Friday, April 30, 2010

Gone Walkabout

This is rapidly becoming the all-Superman blog, but what can I say? I'm a little obsessed.

This issue revealed that Superman definitely isn't wearing underwear on the inside of his clothes.Anyway, rumor had it a week or so ago that the reason for the creative shakeups on Action Comics, and the reason that Paul Cornell's (yay!) first arc would be focusing on Lex Luthor, was because J. Michael Straczynski had laid an exclusive claim to Superman for the eponymous series. According to Bleeding Cool:
[T]he Man Of Steel is going to drop his Superman identity in an attempt to be a better man and to better relate to humanity. The story will follow his journey as he walk from one side of the USA to other other, trying not use his powers.

Now, JMS's comics work has been a really mixed bag, in my opinion. His Spider-Man oscillated between excellent and terrible, his first arc on Fantastic Four was simply awful, but his Thor run was pretty damn great. I've got some severe trepidation about his upcoming run, but I'm optimistic. His initial comments showed a good understanding of the character1 (though, sadly, not so much for Wonder Woman), and there's a mythic quality about Superman that fits well with the sort of stuff JMS did with Thor and attempted with Spider-Man.

On the other hand, that quality is more present in Wonder Woman, and it looks like he's just destroying Paradise Island again.

Anyway, my initial reaction to this rumor was to roll my eyes. Superman doesn't need to better relate to humanity, he is human, just a little more indestructible. He's just spent the last year or so trying to bring that humanity to an alien culture. And a Superman book where Superman tries not to use his powers is at least as bad a concept as a Superman book without Superman in it.

That being said, the core idea of Superman abandoning one or both identities and traveling across the country, righting wrongs and so forth as he is wont to do, and mingling with normal folks from Metropolis to Star City? That's actually pretty intriguing. It's been done before, to varying degrees, but with Superman, what hasn't? I'd be interested in reading that story. Failing that, I'd be interested in writing it.

Sadly or thankfully, depending on your perspective, Straczynski burst that rumor bubble:
It is absolutely and unequivocally untrue that I insisted “that Superman only appear in the Superman book he’s writing.”
It is absolutely and unequivocally untrue that Superman is “going to drop his Superman identity.”

It is absolutely and unequivocally untrue that he “not use his powers.”

All good things, though Straczynski notably doesn't mention the bit about walking cross-country to reconnect with humanity. Again, I'd like to see that...though I could also see it easily going off the rails. That kind of story is rife with opportunity for well-done little morality plays and episodic tales, which JMS has apparently been doing rather clumsily over in Brave and the Bold. As long as it's not totally overwrought and poorly-thought-out (like, say, Zatanna and Wonder Woman taking Barbara Gordon out for a night of dancing before she gets paralyzed), it could be great. My biggest fear is that it's going to be spun as Superman trying to regain something he's lost (i.e., his connection to humanity) as opposed to just taking the time to savor his home and his people, since he's been gone so long. This should be Superman taking the time to (figuratively) visit his favorite restaurants and say hi to everyone, since he's been away so long--not kicking around moping because "you can't go home again" and so much has changed while he's been away.

In other words, Superman's Walkabout would work best if done not out of guilt, but out of love.

But in any case, I'm curious to see where it's all going. If nothing else, Paul Cornell's "Action Comics" is going to be unequivocally awesome, so there's good reason for a Superman fan to be excited, even if he's not tying his cape into a bindle.

1. Geeky nitpick: the S-shield has been established--rather recently, in fact--as the Kryptonian pictogram for "Hope," not "No Limits," though the concepts are admittedly related. I just wish people would keep the details straight. Also, I am a colossal nerd.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Superman Sunday: Origins (Part 2)

Our second installment represents something of a second bite at the apple for Siegel and Shuster. Superman was originally conceived as a newspaper comic strip, which was cut up and rearranged--and in the case of the first page, redrawn and expanded--to form the main story of Action Comics #1. After a little over six months in comic books, Superman finally made it to his intended destination. Given a second chance to introduce the character, Siegel and Shuster apparently decided to linger on the character's origin a little longer.

I wonder what it must have been like to be a Superman fan at the time. You'd waited eagerly at the newsstand or drugstore to pick up each issue after being enthralled by the character's adventure in his first installment. January rolls around, and you've only recently read through the ninth thrilling issue of Action Comics1, where Lois confesses her love of Superman to Clark Kent, and Superman finds himself the subject of a police manhunt. Somehow, you've heard that Superman would be starting as a daily comic strip in your newspaper--imagine, a Superman story every day--and so you eagerly look for the comics page that Monday morning, January 16th. What you find is, perhaps to some initial disappointment, not a story with Superman. In fact, there's no recognizable character at all. But perhaps you realize what it is, judging by its similarity to that first panel from nine months ago. What you're reading on this Monday morning is something that no one else has seen: the details of Superman's origin. What you'll read for the next two and a half weeks is the untold story from between those first few panels, all-new information that brings the science fiction aspects of Superman into stark focus, after nine months of street-level action and crime adventures. But the first one, that first day, looks like this:
Man, Joe Shuster sure could draw people running.
Click to enlarge all pictures

Up until this point, the extent of our knowledge about Superman's birth parents was that his father was a scientist and that they lived on a distant planet. Readers could have inferred that a highly advanced physical structure was a characteristic of all of Superman's people, but Action Comics #1 only says that about Superman. Considering that, this comic was almost entirely new information: the planet's name was Krypton, its people were highly-advanced humans with incredible abilities, Jor-L was the name of the world's "foremost scientist," his wife was Lora, and he had a newborn son. I wonder if any readers were confused; I wonder how many knew the story well enough to infer who that infant must have been, why this scientist was so important.

The next day would bring more drama into the picture:
Wouldn't it technically be a Kryptonquake?

The first two panels here are particularly interesting. The recurring question of this series is "what did the creators think was important enough to include?" For Siegel and Shuster, apparently the most important thing was the tragic space opera aspect of the origin. To that end, we're given these brief scenes of the happy young family, which couldn't foreshadow the tragic end more even if Jor-L were a week away from retirement. Speaking of foreshadowing, the description of baby Kal-L (Superman's birth name, for the very first time!) here mirrors the antics he engages in later on at the orphanage. We'll see that scene repeated in a couple of weeks.

The earthquake hits, representing our first tangible evidence that this scene isn't the idyllic utopia it appears to be. The building collapses, but (in the next strip) Jor-L is able to rescue his wife and newborn son from the wreckage. Lora asks why there have been so many terrible earthquakes recently. I have a hypothesis, given her low-cut top.

Early comic art was often plagued by poor printing and paper quality, and I think it's safe to say that in many ways it wasn't as refined as it is today. Even well into the 1960s, there was still a tendency to overwrite, failing to recognize that the images can help tell the story, not just the dialogue and narration (I'm specifically thinking of Stan Lee's work, but he's far from the only one). I keep that in mind when I say that day four of the Superman comic strip contains some excellent visual storytelling.
Jor-L is totally Reed Richards.

I've seen this same kind of scene countless times in science fiction and comic books, and I wonder how well-developed it was in 1939. The scientist, obsessed with finding some answer, locks himself away and works for days, never resting, becoming more and more disheveled as the montage continues. Finally, with an exclamation (either of joy or despair--here, the latter) he has come to his answer.

And so Jor-L agonizes over his findings. He is reluctant to tell Lora, but she insists. So he explains: "Krypton is doomed! It's going to crumble and die! And as it does, all its inhabitants shall perish!" The volcanic activity is a warning of an "internal cataclysm," which will soon cause Krypton to explode.

The sixth strip lays down the melodramatic space opera (and I say that without a hint of negativity) with a couple of impassioned speeches. You can almost tell that Siegel is exercising those science fiction pulp muscles, relishing the opportunity to write something other than speeches by criminals and crooked politicians. And it's not half bad, either.
How free and aloof those stars are.

There's something so cinematic about the staging of this scene, especially the bits where Lora and Jor-L are looking into the night sky. I really like Lora's little speech: "How free and aloof those stars are!" If I were writing Superman's origin, I'd make sure that line stayed in the script. In any case, the glimmer of hope at the end--the very classic sci-fi idea of an ark to the stars--only serves to sharpen the sting of the eventual tragedy. The next strip brings us to our first iteration of a scene that has remained relatively consistent for the last 70 years:

Some of the details have changed over time--when in the narrative Jor-L visits the Council, what exactly is meant to cause Krypton's destruction, how vehement they are that he end his research--but any modern staging of this scene is ultimately very similar to the original here. Jor-L tries to convince the Kryptonian Council, with all his vaunted scientific credentials and verified evidence--that the abnormal seismic activity represents an actual threat to the people of Krypton, and they laugh him out of the room.

This is another important piece of the tragedy that Siegel and Shuster are trying to build with this retelling: that this destruction of a world, this genocide, could have been averted or ameliorated, if only they'd acted instead of ignoring the signs and warnings. The "internal cataclysm" which destroyed Krypton was hubris.

Jor-L spends months building a model ship as a proof-of-concept trial. The time span here is important, because it seems that many later adaptations put his warning to the council so close to the planet's destruction (either out of narrative expediency or his own failure to see just how close the end was) that it would be too late anyway. The text explicitly mentions the obstacles he's had to overcome in order to achieve interplanetary travel, suggesting that the process would have been easier and quicker with the assistance of the Council. He's also trying to act responsibly, building a test rocket to make sure that they can safely get to Earth before he commits himself or his family to the device.

Jor-L does, in this version, specifically choose Earth as a destination: "Telescopic observation has convinced me that Earth is the only nearby planet capable of supporting life." But, as he's about to launch the rocket...
That guy in the third panel is apparently the same guy running from Superman on the cover of Action #1.

The situation is, as it always turns out to be, more dire than expected. There's no time for safety, no time for tests, just time to hope that all the careful preparations up to this point have been enough. Lora makes the decision to send baby Kal-L; the sacrifice is her selfless choice, made without hesitation. And so:
That second panel is amazing.

The rocket launches, and we see our last fleeting glimpse of Jor-L and Lora, embracing as the planet dies around them. Finally, violently, Krypton explodes, and the rocket speeds toward Earth, carrying "the sole survivor of a once mighty civilization."

It's interesting to note how silent this strip is. Our only "sound" is the narration; there are no final words from Jor-L and Lora, no sound effects to punctuate the planet's destruction, no cries from the orphaned child. There is just the rocket, the broken planet, and the parents--Jor-L looking stern, Lora, with her eyes closed, looking just a little fearful. After the impassioned space opera speeches earlier, we might have expected something more flowery for their final scene, but instead--and wisely--Siegel and Shuster presented us with a final snapshot of the two loving parents holding one another in Krypton's whirling death.

Frankly, strip #11 is the only one which falls apart for me. It's three panels of the rocket's transit to Earth, with drama injected somewhat artificially by having it narrowly avoid collision with a meteor and being caught by the gravity well of a giant sun. It finally crashes to Earth, but it catches on fire, threatening the baby inside! I can understand both the need to get Kal-L to his destination and the desire to do it in an exciting fashion, but after the previous two weeks, this strip just doesn't cut the mustard.

Finally, Kal-L is rescued by that "passing motorist," who is almost explicitly here not one of the Kents.
Still has the popping glasses.

The last three panels here are basically repeats of those from that first page of Action Comics #1. In fact, the entirety of the new material in this 12-strip story takes place either before the first panel of Action Comics #1 or between the first and second panels. Consequently, this could be the very first prequel/special edition in sci-fi/superhero history, predating the Lucas revisions by nearly six decades.

So, to summarize: With a second chance to tell the origin story, Siegel and Shuster place the focus clearly and squarely on the space opera aspects, fleshing out Superman's homeworld and birth parents, and the tragedy of his origins. This is one of my favorite portrayals of said parents: Jor-L seems quite competent here, planning ahead for nearly every eventuality, carrying on his desperate work to moderate success, even without the Council's help, and still being a passionate and loving husband and father. Lora gets less of the focus, and thus less characterization, yet her unflagging support and love for her family add particular sharpness to the tragedy. By putting so much focus on making Superman's Kryptonian family relatable, we are able to feel for Krypton's destruction in ways that weren't feasible when the unnamed planet existed for a single explosive panel.

There are little things here, notable because of how frequently they change in the future. Obviously, there are the names: Jor-L, Lora, Kal-L. I'll be curious to see when those become the more familiar modern versions, and I'd be interested to know why "Lora" became "Lara," though I suppose the latter is a little more exotic. Superman's powers come from his Kryptonian heritage, specifically that their physical structure is millions of years advanced of our own, taken to the peak of human development. Consequently, everyone on Krypton has fantastic superpowers, able to run incredibly fast, leap incredibly far, and lift incredible weights. Retoz the Council Chairman is a rarity in the Superman mythos; while everyone from Vartox to Ronal has been revived by some nostalgic writer, I can find no reference whatsoever to Retoz appearing outside of this strip. Krypton's destruction is caused by apparently natural forces within the planet, not the sun or sabotage as other origins would suggest. Finally (and repeated for some emphasis) Earth is a chosen destination, not a random planet that the ship just bumbled into. This last bit gets played with now and then, but I think it speaks much more highly of Jor-L that he would have actually found a place to which his people could relocate before starting to build a ship.

There's a power to this version of the story, stemming from the science-fiction melodrama and the smart choice to put faces and personalities to Superman's origins. It was, perhaps, bold to spend multiple weeks of this comic strip without the main character appearing, but it offered something both to current readers (a new story) and neophytes (an interesting sci-fi tale).

All that being said, we learn almost nothing about Superman's life on Earth, including how an orphan named Kal-L comes to be called Clark Kent. That will change, finally and considerably, in four months or so. And that's what we'll be looking at next week, Superfans!

1. According to my research, while the cover date on Action Comics #1 was "June, 1938," like modern comics the date was off by a couple of months, and the issue would have actually come out in April. Assuming the issues stayed on a strict monthly schedule, issue #9 would have hit in December, 1938.

Superman Sunday: Origins Master List

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rocksteady Studios: Call me

Now that Warner has acquired the folks who made Batman: Arkham Asylum and are presumably going to make more games based on the DC characters, you know what story would make for a killer video game?

Superman: Emperor Joker

It'd work for a lot of the same reasons that Arkham Asylum worked: potential for dark, surreal environs, the opportunity for Mark Hamill, a hero who is continually outnumbered and outclassed, etc. But starting the game off in the normal world, fighting villains and thugs and establishing Superman's powers and world and the basic game mechanics, then stripping him of all but a fraction of his power, turning him into the villain, placing him in a surreal world under a madman's control, and pitting him against much stronger villains like Bizarro No. 1, Ignition, and Lois Lane, all so he can slowly regain his powers and take control away from the Joker, would make for a pretty epic gaming experience.

Otherwise, just a game where you're up against Mr. Mxyzptlk would be cool. But Emperor Joker would be a blast.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A cheap shot

I don't know what to think of Geoff Johns these days. Back when he was mostly just writing Flash and Teen Titans and JSA, I thought his work was pretty top-notch. He had a good handle on characters and personalities (even if he did tend to alter those personalities early on--see: Kid Flash) and he was fantastic about weaving continuity into the story without being hampered by it. He made revamps and untangling continuity look easy--Hawkman's a particular case in point, but even just tying together the Hawkman mythos with Metamorpho and the Marvel Family was a stroke of brilliance.

At times, I think his work has been less spectacular. I used to blame it on him writing too many things at once (like when Teen Titans megasucked while he was writing Infinite Crisis), but now I can see that he's got a few quirks and idiosyncracies that keep cropping up in his work, whether or not they make sense. It's clear that he has an abounding love for the way comics were when he was growing up, a nostalgia that almost reaches Byrnian or Meltzerian levels. If his work ever had any subtlety--and I like to think it did, once--it almost completely lacks it now. He has a tendency to take things which were metaphors or symbolic and to state them as explicitly as possible; I didn't mind it when it was "yellow=fear and Green Lanterns have to be fearless!" or even the emotional spectrum, but when it's "hey, Rudy Jones is a parasite," it's a bit much. He's become the go-to guy for "rebirths" and "secret origins," even though "Flash: Rebirth" compares to "Green Lantern: Rebirth" or "Superman: Up, Up, and Away" about as favorably as "Spider-Man: Chapter One" did to "Man of Steel." His secret origin stories so far exist mostly to tie Johns' current storylines and status quos into the character's origin story, and to make it clear that the character has neither grown nor changed since his or her debut.

And the less said about his love for 1970s Superman--to the point of reintroducing Steve Lombard, writing comics that basically function as sequels to the Donner films, killing Pa Kent for no reason whatsoever, retconning Ella Lane into the grave, and turning newer characters like Ron Troupe and Cat Grant into one-dimensional caricatures which bear almost no resemblance to anything which has gone before--the better.

It's not all bad, mind you. I'm one of the few people around who actually enjoyed "Blackest Night" (except who was chosen as deputies for most of the Lantern Corps), and while I think "Brightest Day" is off to a not-so-good start, I'm intrigued enough by the concept to follow it for the time being. Several of his Superman arcs--the Legion and Bizarro World stories, for instance--have been pretty great, and I'm still fond of his older work. I just don't understand what could make someone so inconsistent? Is it because he's no longer particularly bound by editorial constraints? Is it because revamps allow him to freely pick and choose what continuity to acknowledge and ignore, rather than to just try to untangle things as he did before? Is it because he has a tendency to write books past the time that his ideas have run out? Is it because his quirks have magnified exponentially due to a lack of backlash from fans to keep him in check?

No, I'm pretty sure I've figured out the answer: the reason there are so many different levels of quality coming out under Geoff Johns' name is because there are many different Geoff Johnses. In fact, I'd venture so far as to say that we've never actually met the real Geoff Johns, only these duplicates of him. The real Johns is a writer of unbelievably great caliber, with Roy Thomas levels of continuity knowledge, and chances are he'll enter the picture almost immediately after I've revealed this information. Until now, the only Geoff Johns we've had have been these pale imitators, but soon we'll meet the original version--and tremble.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Putting the Call Out

I have quite a bit of the Adventures of Superman radio program, but I can't quite track down some key episodes, or any real information about them. Specifically, I'm looking for the 1942 two-parter "Superman Comes to Earth" and "Eben Kent Dies in a Fire, Clark Kent Goes to Metropolis", and the serial "The Meteor from Krypton" from 1943. As far as I can tell, both stories retell Superman's origin, and the latter includes the first appearance of Kryptonite in any medium.

Unfortunately, the best I've been able to do is get part three of the latter seven-part serial, which is a start, but isn't quite where I'd like to be.

On the plus side, it'll be at least a month before I get to 1942, so I have some time. But if you know where to look, or even who to ask where to look, I'd be very appreciative. On the other hand, if you happen to have those episodes in an easily transferable format, I'd be even more appreciative.


Superman Sunday: Origins (Part 1)

We'll start small today. Clocking in at just one seven(ish)-panel page, the Superman origin in "Action Comics #1" is one of the shortest on record. The thing I like about these short origins is that, while they don't offer much depth or detail, they do expose what the creators thought was most important about the character.

In that regard, this first origin story is particularly interesting. Read it for yourself:
A year later, they expanded it to a full *two pages*!

We start with Krypton. Or, rather, we don't. Superman's home planet isn't named in this opener. We don't spend any time lingering on Jor-El or Lara or the Council or any of the other trappings of Superman's pre-Earth origins. For Siegel and Shuster, the most important part of this story was starting it quickly, getting the exposition out of the way and the protagonist into the spotlight. So we have a "distant planet" dying of "old age," and a scientist who sends his infant son off in a rocket toward Earth. Other, later stories would fill in the gaps there. "Old age" would be replaced as a cause for the planet's destruction (over and over and over), but the endpoint is always more or less the same.

There's something almost Biblical about the way the second panel's meaning has changed over the years. Just as the serpent in Genesis is never identified as Satan--that's a later interpretation--the "passing motorist" was never identified as the Kents (especially since the noun is singular). Indeed, this iteration of the origin gives Clark no human family whatsoever! Moving on through the third panel, we might conclude that Clark grew up in an orphanage, which I think would make for a very different Superman mythos: just imagine how that would have been reinterpreted in 1985.

Panel three gives us a first glimpse at one of Clark's feats of childhood strength. Strangely enough, this one doesn't get referenced much in modern adaptations--probably in part because the orphanage rarely makes it into the origin these days. I'll be interested in seeing some of the early versions of the "lifting tractor to get ball" and "lifting truck" scenes that usually fill this role. Why this scene? Well, it establishes what happened to Clark after crashing on Earth, and it demonstrates that he's always been extraordinary.

I'd also like to take a moment to note the doctor's glasses flying off. That's just good comedy.

Panel four is a run-down of Superman's powers--interestingly enough, showing Clark out of costume in all three shots. This establishes the rules of the character--rules which, of course, would be stretched beyond all recognition within 20 years or so. I find it interesting that it mentions that "when maturity was reached" he found he could do these incredible things. The idea that Superman's powers developed slowly over time, only hitting their apex when he reached adulthood, was a cornerstone of the Man of Steel reboot, and has been a part of the mythos (to varying degrees) ever since, figuring heavily into "Smallville," for instance. I think the Silver Age focused more on the image of the infant holding up the chair, leading to stories of Superman as a boy and a baby, with the same powers he has as an adult. I like that the pendulum swung back the other way, toward the blurb atop this panel, though it seems to have found a bit of middle ground since the Byrne revamp. In any case, we establish that Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, lift giant weights, outrun a locomotive, and withstand the impact of anything less than a "bursting shell." Whether or not a bursting shell--or something more powerful--can actually hurt him is not, as I recall, directly addressed in these early issues, though I haven't read all of them.

It's worth noting how specific some of the ability descriptions are: "1/8 of a mile," "twenty-story building," etc. I'm reminded of the old Official Handbooks to the Marvel Universe, which delighted in such scientific-sounding minutia, explicitly describing characters' strength classes by how many tons they could lift. Some comic traditions are old.

Panel five drops Clark's first name, and it's a bit confusing, to be honest. I'll cut Siegel and Shuster some slack: this is their first big work, and they've been at it for years. They're naturally going to be more familiar with the character than their audience, and I think I blame that for this "calling the character by his first name as if the audience is already aware of what his name is" flub. Here, we get the briefest explanation of our protagonist's motives (good guy: check!), and the note that he's a hero by choice, from an early age. There's a part of me that's tickled by this, knowing that Superman started as a villain, but this also sets the stage for the strong sense of morals (which don't always jive with the law) possessed by our protagonist in the early years.

The next panel is a glimpse not only of the costume, but of the way the character would be narrated for decades. Compare "And so was created... [pause] SUPERMAN! Champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!" to "Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Superman! Yes, it's Superman — strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman — who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way." It's exposition with its own climax and denouement.

I'll note in particular a phrase that you rarely hear about Superman anymore: "champion of the oppressed." At some point, I'd like to do some really deep research into the sociopolitical sentiment and cultural mores of the late 1930s, just to get a better idea of why the early Superman enemies were mostly crooked politicians and fatcats. There's something cathartic about that even now (and something very much in line with Jewish folklore), and I wish we saw a bit more of that in modern Superman comics. It'd be a great way around the problem of Superman's small and paltry rogues gallery if he spent more of his time righting social and political ills--without, say, taking a side in political issues. Corruption is corruption.

Finally, we have what I think is the most interesting part of this page, the most striking thing about what Siegel and Shuster thought was important to include: a justification for Superman's powers. The third panel explained the origin of his abilities (highly evolved/advanced biology), which would remain intact for some time thereafter, but this panel attempts to make those abilities seem less outlandish. I mentioned above that some comic tropes have a long history; this is one of them. This is "The Science of Superman" in 1938.

It's also one more reason I'd like to better understand the cultural milieu of the time. I've grown up in an era where superheroes are commonplace in fiction, where people bending steel and flying are a typical part of suspended disbelief. I've read before that either Siegel and Shuster thought the character might be too outlandish and unbelievable to be salable, or that they had a hard time selling the character for similar reasons. I don't know how true that is, but this panel seems like it's trying to preempt that sentiment. It also makes sense of why Superman's powers steadily grew over the next several years: if people were willing to accept a man who can jump an eighth of a mile, why not a little farther? Siegel, Shuster, and the other creators (along with the limitations of radio) pushed the boundaries of suspended disbelief slowly and steadily, until we had a minor god by the middle of the century.

I suspect the power creep--and the Comics Code, of course--is a major part of why Superman's enemies shifted from human ills to sci-fi/fantasy villains. When Superman can shatter planets, it suddenly seems a bit less like justice and more like bullying for him to lead socialites down into unsafe caves to teach them a lesson. Still, DC, if you're listening, I know I'd buy a regular series starring the Golden Age Superman in the '30s and '40s. Especially if Jon Bogdanove or Dave Bullock were drawing it. As long as you're doing this First Wave stuff, doesn't it just make sense?

So that's the beginning. Depending on how you count it, seven-ish panels to establish Superman as Clark Kent, champion of those who have none, to give him a tantalizingly brief backstory, and to explain and justify some of his amazing abilities. And this is how it would remain...until January 16, 1939. And until next week, Superfans!

Superman Sunday: Origins Master List

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Original Commentary

I've been on a bit of a Superman kick lately. If you've been reading my late-night tweets, you know that I've been watching a lot of "Lois and Clark" recently, greatly revising my opinion of the show. It actually holds up quite well, and it's a lot better than I thought it would be, based on my decade-old memories.

Between that and rereading some Superman trades, I've decided that I'd like to do a running commentary on the various origin stories that have been told over the years. Especially as "Superman: Secret Origin" is drawing to a close, I have a burning desire to revisit "Man of Steel" and (groan) "Superman: Birthright," so I might as well bring in some of the other versions as well--especially since some of them are such interesting departures (see: the radio version).

So I'm going to try another series, albeit one with an expiration date. Each week, I'd like to look at a new Superman origin, with my usual sort of commentary.

What I'm looking for from you is input: I think I've got a fairly exhaustive list of retellings of the tale, but I know there are some missing variations (in particular, I know there was one where Superman crashed to Earth in the 1960s and it speculated what his life would be like in the '90s-'00s) that I'd like to catalog. Presented here is my list of origin stories; the ones in bold are the ones that I already have access to one way or another. I'd like to limit this to official stories and main-line "imaginary stories" (i.e., no Elseworlds), but other than that, please feel free to add any versions of the story you're aware of.

Here's the list in rough chronological order:
  • Action Comics #1
  • Superman Daily Comic Strips
  • Superman #1
  • "Adventures of Superman" Radio program
  • Fleischer Superman cartoons
  • More Fun Comics #101
  • "Superman" 1948 serial
  • Superman #53
  • Superman #61
  • Action Comics #158
  • "Adventures of Superman" 1952 Series
  • Superman #146
  • "Superman" 1978 film
  • "World of Krypton" (vol 1) miniseries
  • "Superman: The Secret Years" miniseries
  • "History of the DC Universe" miniseries
  • "Man of Steel" 1986 miniseries (and related miniseries)
  • "Superman" 1987 cartoon series
  • "Superman" post-Zero Hour issues
  • "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" 1993 series
  • "Superman" 1996 Animated Series
  • "Superman: For All Seasons" miniseries
  • "Smallville" TV series (though I'm not totally sure which episodes to go to for specific origin material)
  • "Superman: Birthright" miniseries
  • "All-Star Superman"
  • "Superman: Secret Origin" miniseries

Please offer advice on amending or editing this list as necessary. I don't have an ETA for the first post on this subject, but seeing how "Action Comics #1" gives like, two pages to the origin, it'll probably be soon.