Saturday, February 07, 2009

Superman without Superman

So as you probably already know, the New Krypton story is going to be taking Superman away from Earth for a year or so. There are lots of people griping about various aspects of this. You all know how I feel about Superman by this point, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that I'm stoked. I've enjoyed the New Krypton story so far, and I plan to continue enjoying it.

One of the complaints I've heard from the beginning is that this glut of Kryptonians dilutes Superman's uniqueness. Superman, after all, should be the Last Son of Krypton, period. In some sense, I agree; I was a big fan of the Byrne relaunch status quo, and I was quite incensed when the Kryptonian Supergirl returned, when we had a perfectly good Supergirl already, who didn't expand the number of extant Kryptonians beyond 1.

But she grew on me (at first, like a particularly contagious wart), and I've revised my opinion based on how her character has developed. Supergirl, done well, provides an interesting insight into Kryptonians and teen superheroes and humanity and so forth, and that's great.

Plus, it's kind of hypocritical of me to like Linda Danvers and Kon-El and Mon-El and so forth, and then think that other Kryptonians dilute Superman's uniqueness. Sure, he might be the last official full-blooded Kryptonian, but what does that effectively mean? He's not the only one with his basic power set, he's not even the only "last member of an extinct species" superhero in the DCU--he's not even the only one on the Justice League (okay, maybe he is now, with J'onn temporarily dead). Superman's uniqueness is artificial, essentially a matter of nomenclature with no bearing whatsoever on the stories he's in.

Except, of course, when it's used as a source of angst or drama or whatnot. "I'm only a man in a funny red sheet," and that sort of thing. Krypton's explosion is Superman's Crime Alley, his Uncle Ben, his character-defining tragedy. And yes, it's going to dilute the impact of that tragedy on Superman if he's forced to think "I feel so alone in the universe, the only one of my kind...except Kara, of course. And the Eradicator, technically. And Krypto, after a fashion. And I guess Kon-El, at least halfway. And all the people in Kandor. And the hundreds of criminals in the Phantom Zone. Other than that, last of my kind."

What I like about this story is that I don't think it's going to dilute that uniqueness. First, I'm approaching this story the same way I approached the Electric Superman story--as a finite story that will eventually restore the status quo. Eventually, I imagine the Kryptonians will be placed back into the bottle, and everything will return to something close to normal. I don't know that I'd like that; I think it'd be interesting to have New Krypton floating around out there for all manner of new and cool cosmic stories, but status quo is god. We can suspend our disbelief that the Daxamites aren't waging destruction across the universe because they don't have any particular ties to Earth, our atmosphere is toxic to them, and they've been consistently portrayed as fiercely isolationist. Kryptonians have none of those issues, and consequently face the same set of problems as General Zod. In short, nigh-omnipotent characters must somehow be bound by limitations. Nigh-omnipotent superheroes are bound by morals and ethics, or they become Dr. Manhattan. Nigh-omnipotent villains rarely have such qualms (with Black Adam's code of honor being a rare exception, and making him often more antihero than villain). In order to hold up the audience's disbelief as to why the nigh-omnipotent supervillains don't just take over the universe or kill everyone, they need to be otherwise hampered--Zod keeps getting put back in the Phantom Zone, Superboy-Prime gets imprisoned by the Green Lanterns, Cyborg ends up locked in a gem or trapped in the Source Wall, and so forth. If the Kryptonians are going to be out as a race of superpowered spacefarers with something of a grudge against the Man of Steel and a desire to spread the Kryptonian lifestyle through any means necessary, then they're going to stretch the bounds of believability to breaking. New Krypton is temporary Krypton.

Second, there's the point that I think the authors are going for: being confronted with what Krypton and Kryptonians are really like is only going to make Superman feel more alone. It's been a point of most of the (scant) visits to Krypton: dashing any idealized views Superman might have about his long lost homeworld. We're reminded in each case that Superman's heroism comes not from his powers but from his upbringing and his strong moral character. Superman's exposure to Krypton will show him that he's just as much an alien among them--if not moreso--as he is on Earth. Superman's actual uniqueness will be underscored, even if his artificial in-backstory-only uniqueness is temporarily compromised.

The other complaint I've heard is that people don't want to read Superman comics that don't have Superman in them. I understand the complaint, but I also remember the last time Superman was absent from his own titles. And you know what? It was fairly good. There's plenty of story value in removing the central character from the venue and seeing what happens with the rest of the cast. Plus, Nightwing has tactile telekinesis, and apparently Adventure Comics hinted at a return of one of my favorite characters, so there's that. Again, folks, it's a story

My big reason for excitement? As far as I know, this story has never been done before. It certainly hasn't been done in the modern age. It's so rare to see a Superman story that hasn't actually been done a dozen times before that I'm waiting on tenterhooks to see how it turns out. I can understand people's complaints, but I think the promise of an original story ought to be intriguing enough to give it a shot. Plus, Greg Rucka's back, and he wrote one of the best runs on Superman that I've ever read. There's a lot to like about New Krypton so far, and I can't wait to see the rest.


Jason said...

I'm with you, I prefer Superman when he's the last of his kind, but. BUT. This story has not been done before. And if there's something we need from Superman, it's a new story, so I'm all for it.

Will Staples said...

The way I see it, "Superman is the only Kryptonian" and "There are others" are equally valid models for the mythos that have both been true at different points. The former had been true for a good 20 years, and I liked it, and now I'm perfectly happy to see the latter be true again as long as it's well written.

Plus, Greg Rucka. I have seriously missed his Superman.

Diamondrock said...

I'm with you on most of this (especially Greg Rucka). But the May solicit for "World of New Krypton" really makes me grind my teeth. I have a *lot* of difficulty believing that Superman would allow himself to be drafted into some Kryptonian army (especially one led by Zod).

There's going to have to be a really good explanation to make me buy it...