By Glenn Walker
Has the furor died down yet? Is it safe to talk about it yet? Yeah, it might be time. There was a week or two there if you mentioned the kiss, also known as the Superman/Wonder Woman power coupling in the final few pages of Justice League #12, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, you might as well be wearing asbestos - because flames will fly. A month and a half having gone by however, it may just be safe to think about this one.
I am a hardcore Wonder Woman fan, and I'm a firm believer that Superman and Lois Lane belong together. I've labored on about that last point before, both here and other places. Whether Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor should be together is a whole other argument, but just for simplicity's sake, let's just say, in a perfect world, they too belong together. However, in the New 52 DC Universe, neither couple is together, in the former case, have never been together… so it might work out for Supes and WW… or would it?
To figure out the present, as always, we must look to the past. Despite both superheroes being around since the Golden Age, they never really had much interaction until the 1960s, and then to be honest, very little. Sure, both Superman and Wonder Woman were members of the Justice Society of America, but rarely appeared in the same issue. Superman's appearances were rare, as he was an honorary member.
Things were slightly different in the Silver Age's Justice League, but comics were simpler then, all about story, less about character interaction. By the time things had changed, and the way comics were written was more mature and character driven, the couple's positions almost reversed, with Diana becoming an ex-member of the League while she was without super-powers. Again, the two rarely saw each other.
Probably the first time I saw Superman and Wonder Woman together, outside of the League, was in Lois Lane #136, sadly the second to the last issue of that series. In that story, the two heroes announce their engagement, much to the heartbreak of Lois. In the end it's all a ruse to lure out a psychotic killer who wants to marry Superman herself.
Silliness, yes, and typical of Lois tales of the time, but the cover betrays something more. As the power couple save Lois from certain doom, she thinks in a good old-fashioned though balloon, "Now I know why Superman is marrying Wonder Woman instead of me… they're a super-team!" There you go, power couple, so much in common, etc. It does make sense. They are both strangers in strange land, both gods among mankind, and in the same profession, and both keeping big secrets. Of course they would fall for each other.
That issue of Lois Lane was a hoax, but later, in the post-Crisis era, the powers that be tried to put them together again, but this time explaining why not. It was in Action Comics #600, in a story by John Byrne and George Perez. Their big kiss this time was awkward, like a brother kissing a sister, as it is with most co-workers who try to make things happen. It's kinda ick.
Much later, in the classic alternate future epic, Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, Superman and Wonder Woman do actually wind up together, and work well together as both a team and a couple. There is one prime plot point that allows this to happen. In that story, Lois is dead, and if Diana had someone, they are also long gone. They are the perfect second chance couple, as long as their first choices are unavailable.
Now, we have a new continuity in the New 52. In this world, Superman and Lois Lane have never gotten together, and Wonder Woman has a tenuous if any relationship with Steve Trevor. In Justice League #12, the two come together out of loneliness and battle fatigue, as well as that old bugaboo, familiarity. But I doubt it will stick.
In the new 52, these two characters are not the same as they were. Given the Kingdom Come example, those two would get together under those circumstances, but in the New 52, they are now completely different people. Neither one of them is completely human. This should evident to anyone who reads their solo books. Superman is more alien than ever, and Wonder Woman is more god than ever. This might stand for now, but my prediction - doomed romance, at least in the New 52. You'll just have to stay tuned into upcoming DC Comics to see if I'm right.
In most cases we as readers were plunged into the New 52 DC Universe as it happens. Except for Action Comics and Justice League, we were thrust into this new continuity five years after it began, learning as we go, getting to know the characters and their world on a know-as-we-go basis. Zero Month has turned the clock back with comics reversed to #0 issues and stories of secret origins and early years - filling in the details we haven't known until now about this brand new DC Universe.
Team 7 #0 is a prime example of a new DC Comics title that will delve into the back history. It's all about secret origins and early years, and its cast of characters are literally a who's who of shakers and breakers in the new DCU. Now the name comes from a defunct WildStorm comic, but now that WildStorm is now part of the DCU, it's a whole new team. Its members include Black Canary, Deathstroke, Grifter, Amanda Waller, Steve Trevor, among others, and they are formed as a counter-measures force against the metahumans who begin to show up after Superman first makes his presence known.
Team 7 #0 is on shelves this week with an ongoing series starting with #1 next month. The flashback story is by writer Justin Jordan with visuals by Jesus Merino, a Spanish artist whose work is very reminiscent of both Mike Grell and Neal Adams, classic realist artists from comics' Bronze Age. To know what's going on now in the New 52, you have to find out what went before - do not miss Team 7 #0, available now at All Things Fun!
One of the gems of DC Comics' New 52 has been Justice League, and this week, with issue #12 having its controversial content spotlighted on various news programs and Match.com, it's no small exception. It happens on the cover, and it happens late in the comic itself, but it's what everybody is talking about - the kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman. Writer Geoff Johns says that this will be a major relationship in upcoming DC Comics making the two a real power couple. Where this leaves their lovers from former continuities, Lois Lane and Steve Trevor, only time will tell.
Notably, the kiss is not all that's going in Justice League #12. This issue also brings the "Villain's Journey" storyline to a tragic close, revealing what Graves' real motives are. As always, Johns and artist Jim Lee bring the big guns out with their Justice League. This issue also gives hints as to what the future holds for our heroes, including the Trinity War, and the new Justice League of America title. Do not miss Justice League #12, on sale this week at All Things Fun!
By Allison Eckel
I defended Superman at a six-year-old's birthday party recently. We were at one of those party places that feature large inflatable slides and bouncing houses, that are big enough to accommodate 50 screaming kids. The rooms are deafening and feature one small bench wordlessly offered to the pregnant mom or the one who chose really uncomfortable shoes. I'm an old hand at this rodeo, so I know to dress for standing and have a full charge on my phone to keep occupied because the room is dark and too loud to hold good conversations.
Regardless, at this party I found myself in a good conversation. I introduced myself to one of the few dads in the room; I am his daughter's scout leader and knew only his wife. Yelling to each other like we were at a club with 20-year-olds, we discussed what we do and I mention that I blog about comic books. At this mention, women usually give me a quizzical look, make an offhand comment, and return to a more familiar topic. Men, however, usually get more focused, express a, "Really?" heavily charged with wonder, bemusement, respect, and a hint of something -- envy? -- even if they don't like comics.
This guy falls into the majority of guys who read Marvel comics in their youth but got away from it sometime before high school and now remember the experience with nostalgia. To that end, he expressed an interest in exposing his eight-year-old son to comics. Well, I replied, all-ages comics is something of a specialty for me. I immediately recommended he begin with the new Superman Family Adventures, which would give a nice introduction to both comics form and the best hero role model ---
"No, I don't really like Superman." He cut me off. I was silent for several seconds. He doesn't like Superman? It's Superman! He saw I was shocked and tried to cover, "He's just too perfect. He always wins and it's easy. I just don't get it." For this reason, he always preferred Marvel's Avengers cast, including Hulk, Iron Man, even Captain America.
This is not a unique perspective on Superman. Indeed, it may be The Man of Steel's biggest adversary: The perception that he is uninteresting because he is too perfect. Many Superman stories in his 75-year-history have involved him simply beating the bad guys into submission or arriving in time to save Lois. If these are the only ones you read, then you would not find him compelling.
Grant Morrison's reboot of the character's canon in Action Comics of the New 52 seeks to change that, as I wrote before. And DC Entertainment just gave us all Superman vs. The Elite on DVD, which brings Action Comics #775 (2001) to the masses. In that issue, writer Joe Kelly grabbed several moral dilemmas much debated by governments and put them in the hands of meta-humans and a Kryptonian alien. Do terrorists deserve due process or should they be killed? Should people with the power to keep humanity safe have the power to define “safe”? How should we define the line between what is right and what is righteous?
The best Superman stories also involve him using his intelligence to solve the problem instead of just his fists. When finally confronting Manchester Black and the Elite, Superman sees that an all-out brawl would solve nothing. His solution for how to teach them a lesson is elegant, intelligent, and humbling.
I like having an infallible hero who I know will always make the right decision. One who will never jump sides or cross that line. When Wonder Woman killed Max Lord in Wonder Woman #219 (2005) she crossed a line. But she’s a trained warrior; her sister Amazons would never have an issue with killing a murdering madman. Yes, she’s supposed to answer to a higher code, but I think it’s Superman who ultimately enforces that code. I would be able to take it from Batman, who in some incarnations takes a perverse pleasure in keeping his adversaries alive so they have to suffer in their continued existence. Death for them would be the easy way out. Superman's view of justice may seem simplistic compared with his two peers, but it is a difficult view to maintain. And stories like Action #775 serve to remind us all why Superman is the greatest super-hero.
But don't take my word for it. Explore Superman on your own:
If you count yourself among comics fans who never quite liked Superman, give the new movie, Superman vs. The Elite, a try.
To read Action Comics #775, you could pick up Justice League Elite, vol. 1 and vol. 2, which includes that issue along with the Justice League Elite mini-series.
To introduce younger readers to Superman and his characters, Superman Family Adventures is on sale now and features the creative team behind Tiny Titans, Art Baltazar and Franco.
And now is the perfect time to re-discover the Man of Steal in the universe of the New 52. The first eight issues of Action Comics will be released August 1 in Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Supermen and the Men of Steel.
The character of Popeye the Sailor Man is not often thought of as a comic strip or comic book character, but that's where his origins lay, waaay back in the early 1930s newspaper strips by E.C. Segar.
Originating in 1929 in the feature Thimble Theatre, everyone's favorite sailor eventually took over the strip, and then became so popular he moved on to animation, and rarely looked back. Oh to be sure there have been Popeye comics in the years since, but never as popular as his cartoons.
This week, IDW tries to reverse that by bringing to comic shelves the first new regularly published Popeye material in over three decades. This first issue of four written by Eisner Award winner Roger Langridge and illustrated by cartoonist Bruce Ozella faithfully brings to life the Popeye of old and also his entire cast of friends and foes. These guys have done their research, and they know Popeye.
Look for the distinctive cover that supposes Popeye in an homage of Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1. This is great fun, for kids of all ages, available at All Things Fun! - not to be missed!
By Glenn Walker
The mantra used to be Comics aren't just for kids anymore, but these days things have changed. A thought occurred to me several weeks back while watching the Super Bowl. We have gone mainstream. The nerds have inherited the earth.
I had friends and family call me during the game, not about the game, mind you but about the commercials, pushed to call by seeing trailers for the new Ghost Rider flick, and The Avengers of course. They didn't call me to find out what these movies are because they already knew – they wanted to know what I thought of them. They also wanted to know if there would be previews for The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, or even The Man of Steel during the game as well.
None of these things were unknown entities. They were all known quantities to folks who know nothing about comic books. This was not a game of ask-the-geek because he'll know what the hell it is, it was ask-the-geek because he'll know if we should see it. Gone are the days of only nerds knowing how many days until the next comic book movie comes out, now everyone is on that clock.
And for clarification, when I say things like nerd, geek, fanboy, etc., it's a term of endearment, and to differentiate ourselves from this new type of fan, the mainstream fan. Remember the days when nobody knew who Green Lantern was outside of your comic shop? Well, game over, your mom knows Green Lantern now. He's Ryan Reynolds in that flick that bombed last year. But still, there is awareness.
Almost all of our Hollywood blockbusters these days, whether they succeed or not, are based on comic books. Audiences around the world get indoctrinated to geek culture on a weekly basis watching "Big Bang Theory." Kevin Smith just started a nerd version of "Hardcore Pawn" set in his own comic book shop. Comics-based "The Walking Dead" gets better ratings on AMC than "Mad Men."
Comic book culture has gone mainstream. It has already happened. Nerds rule. The bad news is we're no longer special. Just sayin'.
By Allison Eckel
I found Action Comics no. 1 off-putting. It is set in a different time from the rest of the New 52 (an ambiguous “five years ago”). The Superman we all know so well acts very un-Superman-like – in fact, he’s kind of a jerk. He even pulls a page from Batman’s playbook (although he doesn’t yet realize it) and suspends a bad guy upside down in the air until he confesses. Most of the issue is action and kinetic energy, with our T-shirt-wearing super-hero getting the tar beat out of him by a wrecking ball and a speeding train. Exciting, but as a fan of Superman of the past 30 years, I felt like Alice following that darned white rabbit down its hole. I wrote about my apprehension of this re-jigger, and after reading issue no. 1, I was not optimistic for the future of DC Comics.
Then I read issue no. 2, including the pages at the end of the book on which the creative team explain what they did. Now, usually, if a comic book needs the creators to explain it, then I say something went wrong in the storytelling. However, in the New 52, many things are different. Reading these explanatory pages kept me reading Action Comics, and then, the comic made sense.
What follows is my deconstruction of what I think writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales are doing with Action Comics, and therefore, why I think it is among the top books of the New 52. I must confess, most of this has been laid out for me (and all of you) to find by Morrison, who seems to work hard at ensuring his readers never take comics as easy, light fluff.
With DC wiping its editorial slate (mostly) clean and re-launching their characters in the New 52, Morrison is seizing his opportunity to bring Superman back to his beginnings, a character he describes in his book Supergods:
“The Superman who made his debut on the cover of Action Comics no. 1 was just a demigod, not yet the pop deity he would become,” Morrison writes on page 4. “[T]his Superman was unable to fly, resorting instead to tremendous single bounds. He could neither orbit the world at the speed of light nor stop the flow of time. That would come later. In his youth, he was almost believable. [Creators] Siegel and Shuster were careful to ground his adventures in a contemporary city, much like New York, in a fictional would haunted by the all-too-familiar injustices of the real one.”
Morrison and Morales are working closely together to deliver at least three distinct-yet-seamlessly entwined levels to Action Comics to achieve this modern re-set of Superman: the action, the canon, and the commentary.
For action, Morrison has already stated that Clark’s powers are now less than most of us are used to. He cannot yet fly and he can be hurt, just not easily. In the back of Action Comics no. 2, Morrison explains that he is, “constantly putting Superman up against very physical objects.” Indeed, the first three issues of this new run have been packed with scenes in which Clark meets the seemingly immovable object, and does not always win. He comes out battered, bruised, bloodied.
The quiet moments are still filled with detail. Morales has made a point of differentiating Clark-in-cape and Clark. Morales explained that he “put [Clark] in baggy clothing to hide his muscles. Maybe stoop his posture a little bit, make him slack-jawed … so he doesn’t look at all like a hero …. He’s a very good actor, which is a super power I don’t think many other superheroes have.”
While Morrison re-sets Superman’s powers, he is taking every element of his canon – no matter when in the past 73 years they were introduced – shaking them up, and tossing them on the table like Yahtze dice. What they spell is the mother of all retcons. Ma and Pa Kent? Yes, they found him, but they died, prompting his move to Metropolis. Lois? She’s there, but they barely know each other, and barely like each other. Jimmy? They seem to be about the same age now; Clark thinks they’re pals, but Jimmy seems annoyed by him. The Daily Planet? Lois and Jimmy work for it, but Clark doesn’t (yet?). Lex Luthor? Still brilliant, still scheming, still sees “Superman” as an affront to his Humanism (he seems fairly unchanged, actually). This is all unrolling organically with the stories, so readers get to put the canon pieces together whenever Morrison lets us.
The third level I can see in these stories is commentary. Morrison has already written that Superman originally appeared in a fictional city as flawed as a real one. And so, Action Comics no. 1 launches us into the new Metropolis, complete with business tycoons who may do good turns on the surface, but make shady deals under the table. In this Metropolis, people are thankful to be saved, but pissed that their homes were taken out in the process.
In this version of the DC universe, the government gets its hands on Superman early in his crime fighting career, and experiment on him to test his limits and learn his weaknesses. This is new for the DCU of my youth. The first I remember seeing this in the DCU was this summer’s Flashpoint: Project Superman, written by Scott Snyder. In this alternate reality story, the government found baby Kal-el’s rocket, not the Kents. The alien baby was raised in a protected cell, the subject of endless scientific research. This is probably a more realistic outcome to the “what if” of an alien baby falling to Earth. I don’t know what inspiration Morrison is drawing from Flashpoint, but the similarities are striking to me. The post-Flashpoint DCU is not the idealized place I knew in my youth. Now, the government tortures Superman, and the people he once saved will picket for him to “go home.”
I see this as a level of social commentary that is not exactly meta fiction, but more subtle. Morrison lets Metropolitans react to Superman in a way that might be consistent with how New Yorkers might react to a man in a silly little cape suddenly leaping buildings.
Now that I view Action Comics through this lens of seamlessly entwined action, new canon, and social commentary, I am excited to read more. Beginning with issue no. 4, on sale December 7, readers will be treated to back-up stories by guest creators. Reportedly, these stories will be approved by Morrison in order to fit within the context and framework he and Morales are building in the main story. First up is Sholly Fisch, who has been writing whip-smart stories for The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I love smart comics, and the new Action Comics is among the smartest titles DC Comics is currently publishing.
By Glenn Walker
"It's like déjà vu all over again." This amusing Yogi Berra quote approximates one of my biggest problems with DC Comics' New 52. The idea of the restart, the blank slate for some of these characters bothers me quite a bit.
One of the reasons is I don't like origin stories. No, scratch that, I do like origin stories, I just don't like them when they're not needed, or when they are told over and over again. I hate them in superhero movies. It seems like when a hero gets a movie the origin has to be done, whether we like it or not. Just think, next year we'll have Spider-Man's origin told in the movie theater twice in less than ten years.
Why can't they just tell a good story? Just do that, and we as viewers will accept that the hero is who he is and can do what he does. That's how they did it back in the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and especially in the old movie serials. Heck, back in the Bronze Age, in the late 1970s, DC Comics themselves did it one better. Every story opened with an introductory paragraph that told you who the hero was, where he came from, and what he could do.
Here's an example: Rocketed as a baby from the exploding planet Krypton, Kal-El grew to manhood on Earth - whose yellow sun and lighter gravity gave him fantastic super-powers! In the city of Metropolis, he poses as mild-mannered TV newsman Clark Kent - but battles evil all over the Earth - and beyond - as… Superman!
DC should probably implement that again; as a matter of fact, I think most superhero comics should. If you can't tell me the origin in one paragraph, it might just be too complex. Yes, I'm looking at you, Miles Morales.
The starting from scratch idea has actually ruined a few of the New 52 for me. Case in point - The Flash #1. It's a great comic, good story, great new costume, and a terrific new foe in the style of the Silver Age rogues. My problem is that they have turned back the clock. Barry Allen is no longer married to Iris, and on page one, is on a pseudo date with Patty (our Bronze Age preemptive Ms. Flash) Spivot. This just isn't right.
Even as a kid (not yet a married adult, so screw your relation theories), I preferred loving married Iris Allen over mean single Iris West. Barry and Iris had a love that spanned millennia and the multiverse, and survived both their however-temporary deaths. They are soul mates, just as much as Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman, and they belong together.
I love Barry Allen, and the Silver Age Flash is one of my all-time favorite characters, but do you know when I didn't like him? After Iris' death, when he was dating Fiona Webb and flirting with Zatanna, that's when he was a jerk. I didn't want to read about him. Notably I kept reading even when he was a widowed angeldust addict, but not as a jerk.
Speaking of jerks, we are also back to square one with Superman. The Clark/Lois/Superman triangle is back. I thought we were done with this kind of deceit. If Superman was as true blue as he's always pretended to be, this cruelty would have ended decades earlier than it did. I'm telling you, if Lois shot Clark to death with kryptonite bullets after finding out he'd been yanking her chain with the whole double identity thing for so long – even Judge Judy would acquit her. I don't want to go back to those dark days, but I think I've written enough about that already in these blogs.
Getting back on track, when Superman was rebooted in 1986, the one thing that turned me off was that everything was erased, it was a blank slate. While that was not a bad thing in itself, I then had to read certain stories over again as they were retold. I remember being bored to tears by all the Cadmus Project stories as I had already read them all before, back when they were called the DNA Project as written by Jack Kirby.
Dan Jurgens is a great comic book writer – when he's not retelling Kirby Superman stories over and over again. I certainly hope that won't be the case with Grant Morrison's new Superman. Unfortunately for me, I think we will be getting the Cadmus/DNA Project stories again anyway in the new Superboy and Teen Titans. I certainly hope not. As much as I liked Morrison's take on the early Superman days in Action Comics, I hope we won't be getting too many repeats. It's dangerous territory, as his origin has been retold at least three times in the past decade, and will also appear again in the Man of Steel film – not to mention almost fifty years of Superboy stories – as if we could all forget Superman's origin…
The best #1 issue of DC's New 52, in my opinion, is Aquaman #1. You know why I think a big part of that is? Because the story accepts what has gone before (and Aquaman's marriage to Mera is still intact, unlike other DC Comics marriages) and works with it. Why couldn't all the DC titles have done that? Writer Geoff Johns has fun with Aquaman's history and perception, and fun is something lacking in many of the New 52 as well.
The storytellers of the DC Universe should be guided by the work of Grant Morrison's Batman, Steve Englehart's Justice League of America and Detective Comics, and James Robinson's Starman. Just write good stories – and assume everything that came before did happen, but just don't reference it unless it's important to the story you're telling. It's pick and choose continuity, but it's continuity that works.
Keep it simple, keep it entertaining, and just tell good stories – and not re-tell them. Please.
By Allison Eckel
As I write today, the entire U.S. eastern seaboard is preparing for Hurricane Irene, currently classified as category 3 as it churns off the coast of Florida. Hurricanes are massive storms that scientists can track, though only to a point. They are still wild, untamed forces of nature that can change course at any moment.
Also as I write today, the entire comics fandom is preparing for the unveiling of DC Comics’ new universe of titles, their entire stable of superheroes taken back to issue #1 and back to a new startling line. Fan reaction of massive comics industry reboots can be predicted by editorial and marketing departments, though only to a point. Comics fandom in general is still a wild, untamed force of nature that changes its collective opinion at any moment. Consider our collective excitement regarding this summer’s Green Lantern movie and how quickly we turned against it post-release.
I am choosing to be very excited by DC’s total reboot. The reality is that their characters were becoming cluttered by so many annual crises, resulting in many titles missing their marks – tent pole titles were becoming stale and brilliant edge titles were not gaining traction. A company-wide commitment to a clean slate is bold and exciting.
Those of you who are relatively new to comics fandom may be very thrown by the upcoming changes. For you, these characters have never been other than who they were leading into, say, Blackest Night. Your DC Comics reality looks a lot like this: Batman has always been supported by half a dozen “bat team” members; Hal Jordan never tried to re-set existence; Wonder Woman has always had the power of flight; Superman has always been married. To change any of these – and many more, similar details – about your beloved characters would disturb you greatly.
Those of you who are long-time readers will take all of this in stride. If, like me, you have known these characters for decades (I count 1979 as my first year reading comics), then to borrow from Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before and it will happen again.”
Grant Morrison has published a nonfiction book looking at superheroes, why we love them, and why we need them. Super Gods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human is a fantastic read for any comics fan. While I await the coming storm, I am reading this book. On the day my colleague Glenn Walker and I scoffed at Superman’s amateur duds shown on the cover of the new Action Comics #1, I came home to read a poignant passage from Morrison. On page 5, he puts into context the release of the original Action Comics #1 and the world’s first superhero: “It showed something no one had ever seen before.”
Take that idea, and publish it today. Pretend the people of Metropolis have never seen a superhero. How would they react to him? Would he wear a 1930s-inspired circus strongman suit or is he more likely to wear jeans and a t-shirt? The new Action Comics, which will be written by Morrison, seems to be taking this approach. I really enjoy smart comics writing – which I grant you is a broad description – and Morrison’s work is about as smart as it comes.
For many of the characters in the DCU, I am a little nervous about how they will change in the DCnU. Some of my favorites are not even returning (yet). But I am not panicked about Superman. In Morrison’s own words (Super Gods, page 14), “we writers come and go, generations of artists leave their interpretations, and yet something persists, something that is always Superman. We have to adapt to his rules…we can never change him too much, or we lose what he is.”
The new titles begin with Justice League #1 on sale August 31 (All Things Fun! is hosting a midnight release party! The fun starts at 11:30pm Aug. 30). That day, the slate of DC titles is nearly clean. JL#1 and the much-anticipated Flashpoint #5 are the only new titles in stores that day (the other two titles are collected trades).
Action Comics #1 will be on sale September 7, along with 12 other new #1 titles. The remaining 52 are slated to reach comic shops before the end of the month.
By Allison Eckel
A year ago, I wrote that Superman was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after losing New Krypton. He has nearly completed his year of walking across the U.S. and he does not seem to be any better. In July’s Superman 713, the penultimate installment of Grounded, writer Chris Roberson name-drops Under a Yellow Sun, which in the DCU is the second novel published by Clark Kent. Since Roberson left this Easter egg in plain sight, I decided to snatch it. Inside I found a fascinating look at one of Clark Kent’s earlier struggles with personal failure and enjoyed comparing it to the current Grounded event.
Under a Yellow Sun is a book within a book. It is a graphic novel written by J.F. Moore and published at a time when Clark is still re-entering his life after a return from the dead (1994). In Yellow Sun, we get some of Clark’s prose, some of his action illustrated, and some of what he is living as he is writing. It is a “day in the life of Superman” type of story. Clark goes to work, stresses about paying bills, dodges his boss, misses deadlines, flubs a conversation with his girlfriend … just like he’s a regular guy. Also, he and Lois uncover a mystery of corporate corruption that they know leads to Luthor but they can’t prove. Clark encounters a rampant culture of “why fight it?” and he feels emotionally defeated. He feels like “the city’s hardest-working boy scout,” fighting the good fight, helping those less-fortunate, but for what? A dark, empty apartment because he didn’t pay the electric bill. And the lady he’s trying to save would rather play by Luthor’s rules because life is more comfortable that way.
Moore’s Clark is experiencing a personal crisis, something akin to “Why am I trying so hard if no one cares anyway?” This is a thirty-something’s crisis of reality. In our twenties, we have big ideas, stars in ours eyes, ambitions. When we get to the big game – be it government, corporation, environment, etc. – we often find it so much more broken than we ever imagined was possible. After fighting the good fight for a few years, we will face a moment of personal crisis: Effecting change in this massive, broken system is so slow and seemingly pointless, should we continue or start looking out for ourselves? Clark says to Lois: “Maybe I finally realized that justice is the real fiction.”
Part of what makes Superman so timeless, universal, essential, is that in the end, he will always choose to continue fighting for good, regardless of the speed of change and of the personal impact. But what if Superman finds he cannot even define such black-and-white terms as “good” and “evil” anymore?
In the year-long Grounded story arc, Clark is again struggling with a personal crisis. But this time, instead of a hopeful young go-getter, he is a seasoned veteran who has been to war and lost almost everything. He is asking himself a similar question – What is the point of anything I do? – but this time, everything is bigger, heavier, and nihilism is undermining his hopeful nature. He is not just fighting rampant corruption and a culture that accepts it. He’s fighting his own motivation to even care.
In Yellow Sun, Luthor says to Superman, “You fear falling from grace more than anything.” A fall from grace can be interpreted many ways. To Superman, such a fall might come from taking a life. Clark plays with the idea of his novel’s protagonist killing the bad guy in the end, because it’s what he really wanted to do to Luthor. This idea is referenced again in Action Comics 775 (2001), when Manchester Black tries to push Superman to the point of blind, murderous rage. In both cases, simply ending the bad guy would have been so much easier than teaching him a lesson. But then, everything that is Superman would have died too. I don’t believe Superman fears that he might one day go too far. I believe to him, a fall from grace is more about failure.
Yes, Doomsday defeated him in Superman 75 (1992). But Superman is always prepared to die, if the fight goes that far. He is not, however, prepared to let others die – indeed, to let others down. When the last vestiges of his re-found Kryptonian civilization exploded in 2010, he experienced his most profound failure of his life. His very soul is damaged. So, in July last year, he started walking.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski launched the Grounded story arc last summer to explore this deep psychological trauma resulting from Superman’s greatest failure to date. Unfortunately, this great idea became wrapped in money. At least, that’s what I am left to assume from the media blitz surrounding DC Comics’ announcement that Grounded would be stretched over 12 months and take Superman to lots of cities across the country. I get the publicity stunt; I don’t get the overly long timeline. If I wanted 12 issues of trauma and depression I would reread The Watchmen. But that’s not why I read comics. And don’t get me started on the fact that the creator of the story arc bailed on it before it really launched, leaving substitute writer Chris Roberson to clean up the mess. I respect Roberson for taking on this tough task. He has made the best of an ugly situation.
Which brings me to Superman 713. Superman announces to Superboy and Supergirl that he’s hanging up his tights and cape and sticking to being Clark, full time. If he needs to save anyone, he’ll do it Smallville style, like a “blue blur.” This decision is rational: He won’t turn his back on people in need, but he is tired of putting himself out there as some symbol. The rest of the issue just upsets me. A random guy in a coffee shop butts in on Clark’s reverie to expound on why Superman is awesome. Okay, a little lecture may be warranted. But the subsequent tour of the townspeople is too much. Too heavy handed by Roberson. In the All Things Fun! new comics vidcast of July 13, I characterized this bit as cloying.
The lack of civilian support for Superman throughout this Grounded story has irked me. Superman’s walk was well-publicized within the DCU’s fictional press. I would think that his fans, those he saved, appreciative civilians, etc., would have gotten together to help this man who has helped them for so long. Towns would have put up displays of gratitude like the one in Action Comics 567, which opens with the mayor of Coaltown dedicating a statue to Superman for his help extinguishing an underground coal fire. Now, Superman is hurting, everyone can see it, and the citizenry is doing… what? Waving to him from across the street like he’s walking to the market for milk?
A grass-roots appreciation effort is what I would have liked to see in issue 713, instead of that ridiculous family who thanks God every day because Superman saved their cat (!), I would rather see our buttinsky fanboy show Clark how the people have been writing him letters, making him pictures, etc., for being that symbol he is so ready to cast off. Like when Harry Potter finally returns to his parents’ house in Deathly Hallows and finds all of the encouraging messages people have left for him. Harry had no idea people were pulling for him and the shock of that discovery bolstered him. For Superman, where is the outreach from the people he walks past? When our heroes are in trouble, we rally to help. Wouldn’t it follow that if the greatest hero in the DCU was so depressed that he is walking for a year instead living his life that the American people would rally around him? That they would at least reach out to show him appreciation? They would just give it; it would not need a random guy in an S t-shirt to ask them their opinion.
In Yellow Sun, Clark works out his personal crisis for himself, by talking with his friends and writing fiction as therapy. In Grounded, he is so broken that the few friends who have reached out to him have left empty handed. Roberson has one issue left of Grounded to work through this. Even though Superman will be re-booted along with the rest of DC’s titles in September, simply letting this depression linger would under serve the character and all he’s experienced over the past several years. Not to mention the fact that the eventual collected edition would be really lame with an ending that just peters out. So, I am looking to August 3rd with great expectation and not a little bit of anxiety.
We know from reading recent events in Action Comics that Superman will return to fighting form, but it’s the how and the why that interest me at this point. Superman 714 pictures Our Hero soaring in the sky, no longer “grounded,” and with a Mona Lisa-esque grin. I expect all will be resolved, but as with real-life personal crises, all should not be forgotten.