Superman done right.


I really like Martha Thomases’ take on the Man of Steel. She’s in favor of the classic version, the Last Son of Krypton guy who was an outsider rather than one of the most popular guys around who has Kryptonian relatives popping up around every corner these days. Go read and see what you think.

Superheroes are all the rage these days, with The Dark Knight poised to become, at the very least, the second largest gross flick of all time (after Titanic) and Iron Man continuing (with a bit of a bump in the road for The Incredible Hulk) Marvel Comics streak of successful comics-based flicks. The brief preview of the eagerly awaited The Watchmen at ComicCon International in San Diego last month sent the paperback trade collection of that incredible Alan Moore comic to the top of the Amazon fiction bestseller lists overnight and had almost every dealer on the convention floor sold out before the weekend was over.

As someone who was a big superhero fan as a kid and who has followed the genre ever since, both personally and professionally, I find this all pretty amazing. There was a day when we hid our comics in newspapers and magazines so as not to ridiculed. And as older someone, I remain thoroughly convinced that, for the most part, the genre went astray in the so called Silver Age and beyond, when new versions of most characters were introduced and multiple versions of many of them were introduced.

Superman got a girl cousin and dog (okay, that was a reasonable push of the old parameters and I like the dog); The Flash became a family business (the best done of the retrocons, I acknowledge); Green Lantern went from one lucky railroad engineer and later radio station owner to a universe full of ring-slinging heroes and baddies; characters such as Wonder Woman (coming soon to a theater near you) and Hawkman had their origins and histories changed so often it became a farce. Over at Marvel, the brilliant ’60s idea of a fully inter-connected universe with regular character crossovers has result in an almost incomprehensible modern day universe in which all the titles (with a few marvel-ous exceptions) read as if they were all chapters in one ongoing and confusing novel.

End of grumpy rant. Let me get my  Metamucil® and I’ll be right back.

Ah, that’s better.

Now, having divagated (a real word, check it out; it’s my new fallback verb over on the beer blog so that I don’t sound like I’m aping the late, great Michael Jackson’s “But I Digress…”) allow me get back on point.

The sense of “otherness” that Superman and other heroes had in the early days seems to me to be one of the last untapped frontiers in telling superhero stories. A lot of amazing writers have done extraodinary things within the genre over the last two decades, pushing the horizons to places where we never thought they’d go. That is in fact the reason that comics have entered the mainstream today (that, and technology which allows creators to match, and often surpass, the sorts of things which were once possible only on the printed page). There are heroes who exemplify that otherness (The Thing, Martian Manhunter et al) but they still fit neatly enough into the mainstream world–find love, eat at MacDonald’s, drink beer and all that.

Their own strangeness to others is, at best, peripheral to superhero lives I’m talking mainstream comics from the Big Two here; characters like Concrete (Paul Chadwick for Dark Horse Comics) went right at the heart of the issue.  While the  X-Men and their treatment of mutants in the Marvel Universe confronted differentness in the early days, that all fell apart when it seemed that every third person on the streets had mutant powers of one sort or another. They seem to have tried to reset matters over the last couple of years by wiping out most mutants (wouldn’t that decimate the world?) but it’s long beyond my interest or ability to understand and care.

All of this has been inspired by a new short story collection I’m reading, Who Can Save Us Now. Twenty writers invent new heroes fpr the 21st Century in the anthology (to varying degrees of success) and the best of those tales do capture some of the alienation that I’ve been carping about. My thanks to bestest li’l buddy Carl, who, if I have it right, will be back home in Bellingham, Washington, from his Great Adventure this weekend. He ordered the book through my online comics service. I was intrigued when it arrived and subsequently ordered my own copy.

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