Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rocking the Casbah of Solitude

So, as you probably know by now, the story solicited for "Superman" #712 has been replaced with the story originally solicited for "Superman" #659, which itself was replaced by the story originally solicited for "Superman" #660, which was replaced with a story about the Prankster.

We'll leave aside the potentially uncomfortable implications of replacing a story about a Muslim hero with a story about an animal that at least some Muslims might consider unclean. That's just the usual sort of forehead-smacking ignorant, probably unintentional insensitivity that DC's excelled at recently.

Instead, I want to make a couple of comments. First: I think Chris Sims is probably right, as is often the case. In what was probably a dumb attempt to avoid controversy (because heaven knows the last thing we want is non-comic-readers talking about comics), DC switched the story at the last minute, causing at least some amount of controversy anyway.

This does mean that I think someone is taking the piss or having the piss taken from them with the kitten alternative, which is prima facie ridiculous. The logic that DC would scrap an entire finished book because of a two-page kitten-saving sequence, completely in-line with Superman's character, and replace it with a story about Superman's super-powered pet dog mourning the since-undone death of its cloned teenage caretaker, is cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face stupid. Of course, DC's official line, that the story about a character being inspired by Superman to do good and act heroically, as written (and pencilled, inked, lettered, and colored) didn't fit with "Grounded"--which of late has been all about Superman inspiring other characters to do good and act heroically--and which has been all over the map in terms of tone, so it was replaced with an "Infinite Crisis" epilogue from five years ago, is pretty absurd as well.

But let's explore the implications for a moment. I don't want to read about a Superman who won't stop to save a kitten from a tree. In fact, I just (re-)watched a movie about such a Superman. "Superman/Doomsday" has a scene specifically where the (SPOILER ALERT) Luthor-cloned Superman saves a cat from a tree, but then threateningly berates its owner for allowing it outside in the first place and diverting his attention from more important things. The scene is specifically designed to demonstrate that this Superman is a bad guy, and the thought of DC adopting something closer to that as the official Superman sounds...well, it sounds like more of the '90s again, except Superman largely escaped that idiocy in the '90s.

Except, you know, when he conquered the world. But even then, it wasn't a matter of certain tasks being beneath him, it was that he was trying to do too much, to the point that he tried preventing Pa Kent from doing basic yardwork due to the danger.

In any case, I think the kitten explanation is too dumb to be true, even if the actual reasons are similarly dumb.

Back to the originally solicited issue, we have the matter of Muslim superhero Sharif. Chris Roberson has been pretty clear that Sharif isn't a new character, but is a revamp of Davood "Sinbad" Nasoor, a force-field-wielding metahuman who debuted in Superman (v2) #48 as the subject of a three-part story by William Messner-Loebs and Curt Swan. The story appeared a few years before I was actively reading Superman comics, but Sinbad was still one of the first Superman-supporting superheroes I got to know as a young comics reader, because of his brief appearance in "The Legacy of Superman."

"Legacy" came out shortly after Superman's death, and thus, shortly after I subscribed to the four monthly Superman titles. I was surprised when it came in the mail, not being a regular issue, but I read it over and over. I knew Rose and Thorn from some of my Mom's comics, and Guardian and Gangbuster had both had brief appearances in other post-Death comics, but the other characters--newly-created Auron, Sinbad, Waverider, etc.--were largely unknown to me. As such, I also had no idea how important or unimportant they were to Superman's cast. As far as I knew, Sinbad was just as important as any of the other characters. And I thought his force field power was pretty cool, reminiscent of a backup story I'd enjoyed in "Spider-Man" #26 a few months prior.

So color me excited to see Chris Roberson catching us up on Davood Nassur, for the first real time in eighteen years. Except that he didn't, for whatever reason.

Since you probably don't have "Superman" #48, "Adventures of Superman" #471, or "Action Comics" #658 in front of you, let me give you a quick run-down of Davood's story. Please stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

A year or so before, Superman invaded Qurac, which he called a "terrorist nation," as a response to terrorist attacks on American soil (specifically Metropolis). Though conflicted about interfering in international politics, the Man of Steel took violent action, blowing up tanks, stopping missiles, and confronting the military dictator about the attacks. His actions were viewed as an act of warlike aggression by the Quraci people, who consequently came to see Superman as both an enemy and an agent of American imperialism. Fast-forward past the Invasion, where gene-bombs activated meta-genes in many members of the population, including Davood Nassur. Davood, a Quraci-American immigrant living with his family in the Little Qurac neighborhood of Metropolis, had limited telekinetic-style powers--until he and his sister Soraya (a LexCorp secretary) accidentally ended up in the middle of one of Lex's nefarious schemes, and obtained a special belt that would enhance Davood's abilities. He used his newfound power to fight crime and toyed with calling himself Sinbad, which Luthor used to his advantage, staging terrorist acts across the city by costumed criminals claiming to work for Sinbad, in an attempt to retrieve his power belt.

Superman naturally got involved in various places here, and his interactions with Davood--in fact, with any Quraci--were marked by violence and distrust. Superman's brash actions in Qurac the year before had made him a pariah among Quracis, a dangerous villain to be feared and loathed. Eventually, he and Davood made peace (Superman saved Soraya's life), just in time to prevent the destruction of Metropolis by a giant spaceship-bomb directed by Luthor. In the process, Davood's belt shorted out, leaving him with the unamplified powers he had at the beginning of the process, and both Clark and Superman had made inroads with at least one Quraci family.

By the time of Superman's death, Davood's power had increased to the level that it had been with the amplifier belt, and he took an active role as Sinbad once more, with mixed results.

It's not a great parallel, but similar elements are there--a terrorist attack on American soil, Superman's actions in a foreign nation being perceived as an American act of war, a Muslim superhero dealing with common prejudice, ultimately trying to live up to Superman's example.

What does it say about DC, about the United States as a country, that they were brave enough to publish that story in 1990, but not in 2011?

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