Monday, 18 July 2011

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Superman Relaunch

Allow me to introduce you to some interesting fellows;

1) Golden Age Superman


Golden Age Superman is a crusader for social justice who thinks nothing of defenestrating wife beaters or dangling corrupt politicians by their ankle while running across telephone wires.  He can jump really high and is pretty damn tough compared to your average guy.  He poses as Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Star.  He's a hero.

2) Silver Age Superman


Silver Age Superman is an avuncular chap who spends most of his days maintaining his web of lies by performing  elaborate pranks on his friends and colleagues.  Despite possessing the ability to move planets and travel in time he mostly just catches bank robbers.  He occasionally gets transformed into a lion, or an ant, or a baby, or a fat guy.  He poses as Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet.  He's a hero.

3) Bronze Age Superman



Bronze Age Superman has awesome sideburns.  He often displays a confidence that borders on arrogance, but will sometimes ponder whether he is doing the right thing, usually when manipulated into doing so by self-righteous aliens.  He is the most powerful thing in the universe, except for a short period when his power was sapped by a walking cat litter tray that had taken his form.  He poses as Clark Kent, TV News Anchorman for Galaxy Communications.  He's a hero.

4) Post Crisis Superman


Post Crisis Superman is a former high school football star whose cape gets ripped to shreds so often that one wonders why he bothers wearing it.  Despite being a very easy-going, likable fellow he gets beaten up an awful lot.  He doesn't really care much about his Kryptonian heritage as it was a boring place full of people with no eyebrows.  Before his marriage he often had sex while under the influence of mind control.  He is Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet and he poses as a guy in blue tights.  He's a hero.

5) NuDC Superman


NuDC Superman is a stylish fellow who alternates between a casual 'jeans and t-shirt' look and a more formal 'suit of a thousand seams' look.  He is a bachelor who lives alone.  When he's not fighting for the weak against bullies of all kinds he spends his days being brash and brooding.  He poses as Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet.  He's a hero.

Some of you just might have spotted what I'm getting at here.

DC's decision to revamp Superman and relaunch Action Comics and Superman has been met with a lot of online hostility.  Various online commentators are already dismissing this new Superman as a travesty of Clone-Saga like proportions.  A common complaint around the various threads seems to be that this new Superman is destined for failure because DC have fundamentally misunderstood their flagship character.  I have to disagree.   It's certainly possible that NuDC Superman will fail to catch on and sales will continue to plummet.  But at this stage it's equally possible that NuDC Superman will be a success and set the tone for the next two decades worth of stories, in much the same way as John Byrne's controversial revamp did in 1986 (the aforementioned Post Crisis Superman).

Like Byrne's revamp, NuDC Superman is just another interpretation of the character, as equally valid as the rest.  And I'm not just talking about those listed above.  There's also Birthright Superman, Secret Origin Superman, George Reeves Superman, Christopher Reeve Superman, Fleischer Brothers Superman, Ruby Spears Superman, Lois and Clark Superman, Smallville Superman, All Star Superman, Dark Knight Returns Superman, Earth One Superman, JLU Superman, Super Friends Superman, etc, etc, etc.

As we saw at the start of this post, all of these interpretations have their differences and some of these differences are quite dramatic.  But at the core of each version is the same man.  A man from a dead world who possesses incredible powers and wants to help.  They can stick him in jeans, they can stick him in battle-armour or they can stick him in a red and blue speedo, that simple truth at the core of the character has never changed and it never will change.  Of course, no one's saying you have to like every single interpretation.  I, for example, don't care for Smallville or Lois and Clark.  But just because you don't like a particular incarnation doesn't make that incarnation any less valid.

There is the question of whether Superman needs another revamp.  Since 2003 and Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright DC Comics have been trying to revamp Superman but nothing they've tried has seemed to stick.  But just because these changes haven't worked doesn't mean that DC were wrong to try.  Obviously mistakes were made, for example Birthright (a brand new Superman origin and a very good story) just sneaked out unannounced with barely any publicity leaving old fans unsure of what to make of it and any potential new fans oblivious.  But the idea of a revamp wasn't necessarily a bad idea.  What do I have to back up that statement?  I have myself.

When I was a kid I was a massive Batman fan and could take or leave Superman.  That was until I read John Byrne's 1986 Superman revamp, Man of Steel.   Man of Steel was an interpretation of the character that I'd never seen before.  Once this fresh take on the character had got me interested I gradually discovered all his other wonderful incarnations.  And I'm still discovering new ones today, all thanks to that one story that made me look at Superman in a different way.

So NuDC Superman won't necessarily be a disaster!  If DC can grab people's attention by showing them something different about Superman then those people may well go on to discover all the other wonderful incarnations of the character.  And eventually they might also discover that all of these different versions aren't so different after all.

6 comments:

  1. It's all in the writing, isn't it? Superman's got Morrison and Perez on his side, and both of these have proven themselves. So whatever the concept, you're right, they (or people after them) can make it work.

    The books/revamps we should worry about are those that are written by unproven writers (i.e. most often, artists).

    But you're still not gonna get me to like the Kryptonian ceremonial armor.

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  2. The other thing about Bronze Age Superman is that he had enormous hands. Like shovels!

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  3. @Siskoid: Yeah, you're right, Morrison's presence is a big reason for my excitement. If there's one thing about the reboot I'm not sure about though, it's the armour, but I can live with it if the writing's good.

    @Madeley: Everyone had giant hands in the '70s man. :)

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  4. Excellent post Paul, I loved the explanation of each and that pic with Superman and the diamond cane got to me, but like everyone else I'll have to wait and see what I think, and like you pretty much said, thinking negatively of it won't help a thing until you read it.

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  5. Thanks dude. I love that top hat picture, it cracks me up. I really hope this reboot works. Until I see it fail with my own eyes (which I hope it doesn't) I'm gonna be sending out positive vibes.

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  6. Terry Phillips29 July 2011 at 09:18

    Superman is an icon and as such deserves some stable characteristics that serve as a means of identification. Strip him of those characteristics and he becomes unrecognisable to his devotees.
    I'm not saying Superman should be sanctified but nowadays for many he is one of the few moral examples they are exposed to to help them develop their own ethical code.
    Variety and change are all good things but don't mess with the basics. For most non comic book fans Superman is the guy with the big S, the cape and the underpants worn outside his trews. Take those away and he becomes someone they've never heard of.
    Who would recognise Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha if they were portrayed on jogging pants or jeans in pictures just because their respective religions decided to update their image.

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