Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clark Kent Quits the Daily Planet - Just as I Quit Reading "Superman"

I'll be honest with you.

I wasn't going to pick up issue #13 of DC's recently relaunched Superman title, anyway.  I really didn't believe DC could flail about any worse with the character than it seemed they were doing during periods of the Eddie Berganza editorship of the Superman Family of books in the 00's - back when continuity changed with every writer - or when DC seemed to be forcing year-long, family-wide, editorial directed stories upon the Superman books prior to the New 52.

A few months back I read Scott Lobdell was coming on Superman, and at the time I decided that would mark the end of my readership on the title.  I'm not even worried about having a hole in my collection as comics from this era depreciate in value by 75% the minute you walk out the door, anyway, so it doesn't really matter for my collection.  If I want to eventually read the comics or just fill the gap, I'll buy them in a bin at Half Price Books where someone will dump them a few months from now and it'll still be cheaper than buying them digitally.

In case you can't tell, I'm not just not a fan of Mr. Lobdell's work, but DC's direction - particularly around Superman - the character - which has been reflected largely in Superman - the comic.

Today it became news for some reason that Superman was going to quit working at The Daily Planet and start his own website or something.  I guess.  Something social media-y that the kids will relate to.  Apparently he makes some speech about how the news business isn't just about sensationalism, its supposed to be about Truth, Justice and The American Way and then runs out the door crying.

It won't stick, and, at best, what I think we can expect is that Lobdell has some longterm, flaccid plan for fictionally making Clark's arts & crafts project a success and then bringing him back into the fold of The Daily Planet when Perry White agrees with Clark and sticks it to the Rupert Murdoch figure of the piece, Morgan Edge.

Lobdell compared what Clark was going to do to "The Drudge Report" or "HuffPo", both political mouthpieces, neither of which is really about blanket credibility so much as sensationalizing and appealing to a political base looking for bias confirmation and stories that will give them a small thrill that they've picked the right team.  I guess I would have been more impressed if I'd read Superman was going to set up an investigative reporting site with the backbone and compass of factcheck.org or a similar organization.

Moreover, I am unsure in this political climate if Lobdell can even pitch "unvarnished truth" as dramatic without drawing the ire of some band of political pundits on a slow news days - and we've seen how gunshy DC has been in the past when Fox, for example, decides to make the latest Superman storyline a topic for Morning Joe.  (Let us say they did not handle it well and did a lot of stupid things in the wake of the story).

And, of course, Lobdell makes a comment about what he'll be doing over the next few years.  And, of course, we all know nobody in the New 52 is surviving on a book more than 12 issues.  I, personally, give Lobdell 8 months of book before he doesn't want to deal with the fanbase anymore and runs away.  So, whatever.

As even as casual a Superman reader as our own RHPT pointed out to me via twitter, and which I totally agree...  it seems like a move calculated to keep Superman out of the Clark Kent persona as much as possible and in the suit an endless amount.  Sort of, Randy pointed out, like what's happened with Batman over the past 20 years.

Straight through the goofy-90's, Superman has as much of a life as Clark Kent as he did in the cape - and that newsroom full of people was where superheroes got their relevance.  Superman wasn't just the protagonist in a series of stories about people in funny suits slugging it out for dubious reasons while mere mortals watched below, he was a unique individual in our world, whose friends and family were the humans he lived to protect and serve.  He leaped into action to protect the woman he loved - not some Amazonian goddess, but a human with more nerve than common sense.

So it doesn't surprise me Lobdell has chucked the newsroom.  He's from the generation of writers that effectively removed supporting casts from superhero books in the 1990's in order to exploit what Claremont had perfected in Uncanny X-Men, and that was focus entirely on the long underwear set and make everyone else a prop to appear in background scenes or occasionally make our heroes relatable to teenagers who also felt like misunderstood heroes.

They tried to remove the dog and Morrison fought back.  They did remove the shorts, the news job (how messed up is it that young audiences simply cannot conceive of writing for a news organization, but they think of a blog as a legitimate news source), they ditched the spandex for armor, and made the adventures in the book just horrendously boring, by the way.  I don't think I can even tell you what happened in that book since Perez officially left.

They're going to keep stripping away anything that Superman was, thinking that there's some magical item in there that's going to finally and totally appeal to an audience that is genetically coded to think of themselves as bad-asses at that age.  With literally thousands of characters aimed at the demographic DC is now aiming for, whatever will be left of what they're calling Superman these days is something in Super colors, but it simply isn't Superman anymore.

Anyway, that's why I dropped the title even before Lobdell and his fever dream of bad story ideas and 90's-ness becomes a way for me to spend money every month.

And I'll be dropping Action after Morrison is officially gone.

I'm a little sad about it, but mostly I just feel exhausted watching DC manhandle the property for the past several years.  And I'd rather just have the money in my pocket at this point than keep throwing money at something in the hope that maybe THIS time the same people who keep doing it wrong will not screw it up.

In the meantime I'm finally getting my funds together from all the DC stuff I'm not buying to get the Archive Editions for my bookshelf and have a pretty nice looking Superman library.

Also...  Superman, The Daily Planet, Lois Lane...  it's all bigger than Dan Didio, Jim Lee (sigh), Matt Idleson Bob Harras and whatever numbskull writer DC brings on.  Julie Schwartz made Superman a newscaster in the 80's when that seemed relevant.  They've gotten rid of the key elements before like The Fortress of Solitude and everything else.  It'll come back.  Either now or when the copyright expires or explodes.

What makes me sad is that the writers are always so obviously unfamiliar with Superman other than the water-cooler, trash-talking conversations about the character they've been having since talking trash about Superman became a thing 26 years ago.  Superman doesn't need these people to hep him up.  He needs them to understand what the hell a superhero is, or even what a hero is, or even what a person who does good looks like.  The rest is the milieu, the one created and codified in Superman comics.  It still works, and we see that in books like All Star Superman or Chris Roberson's run that actually fixed JMS's train wreck of a story.

But this is 90's Marvel at DC now, and I guess DC is going to have to also go bankrupt for a rebuilding to occur.

PS.  Winning the market share in an ever-shrinking market is stupid.  Stop touting that BS, DC.


Maxo said...

I really don't know why it's so hard for DC editorial to understand that Clark's humanity is what makes Superman a hero. The very qualities that everyone laments are "corny" are the things that make Superman appealing.

It's the same mistake Marvel makes every time they try to create their own Superman, forgetting they already have one named Captain America. Again, it's the qualities that make Superman special, not armor or snarkiness, or, Rao help us, a blog in favor of the Daily Planet.


I think I've said this before, but DC seems to have either a profound misunderstanding of their flagship character (a character instantly recognizable around the world), or a simple disrespect borne of ego and shallow posturing.

Gah. It's things like this — years of things just like this — that made me stop reading single issues from the Big Two months ago. It's sad to me that it doesn't bother me more.

Simon MacDonald said...

I remember e-mailing you in June when Lobdell was announced to be taking over Superman wondering if it would be your swan song on DC Comics in general. You aren't completely divorced from them but you seem to be going into a trial separation.

I can tell you I had a Superman bias for years and didn't really get the character. After reading your blog and hearing you voice some opinions I've really come around on the character. Easily the best Superman I've ever read is All Star Superman. I can't understand why it is so hard for anyone else at DC to write something at least half as good. Apologies to Roberson as I have not picked up the trades of his run.

My own personal opinion is that the Clark Kent identity is much more important than the Superman identity. That's who Kal really is after being raised by the Kent's. It is a much more relatable identity.

The League said...

It seems Lobdell and DC think they've got this down and Superman is Clark, etc... Unfortunately at 20 pages per issue and most of each issue spent in some fight with some super-something-or-other - I don't know that anyone at DC from Publisher to Writer has any idea how to actually tell a story so much as go through the motions of something that looks like a story. As I used to say in reviews of comics - a lot of stuff occurs, but nothing happens.

Conveying anything about Superman as a character - must seem relatively simple - because so many try it and so few succeed. Right now I think they're trying to make Clark relatable - but all of that gets lost when you spend 2 pages out of 20 with Clark and 18 with Superman thinking about anything but his supporting cast, and trying to figure out how to beat the threat of the week.

I dunno. There's a way to do this right and it pops up from time to time, even in the New 52. But I'm done spending money hoping for that page or two of promise that never quite makes it into the fabric of the overall theme or meaning of the story.

It would be different if the comics were fun in any way, but we're not even getting that.

Simon MacDonald said...

One of the things I really liked about Spider-Man and the X-Men during the 80's was the fact they had big supporting casts and weren't always fighting villains. It really helped to add depth to their character. We've pretty much lost it in todays super hero comics. Either they don't have a secret identity or their alter egos are well known.

The League said...

Yeah, I think it was interesting that Randy IMMEDIATELY noted that this sounded like an excuse to keep Clark Kent more or less out of the books and make it Superman 24x7. I don't think Lobdell is doing it intentionally, exactly, but by the time he gets through the beats of Superman fighting this H'El fellow, there won't be page count enough to fit Clark in.

And guessing by what I read of Lobdell's plans for H'El - he hasn't read either the Johns return of Zod stuff or some key issues of All Star Superman. Because he's covering exactly the same territory.