Holy crap, Grey has a second column in a reasonable timeframe? Really? His lazy ass pulled it off? Blasphemous! But it’s true, loyal readers, I’ve found my inspirado and rediscovered my urge to crank out non-review content! Fortunately for all of you, but not necessarily any staffers in the big two that gnash their jaws in contempt at my lack of being political with my rantings. After all, I’m simply a customer of theirs, there’s no need to kiss ass when it’s not due, and I’ve got a sizable list of things that do not deserve anyone getting their ass kissed. Ready? I know I am!
There are plenty of iconic characters in comics, but if you were to ask people of different generations, get a good sample size, there’s a pretty solid chance that you’ll find a much larger consensus for Superman’s recognizability over Batman’s, Spider-Man’s, Iron Man’s, hell, Captain America’s. Superman is a true American icon that is relevant on a global scale. He was the first superhero, and he remains the benchmark that all are held up to. He’s the biggest fictional creation of the entire twentieth century.
Unfortunately, he isn’t treated as such. Writers talk about him as if he needs modernizing, fans talk about him as if his message and abilities make him outdated, and there is an ongoing critique that he isn’t edgy enough.
Superman isn’t edgy enough? Superman needs to be edgy? Superman needs to get extreme? Maybe change the look up, tweak the color scheme, get some new powers…wait, no, we had that, and Electric Superman was terrible.
Red and Blue were worse.
Superman is a character immune to modernizing because, frankly, he doesn’t need it. You can tweak the origin, or the specifics of the costume, but who and what he is can’t be changed without bringing Elseworlds into things. Hell, even then, I’ve seen a version of Kal-El raised as Bruce Wayne who ended up being Superman; same goes for the Amish and Soviets. Superman is the champion of those who can not defend themselves, it does not matter where or when you base him, he always does the right thing in the end.
It’s a recurring theme for writers to take over Superman and try to reinvent the wheel. Everyone wants to tell the never before told Superman story of their wildest dreams, but nobody really seems to grasp how to anymore. I grew up with Superman in the 90’s, really, Dan Jurgens and Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel and Roger Stern. I grew up in the era where they had the little markers on the cover to let you know the overall reading order of the entire run, since Superman was coming out at least four times a month across his four different titles. Four different books by four different creative teams telling four different stories, and it was more successful than DC’s attempts the past few years of giving the Man of Steel two ongoing series in an order to not over saturate him.
Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Incorporated, Batman and Robin, The Dark Knight. Those are the books in the Batman line that feature Bruce in a lead role, and they all have something else in common…every single one of those titles existed before the New 52, and each exists today. Superman has Superman and Action Comics, and the upcoming Superman Unchained.
Wait, really? I had forgotten that it’s actually called that. Unchained. Talk about an edgy title to make him seem ‘hipper’ and ‘cooler’. Superman: Off The Chain! Seriously, how hard is it to just call the book “Superman: The Man of Steel”, and mooch off of the easy synergy with the movie title? At least that would bring with it the easy explanation of “Well, he IS the Man of Steel!” Hell, Man of Tomorrow works too, and both sound less eager to please a young audience that finds the greatest icon in comics to be boring.
Because, again, there is no greater pop culture icon in the last hundred years than Superman, and they should be ashamed that anyone could find him boring.
When Tony Daniel finishes scripting over Andy Diggle’s plots and leaves Action Comics in the hands of Scott Lobdell, it will be the first time since DC took their books ‘One Year Later’ that I haven’t bought an ongoing monthly Superman title. You see, when I got back into comics, up through that point, there was a decidedly ‘let’s be confusing’ mindset with Superman. With four books that only referenced each other when they needed to, and a random short lived Supergirl that never existed, and at one point Chuck Austen showing up to write Action Comics into the ground. By bringing in Gog and Magog and making Superman get Kingdom Come style gray hair, and lose fights to super powered rednecks, and then eventually getting blacklisted from the entire industry and having a ghost writer finish up his Doomsday arc that began with the creature saving a kitten before killing its owner.
Seriously, that happened, and the sole highlight was Ivan ‘One day I will draw Green Lantern’ Reis (who didn’t even draw the only issue worth showing off). DC had no real idea what to do with the Man of Steel. Gail Simone was scripting over John Byrne’s plots and pencils, Greg Rucka was trying his best to be Greg Rucka with a story arc filled with twists, turns, and political intrigue, and I believe Joe Kelly was still doing his Futuresmiths stuff. I call it stuff because it was never collected well, and I’ve never been able to get a consensus on what actually happened during that time period. It was so quickly and easily forgotten along with, well, everything else as we moved a year into the future with DC actually attempting to make Superman seem important.
They cut the line down to Superman, Action Comics, and Supergirl. Not going to count Superman/Batman, likely not even going to acknowledge it again after this sentence. The relaunch took off with ‘Up, Up, and Away’, which I’d honestly call the first must read Superman to be published in the 21st century. Superman went into the hands of Kurt ‘Best. Avengers. Ever’ Busiek, who proceeded to have his work dicked around, paused, ignored, and fed into the Countdown crossover machine. He had plans for an arc about an alternate future where things have gone wrong, and Superman must prevent himself from going bad and destroying everything, but that story was lost in the shuffle with Jimmy Olsen gaining superpowers and becoming the feature character to push that awful piece of crap called Countdown.
Action Comics went into the hands of budding A lister Geoff Johns, who was coming off of one of the best Flash runs ever, a great run on JSA, a successful reboot of the Teen Titans, the Rebirth of the Green Lantern franchise, and the awesome Infinite Crisis. Alright, so budding is the wrong word, he was a star already, so they let him try his hand at Superman. His first arc, co-written by Richard Donner, was a love story to the Superman films and is best left forgotten. Everything after that? Brilliance. Geoff didn’t spend too long with Superman, but during his time he told one of the best Bizarro stories ever, reinvented the classic Legion for the modern era, and gave us a definitive Brainiac story, all culminating in the creation of New Krypton. One of his coolest ideas ever, and unfortunately, an event he never contributed a page to.
Geoff and Kurt were quickly replaced, as was Superman. Really. Action Comics by Greg Rucka featured Nightwing and Flamebird, while Superman by James Robinson featured Mon’el. Where was Superman? On New Krypton, taking orders from Zod, and being treated like just another Kryptonian.
This is the guy that saved their civilization from Brainiac, gave them a new chance at life, a new home, and freaking superpowers, and he’s treated like a third rate citizen. Really? Supergirl is treated like spoiled royalty, but Superman is shunned. New Krypton was the beginning of the end. Shock value deaths, bad crossovers, and an overall acceptance by Earth that Superman didn’t want to be their hero anymore, while Krypton didn’t give a crap about this guy who saved all of their lives from living in a bottle. It was a dark time. War of the Supermen was bloody fucking terrible, as we were supposed to believe that after the Last Stand of New Krypton, all the surviving Kryptonians bum rush Earth and promptly get slaughtered.
Really? A race of people with abilities on par with Superman get killed off by Sam Lane and his Human Defense Corps? Really? They aren’t outclassed at all? Really? On top of that, they manage to dwindle the survivors numbers down to…what? Exactly what they were before Geoff Johns brought Kandor back? Status quo? After a year? No long lasting changes? Really?
Wait, no, there was a long lasting change. Superman spent his last year before getting rebooted walking across America to rediscover himself, and given that it ended with a reboot, wasting all of our damn time. Sure, Action Comics was readable during that time, written by Paul Cornell, but it featured Lex Luthor in a lead role (never a bad idea) and completely fell apart once Superman came on as the lead.
So where’s the love for those of us who just want to read some good Superman? Who want to see the Man of Steel be the iconic role model to the superhero community that makes him the measuring stick for all of comics? There just hasn’t been a market for us, not with Kal-El in the lead at least. However, pretty consistently since about the day Geoff left Action Comics, we’ve had a reprieve.
Supergirl has been borderline must read since December of 2008, when Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle took over. They made Kara Zor-El important for the first time since Jeph Loeb and the late, great, Mike Turner brought her back. While Action Comics was focusing on two characters that nobody cared about, and Superman featured James Robinson telling a solid Mon-El story with no long term ramifications, Supergirl had personality. Gates gave her bad guys, a mother-daughter dynamic with her mom, essentially the Queen of New Krypton, and had her spend a lot of time contemplating the morality of taking vengeance in the name of her murdered father. She dealt with Cat Grant, a gossip reporter who had it out for the Girl of Steel, and even received her own temporary arch-rival in the form of Bizarrogirl, who is simply the best Bizarro ever. She took on the civilian identity of Lana Lang’s niece, fought Superwoman (Lucy Lane), and was brought in closer to the actual Superman family as far as stories go than I had ever seen a girl called Supergirl be (I did grow up with Matrix and Linda Danvers). The book was my favorite Superman family title for quite a while, but eventually Sterling left, Nick Spencer came on for an issue, someone else finished his arc, and then KSD came and ended the run. Creative turmoil at the tail end of a book is generally a death sentence, and yet, in this case the book remained something I wanted to read every month. Really.
Then we got the New 52, and with it four new Superman family titles by four new creative teams. George Perez on Superman, Scott Lobdell on Superboy, Supergirl by Mike’s Green and Johnson and Mahmud Asrar, and finally, the focal point of the line, Action Comics by Grant Morrison. It was a new and exciting time with new creatives teams, new status quos, and a chance to exorcise a lot of the confusing crap that Superman had been through over the years. Despite people whinging over the altered costume, it was giving us the potential for a reinvented Superman that many fans felt we needed. Really, it was, without Lois and Clark married we’d have a single Superman for the first time in twenty years, and his new origin could…no, I can’t.
Geoff Johns wrote Secret Origin after he left Action Comics, and in it he managed to cut right to the core of Superman’s character, combine the gold, silver, and modern ages, and create a Superman that worked for everyone. You kept the silly stuff like Superboy, retained the iconic relationship that the Legion was built on, had an antagonistic relationship with Lex Luthor based out of childhood, and built villains like Parasite and Metallo directly into his origin. It even made time for Krypto! It was the PERFECT origin story, REALLY! It was the kind of book that anyone could pick up, read, and not wave too many flags over. It was fundamentally Superman and it worked on every level. Why mess with perfect, right?
Well, Grant Morrison did. Grant, one of the most talented writers in all of comics, one of the best idea men of our generation, and he tackled modernizing the Man of Steel. Really. First rule of Superman is that you can’t modernize him successfully, no matter who you are, so Grant tried, and the end result? We’ve got a magical suit that is always on in cloak mode, dead parents, no Superboy, a Legion of Adult Superheroes helping him fight an Anti-Superman Army inside of his brain, a Brainiac that isn’t called Brainiac, and what really was an absolutely fine eighteen issue stand alone arc that wasn’t suited at all to be followed up on by anybody not named Grant Morrison. So the end result, when he left Action Comics, was that nobody knew what he was trying to do, and now we have a Superman with an overly complicated origin story that completely eliminates many of the iconic representations that Geoff Johns had managed to seamlessly work in just a few years prior. Really.
George Perez had a fun six issue arc that bore no actual importance, and was followed up by several issue of Dan “King of Superman” Jurgens and Keith “The Workhorse” Giffen, and then Scott Lobdell came on board. Scott, who, I was a huge fan of for years and years and years, but who I felt has been turning in some of his worst career work since coming to DC. Who crafted a crossover for all of the Super titles that was so awful and drawn out that I didn’t even realize it ended. Whose nonsensical story telling has been rewarded by getting the reigns of Action Comics from the recently bailed out Andy Diggle. The Oracle was awful, H’el was awful, and I have no regrets in giving up. Even if it meant not reading Superman.
Because, once again, I find myself reading Supergirl and enjoying the hell out of it, because Kara is getting depth and characterization and plots that actually make sense. She’s a girl without a world who is making the wrong decisions because she doesn’t think that this is how her life is supposed to be. A reinvented Silver Banshee became her best friend and helped her acclimate to the world (and language) of this foreign planet, while staying in a hard denial that this guy with text book Kryptonian is claiming to be her baby cousin. H’el on Earth may have been a God awful piece of crap story, but Kara desperate for home and someone to love was incredibly believable. So, of course, this book never gets any real hype. She spent the last two issues teaming up with Power Girl and letting total hilarity ensue, a must read arc that got me rolling with laughter. That featured two of my favorite characters that, honestly, I did not care at all about before 2008. Because the strength of the writing and storytelling made me fall in love. It happens, really.
So what’s the solution? Honestly, it’s a full overhaul, the sooner the better, because there is a freaking movie due out in just a matter of days with a ridiculous amount of awesome early buzz. Something that Superman Returns never had. So this is, literally, the perfect time to do a summer of Superman; not just one book by an A list creative team. This is the time to make Superman and Action Comics into must read books, not let Scott Lobdell continue doing absolutely nothing with them. Hector Hammond is his bad guy when Superman is getting the most exposure he’s received in years. Really? Hector Hammond? Hal Jordan’s nemesis? Really? That awful bad guy from the bomb known as the Green Lantern movie? Really? You couldn’t go with a Superman villain like Metallo, or Bizarro, or the fucking Parasite? Really? Hector Fucking Hammond?
Fuck it, just use Lex Luthor.
Man of Steel is about to hit theaters, I’m stoked for it, hopefully all of you are as well. There is nothing that we all need more right now than to be reminded of why Superman is so important, that he’s the premier hero, and the buzz is telling me that this movie isn’t just going to be a financial success, but that it could finally be that one story that catapults Superman back to the forefront of popculture, where he belongs. After all, it worked for Batman when Nolan and Bale came around and gave us Batman Begins. It’s long overdue, about time, etc. etc. It’s going to be a must see movie, and really, it has to be. Not because DC needs a hit, or because they need something to build Justice League out of, but because they need something Superman related that finds critical acclaim and financial success.
They need people to remember that Superman is the worlds greatest hero, and that he always will be.
Oh, and if DC wanted to REALLY bolster the quality of the Superman line of books (save for Snyder’s book that hasn’t launched as of my posting this)? Here’s a short list of writers that could and would make Superman an intriguing must read book on a monthly basis.
Geoff Johns, who has shown a keen understanding of the Man of Steel in the past, and who really shouldn’t have left when he did as the entire line fell apart without him.
Peter Tomasi, who has made his mark with the Bat family and the Lanterns, but who I feel would bring similar work to Superman.
Mark Waid, who, really, only doesn’t work at DC because they wouldn’t let him write Superman. All he wanted to do was write Superman, and he’s Mark fucking Waid. Easily one of the top five writers of the last twenty years. Give the man Superman and no editorial interference and watch magic happen.
And finally….Bryan Q. Miller. You may have noticed a complete and total lack of mentioning his current (essentially weekly) ongoing title…Smallville. Where he writes the best Superman I’ve read in years, featuring a strong supporting cast, believable villains, and BOOSTER GOLD. So why didn’t I mention it? Because Q has carved out his own little sandbox in the Smallville universe, where nothing syncs up with the New 52 save for Babs being a Batgirl who’s dialog was clearly Stephanie Brown. The book is damn near perfect, and a must read for any and all Superman fans…even if it is very clearly Smallville. It’s a different animal altogether, and that’s why it didn’t really fit in with the mishandling of the primary Man of Steel. There will never be some crossover with the New 52, and it won’t even get promoted due to the need to keep New 52 books hyped, but it’s the best dollar you’ll spend every week, and if Q was given an actual Superman book to write that would be the best three or four bucks you’d spend every month.