Sunday, November 16, 2008

Belay that last post

You know, I like Geoff Johns an awful lot. And I like James Robinson too. I really like the ideas behind the Brainiac and New Krypton stories so far, and I can't wait to see where the latter ends up going. Supergirl's been given a pair of new status quibus in the last couple of days, and that's going to mean some very interesting developments for her character. But there are the niggling little things that keep bugging me.

First, what happened to Cat Grant to transform her from the character she was in the '90s--a troubled, passionate, competent reporter--to the character she is now--a vindictive tramp? I mean, it looks like they're pulling a bit from her characterization in "Lois and Clark," but there the trampiness was largely an act, and she actually had some depth (at least in one episode she did).

Second, why is Perry White smoking cigars? The man nearly died of lung cancer a few years back and gave up the habit back then. It wouldn't be a big deal--in fact, it really isn't--but Johns is supposed to be the king of continuity, and Robinson's no slouch in that department either. Poor Perry's been backsliding for awhile now under Johns' pen, so maybe I'm a little hypersensitive to changes like this one.

Third, we've had some high-profile appearances by both Ron Troupe and Lucy Lane in recent months. While I'd rather see more of Ron than Vince Lombard and Cat Tramp Grant, I'm a little upset that I've not seen either one mention the fact that they're married and have a son. The last time I remember seeing little Sam Troupe, it was when Greg Rucka was writing Adventures of Superman, but I haven't heard anything yet about Superboy Prime punching him out of reality. I suppose entering the Army wouldn't necessarily preclude raising a toddler, and I suppose Ron could be the more stay-at-home of the two parents, but I'd like some confirmation that they didn't sell their marriage and child to Mephisto Neron or something.

Fourth, a small note to Gary Frank: please stop making Lois Lane look like Margot Kidder. I can think of at least four people who have looked and acted better in that role.

Finally, there's the Pa Kent thing. On one hand, it's got Clark referring to Jonathan as his father again--a nice change of pace from two years ago (by the way, Johns started two years ago?! I thought it was a year at most). On the other hand, why is it necessary? I like that Clark has his parents alive; how many other superheroes can actually go get advice from two living parents?

This is not to say that the death wasn't expected. Even if the cover solicitations hadn't made the end obvious, the conversation Clark and Jonathan had in the first part was basically one long "we're so happy; what could possibly go wrong?" I'm just at a loss to understand why.

No, I'm not. Not really. See, all of these changes--like so many changes in comics these days--have a common thread. Every single one of them is trying to set the status quo back to a point that the authors have arbitrarily deemed perfect or otherwise sacrosanct. In the case of Geoff Johns, as has been obvious since he started on the title with Richard Donner, that period is 1978 and the Superman movie. In order for that to happen, Clark has to be an unpopular nebbish, Lois ought to look like Margot Kidder, Jor-El has to be a major influence on Superman's life, Perry White has to be an angry cigar-smoking tyrant, and Pa Kent has to die tragically of a heart attack. Throw in some more tropes of the past--Vince Lombard, for instance--keep some of the more modern bits--Ron Troupe, Clark and Lois's marriage--but take everything else as close to the past as possible. I'm a nostalgia buff as much as anyone, but I'd prefer progress, or at least the illusion thereof. New Krypton and Supergirl's new Linda Lang identity are examples of just that sort of illusory progress--both are taking classic ideas and spinning them into something new and interesting. Killing Pa Kent the way he died in the movie, the way he died in All-Star Superman, the way he nearly died in 1993, isn't progress, and so far I haven't seen anything to suggest that the death is going to be a springboard for greater developments. Pa Kent's death should have been a big deal; it shouldn't have been treated as an inevitability, something minor to happen in-between major events like Brainiac's attack and the birth of New Krypton. It bothers me that these changes seem to be happening not because the characters or plotlines dictate it, not because they'd open up new avenues for storytelling, but because that's the way things used to be. Nostalgia's great, until it becomes the main driving force behind a story. At that point, things tend to fall apart.

I read recently, and I wish I could remember where (I'm sure some intrepid commenter will remind me), a blog post or something with the thesis that comic writers who grew up in the '90s (with Kirkman as the prime example) are better than the previous crop, precisely because '90s comics sucked. Those writers, then, aren't quite so rosy-eyed nostalgic about the comics they grew up with, and had to seek out a variety of other eras and genres to get excited over. I'll admit, the idea has a lot going for it, especially if the crop of Loebs and Quesadas trying to take comics back to the '60s and '70s is any indication. No one wants a return to the age of useless straps and ubiquitous mullets.

Like I said, I'm a fan of nostalgia. Who isn't? But nostalgia is like salt: it's great to sprinkle over actual food, but eaten on its own, it's gross and unhealthy. Nostalgia's a great tool for spicing up a story, but it doesn't work for its own sake.


Jason Langlois said...

I think the writers (Bendis, Quesada, Smith, Johns, etc. etc.) are generally trying to reset the comic books back to where they were when they started reading them. Thus we get Spider-man reset to the early 70s, Superman reset to mid-70s, Batman probably ending up like one of those 'what-if' 70s stories, and such.

They want the characters to be like they remember them being back when they were kids, essentially, and so are writing things to make it like that.

Tom Foss said...

Agreed entirely.

David C said...

First, what happened to Cat Grant to transform her from the character she was in the '90s--a troubled, passionate, competent reporter--to the character she is now--a vindictive tramp?

Good question, but I like the fact that her coworkers themselves are asking that same question. She seems "out of character" to them, too, so presumably we'll learn what's up eventually. I think she's in pretty bad shape under the surface.