Recently I’ve been noticing a lot of discussion online about Superman. He’s been getting a lot of attention with the Rebirth event, with DC even putting out more comics featuring the Man of Steel and many of his supporting cast.

But one topic really has grabbed my attention, and that is people saying that the current version of the hero is “not my Superman.”

IS SUPERMAN CURRENT?

Superman, DC Comics, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Superwoman, Joker, Injustice, Captain America, Hail Hydra, Dick Grayson, Batman, Winter Soldier, Christopher Reeve, Man of SteelWhat they often mean by that is, he doesn’t act the way I want him to any longer. A darker side has been added, and that’s different because Superman was known for his morality. That attribute made him a difficult character to write because there was no mystery regarding what he would do, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns.

I remember when the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve came out. People hailed it as making Superman “relevant” and “relatable.” He had feelings, he had to struggle, he had to lose occasionally. He was more “man” than “super.”

Admittedly, I had trouble with the Man of Steel before that. He could move planets, after all. He couldn’t be challenged, really, so the supporting cast had to be in danger. Writers often needed to make several things happen at once so he would have to choose what to do first. Still, a guy with super-speed can be almost anywhere at any time, so even that wasn’t a big deal for him.

During the New 52, Superman was a much darker character. He got angry, he didn’t always make the moral choice. I find it interesting that the pre-New 52 Man of Steel is now back in the costume, but even he’s a very different guy than he used to be.

A FAMILY MAN

I remember what a big deal it was when Superman revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane. It changed their relationship forever. No longer would she try to uncover his secrets. Instead, she worked to keep them out of the public eye.

I love to point out that Kurt Busiek wrote a wonderful story in which Superman was so busy saving the world that he couldn’t write enough to keep his job as a reporter. When Lois realized this, she ghosted articles for him. I remember how touched I was that even Superman needed saving once in a while, and that Lois as his wife would do that.

Superman, DC Comics, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Superwoman, Joker, Injustice, Captain America, Hail Hydra, Dick Grayson, Batman, Winter Soldier, Christopher Reeve, Man of SteelIn the New 52, however, she revealed to the world that Clark Kent was Superman. The two were little more than co-workers. It was an attempt to do something new with them.

On some levels, I think DC realized that the old formula of Lois trying to “trick him into a loving, caring relationship” wouldn’t work any longer, so they tried to startle readers with this occurrence. (Captain America saying, “Hail Hydra,” anyone?) But the problem with startling events is that you have to come back next issue and shock us again. And you just can’t keep unsettling the status quo. At some point, you have to live within the character instead of making him or her change.

I’ve gone on many times about change for sales’ sake. Dick Grayson was Batman for a while, Winter Soldier was Captain America, etc. DC putting the “original” Superman back in the tights said to me that none of these other attempts at making him viable really took hold.

Oddly enough, though, making Superman a family man felt like a natural progression for him. He’s got a wife and a son, and he does the best he can at being a father and raising his child. I can see Superman doing that, honestly, even though that’s not how Superman operated for years. On the other hand, Peter Parker becoming Bruce Wayne? Not so much!

I know other fans disagree with me, that he should be back working for the Daily Planet with Lois competing with him for the latest scoop, but I read that for decades. I’m ready to see Superman try something else. Hey, I’m not the same guy I was when I first started reading his exploits! Why should he be exactly the same?

Still, it’s critical to remain true to the core of the character. The Superman in Injustice can be a little too dark for me at times, but I understand why he’s that way. The Joker killing someone close to you can change your worldview dramatically. I did enjoy the Man of Steel and Batman v Superman films, which also has a darker hero. And these days I’m often in the mood to read a different kind of Superman. But I still love the pre-New 52 Man of Steel. I can read and enjoy more than one incarnation of a hero! And I don’t mind the costume changes as long as they are in the same ballpark!

Lois being Superwoman? That’ll be something unique, so I’ll be checking it out! I mean, do we really want to go back to the Lois Lane of yesteryear? Not many of us want that, I think!

A DIFFERENT KIND OF STORYTELLING

Back when I first started reading comics, lo those many years ago, we expected something different from them. We wanted things to stay the same, that the basic setup of the book would be the kind that you could miss a few issues, then still buy a new one and understand what’s going on.

However, our tastes have changed. We expect what’s called “sequential” storytelling. What happens in this issue is built on next month, so you need to keep current if you want to understand what’s happening.

This takes place all over our culture, not just in comics! Television shows like 24 moved us from hour to hour, and you couldn’t miss an episode without losing track of what was going on. It’s where we are now.

Nothing stays the same, though. While I think sequential stories will always be with us in some form or another, I’m sure some trendsetter will come along and move us in a different direction. If I knew just where, I’d make it happen myself! But I don’t, so I can only observe.

WHAT’S A FAN TO DO?

Superman, DC Comics, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Superwoman, Joker, Injustice, Captain America, Hail Hydra, Dick Grayson, Batman, Winter Soldier, Christopher Reeve, Man of SteelWhat moves the industry is sales. If enough fans stop buying something after a change is made, the company will want that money back, so they’ll move the character on.

The trick is, many of us who loved the Superman of previous decades are, sadly, passing off the scene for one reason or another. The industry needs new fans to keep it growing, and that means trying to appeal more to the newer readers as much as possible instead of aiming at guys like me, who have been around a long time. In the scheme of things, they’ll get a lot less of my money in the years ahead because I won’t always be here to buy my weekly comics! They need other people, hopefully younger ones who will be around a lot longer than I will, to support the industry moving forward.

I know I keep saying this, but it’s true – variety in my reading keeps me coming back for more. I do pull out the older comics I keep once in a while just to relive the glory days. But I also like diving into the new stuff to go where I haven’t gone before.

Ultimately, it’s a personal decision – you like it, you buy it! You don’t care for it, you spend your money on things that do entertain and engage you. The industry needs to appeal to as many of us as they can to survive. It doesn’t concern me if not every book appeals to me as long as comics continue on! I believe in them that much!

What do you think? What should Superman be like to win your hard-earned moolah? Please share your thoughts below!

The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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3 Comments

  1. June 20, 2016 at 3:08 pm — Reply

    Perfect example of modern era, yet classic feeling superman exists, its called All-Star Superman. Batman has been exactly the same character since The Dark Knight Returns and that’s apparently not a problem, why cant Superman be molded after much newer story?

  2. June 20, 2016 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    I know a lot of y’all don’t wanna hear it, and yes, I know it’s possible to do good stories with the guy, but… I’m sorry, the story of an ubermensch just isn’t all that appealing. The roleplayer in me just throws up red flags any time superman comes up, and I just prefer stories with characters that have a more refined power set, or one with more obvious flaws. A good example of how to do a superman character right I think can be found in My Hero Academia, where the superman isn’t invulnerable, and due to an injury can’t even sustain the “super” part for more than a few hours each day. Having the guy be superman in the past, but now superman with a critical weakness in the present makes it far more interesting, IMO.

    Oh, don’t get me wrong – I know I’m a witch, but I don’t like comics magic for the same reason. Anything that has the power of “whatever the plot happens to need” kinda rubs me the wrong way. You gotta define your arcane stuff, you know?

    Now if we’re talking superman specifically… Well, I grew up with the 90s animated series. I think that was one of the better depictions of him because he wasn’t all powerful – a powerful hit with a strong weapon could still hurt him, and I think that’s the way to approach superman properly. But the way to most definitely never ever do him is how he’s portrayed in like, every movie.

    So… how would I want superman done in the future? Well, apart from the old “can we just have these guys age to death and pass them mantles down already” issue I have with all superhero comics, I’d take a page from Japan on this one and have him take some crazy critical battle damage that diverts a lot of his power to just keeping him upright. It wouldn’t just “weaken” him, but rather put either a time limit or a blind spot on his powers, and occasionally force him to take a different approach than he has in the past. Will it be reset in the end? Of course. This is western comics – nothing that happens ever matters in western comics, it all gets undone because people hate change, no matter how good it may be for the industry.

    • June 21, 2016 at 4:14 am — Reply

      Problem with doing Japanese style comic arcs with American superheroes is that these companies like Marvel & DC like to continue to make huge amounts of money with their characters. In manga & anime every series is limited, like Watchmen, for example and then they just end. New series will be made with new characters who may or may not be as popular as the old ones. Its a completely different approach.

      Show me five 75 years old manga characters with continuously published title, I sure can’t think of any. Of course western characters feel stale if you compare to anime or manga when they have thousands more issues made with them. I know there are some old mangas too, like Golgo 13, but I’m willing to bet his character has changed even less than Superman’s over the years.

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