Recently I’ve been noticing a lot of discussion online about Superman. He’s been getting a lot of attention with the Zack Snyder Justice League, with DC even putting out more comics featuring the Man of Steel and many of his supporting cast. His son, Jonathan, is taking over the Superman comic!
But one topic really has grabbed my attention, and that is people saying that the current version of the hero is “not my Superman.”
IS SUPERMAN CURRENT?
What they often mean by that is, he doesn’t act the way I want him to any longer. A darker side has been added, and that’s different because Superman was known for his morality. That attribute made him a difficult character to write because there was no mystery regarding what he would do, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns.
I remember when the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve came out. People hailed it as making Superman “relevant” and “relatable.” He had feelings, he had to struggle, he had to lose occasionally. He was more “man” than “super.”
Admittedly, I had trouble with the Man of Steel before that. He could move planets, after all. He couldn’t be challenged, really, so the supporting cast had to be in danger. Writers often needed to make several things happen at once so he would have to choose what to do first. Still, a guy with super-speed can be almost anywhere at any time, so even that wasn’t a big deal for him.
During the New 52, Superman was a much darker character. He got angry, he didn’t always make the moral choice. I find it interesting that the Man of Steel is now back in the costume, but even he’s a very different guy than he used to be.
A FAMILY MAN
I remember what a big deal it was when Superman revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane. It changed their relationship forever. No longer would she try to uncover his secrets. Instead, she worked to keep them out of the public eye.
I love to point out that Kurt Busiek wrote a wonderful story in which Superman was so busy saving the world that he couldn’t write enough to keep his job as a reporter. When Lois realized this, she ghosted articles for him. I remember how touched I was that even Superman needed saving once in a while, and that Lois as his wife would do that.
In the New 52, however, she revealed to the world that Clark Kent was Superman. The two were little more than co-workers. It was an attempt to do something new with them.
On some levels, I think DC realized that the old formula of Lois trying to “trick him into a loving, caring relationship” wouldn’t work any longer, so they tried to startle readers with this occurrence. (Captain America saying, “Hail Hydra,” anyone?) But the problem with startling events is that you have to come back next issue and shock us again. And you just can’t keep unsettling the status quo. At some point, you have to live within the character instead of making him or her change.
I’ve gone on many times about change for sales’ sake. Dick Grayson was Batman for a while, Winter Soldier was Captain America, etc. DC putting the “original” Superman back in the tights said to me that none of these other attempts at making him viable really took hold.
Oddly enough, though, making Superman a family man felt like a natural progression for him. He’s got a wife and a son, and he does the best he can at being a father and raising his child. I can see Superman doing that, honestly, even though that’s not how Superman operated for years. On the other hand, Peter Parker becoming Bruce Wayne? Not so much!
I know other fans disagree with me, that he should be back working for the Daily Planet with Lois competing with him for the latest scoop, but I read that for decades. I’m ready to see Superman try something else. Hey, I’m not the same guy I was when I first started reading his exploits! Why should he be exactly the same?
Still, it’s critical to remain true to the core of the character. The Superman in Injustice can be a little too dark for me at times, but I understand why he’s that way. The Joker killing someone close to you can change your worldview dramatically. I did enjoy the Man of Steel and Batman v Superman films, which also has a darker hero. And these days I’m often in the mood to read a different kind of Superman. But I still love the pre-New 52 Man of Steel. I can read and enjoy more than one incarnation of a hero! And I don’t mind the costume changes as long as they are in the same ballpark!
Lois being Superwoman? That’ll be something unique, so I’ll be checking it out! I mean, do we really want to go back to the Lois Lane of yesteryear? Not many of us want that, I think!
A DIFFERENT KIND OF STORYTELLING
Back when I first started reading comics, lo, those many years ago, we expected something different from them. We wanted things to stay the same, that the basic setup of the book would be the kind that you could miss a few issues, then still buy a new one and understand what’s going on.
However, our tastes have changed. We expect what’s called “sequential” storytelling. What happens in this issue is built on next month, so you need to keep current if you want to understand what’s happening.
This takes place all over our culture, not just in comics! Television shows like 24 moved us from hour to hour, and you couldn’t miss an episode without losing track of what was going on. It’s where we are now.
Nothing stays the same, though. While I think sequential stories will always be with us in some form or another, I’m sure some trendsetter will come along and move us in a different direction. If I knew just where, I’d make it happen myself! But I don’t, so I can only observe.
WHAT’S A FAN TO DO?
What moves the industry is sales. If enough fans stop buying something after a change is made, the company will want that money back, so they’ll move the character on.
The trick is, many of us who loved the Superman of previous decades are, sadly, passing off the scene for one reason or another. The industry needs new fans to keep it growing, and that means trying to appeal more to the newer readers as much as possible instead of aiming at guys like me, who have been around a long time. In the scheme of things, they’ll get a lot less of my money in the years ahead because I won’t always be here to buy my weekly comics! They need other people, hopefully younger ones who will be around a lot longer than I will, to support the industry moving forward.
I know I keep saying this, but it’s true – variety in my reading keeps me coming back for more. I do pull out the older comics I keep once in a while just to relive the glory days. But I also like diving into the new stuff to go where I haven’t gone before.
Ultimately, it’s a personal decision – you like it, you buy it! You don’t care for it, you spend your money on things that do entertain and engage you. The industry needs to appeal to as many of us as they can to survive. It doesn’t concern me if not every book appeals to me as long as comics continue on! I believe in them that much!