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.