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The New Direction for Superman: Brooding Like He Was in Twilight (or Like He Was Batman)

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In another underwhelming statement, DC Comics has once again managed to lower expectations for their September reboot/relaunch.  This time, they’re chasing a fad and making some fairly fundamental character changes to Superman.

You may recall that the flagship of Superman’s reboot is to be written by the generally well-regarded writer Grant Morrison.  Not so long ago, Morrison wrote the 12 issue mini-series “All-Star Superman.”  An out of continuity love letter to the Superman comics of the 1960s, this was probably the best reviewed and received take on Superman in the last 20 years.  (I’m hit and miss with Morrison projects and I recommend that title without reservations.)  Expectations are high, but now we can see the signs of crass commercialism and likely editorial suggestions sneaking in.

Let’s take the DC statement item-by-item:

“In the pages of ACTION COMICS, writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales will present humanity’s first encounters with Superman, before he became one of the World’s Greatest Super Heroes. Set a few years in the past, it’s a bold new take on a classic hero.

* This Superman is very much an alien, one struggling to adjust to his adopted home. In the series, he must come to terms with both the loss of his home world, as well as the loss of both of his adopted parents. He is more Kal-El from the planet Krypton than Clark Kent from Kansas. He’s a loner trying to find his place in the world.”

If you’ve read any Superman comics, this should make you raise an eyebrow.  The yin and yang of DC Comics are Superman and Batman.  Superman is a disguise that Clark Kent puts on to fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Clark Kent is a stand-up Mid-West farm boy who confronts evil and injustice.  He just happens to be from another planet.  Clark Kent is the ultimate immigrant to a nation of immigrants.  On the other hand, Bruce Wayne is just a disguise that Batman puts on during the day.  (Batman’s a little messed up.)

Frankly, you can replace “Kal-El from the planet Krypton” with “vampire” and this reads like a teen horror novel.  DC’s “Superman: Earth One” original graphic novel was a surprise breakout hit, and one of the reasons seemed to be an early review comparing it to Twilight.  Well, congratulations, DC just titled the table in that direction.  Superman is now a sulking vampire, er, alien looking for his place in the world.

That’s a pretty major change.

On the other hand, it does make you wonder if Batman’s brooding identity issues are more en vogue with today’s market…

“* The series’ first storyline will explore the origins of Superman’s costume, as it evolves from a look that includes jeans and work boots to a new look: a suit of battle armor that pays tribute to his Kryptonian past.

* His great powers have limits. When the series begins, Superman can leap tall buildings, but his ability to fly is in its infancy.”

These bullets, on the other hand, sound like Grant Morrison.  When working on superhero titles, Morrison usually likes to base his work on touch points from the original material and frequently works through a specific time period of a title.  Morrison has frequently stated his desire to go back to the origins of Superman and Superman didn’t originally fly.  Superman originally just jumped really, really far.  Because he was that strong.  Superman was originally a bit more socially active, too and played a bit rougher if you look at the first year or two of stories, as presumably Morrison is.  When you’re doing an origin story, it makes a certain amount of sense to have the origin of the costume.

The classical origin is that the costume is made of blankets that baby Kal-El was wrapped in, from the rocket that carried him from Krypton to Earth.  Ma Kent made it.  Sounds like that’s out.  Of course, there’s also a lawsuit going over what aspects of Superman are now owned by the heirs of Superman’s creators and what aspects are owned by DC/Warner Brothers.  This new costume smacks of being mandated by corporate to more clearly differentiate the Warner version of the character.

After such a faithful, loving rendition of Superman in All-Star Superman, I find it very odd that Morrison should swap around the nature of the character so much.  Superman being more aggressive in his pursuit of justice, sure that would be consistent.  Sulky vampire/alien?  That’s new.

“And in the SUPERMAN ongoing comic book series, by writer George Perez and artist Jesus Merino, will be set in present day continuity and will unleash a series of new challenges for Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent.

* Clark Kent is single and living on his own. He has never been married.

* Lois Lane is dating a colleague at the DAILY PLANET (and his name isn’t Clark Kent) and she has a new position with the paper.”

A lot of people will be upset by this and there’s a couple different takes on the marriage.  From the 1960s, through the 1980s, DC had two main dimensions for their heroes.  “Earth-1” was where the stories for the modern heroes took place.  “Earth-2” was where the versions of the superheroes from the 1930s and 1940s lived.  So on Earth-2, the original Superman had married Lois Lane and eventually become editor of the Daily Star (the Daily Planet was not the original paper in the comics).  You’d sometimes see a “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” feature set in the 1950s with the married couple.

The current marriage of Superman was driven by the wedding in the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television show.

Traditionally, the love triangle was Clark loves Lois, Lois loves Superman, Lois thinks Clark’s a dork.  The joke being Superman is just a costume Clark wears.  You’ve seen the Christopher Reeves Superman movies.  That’s the model.

There’s nothing wrong with this model.  It’s classic Superman and at least we won’t be subjected to a moronic plot idea to undo the marriage like when Spider-Man made a deal with a devil-stand-in.

Except, there’s a rather large problem.  If George Perez is also playing Superman as more Kal-El the sulky alien/vampire than Clark Kent, then the whole thing falls apart.  Lois can’t be failing to see Clark for what he is if Clark is just a front and Superman the alien is the real person.

Or maybe Superman will be well adjusted in the present.

“Timeless and modern, classic and contemporary, but younger, brasher and more brooding, this is Superman. The New Man of Tomorrow.”

Oh, puh-lease.  More brooding has NOTHING to do with the classic and timeless Superman.  Brooding is Batman.  It has everything to do with cashing in on the brooding vampires craze (which they better hope doesn’t pass any time soon).  You could say this draws a little from the teen angst-fest that was Smallville.  Except Smallville was firmly about Clark Kent discovering his powers and journey to *creating* his Superman persona, so I’m not buying it as the primary influence to these changes.  Contributory to “brooding,” perhaps.

Good luck, DC.  I hope this turns out better than it sounds or you’re going to rebooting again once the vampire craze is over.  In the meantime, I guess Super-Twilight is the theme.

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