As I’m sure you’re already aware 2013 is Superman’s 75th year. It’s a pretty impressive milestone to say the least, but has the Man of Steel weathered the past seven and a half decades or has his relevance disappeared? In this blog I’ll share my own fan-boy opinions on the overall state of affairs for the world’s first super hero in both film and the comics.
Superman and his mythology have had to change over the years to try and keep up with the times—sometimes poorly—and over two years ago he underwent perhaps his biggest change in over twenty years when DC Comics launched the New 52. Not since John Byrne lead the way after the events of the original Crisis of Infinite Earths with his memorable reimagining of the character in his 1986 mini-series Man of Steel, has Superman’s character and milieu undergone such drastic change.
The New 52 gave Kal El an updated origin in the pages of Action Comics—overseen by Grant Morrison—which in some ways hearkened back to the golden age version of the character as imagined by his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster where our hero was once again a social crusader who leapt—not flew—over tall buildings in a single bound. But many fans—myself included—had a hard time accepting this new retro/re-imagined take on the Metropolis Marvel’s early years due in large part to him fighting crime while wearing work boots, jeans, a Superman tee-shirt and cape. It’s a look that is just too silly for words.
As well Mr. Morrison seemed to be phoning it in on some of his scripts; Action Comics #5 being the most infamous example to long time listeners of Hold 322. In said issue Morrison retold Superman’s origin story (escape from an exploding Krypton in a rocket ship and being found millions of light years away by the Kents in Smallville, Kansas) yet again. The dialogue he wrote had everyone on Krypton sound like they were from a bad 1950’s B movie poorly inspired by a Shakespearian tragedy, and made Jonathan and Martha Kent sound like uneducated mouth-breathing hicks. Even though I gave up reading Action Comics after issue #6 up until Grant Morrison finally ended his run many months later, it is apparent from both from seeing monthly sales figures and reading fan comments on the internet that many readers stayed with the title and loved the work the aforementioned scribe had done on it.
Meanwhile, in the pages of Superman—with comic book legend George Perez at the helm—our hero was wearing an entirely new costume that was unlike any we had ever seen him wear before. Gone were the much maligned red briefs worn outside the blue tights. They had been replaced by an armor-like Kryptonian battle suit with a mandarin collar and slightly redesigned S-symbol. This new costume mostly retained the basic primary color scheme of Superman’s iconic decades spanning costume except with a red-not-yellow belt and a black-not-yellow S-symbol on the back of his cape. Although he still wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves, his sleeves were now slightly longer on the top, covering his upper wrists.
At first I was not a fan of the new suit, but now I love it. I think it’s the perfect upgrade for the time. It holds a great enough resemblance to the original costume that no one could possibly be confused as to who he is the first time they may see it, while looking more practical and armored than the circus strong-man look we knew so well for so many years. Looking back at the old costume—which I will always hold a fondness for and nostalgic appreciation of—I can’t help but wonder how it survived as long as it did. It must just be that iconic things have to evolve at their own pace.
Also in the pages of Superman—set five years after the events in Action Comics—our hero had to deal with a new Daily Planet building (the old one being demolished in issue one) and having to now work for Morgan Edge and his Galaxy Media Corporation; harping back to the silver age stories of the seventies and early eighties. Gone was Clark Kent’s romance with Lois Lane, and we the readers were left unsure as to whether or not the famed female reporter—whom Superman had been married to before the New 52 reboot—now even knew his secret identity or not.
After getting over some initial confusion due to all the changes both obvious and minute, I found myself really enjoying the George Perez run on Superman. He had such a great handle on the character and he gave us a great first storyline that was both interesting and action-packed. Unfortunately, George Perez felt restricted by the DC editorial staff that he claims wouldn’t let him veer too far from what Grant Morrison had planned for the character, even though they wouldn’t let him in on what those plans were. If true, it’s understandable why Perez left the book after only six issues.
A name long associated with Superman, writer/artist Dan Jurgens, took over the series immediately following Perez’s departure, and as disappointed as I was to see George leave I was equally excited for Dan’s return. For those unfamiliar with Dan’s past work on Superman he is highly regarded as one of the ten best to ever draw the character, but will perhaps best be remembered for being the man who wrote and drew the milestone issue Superman #75 back in 1992 which featured the Death of Superman at the hands of the monster known as Doomsday. With issue #7 of the New 52 Superman series, Dan was set to be the pencil artist for the book (Jesus Merino as inker) with Keith Giffen credited as co-scripter along with Dan. I’m not sure how much of the stories could be credited to Keith who left after only three issues for reasons I don’t know—maybe to focus on other projects such as DC’s new He-Man and the Master of the Universe books—but I can tell you that though enjoyable, the plots under this second creative team were not quite as good as what Perez had given us previously. Though I must say I loved seeing Dan Jurgens draw Superman again. It was looking at his rendition of the new suit from issues 7 to 12 that I really came to finally embrace it.
The Dan Jurgens New 52 run on Superman was sadly just as short as George’s Perez’s had been—only six issues—and then he was replaced by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort, but more on that later. Right now, let’s look at perhaps the biggest event of the year for Superman; the release of his first major motion picture in over seven years: Man of Steel.
First, let me admit that I really liked Superman Returns and was disappointed there wasn’t a sequel. All the things that other fans disliked about that film didn’t bother me much if at all. That said I was eager for a new film after waiting restlessly for one since 2006. I was worried about it though as well. I knew Warner Brothers wanted more of an action film than they got with the not-a-single-super-punch-thrown-in-the-entire-movie that was Superman Returns. I also knew that this would be a darker version of the character than we had ever seen on screen before, since the writers, producers and director had all said as such many times over. I knew it was time to leave behind the bright and sunny version of Superman which Richard Donner gave us back in 1978 (and Bryan Singer had repeated to the point of plagiarism in 2006) and try for a more realistic presentation of the character, but I was also worried what that could entail; just how far from his core the Man of Steel could be taken in the quest for new and different.
Also, the internet had been inundated with rumor after rumor about the contents of the then yet to be released film. Normally I avoid such speculations but being on a comic book themed podcast, it has become part of my life to deal with such things in order to do my job properly. The most troublesome rumor to me was that Krypton would not be destroyed, making Kal El no longer the Last Son of krypton but instead merely a refugee from a distant war-torn planet. I did not and still do not like this idea but I decided, after much thought on the subject, to wait until I saw the movie to decided for myself (if said rumor had been true) how I felt about it. If they were going to drastically change an origin story that had survived for the most part intact for 75 years, as long as they did so convincingly and made me care about it and believe it, then I might be able to accept it. Obviously the film came out back in June (and Krypton did not SPOILER blow up, so rumor busted) and I did go see it twice in the theaters. So how did I feel about the feature film Man of Steel? Let’s save that and my opinions on the rest of Superman’s 75th year for next week. This blog is already far too long and I have so much more to say.
So until my next bloviation follow me on twitter @Robert_A_Easton, listen to Hold 322 and read lots of comic books! Alons-y!