Crisis on Infinite Supermen

July 9th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve gotten into a couple conversations over the past week or so about Superman. I’m not sure what brought it on. Maybe it’s something in the air, or the creative changes on Superman, or whatever whatever. One thing that always comes up is what exactly makes up your own personal Superman.

It’s that personal continuity, or apocryphal continuity that Morrison inadvertently created, again. Some stories count for you that don’t count for others. Other stories are so terrible (War Games) that you just wish everyone else would pretend like they never happened. Why even mention [Sins Past, Parallax, Clone Saga]? They suck, leave them in the past, right? Anyway, apocryphal continuity is something that I think everyone practices, whether they realize it or not. I mean, seriously, how many Superman fans think that Superman really almost starred in a porno with Big Barda?

My Superman is pretty widely defined, but there are a few pet peeves and specific traits I think he should have. First and foremost, though, is that he doesn’t say “Great Rao!” or “Moons of Krypton!” or whatever fakey-fake Kryptonian religion crap he found out about second-hand. That’s lame and way too Silver Age-y. So is “Great Scott!” Superman talks like a normal person.

Superman and the Legion is one area that I’m not entirely certain on. I have a friend (or two) who swears that the Legion is necessary for his life as a boy, but I’m not so sure. My thought was that Superman’s powers don’t fully manifest until he’s basically grown, as in Birthright or the Death/Return of Superman. As a kid, he knew he was different, and he at some point found out who and what he was, but he wasn’t exactly a Superman at that point. Sure, he could fly, maybe had a little bit of laser eyes, but he wasn’t thoroughly amazing.

The reasoning behind the Legion of Superheroes being significant for Superman’s origin is that it shows him the impact he will have on the future, which serves to simultaneously create an environment where you can tell stories about Superboy fighting things other than runaway tractors and bears (or whatever infest the midwest) and to create a situation where Superman must live up to his own legacy.

Basically, I kind of liked it when the only legacy Superman had to live up to was his father’s. It’s smaller scale and much more personal, I think. He’s just a young, confused kid who’s got to find his own way in the world and try to do the best he can. Knowing for a fact that you basically become the greatest hero to ever do it takes away from that a bit. It makes him more sure of himself without doing the legwork. I’m not a hardliner on it, though, and can go either way. I’m just hesitant about the Legion because I can’t really get into it in general.

Superman is an alien, but he is also a human being. In fact, he is a human being first and foremost. He was raised by people who instilled that in him, along with humility, a need to do right, and a need to not do too much. He has the power to wreck the planet to get his way, but he studiously avoids any action like that. He understands the fear that would strike into the hearts of regular people. So, he tries to live his life the way his parents raised him.

Kryptonite will kill him, but so will the loss of Lois Lane. I really liked Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s For Tomorrow in part because it hammered that point home. Superman lost his wife, and losing his wife basically means that he lost his center. He isn’t out of control, exactly, but he’s much less likely to go easy on you. Lois is the most important thing in his life and his anchor with both his human and Kryptonian heritage.

In the Fortress, he’s Kryptonian. He’s surrounded by the remains of a dead world and statues of his birth parents. In Kansas, he’s surrounded by his past and his oh-so-human parents. With Lois, he can let down his guard and be both. In Action Comics #775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and The American Way?”, there’s a bit where he’s laying in bed with Lois and thinking about the next day when he’s due to throw down with some people who might actually murder him.

The scene is the perfect intersection of man and hero. When Clark is Superman, he has to be flawless. He can’t make mistakes. He has to be perfect in order to protect the Earth. As a man, though? In the dark, with his wife? He’s allowed to be unsure and imperfect. He’s allowed to let his voice crack and wonder if he’s doing the right thing, even though he already knows that it’s the only thing he could ever do.

Superman, like Captain Marvel, should always be one of those few superheroes I think should stay kid-friendly. There’s just something about him that encourages that. Maybe it’s what he stands for or how he operates, but a story about Superman having committed murder, for instance, is a hard sell for me. You could add mind control into the mix and I still wouldn’t be interested. He’s Superman. He doesn’t do that kind of thing. Ever. That’s the way it goes.

Also, my Superman got into a fight with Muhammad Ali and caught a beatdown.

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16 comments to “Crisis on Infinite Supermen”

  1. I fully admit once I read “I really liked Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s For Tomorrow” I just lost interest, but there are some good points here nonetheless. I agree with your friend that the Legion is, if not completely necessary, an important factor in the Superman mythos.

  2. Can’t let super-whitey get too proud . . .

  3. Someone actually liked For Tomorrow? Well that’s a new one.

  4. Yes, that’s a new one, like when all of the other people who bought the book turned it into one of the top-selling Superman titles ever.

    But, you know, whatever, snark away.

  5. But it is a new one. I cannot honestly recall hearing someone say they liked For Tomorrow before. You like it, that’s cool, I was just surprised.

    Although I don’t really see the correlation between sales numbers and quality of story. I mean, Civil War and Infinite Crisis sold well but those are crap. Then other things which are great sell well all the time. Of course, For Tomorrow being just an arc in an ongoing means it’s not the same, but I have to think a lot of the sales were from Jim Lee doing the art with some follow up from Hush.

    That said, I agree with most of your points and enjoyed the post, including the one about For Tomorrow.

  6. The best part about “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”-

    The real life inspiration for it broke in the end. Just broke.

  7. I have always believed that Action #775 should have been the basis for a new Superman movie. It’s overall message is sorely needed. Especially these days.

    …..But of course, it’s overall message is probably exactly *why* it will never be made into a movie. Pity that.

  8. Dan: The Authority, you mean? Or something I’m missing?

    Ha. Superman won.

  9. Great article, Dave. It felt like you reached in my head and pulled out my feelings on Superman.

    What do you think of Richard Donner’s Superman? It seems he tried to do exactly what you like about Superman.

  10. His comics run or the movies? The movies were okay, and the comics were, too. Neither of them are really high up on my list, though.

  11. No, Warren Ellis himself. Kelly denies it, saying it was inspired by Authority fans but it’s hard not to read that story as a refutation of Ellis’ comic celebrity and attitude at the time. He was a bullying prick, is what he was. Idealogically and emotionally.

    But now? He’s doing fucking Thunderbolts and newuniversal. Mr. “I wouldn’t want something in Tom DeFalco’s mouth” is doing ultimate fucking Jack Magniconte. X-Men, goddamnit, X-Men!

    It would be just nice if he would admit that all of his hectoring, his comics activism, his Chomskyan effect on disccussion, inadverdent though it may be, wasn’t really about anything but making Warren Ellis feel better about himself.

    So Superman won. Because Manchester Black gave up.

  12. “His comics run or the movies? The movies were okay, and the comics were, too. Neither of them are really high up on my list, though.”

    I was referring more to his character in the movie. At least in the first half, he really tried to setup the whole ‘father’s legacy’ thing for both Jor-el and Jonathan Kent.

  13. The DCAU Superman is my facorite interpretation of the character.
    Great post.

  14. I forgot to comment on this one. Outstanding post Mr. Brothers. It seems you and I see Superman the same way.

    Joe Kelly wrote an excellent introduction to the trade that issue was in that pretty much sums up how I feel about Superman. If I can find it I’ll post it here later.

  15. I have a huge soft spot for Superman, and you did a great job summarizing some of the qualities (other than his powers) that make him such a unique and compelling character.

    I also agree with Dan’s comments. Even though I’ve always liked Ellis’ work (and still do), the notion that we should take his ‘comics activism’ seriously was always ridiculous.

  16. The line that’s the “tell” about Manchester= Ellis is “how does it feel? how does it feel to be deconstructed? How does it feel to have dreams die?” You can’t tell me Kelly wasn’t thinking about the emotional reflex that Ellis’ commentary was creating in people.