Monday, September 3, 2012

Breaking up with Superman and comics in general - part 2

Part 1

They say the Golden Age of comics is 13, meaning that whatever you read at 13 is what you measure everything else against. There's probably some truth to that. I know that if you asked me what my Golden Era of Superman was, it would probably cover the comics from 1988-1994. There were so many good creators on the books then: Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, George Perez, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazelwood, Karl Kesel, Bob McLeod, and many others. It was also that era that was pretty much my gateway into most of the books I'd continue to buy for years to come, including Green Lantern, Justice League and my infrequent Batman habit.

Like I said, I'm a sucker for a good "hero's return" story. "Reign of the Superman" might be the ultimate such story, telling the epic tale of Superman's return from the death. There are two things I really took from this arc as a writer. The story involved four new Supermans appearing after Superman's death: a man in an armored suit, a teenage clone, a cyborg, and a visored vigilante. Each claimed to be Superman to one degree or another, though it was pretty clear that if any of them were, it would have to be one of the latter two.

In fact, one of the first issues back dropped so many clues that the visored Superman was the true one, that a guessing game seemed almost pointless. I can't really get into the legerdemain that the writers expertly pulled off in concealing who the Cyborg and the visored one really were, as well as how Superman eventually came back. Suffice to say, they hid some clues in plain sight, and used some clever misdirection in other instances, all while drawing on plot threads that had been set-up long ago. In particular, I recall being floored by some of Roger Stern's reveals in Action Comics 690.

It's probably fair to say I've learned as much about good writing from comic books as I have from movies and TV shows.

But of course, this storyline ended with Superman being restored once more, coming to the rescue. It's hard to go wrong with a "return" moment. It's a very Joseph Campbell sort of mythic element. The limited series Kingdom Come is also a well-done out-of-continuity tale that deals with the return of Superman after a long absence. It's also a great deconstruction of the superhero concept, and an allegory for how the more violent comics of the 90s threatened to supplant the traditional superheroes.

When comics are done right, they can tell these kinds of epic and yet still meaningful stories.

So what got me to finally kick the habit? It's not that there haven't been good comic stories since 1994. There have been a lot, actually. I'm a sucker for most anything Geoff Johns has written, from Teen Titans to his massive rebuilding of the Green Lantern mythos.  I've enjoyed some of DC's bigger storylines, like The Final Night, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and 52. In fact, there was a point about six years ago where DC really seemed to be on the right track and doing exciting things with their characters.

But there have been a number of lows. The Superman titles have been inconsistent for a long time. New creators have been often too quick to discard continuity they don't want to be bothered with, or often just don't seem to understand the character and his world. New Krypton, a saga that stretched out for over a year in the books, should have been epic. Unfortunately the conclusion was rushed and any fallout from the story were quickly swept off-screen so that a new creative team could come in with a clean slate.

In fact, the ending of that story was probably the closest I came to walking away from comics forever. It essentially had the U.S. Government blow up a planet execute the genocide of 90,000 surviving Kryptonians in a pre-emptive strike. It was incredibly distasteful, made worse by the fact that there were no consequences on-screen for the conspirators. Even the heroic "Superman returns" moment couldn't paper over my disgust this time.

This was followed by a year-long story where Superman walked from one end of the U.S. to another.  It was another "soul-search" story, but it was the wrong story at the wrong time. Maybe as a two-parter it would have worked, but after over a year in the other epic, it was a miscalculation to not return to a more familiar status quo for a while.

That might have been the final straw for me if not for the reboot last year. DC restarted the continuity in all of its titles last September. I very nearly treated this as a jumping off point, but decided I'd stick with the relaunch for a year. I couldn't deny that a fresh start offered a lot of possibilities.

One year later, I'm walking away for good. Not just from the Superman books but from all of my regular comics.  Superman is currently appearing in three books and he reads like a completely different guy in each of them. One of those books is just about to debut its third creative team in a year, which pretty much backs up my sense that there's no consistent vision or creative direction for the character.

On top of that, before the reboot, I really loved the sense of connection and family between Superman, his cousin Supergirl and his clone Superboy. There was a fun, and frankly touching family dynamic that developed among the hero and his sidekicks. In the new story, that connection is severed. Supergirl wants nothing to do with him and everything that made Superboy a fun character - one of my favorites of the old continuity - has been utterly negated in this version.

And then there's the fact that none of the writers have even attempted to develop the Lois/Clark dynamic, and all indications are they don't plan on doing so any time soon.

The sad thing is that I didn't outgrow the hobby or the characters. I can still read all those stories I loved and get the same enjoyment and excitement out of them as I did when they were published. So that's what I'm going to do. The fact that an inferior version of the mythos is currently in production in no way causes my old comics to disappear from existence. It was a good run, but whoever DC is producing these books for now, it's not for me.

So I'm walking away. Completely. I don't enjoy these characters. I don't enjoy these stories and I don't enjoy this hobby anymore. Congrats architects of the New DC, you ended a 23-year love affair. I wish you well, and I sincerely hope someone is enjoying what you're selling, but this is it for me. I don't recognize your Superman and I no longer wish to channel Little Ricky from SUPERMAN III, saying "Superman, you're just in a slump! You'll be great again!" as he shouts at the drunken evil Superman.

But as I've said... I'm always a sucker for a good "return of Superman" storyline and I hope that one day you'll produce a version of the character that again makes me want to... look up in the sky.

"It's not about where you were born. Or what powers you have. Or what you wear on your chest. It's about what you do... It's about action." - Superman, Infinite Crisis #7, written by Geoff Johns.

7 comments:

  1. This whole New 52 thing seems to have been a mix of some good creative choices and some buttock-clenchingly bad ones.

    The Batman titles (which is where my focus lies) have followed this pattern - the current Batman flagship title is doing great work, but at the cost of negating everything Grant Morrison had done with the epic, brilliant Return of Bruce Wayne storyline. Batman & Robin remains fun but feels less necessary than when it debuted, likewise Detective Comics itself.

    A positive step is Batwoman, which remains unusual, unique and fresh by focusing more on the weird and supernatural. All we need now is Gotham Central to come back!

    Batgirl's a 50/50 for me - on one hand, I absolutely adored Steph Brown in the role for the two years she managed, so I'm gutted that she's been retired from continuity altogether for now. Her 'Batgirl' was Buffy does Gotham - bubbly, inventive and fun. That said, Gail Simone's work on Barbara Gordon's comeback as Batgirl is so good I'm willing to forgive the change of character - that's a horribly nerdy thing to say, I know, but darn it, Babs is just so damn good in the role I am totally behind bringing her back. Just give our Steph something to do!

    The big flub for me is Catwoman. It is dreadful. I've been reading the Catwoman series since 1993, I thought the Brubaker/Stewart revival was the best thing to happen to the title since it debuted, and while creatively it was in a dip (especially after the whole Zatanna thing) I think it needed a fresh team rather than cancellation again. The New 52 Catwoman, however, is just a mess of sleazy artwork, OTT characterisation and none of the things that make her work as such an enduring character (since 1940, after all).

    So I'm at a similar point in some ways - some titles I'm sticking with, some I'm dropping, and I'm at the point where I'm happy to have Catwoman back but my patience with this current team is wearing very thin...

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    1. I haven't checked out the new Batman run. I've been in and out of the Batman titles every since YEAR THREE back in '89, but I never really got into the post-RIP storyline. From what little I have read, I've found myself hoping that DC doesn't wait too long to establish a 1-900-ROBIN-DIE number for Damian Wayne.

      I also really hate what's been done to Tim Drake's character and history. I got into Batman right around the time Tim was created and he's long been one of my favorites. I think a lot was lost with the shift to Red Robin a few years ago, and the refiguring of his history really seems to have eliminated so many things I liked about the character.

      I keep hearing good things about Batwoman, so I'll have to check that out at some point.

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  2. Hollywood is so jewish and liberal, and here we have a liberal script-reading gatekeeper! I wonder that insiders like you would even use the term gatekeeper given the sordid history of gatekeeping by those who run Hollywood.

    Other than that, I'd still be ashamed to show my face in public if I were a script-reading gatekeeper, given the absolute lame brained trash that comes out of Hollywood these days.

    I can see it all now, burning the midnight oil in order to make certain no pro-White or pro-Christian material gets past you.

    Regarding Super Characters, someone needs to write a script about a White guy who wears a White cape and goes around helping non Whites who are always in need of rescue and help. That's what the world needs. Maybe I'll write that one.

    Here he comes to save the daaaayyyy SUUUPPPERRR WHITY. I exist for no other purpose than to help those non Whites in need. I'm the GOOD GUY but you're not. Suuppper Whitey!!!

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    1. It's always an honor when Rush Limbaugh does a drive-by.

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  3. Well I'm evidently a bit older than you are -- I was in college between 1988 and 1994 -- but for myself I'd still consider that the "Golden era" for Superman. It really was some good storytelling. Second would probably be John Byrne's reboot when I was about 16. I don't think I even remember what I was reading at 13.

    But yeah, comics have long since become too sprawling and unwieldy for me. I was at the point you describe some time ago. Which makes me wonder, maybe the average fan can only take so many reboots and continuity changes before he says "enough"...?

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  4. I'm more of a Marvel girl and don't see myself ever kicking the habit. Even their "loner" characters aren't afraid to ask for help. Like when Daredevil had Black Panther look after Hell's Kitchen for him. Where with DC everyone's a loner all the time, even when they team up or take on sidekicks. Just not appealing.

    Only DC character I care about is The Riddler. And that's mostly because he was my 2nd crush as a child - as played by Frank Gorshin.

    I didn't really get seriously into comics until I was an adult. So there was no golden age for me.

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  5. << Major supes fan. I had a collection of ye old school comics ranging from 70's to 80's era when I was a kid. Though I got the death of superman (book - couldn't afford the comic at the time) and yes, it was pretty awesome.

    I've not been able to follow all the comic series so haven't been exposed to most of the reboots etc.

    Really hoping new superman film is good, it's looking like it will be.

    /must not respond to the trolls.

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