Monday, August 22, 2011

My thoughts on SUPERMAN

"Superman? Superman sucks." That's what I told Geoff Johns one Wizard Con night in Philadelphia. "Superman is passe'. He's been split up into every superhero now out there. He's just not relevant anymore."

Geoff at the time, was just getting the Secret Origin machine up and running with James Robinson, with whom he had just finished having dinner. Geoff protested, but I wouldn't budge. "Who's better?" he asked. "Batman. Batman at least has something going on besides his costume that works." That was my answer and I was sticking to it.

My sentiment was based on Superman as he had become. When I was a kid, Neal Adams was the man on Superman. Despite the stories being as milk toast as I could stomach them, he, like he always does, took what was happening and elevated it. But since then Superman seemed to stay in this redundant vacuum of  'boyscout laughing at feeble attempts by Luthor and robots trying to knock the smile off his perfect face'. Bleh. Moreover, he was becoming more and more omnipotent to the point that villains were having to go to increasingly absurd lengths just to give him a reasonable challenge.

Then he got married.

What? Talk about jumping the shark.
See, when a character, whose whole existence is to sacrifice a normal life for the sake of humanity, becomes domesticated he loses his teeth. His concern doesn't become the world, but his own personal world. Back in the day, when Lois would be in danger, she was the metaphor for all of us. Humanity personified who was rescued, returned to safety, then left wondering 'who was the masked man?' Now Lois became his only world that was to be balanced with the rest of us. This changed Lois as well. She went from being this snarky, stubborn, beautiful pain in the ass, to the wife wondering if her husband would survive the current omnipotent menace challenging him, and still make it back home for lasagna. Any attempts to bring them back to what they were, felt clunky to me. He was a hero, husband, or brow beating dad, depending on who he was interacting.

There's the nutshell. Superhero who increasingly becomes more powerful as he is challenged, brought back down to earth as a spouse as his origin gets re-envisioned over and over again.

He had so many layers to him, that it threatened to blow him up like Krypton.

I simply had no affinity with him. Maybe that's why many of my attempts to draw him failed. I've done some "decent" drawings of him and a whole lot of lousy ones. I wasn't Neal Adams, or Curt Swan, or Jerry Ordway simply because I didn't get him. Wasn't my kind of hero.

Now, if you go back to the Max Fleisher films, THAT was Superman to me. He got hit hard by stuff and exerted effort. There was a sense of danger to himself and with Lois playing the damsel in distress for all of us, made it exciting to see if Superman could not only survive but manage to save Lois too. It was a simple formula that was perfect.

So why would someone like me even accept an assignment to a character that I felt I couldn't contribute?

The answer was issue #1. Not that it wasn't a badge of honor to have the entire industry's seed in my hand. I assure you it is. Not that having it at issue #1 wasn't an added thrill. It is. It's that I can do my job without having to have 70 years of backlog to think about and try to address and honor.

If you look back to the first image of Grant's and my Superman in jeans and a tee shirt, you can see the Superman as he had become to me. He was beyond Hercules and even in shadow you can see the miles and miles of history in his profile. That image was for, I thought, the brass to measure not only my ability with the character, but to see what the hell he looked like in his dungarees and work boots.
I didn't know, or even think, it was something I could do issue for issue. But then I figured it would work it's own problems out eventually.

When I got the script and saw that Grant wanted to harken to the Shuster image of Kal-el, it completely clicked for me. Max Fleisher here I come! And what, he's not omnipotent? All right! And he's not married? Get out of my fucking way and let me draw!!

THAT is Superman to me. Back to Hercules! Back to the feelings I had as a kid when I saw the reprints of the 40's stories in treasury editions.

Back to the Man of Steel, because that's the only fucking thing that matters.