started about halfway through David Bowie’s “Soul Love”. 2205 on 04.25.11. i cheated and edited in a correction toward the end at 0011 on 04.26.11, but it was a really dumb mistake. i’ll do better next time.
I read through the last year of Joe Casey’s run on Adventures of Superman the other day. It’s one of the few works of his I haven’t read, and this was the infamous “Superman is a pacifist” segment, so I figured I should. I came away pretty impressed–Casey had a lot of good ideas. Most of them were well-executed, and the ones that weren’t were still very strong. My favorite part of the run was a small scene from Adventures of Superman 610 that was unrelated to the rest of the issue. They’re spread throughout this post.
I really liked that Casey’s Superman refused violence as a way to solve problems, and I felt like this was another take on what Ann Nocenti was exploring in Daredevil all those years ago, the idea that resorting to violence is a sign of failure, rather than triumph. It takes one of the central tenets of the superhero, that muscles can beat anything, and says, “This is untrue.”
Casey having a specific take on Superman, like a mandate, was really interesting to me. Most writers tend to go with “Superman is all that is good,” which is okay, but not very interesting sometimes. It got me thinking about what I like about Superman, a character I wasn’t into much as a kid, but suddenly seem to have a lot of opinions about now that I’m an adult. I don’t really care to argue whether Superman is a Jesus figure or Moses (because he’s Moses, frankly), but I’m going to try to pin down what’s “my” Superman.
I figure my first, biggest tenet is that Superman doesn’t cry. If you take for granted that Superman is Superman, the one hero that everyone loves and respects, then seeing Superman cry would be like seeing your dad cry. It’d be horrifying, a big fat ball of ugly, crawling dread dropped directly into your hindbrain. When he’s Superman, when he’s got that costume on, he should fearless. He can be sad, sure–that’s fine. But Superman doesn’t cry. The only people he cries in front of… that’s Lois Lane and his parents. He’s strong for everyone else, but since he knows that his family is there for him, he can bring the wall down.
Superman’s got Lois Lane. She’s the one he goes back to when times get rough, and she’s the one whose the Mary Jane to his Peter Parker. She’s where he goes to be normal. I never like it when writers come up with infidelity, fake or otherwise, plots, because Lois married the actual best person on Earth. Cheating doesn’t even enter into his mind. It’s positively absurd, like Mother Teresa strangling a child on live television. Lois isn’t jealous because she knows exactly what her husband is. She knows she’s got nothing to fear.
I think Superman’s biggest feature is his compassion. He’s an idealist at his foundation, and he tries to serve as an inspiration. He can’t save everyone, and he knows that, but he hates it. He’d rescue balloons out of trees just to see a kid smile, and he spends more time silently helping people than sleeping. I like this scene with Emilio for exactly that reason. He doesn’t know this kid at all, but he’s so unbelievably compassionate that he came to see him, despite knowing that he couldn’t save the child’s mother. He just wanted to be there, to provide a shoulder.
I figure that at least 75% of what Superman does to help people has to be non-violent. Crime-stopping is okay, but that’s treating the symptom. Superman is going for a better world, not a “pretty good today.”
Because of that compassion, Superman has to be a pretty melancholy dude. He’s more aware of his failings than anyone else, and considering exactly how powerful he is, his failings are huge. There is a lot he can’t do, and those would be the things he wishes he could do the most. Like, when his parents died, Batman learned that the world only makes sense when you force it to. You reach out, you make a fist, and you pound the world into shape. Superman’s a little different. Superman’s about coping, rather than control. He’s battling a chronic disease as best he can.
Another thing I hate is when people suddenly distrust Superman. That’s stupid. He’s Superman. The whole point is that you’re supposed to trust him, that he’s hear to save us all. I think it’s interesting when people appear who point out where he’s gone wrong, though I can’t think of a time that story wasn’t smarmy and condescendingly awful. But he’s the one guy who is bigger than politics. He’s Michael Jackson, or Mickey Mouse.
Casey’s pacifist take was supremely interesting. Superman has violence at the core of his character. That’s how he solved problems when he first appeared, and for the past however many years. I’m not one to deny the power of violence as a problem solving tool, but I enjoy the idea of the strongest man in the world actively rejecting that power, and what’s more, treating it with scorn. It’s a statement: “I am better than this. We can do better than this.”
Rejecting violence also lets Superman tackle problems that would be otherwise tacky in cape comics. Superman fighting a super-strong straw man of a black militant is ugly and stupid, an attempt to boil down an endlessly complex quagmire into black and white. A Superman who sits down and says, “Let’s talk,” though, is a way to create much more personal and powerful stories. Sure, it doesn’t make for exciting fight comics, but we’ve had seventy years of fight comics. Go read those. Embrace something else.
I like the idea that Superman reads all his fanmail.
I’m not reading Superman comics right now. I don’t think I’ve read them since Geoff Johns and Eric Powell did that Goon story (I’m cheating, but I definitely meant Bizarro, not Goon). The Krypton stuff did nothing for me, the War With Krypton sounded excruciating, and at this point, JMS has managed to compromise the line. I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, but I like him in bursts. Superman: Birthright is great, as is The Death and Return of Superman. The Death was actually my entry into Superman, back in the day. He died on my birthday, in fact.
I think Superman is a good character. I don’t much care for the bulk of his comics, or really the movies, but he was cool on the cartoon. I wish I liked him more, but I do like seeing how other heroes play off him or are inspired by him. I think he’s too often played as a Boy Scout, full stop, to be truly interesting. There’s a lot of wiggle room in him, just like there is in most cape comics characters, but not a lot of experimentation.
Superman is one of the strongest characters in comics. I think it’d be cool to see how far he can bend before he’s not Superman any more.
finished about fifty seconds into David Bowie’s “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”. 2235 on 04.25.11