, I like Lois & Clark as a couple now. And Lana became totally different with the Byrne revamp.

I was not pleased at first with Byrne's revamp of Superman post-Crisis. A Clark Kent who had played high school football? That was just not right. But over time, I came to realize that some of Byrne's revamps actually made a lot of sense, even if some of his stories were dire. (He was writing two issues a month for a while, and threw some crazy stuff at the wall that is better treated as non-canon.)

A Clark Kent whose parents were still alive, whose invulnerability was a projected ability that could be turned off physiologically, who didn't need an invulnerable costume, yeah, that made sense for an update.

And of course, that Clark was permitted for several years to have his story progress and move forward. This Supes (after Byrne left) would grow his hair long, cut it again, marry Lois Lane, become editor at the Daily Planet for a while, and sort of evolve. That was nice.

I grew to like this guy, especially when he had the long hair. He was a little different from the generic image of Superman that had been around when I was a kid. He was still a goofy invulnerable muscleman, but he had good points.

But what really won my affection was...earlier. Back in the 1980's, probably even before the Byrne stuff got going, I'm not sure—I had opportunity to read the earliest Superman stories from Action Comics. Siegel and Shuster. Here I got to see the roots of the superhero genre: A science-fiction detective.

Oh, it's a bad way to write a detective story. A hero who can conveniently hear conversations through two brick walls, who is conveniently super-strong and bulletproof? It's cheating, is what it is! It's cheap! And it's a bit immature. Clark had his heart in the right place, but he was trying to bully the world into behaving better. Like kidnapping a munitions manufacturer and putting him into a warzone to scare him straight.

OK, I loved that bit. Supey started with a social conscience. He was out to fight corruption wherever he could find it.

And this is why I love Superman. Other heroes may have melodramatic origin stories that drive them to do good, or "fight evil," because of some tragic loss in their past. Frank Castle's family died. Bruce Wayne's parents were shot by a mugger in front of his eyes. Peter Parker learned the hard way that actions can have random consequences. But Superman's motivation? One panel: Pa Kent telling young Clark that he should use his powers to help mankind. Superman fights the good fight simply because he was properly brought up. And that is the best motivation in comics.

Again, I am contrary.

Sure, one can "fanalyze" (Is that a word? Is now!) that one panel, to find a lot of depth behind it. But that one panel is what Siegel and Shuster gave us. And it makes Superman pretty freaking cool.

What about recent years' Superman comics? Well, I haven't been following it all that closely, but I think there's been too much rewinding, and maybe too many big "high concept" wacky changes ("New Krypton"?) and not enough faith in gradual evolution.

I think DC really had already done enough stories with a single Clark, and they needed to accept that the premise had become a married Superman, with Lois and Clark as a team. Breaking them up leaves the same bad taste in my mouth as breaking up Pete and MJ in Spider-Man; the same fake-feeling rewind.

And I know that it's really a relaunch, but you might think that looking at Legion of Super-Heroes sales over the last two decades would have told them something. A launch of new characters is a good idea. A relaunch/revamp of old trademarks is trying to hard to have that new juice while maintaining nostalgia, and becomes its own kind of tired trope with overuse.

In fact, I think that there were good story hooks to come out of Clark and Lois having a kid (and apparently several DC writers thought so, and rushed to do Chris Kent stories before he was Phantom Zoned or whatever). Also, they had some neat characters in Steel, Starlight, and Superboy (Kon-El). They had even started to make the new version of Kara work before Nu52. DC misses a bet by rewinding to "young" heroes.

But it's not the first time they've heavily revamped. The Byrne revamp, as much as I hated it at the time, eventually led to a pretty smart version of Superman. It's a matter of what you're revamping into.

In the 1980's, there was some talk of really letting characters age. Now, there seems to be explicit repudiation of that, which limits writing choices a lot. Oh, well.

But yeah, I kind of like Supey, sometimes.

I really am a fan of the underdogs, though.

This entry was originally posted at http://philippos42.dreamwidth.org/121915.html, where Russian botspam is a rarity.

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