Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Echo and the Bunnyman

 "...while wearing a domino mask and purple and green jumpsuit while flying on some mysteriouslly propelled levitation device."

The Supervillain Handbook: the Ultimate How-To Guide to Destruction and Mayhem, by Matt D. Wilson, 2012, pg. 2.

Well, it's not exactly a domino mask. But after all, isn't Lex exactly the kind of ass who wears Google-glasses?

Although I am (as previously mentioned) strongly disconcerted by apparent shifts in the Aquaman storyline in the "DCYou" (*sigh*), and amused by the absurdity of Commissioner Bunnyman in the Batman titles, I am surprisingly sanguine about the Latest Big New Changes to Superman, which include Lois's exposure of his secret identity and him having a mere echo of his former power levels.

First off: at least they didn't require a Sand Creature.  Because I still have a headache from that bit of nonsense.

Second, the Periodic Depowering of Superman is just something I have come to expect.  As I have written about before, long-running iconic superheroes tend to develop "persona-cycles": extremes along various dimension of their characters between which they oscillate.  Each character becomes a big 'mixing board' and the writer is the sound engineer tweaking what version of the hero we get.  Is "Superman as Kryptonian alien" turned up loud, or is "Clark Kent the farmboy" dialed up?  Are Superman's power levels amped up to an earth-shoving 11 or is straining to leap over tall buildings?  Long-running characters NEED these kind of options in order to stay fresh and maintain the constant illusion of change.  

I have seen "Clark Kent no more" and "Superman no more" and everything in between.  This latest-- 'Superman is Clark Kent...Revealed!'-- is frankly, a welcome change.

It lets us suspend our suspension of disbelief that Ace Reporter Lois Lane (or anyone else) can't figure out that Superman is Clark Kent and has do what a reporter actually would; report it.

It lets the writers off the hook about what to do with Clark Kent. Because it's been pretty clear that (except for Geoff Johns) none of them has the slightest idea what to do with him.  They killed his parents off, so he has no family to talk to (including Supergirl and Krypto who keep getting sent off on a space-bus).  He's got no (human) love interest and his relationship with Wonder Woman is clearly the last priority in and least interesting part of her/his life (since it seldom turns up in either of their solo titles).  He's got no interest in his OWN stupid blog that Cat Grant bullied him into (if that even exists after Perry White hired him back, oh wait he fired him again).  The only remotely functioning relationship he seems to have is with... Jimmy Olsen. How sad is that?

Answer: very sad.

It lets them off the hook a bit with Superman, too, because he's hard to write when he's super-superpowerful.  As someone wise once pointed out, "Seeing Superman pushing a planet out of the way isn't impressive, it's ludicrous.  Seeing Superman lift a TANK is impressive, because it's on a scale we can understand directly."  And now we have a Superman whose super-effort we can feel again, because we see HIM feeling them.  

Besides, "Superman starts to lose his powers but won't stop fighting crime and needs to team up with Commission Gordon in a Batman-robot suit" is the most Silver Age thing I've seen since Kryptococcus the Omni-Germ.  I'm nearly willing to go along for the ride; I just wish it were a simple story, not another fake 'new status quo' that will have been superseded at least three times before "Batman vs. Superman" comes out.


SallyP said...

Almost you convince me. And I am intrigued by Kryptococcus the Omni-Germ. The Green Lanterns had their own sentient Small Pox virus, Leezil Pon who was a full fledged member!

God, there just isn't anything quite like the Silver Age.

Um...what were we talking about again?

John said...

I sort of agree, but I'm sort of at the other extreme of thinking that maybe this is a good time to clear the decks and build a fresh DCU from scratch. We can all see (and they have to know) that they're just keeping trademarks warm for the movie studios that don't care what the comics are like, so why just not go nuts? Pretend it's 1938 and just have a low-power, human Superman and Commissioner Bunnikins as Batman without the history behind them. If it flops, oh, that was an alternate Earth and we can just ignore it.

After all, once you skip past the top-ten books, isn't the audience for a title something like fifty thousand readers? That's not exactly an audience worth worrying about and building something more media-friendly and inclusive might actually give them some better opportunities.

But yeah, if they're not going to do that, just...stop pretending that these are genuine long-term changes that'll be reverted in a year or two. It's not like anybody doesn't see it all as a set piece that'll be forgotten in a few years.

Bryan L said...

"stop pretending that these are genuine long-term changes"

The weird thing is that I don't really understand what the point of this pretense is. I was traveling last week, and visiting the odd comic shop here and there, and struck up conversations (as I am wont to do in such establishments) and NOBODY thinks any of this stuff is permanent any more. NOBODY.

We all just keep it at arms' length now. We don't bother getting invested in the new status quo because we know it's not going to stick. But for some reason, DC (and Marvel) still trot out the "nothing will ever be the same again" shrill pitch. And we all sigh and roll our eyes.

Honestly, they've got nothing to lose by simply saying, "Hey, we're trying something different because we think it's cool. Check it out." Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the premise of Elseworlds, which generated some damn good stories. (And whatever happened to that concept?)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

I dunno, I think that Superman needs a secret identity to work fully. He derives a lot of his power from the disconnect between his public and private identities. "If they only knew the real me" is at Superman's very heart. The power fantasy of "the true me unleashed would shake the pillars of heaven" has more oomph when no one can see the true you except the readers.

Then again, that particular vein has been mined for nearly a century, so yeah, I could see messing with it and seeing what results.

God, now all I can think about is a Silver Age story where Clark Kent was in a situation that should have blinded him, so Superman had to abandon that identity and take up a new one. He went through several; the only one of which I can recall off the top of my head was his brief tenure as an English disc jockey, "Clark the K," complete with "Dick Van Dyke in 'Mary Poppins'" accent. (He cheated to get the job over his competitors, using his super-powers to boost the radio station's signal when he auditioned. Never change, Clark.) Maybe he should do that again.

Oh god the "search for a new secret identity" storyline could be hilarious and awesome. If they actually tried it, it wouldn't be, but it could be.

...I think another of his tried-on identities in that long-ago story was as a butler, and his boss proved to be an organized crime figure...oh man what a weird story...

Scipio said...

He needs one title where every month he tries to establish a new ID, but then hijinks ensue and it fails horribly.

Anonymous said...

As coincidence would have it, Seanbaby was talking just yesterday about some of the crazier ways Superman has tried to protect his secret identity:


DC is still misdiagnosing the Superman "problem", though. The number one thing about Superman is, he's the guy who will move heaven and earth if he knows you're in trouble ... and the only writer I've seen who has any sort of sense of that is Grant Morrison. People love that suicide girl scene in "All-Star Superman" precisely because it shows that side of Superman. This panel sums it up even better for my tastes, coincidentally enough by Morrison:


Once you've ("you" = "Dan Didio") decided that Superman can actually get involved in people's lives in large ways and small, depending on the story you want to tell, you'll find that it opens up all sorts of storytelling avenues. And it also makes it easier to work Clark into the mix.

I guess I find myself thinking: DC ought to at least have a handle on the fundamentals of Superman before they start shaking up the status quo. Instead, DC goes the other route: they put whatever crap writers they can on Superman (I'm looking at you Lobdell) and then are astonished that the comic just can't seem to prosper. You want Lobdell's vision for Superman? I'll quote the man himself:



And even though he is often thought of as the World’s Greatest Hero… let’s be honest… he’s easily the MOST DAMAGED of ALL SUPER HEROES! Even poor BRUCE WAYNE only lost his PARENTS! POOR SUPERMAN lost HIS PARENTS and his ENTIRE PLANET! Can YOU imagine how GUILTY YOU would feel if you WERE THE ONLY MEMBER of YOUR FAMILY/PLANET who was ABLE TO ESCAPE DEATH?!

Now imagine you COME to a NEW PLANET… and you have ALL THE POWER you need to HELP OTHER PEOPLE! How could you SAY NO? You would HAVE to HELP PEOPLE! Whether you WANTED to or not – it would make NO DIFFERENCE! You HAVE to help people!


Well there YOU HAVE it -- THIS IS what Scott LOBDELL thinks SUPERMAN is supposed TO BE like. Is IT any WONDER that HIS run KIND OF TURNED out CRAPPY? AND I haven't SEEN SO much inconsistent CAPITALIZATION since I SENT away for MY llap-goch HANDBOOK; what GIVES?

John said...

That's a good point, Bryan. It's sort of like the old "in this issue, SOMEBODY DIES!!" covers. A few times, you can get away with it and people take it seriously, but we know there's no wolf, because we've seen the gag before a million times, know how the story arc ends, and already see their advertising live sheep in the future...or some metaphor that makes more sense.

As for the Elseworlds idea, I felt like that was always a half-admission that parallel Earths were useful while pretending not to have them. The stories were self-contained, so they would never "contaminate" the main timeline. By isolating The Golden Age and Kingdom Come in their own, disconnected, not-parallel worlds, they protected the DCU proper from being overrun by the stupid ideas in...well, that was the theory, best I could figure, at least. With the return of the Multiverse, it would seem that Elseworlds wouldn't be of any use, except I feel like half the revealed Multiverse has been irrevocably destroyed, so maybe fifty-two Earths was a little too limiting...

Harvey, I'm not as sure that a secret identity is necessary. In a lot of ways, I think Superman has been weighed down by the "form" of the Silver Age Superman and that causes more problems for writers than his power levels. The metaphor that worked back when we were kids of a nerd who isn't able/allowed to announce to the world how terrific he is just doesn't fly in a post-Bill Gates world. We're even at the point where the metaphor even rings hollow (so I hear) for sexual and gender minorities.

I don't know if DC has any writers who can handle it responsibly, let alone well, but the idea of a Clark who's trying to forge an identity of his own apart from the powers everybody knows he has (the nerd equivalent being everybody asking to fix their printers, the gender equivalent being people asking absurdly personal questions about sex or anatomy) could be brilliant. Or a Clark who sincerely loves people (as Anonymous alludes to), but has trouble making attachments, because his celebrity status is hard for people to get past. The only person he can turn to is, of course, Jimmy Olsen, but he's traveling the world as a war correspondent or something, so he doesn't have much time to chat.

Scipio, model it on the old Incredible Hulk TV series, and I'm there. I still think Superman's more suited to a telenovella, though.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone here big enough of a nerd to have heard of a British TV show called "Doctor Who"? Probably not, so I'll leave you to Google it. Anyway, it's sort of a tradition that, when a new Doctor is trotted out, at some point in his first episode he monologues a bit about his views on mankind and how human beings are important, or at least important enough to be worth the Doctor's time. The scene exists to reassure the viewer that this is indeed the same Doctor as always; whatever superficial new character traits are present, it's still the same guy who will die to protect people.

I think Superman is due an occasional speech like that. Personally, I'd be sold on any writer who had Superman say something like: "Inside each person, inside each fragile form, there is an entire universe of hopes, dreams, and possibilities. Inside each person is the potential to make the world into something amazing. Each person is something new and unique, and anyone who intends to harm any of them, is going to have to get through me first." I'm no writer so presumably DC could hire someone who could do better; you get the idea.

Bryan L said...

I dunno, Anonymous. That sounds pretty hopeful and uplifting. I'm not sure DC does that any more.

JimmyTheJiver said...

Everyone's heard of Dr. Who at this point. You can't own Netflix, walk in a Hot Topic, go to Tumblr, Cracked, any T-Shirt website or TV Tropes without knowing about Dr. Who. The show's hipster cred is gone, move on.

As for Superman, I think his worst enemy is characters who are allies that act as props rather than real people who make us care about Clark or said character or antagonists that get in the way of Superman/Clark Kent. I'm not charmed by his myriad's of toxic girlfriends, best pals who fall in and out of the story, co-workers who are irrelevant written by writers who know nothing nor care about journalism the way Batman writers squirm at doing actual detective writing.

The problem really boils down to this, whether Lois is a being a good journalist doing her job, the framing device is she's ruining Superman's life by stealing his privacy and turning law enforcement against him. Sure it's in her best interest to protect the people, but if we're supposed to root for Clark then it boils down to Lois being an ungrateful snitch. That's my problem with this dynamic. No victory for Lois is a real victory. Then again Clark is in a hell of his own making sleeping with Zeus-Daughter who is the worst of the Amazons and silver age Lois, but than again something about Zeus's line makes lover's compromise their principles, see Hyppolyta, so I suppose Clark is no different.

My post is a generalization for why I stopped reading the Superman line and why any new direction still doesn't interest me. Obviously there are exceptions that I'm sure I missed out on. I'm sure the neighbors standing by Clark in the preview like Lee Lambert could turn out to be breakout characters unlike every old face being a shell of their old self.

Slaughter said...

I like the Truth status quo because it is sort of a interesting new direction nobody ever went with before - we had Superman no More, Clark no more, villains finding out about the secret (the most notable ones being Conduit, Manchester Black and Jean Loring), etc. But Superman is now Clark Kent and everybody knows? That's new.

Also, we now discover that Jimmy Olsen signal watch aparently can be used as a Zatanna-caller as well. Makes sense, Jimmy Olsen prolly got some bad mojo, best to have Zatanna on the speed dial.