Sunday, 26 May 2013

Never mind what Superman means, show us what he does!

I haven't posted here for a while so I just wanted to share a few brief thoughts about Superman (for a change!)

Today, a friend & fellow blogger reviewed the latest Adventures of Superman on Twitter with the following tweet.
"Not a huge fan of what Superman means essays" sums up in a rather neat, concise fashion a problem I have with so many stories from the past twenty years of Superman comics and why I'm enjoying the New 52 Superman so much. (I have to emphasise of course that my pal's tweet was referring specifically to Adventures of Superman #4. The following thoughts and opinions are my own and I am by no means presuming to speak on his behalf.)

There's a lot of Superman stories, particularly from the last ten or twenty years or so that just want to lecture us about why Superman's so great instead of showing us. I've lost count of the stories from this period that use the old trope of having Lois Lane narrating the action, informing the reader over and over again of how brilliant her husband is.

Action Comics #830 (2005)

So many writers during this period seemed to want to bend over backwards to justify the character's relevance. In 2001, for example, Joe Kelly felt the need to spend Action Comics #775 telling us why Superman is still relevant compared to the more pro-active anti-heroes that were popular at the time. In 2004 Brian Azzarello had Superman doing some morose soul-searching with a dying, Catholic priest in his For Tomorrow arc. This style of story reached its nadir in 2010, with J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded, a story in which Superman spends pages and pages lecturing the reader about why he's so great.

Superman #701 (2010)
Since his New 52 revamp Superman doesn't seemed to have suffered from any of this navel gazing. Lois is currently no longer married to Clark and is unaware of his secret identity, and so we've yet to have a story from her perspective where she tells the reader over and over again what he means to her. This is fine with me. We shouldn't have to be told what Superman means, the stories should be showing us. In his recent Action Comics run Grant Morrison did just that. He's told us that Superman can do the impossible by actually having him do the impossible! Morrison's story arc culminated with Superman fighting off a villain who was attacking our hero at several points in his timeline from a higher dimensional plane. Along the way Superman rescued his dog from the Phantom Zone, battled angels on Mars and read an entire library of medical text books at super-speed in order to perform life-saving surgery on Lois Lane.

Action Comics #12 (2012)
Meanwhile over in the pages of Superman Scott Lobdell's run hasn't been short of amazing feats either. Lobdell's dialogue can be clumsy and his run was recently derailed slightly by an over-long crossover with the other Super-books. But the important thing for me is that Lobdell, like Morrison, has been showing us why Superman's so wonderful instead of telling us. During Lobdell's run Superman has bench pressed the planet Earth for five days straight, fought a giant Bizarro dinosaur from Kryptonian pre-history, punched a foe so hard that Batman heard it in space, and had a battle with Orion in which they both used an aircraft carrier as a weapon!

Superman #17 (2013)

I'm hoping that this change of attitude will be reflected on the silver screen this year. In Bryan Singers's Superman Returns (2006) Lois Lane has lost faith in Superman and has written an article called "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman". The film spends most of its time bashing the audience over the head with Christ metaphors in order to tell us why she was wrong. I'm hoping that in this year's Man of Steel Zack Snyder will take the radical approach of showing us that the planet needs Superman by having Superman actually save the bloody thing!

After all, action speaks louder than words, and I think this particularly applies to a character that appears regularly in Action Comics!

Action Comics #18 (2013)

12 comments:

  1. Amazing! I thought I was only one sick to death of the endless 1999-2011 Lois Narration issues. You could have written another thousand words on the subject! Great job!

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  2. The problem with this essay (and many of your essays) is that you've presented a false hypothesis and created a straw man argument. You've set up a thesis based on a flawed array of facts and then worked your thesis around those flawed facts.

    1.) First of all, there were actually only a few issues in a 20 year period where Lois was actually a narrator. You can actually count the issues on ONE HAND. I know bc I own every single one of them. The above narration (which was written by Gail Simone and is gorgeous) did not exist in the narrative to tell you how great Superman was. The narration existed to present the WOMAN'S point of view on what her life was like. It was a rare chance (written by a female writer about another woman--a woman many people adore) to allow Lois to share how SHE felt from her own perspective. The point was not about "what Superman meant" to the world....it was about what Superman meant to HER. It was HER unique perspective as his wife. It was a rare opportunity in a genre that is male dominant to allow this iconic female character to tell us from HER voice how SHE felt being in on this secret and how it affected her to be a part of the secret of the century. At the same time, it gave us a personal perspective on Clark from the person who loved him most. It was in the middle of an ACTION PACKED arc by Gail Simone now collected as "Strange Attractors." Simone's arc sold incredibly well and was FULL of punching and action and heroism. This was one quiet moment in the middle giving the female lead her voice. This important female POV has been lacking from the new 52 in ways that has been detrimental to the narrative.

    2.) Joe Kelly's narrative, "Whatever Happened...." doesn't just TELL us what Superman meant----it ACTUALLY showed us in the best possible way. We saw an ACTUAL scenario in which Clark was put up against people who pushed violence and extremism to the brink and who were willing to take a darker road to justice. We saw Clark actually FIGHT these people (he throws plenty of punches in the book and in the movie based on the book) and ultimately proves why its more important for Superman to have a higher ideal and to stand for something more. To imply that this narrative only TOLD you what Superman meant without SHOWING you through his words and actions is a complete and utter misread of the entire narrative.

    3.) I don't love Grant Morrison's work on Action Comics. But I don't hate it either. I think Issue #0 is actually a wonderful example of who Clark is and what makes Superman who he is. The whole "performing surgery" thing in Action #12 was a cute Silver Age throwback but it didn't actually show me much about who Superman was a a MAN. What did show me something about him was his emotional reaction when Lois woke up. Bc it really doesn't matter how fast Clark can do things if they have no emotional relevance or heart.

    I fail to see under any circumstances why anyone would be inspired by the Superman that is in Lobdell's Superman book. He's come across as a petty, jealous jerk half the time and an overly violent bully the next. The book is loaded with narration---it's just that that the narration no longer has any real emotional meaning and, of course, now it ALL comes from a man. Lois has no real POV anymore . She exists only as a pawn and an object for Clark to lust over and fantasize about and spy on. In fact, all the women in the book are treated like objects. They have no real POV or perspective. They exist only to be objects of desire or lust. Lois's unique persective is neither respected or developed. It's all flash and no substance.

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    Replies
    1. I long for the day when you'll be able to express yourself fully without the words: "Lois Lane" included in a paragraph. Often you claim to be different posters, but your approach is too similar to be coincidental.

      I get it you love Lois Lane but this is getting ridiculous.

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  3. It’s the Michael Bay of comics. Plenty of punches and fights. Though frankly, I’m not inspired by a Superman that would rather punch first and talk later. Nor am I inspired by a Superman that thinks it’s cool to beat the crap out of someone without first trying to solve the problem with words. Nor am I inspired by a Superman that thinks it’s super cool to threaten extreme, detailed violence. I don’t need to see Clark beat the shit out of Orion or have a rocket to think he’s cool. I already thought he was cool.

    The problem is this thesis is predicated from the start on the exclusion of facts in order to support a false hypothesis. It’s also rather insulting to ignore and not recognize how IMPORTANT it was that there were writers who gave Lois Lane a voice and POV so that the audience could hear how SHE felt and what SHE Saw. Gail Simone did this for a REASON and she’s been open about what that reason was. It’s a reason that meant alot to female readers who identified with Lois and wanted to her her POV. That was actually vital and was a piece of continuing along a road of equality for a female character who DESERVED it after that many decades. It also ignores how beautiful and important it was that we sometimes SAW Clark through HER eyes. The world often falls in love with Superman through the written word of Lois Lane. So it actually is vital and important that we understand what Clark looks like through her eyes as she is often the human who helps the world fall in love with him as she falls in love with him. This POV is actually an extremely important thing for women in comics and in this particular narrative.

    You’ve picked out a few unrelated story arcs here in 20 year landscape and ignored all the stories that showed through ACTION AND WORDS exactly who Superman was. There were years of stories written by writers like Simonson, Jurgens, Simone, Rucka, Kelly, Busiek, Johns and the list goes on that showed us exactly who Superman was. We saw him attempt to bring peace to wars. We saw him literally die and come back from the dead. We saw him go head to head with Manchester Black and prove why he wouldn’t kill even in his darkest hour. We saw him go into the middle of a war zone against his better judgement to get his wife after she risked her life to save a solider and was shot. We saw him stand up for what was right and adopt a child even though that child was born to his enemy. We saw him grapple and struggle with intense ethical challenges sometimes unsure as to whether he was making the right choice. We saw him aid close friends and quarrel with close friends. We saw him struggle with losing his powers, dedicate himself to justice on the page and then deal with how to handle it again when his powers returned. We saw him rush to save his father only to get there a little too late. He was a fully developed person. In the hands of the right writers, he was an astonishingly inspiring person capable of incredible love, justice honor and humility.

    You can’t show us what Superman means unless you understand who he is. And you can’t understand who he is unless you understand what he means to the people who love him most. Bc it is through their eyes—-their flawed, human eyes—-that we understand the majesty and wonder and beauty of who Superman is. One does not exist without the other. There are plenty of stories that went too far in the one direction (Grounded) just as there are others who have now gone too far in the OTHER direction. (The new 52.) But it’s a much more complex conversation than you are making it. A much, much more complex conversation.

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  4. You know, Anonymous, for someone who makes a habit of criticising others for "policing" how and what other people say, you're awfully quick to do a bit of policing yourself.

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  5. It's not that complex. I've grown rather tired of stories that discuss how important Superman is to Lois and the rest of the world and at the moment I'm preferring the stories narrated from Clark's perspective that feature lots of action and punches and stuff. Simple as that really.

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  6. Different Anonymous here. Just want to add that speaking your own opinion when you are well educated in the subject doesn't hurt. In fact, it's refreshing to have someone have an insightful and RESEARCHED opinion when it comes to Superman comics.

    It seems that most people are trying to turn all the characters into something they aren't. I fell in love with these characters because of how incredibly vibrant and true they are, not because of the fight scenes.

    To me, Superman is the ultimate moral compass. He goes through the same inner struggles we do, but never waivers when it comes to doing what is right. He is who we all want to be, and that's an Ultimate Self, not an Ultimate Fighter.

    As for Lois, there's simply no way you can dismiss her. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is not just some device to show how great Superman is. Cut her out of what you believe the comic should be and you might as well cut out Superman himself. You just can't have one without the other.

    But that's just my opinion.

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  7. Hahaaa...same anonymous droning on and on around the internet how great Lois is. There is nothing they have said about Superman via Lois we haven't seen and it is all damn boring and half of it does nothing for Superman. Great article.

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  8. My ideal Lois Lane is the one that's completely independent of Superman. I'd read an adventure-journalist comic set in the DCU.

    There's more to cover out there than Superman, surely.

    And by this I don't mean I want to read the actual articles she writes (not in caption boxes at least, it sounds better as a backpage extra).

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  9. I would definitely read that Lois comic. :)

    I should probably say at this point that this article isn't really about Lois and her merits as a character. She was really just a part of a few examples I wanted to give of the kind of earnest examination of Superman's role that I feel we've had an overabundance of in the past few decades.

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  10. Yeah, my comment was more a reaction to the other comments than the article itself.

    But it's true that she's often been the POV character that has enabled those "essays on Superman". I didn't used to mind them, but they've since become the standard go-to trope for "change of pace" one-shot stories, so I'm bored with all but the best of them.

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  11. You've (once again)summed up my thoughts up quite nicely there. It's a type of story that got used a bit too much and I'm happy to have a bit of a rest from them for a while.

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