Thursday, March 17, 2011

A prologue of sorts, I guess?

As should be obvious by now, I spend a lot of time thinking about Superman. Probably an unhealthy amount, actually. As a consequence, I've found myself doing a lot of Superman reading lately. Three things in particular have been working to change and reshape my opinions of the character (in some cases even including some of the things I once thought were foundational): the Morrison/Millar/Waid/Peyer "Superman 2000" pitch, Elliot S! Maggin's novel Superman: The Last Son of Krypton, and the Maggin/Bates era of Superman comics from the '70s and early '80s. I've got a bunch of posts percolating about stuff from these sources, and while I'd like to say that that means you'll be reading more about Superman here than usual, we both know that's not the case.

One thing that I think is worth mentioning is the fact that each of these three materials is something that I've actively avoided reading, for one reason or another. I wrote off the "Superman 2000" pitch after I heard about it, mainly because I thought the whole concept of splitting up Lois and Clark's marriage was wrongheaded, smacking of the same Silver Age nostalgia that was running rampant in the DCU and comics in general. I still think it'd be a bad idea to break up comics' most famous couple, but mostly because I don't think anyone has really taken advantage of the story potential of the marriage, and because I don't think you can un-ring that wedding bell. Once Clark and Lois have broken up, even if neither of them remembers the marriage, I think everyone everywhere is going to be reading the rest of their stories as biding time and treading water until they get married again. Mark Waid's "Birthright" made me further convinced that the "Superman 2000" situation would have been a total fiasco, and so I wrote off the pitch as a profoundly bad idea.

Now that I've read it, I can't believe that I wrote it off so completely based on what was, ultimately, such a tiny aspect of the whole enterprise. It's made me decide to revisit "Birthright," to read that series in light of what these four horsemen actually wanted to achieve. While I think Waid still dropped the ball (the "soul-vision"/vegetarianism concept was explained a lot more clearly and sensibly in "Superman 2000" than in "Birthright"), I think a larger ball was dropped by the editorial staff who decided instead to go with the Jeph Loeb soft reboot. But that's a story for another post.

"Birthright" was what made me decide not to read the Maggin Superman novels. I'd heard that "soul-vision" came out of Miracle Monday, and that was enough to make me write off those as well. I picked up Last Son of Krypton some years ago at a used bookstore, and I'm actually on my second copy, having lent the first to a friend, without ever actually cracking it. I picked up Miracle Monday back in '08, but haven't gotten to it, either. With Spring Break coming up, I anticipate having enough time to actually finish the first novel, and I'd like to finish the second before the actual Miracle Monday in May. I'm only nine chapters in, but this is some good Superman. I was silly to ignore it for so long based on spurious guilt by association.

Which brings us to the Bates/Maggin era of the Superman comics, which I've largely avoided for a totally different reason: they didn't matter. I started reading Superman regularly in 1992, and one of my earliest introductions was with the Wizard Death of Superman Special. I read that thing cover to cover multiple times, absorbing every single fact I could, and one of those facts was that the Crisis changed Superman and things were different now and nothing from before mattered. This caused multiple arguments between me and my mother. So I wrote anything pre-1986 off as silly Silver Age non-continuity stuff, and never really looked back, barring the occasional "For the Man Who Has Everything." In recent years, I've been growing a greater appreciation for the Silver Age, but that still left a pretty huge gap including all of the '70s and early '80s--in large part because almost none of it has been collected. The Alan Moore stories have been reprinted, and a handful of issues in the decade-style trades, but most of the Maggin/Bates era has been left to collect dust in back issue boxes. And that's a shame, because these are some of the most interesting, most fun Superman comics I've read in a long time. There's some of that Silver Age goofiness, to be sure, but I think modern comics could do with an injection of the Julie Schwartz model of writing stories to fit a crazy/punchy cover. The more significant point to be made is that these comics are fun, and that's often been sorely lacking in Superman's books. I'd love to see these reprinted in some kind of omnibus format, or even just a less-piecemeal way than the current "stories from a certain decade or theme" model of old-school reprintings.

Hm. This was supposed to be a very different post. I guess that'll be the next one, then. The moral of the stories, kids: don't dismiss things for stupid reasons. Every comic story is an "imaginary story," and ignoring some because you think they're somehow less imaginary than others is just stupid.

1 comment:

Will Staples said...

Maggin's "Does the World Need a Superman?" story is one of my favorites. I think he was a mite sentimental at times, but his love of Superman made his comics a joy to read.

He was also the first writer to make Luthor a three-dimensional, sympathetic villain, years before the Byrne reboot sent him back into cartoon villain territory.