Saturday, June 17, 2006
Well, the KareBear and Admiral are off to Italy for several days. The Admiral has some sort of business meeting there, and then they're headed to Rome. I managed to call to wish the Admiral a Happy Father's Day, so I guess I've done my sonly duty for the year.
Two big items:
1) Jim D. got the Site Feed going. You can now get an Atom or Feedburner link. Just look over in the chaotic space on the left for the Site Feed links.
<---------------------------------------------------------- 2) Jim also sent a 30 pound box to the house full of comics, magazines, a CD, flyers, his old driver's license (now available to any TX kids who need a fake ID), and an autographed picture of Noel Neil.
Noel Neil is the woman who played Lois Lane in the original Superman serials and in the Adventures of Superman TV series. She later appeared as Lois's mother in a cameo in Superman: The Movie. This summer she will appear in Superman Returns as an aging millionaire.
As you can imagine, for The League, having a signed picture by Ms. Neil is huge, especially as Jim D. secured it for me on his recent trip to Philadelphia. Ms. Neil was signing photos at Wizard World Philly where Jim wound up the day after he saw Radiohead play. According to Jim (I've been waiting years to use that) Ms. neil is a little hard of hearing, which is indicated by the fact that the picture is addressed to "Bryan". You know what? I could care less. I'm just pumped to have the photo and autograph.
That said, I now have 30 pounds of stuff to sift through. However, Jim did include some issues of DC Presents I'm excited about (including Superman assisting Santa) and the only issue I was missing of the current run of JSA.
I've been watching World Cup all day. The Italy v. USA game was pretty brutal, and I think is aw my first instance of really biased reffing in a game. I saw a BS red card go against the US and a goal called back that probably should have counted. That said, I am impressed with the Italian team. They aren't the bunch of whining babies I remember from the past World Cups.
Lunch at work has turned into World Cup central. We've set up a laptop in the conference room and spend lunch every day watching a good chunk of the 3rd game. We occasionally go a little long on lunch, depending on how exciting the game turns out.
I've been trying to add the "League of Melbotis" image to Cafepress for T-Shirts, but cafepress has me in some kind of legal limbo. Apparently they think the picture may pose some sort of copyright violation. I'm not entirely certain why that's the case, but it's been going on since Thursday. In the past my pictures were approved almost immediately, so something odd is going on. I assume it's that the "SteanzMan" colors are a little close to the official Man of Steel. HOWEVER, you will notice I am wearing gloves, have goggles and gold trim on my outfit. VERY different from Superman. Different enough, indeed, that no jury would ever believe this to be copyright infringement.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Special congratulations and thanks are in order for LoM's Bay Area rep, Doug. Doug once again took to the winding roads of California, peddling his way into our wallets as he rode for charity.
The past few years Doug has participated in the AIDS LifeCycle charity bike ride. He rode from San Francisco to LA. All on a unicycle. No, not really.
Here is Doug standing beside a really large pond.
Well done, Doug. I hope you kept the chafing to a minimum. We are infinitely more proud of you than Steanso, who spent last week trying to see how many saltines he could eat before drinking a glass of water.
Well, if you hadn't heard by now, a fairly popular comic book character unmasked himself in the Marvel comic "Civil War #2" yesterday. It's been in the papers, and I went ahead and showed Jamie the page last night (I know! I'm totally reading a Marvel comic. Go figure. Plus, I'm a becoming a big fan of McNiven.), so you'll probably know who the person was who unmasked themself on TV. But, given the hoo-hah that's gone on around here in the past, I didn't really want to spoil it for you guys who did the unmasking.
Since Superman first hopped over a building in a single bound, a dual identity has been key to the basic format of the superhero comic. When Superman first appeared, we were to understand that he was working outside the law, and for that reason above probably any other, he didn't give away his civilian identity. It's fairly well documented that the original take on Superman (pre-heat vision and flying) is most an amped up version of the lead character form the novel Gladiator, by Philip Wylie, mixed with some Tarzan and Amazing Stories features.
The conceipt of Gladiator is that the character can't live a normal life thanks to his power and others' knowledge of that power. Taking a page from the popular Zorro pulps and films, as well as The Shadow, and teaming that with the interest in the business of journalism. Siegel and Shuster came upon the idea of seeming weakling Clark Kent.
As any Zorro fan can tell you, the idea behind Don Diego's dual personality (perhaps, in itself lifted from The Scarlet Pimpernel) was to give our hero a way of moving about in society without constant fear of arrest, as well as being able to gather information that others might not readily hand over to Zorro. In that manner, Superman's early stories centered on his ability to be first to hear of disasters or potential good locations for a character of his abilities. To this day, Clark Kent still disappears abruptly when there's trouble on the wire or coming in online.
Moreover, there is the notion that Superman cannot have a private life, but Clark Kent very much can. From his earliest appearance, Clark Kent was hitting on Lois while Superman acknowledged her only with a wink and a nod, but a promise that he was there to help. As the comics progressed, the idea grew that Lois was in enough danger just being associated with Superman (while simultaneously also being someone crooks wanted to avoid lest they tangle with Superman). Meanwhile, Superman carefully guarded his secret identity in order to maintain a basic life among other human beings, rather than being basically exiled to the Fortress of Solitude.
Batman, upon the character's premier, established Bruce Wayne as having a fiancee and other trappings of a normal life, giving Bruce Wayne a bit more of a split personality. As Batman was a mere mortal, the suggestion in the comics seemed to be that the secret identity (a) kept the cops off his back, and (b) helped Batman maintain the element of suprise. It's sort of tough to get the jump on crooks if they know every time you leave the house. As the rogues gallery grew, it was logical enough to understand that Batman didn't really want these guys to be able to ring his doorbell while he was in the tub.
Of course the exposure of a character's secret identity has always been a mainstay of superhero comics, especially going back to Silver-Age Superman comics where it seemed every fourth story was dedicated to the topic. A good chunk of Superboy stories were centered around nosy Lana Lang trying to prove that Clark Kent was the Boy of Steel.
Some characters have famously not bothered with secret identities. For example: Aquaman is pretty clearly Aquaman as he lives in the sea. For years, at least the government has known Banner is The Hulk. The Fantastic Four have always had public identities (and are regularly attacked in their home). At one point Wally West's persona of The Flash was public, but they reversed that decision (see Flash: Blitz and Flash: Ignition) when terrible consequences befell The Flash's family. The prime example of late, of course, is Ralph and Sue Dibny from DC's Identity Crisis.
A few years ago, Marvel decided to reveal Captain America's identity as Cap took on Al Qaeda stand-in terrorists in the wake of 9/11. The decision was prompted by a narrative choice that neither the US nor Cap had anything to hide. I thought it was the right choice then, as I do now. Also, Cap doesn't really have a supporting cast and is more or less a career soldier, anyway. His real family is all dead and his line of girlfriends is mostly comprised of super-folk and SHIELD agents. In a story I didn't read, Iron Man revealed his secret ID.
But for some of these comics, it just didn't matter. Captain America is a perfect example. The character WAS Captain America. Steve Rogers was just a name. Other characters' dual identities are so integrated into the comics that the series would change not at all for the better if the identity were revealed. Fantastic Four has always done a good job of spinning the FF as superhero celebrities, like the Beatles living in Manhattanand they happen to have a dimensional portal to the Negative Zone (which may make a great name for a blog for Steanso or Jim D. I must pitch it.).
In my opinion, of late Brian Michael Bendis has had one of the firmest grasps on dual identities. With his excellent creator owned "Powers," featuring the homicide cops who show up when a "super" is found dead, Bendis has done a great job of exploring the dual face of celebrity and private life and public and private in a world where superheroes run rampant. Moreover, Bendis's Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man is unmasked by his foes with alarming regularity. The joke being, of course, that nobody knows who the heck this fifteen year old kid might be. So why would he wear the mask? Because he doesn't want his Aunt to know what he's doing, and he wants, despite the fact that great power comes with great responsibility, to be able to escape from the insanity of being Spider-Man for most of the day. That, and when a super-villain figured out generally where he lived, they killed his best friend.
There's a sense in the Ultimate Spidey books that, eventually, all of this is going to catch up with Peter. He's one camera-phone away from having his picture plastered all over the internet.
The best look at all of this, of course, was Bendis's recently concluded run on Daredevil where Daredevil's identity was published in a tabloid paper. He managed to fill three years with that concept, and the idea never got old. But it also couldn't sustain a series forever.
So, why why why would Marvel choose to unmask this one when it's just been done?
The option that Marvel has given their heroes with Civil War is to either (a) be conscripted into SHIELD, give them your name and work for "the man", (b) sit home and don't use your darn powers, or (c) use your powers and go to jail.
I think thus far from the little I've read, Marvel has handled the topic more intelligently than I'd expected. They've started at a very good point, by demonstrating the negative side-effects that can befall the public when super heroes run around without any supervision or anybody they answer to. There's a legitimate argument to be made. On the other hand, there's a legitimate argument to be made for not wanting to be forced to do the dirty work of a government organization that doesn't have the best record of keeping the public's interest in mind.
A lot of things can be changed in comics. There's plenty of science fiction, magic and what have you. As was done in Flash, the memory of the character's public ID can be wiped from the mind of the public in general. But, as we saw in DC's stellar miniseries, Identity Crisis, all that mind-wiping and concern about loved ones can cause a lot of havoc.
Marvel is now looking at either a very large change in the structure of one of it's strongest properties, or else they're planning a "Death of Superman" style cop out. Either way, they're going to irritate a lot of readers. I'll be keeping my ear to the ground to see how this one pans out.
Personally, I find the idea of the secret ID to be a great element of comics. I dig the idea of the everyman having unknown potential. There's something a little liberating about the idea that a hero isn't, literally, a cop or a soldier (although comics are littered with their fair share of excellent versions of those as well). Perhaps it was my early take on a compromised Superman having to play the dutiful soldier against his will in Dark Knight Returns that made me see the potential issues with losing your identity. Or perhaps Batman's unwillingness to play along with any whim of others that had forced him to quit (and just as much to return) as seen in that same volume.
My concern is this: for all their bravado about their edginess, Marvel is married to the status quo in a way DC is not (with the exception of Superman and Batman). DC's recent mini-seires was about change, and real change took place. By creating the idea of legacy in the DCU, people DO, in fact, die. New characters come and go.
How far is Marvel willing to go with this idea for the sake of short term sales gains? Especially when they stand to risk alienating lifelong readers? It's just a bit difficult to swallow that this whole deal isn't a bait-and-switch for some other change Marvel is going to try to pull. I strongly suspect that they are not planning to follow Bendis's well-worn Daredevil track.
Marvel's given itself quite the job. We'll see how they deal with it as a company. At the end of the day, for me, it's about the company. Given how they wrapped up House of M, Age of Apocalypse, etc... and how often their sprawling mini-series/ cross-company events land the reader exactly where you started, something leads me to believe there's going to be a magic "reset" button somewhere.
All I'm saying is: I see one clone show his face and I'm out.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Because The League fears not when reading spoilers, we went ahead and read this one...
You know, there's risk-taking in the comics business, and then there's huge things you can do that it will take the next folks in charge literally a decade to clean up.
Well done, Marvel comics. Well done.
This shall probably be as permanent as The Death of Superman, but am I really curious enough about how they plan to carry this off? No. Joey Q and company spent a lot of time devising this trap and they certainly have an escape route.
Wake me when the Scarlet Witch returns everything to the status quo.
I like Firefly. I mean, I really, really like Firefly.
I went and saw Serenity last summer without having ever caught an episode of Firefly, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I dug the "aw, screw it" mix of sci-fi and western genres. The cast was good, the dialogue sharp, the menaces the sort of thing you suspect are going to wipe out a good chunk of our band of heroes...
Anyhoo, during Christmas, Doug got us the Firefly boxed set. TV boxed sets intimidate the hell out of me. It's an awfully huge committment to say "I will now watch all of the programming contained in this box", especially when it's a gift. I've been busy with my Adventures of Superman, Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Wonder Woman and Clone High box sets, so I wasn't really looking to pick up any new shows. No matter how much I liked the movie.
Well, I'm sold on all this Firefly business. I think I have a particular fondness for Whedon's choice to remind us occasionally that these characters may be our protagonists, but they aren't necessarily heroes.
Also, Gina Torres.
She's lovely, but she will shoot you...
Next up, I am told that as Nerd Citizen #0045987xAZ, I am required to now watch the new version of Battlestar Galactica (including the pilot episodes). Too many noteworthy folks have stepped up to the plate to recommend this one to me. I cannot ignore the request much longer.
I'd avoided the series for a few reasons. Where the hell was the daggit? Why did Cylons have to look like sexy models? Where was Boomer? That's Boomer? You've gotta be kidding me...
But even in the ultra-conservative world of the sci-fi fan, more than 20 years and the addition of girls in tight pants will cause a rift in the mood and fans will begin to take notice. Ask any guy and they prefer the new Starbuck to Dirk Benedict.
I guess I have to watch to see if the 4 eyed disco singers are there, and if Imperious Commander is still chilling on his super-high bar stool. I'm told the new show is better. I guess you can't tell unless you watch, but I like my Cyclons sleek and shiny, looking like the love child between KITT and C3PO.
I have also heard rumors of a new Star Trek show about a "fresh out of The Academy Kirk".
Just after he won the Kobayashi Maru exercise, I would presume (boo-yah! How's that for dorky?).
I don't buy into all that many sci-fi based TV series, partially because there's a certain similarity between too many of them. Does this ring any bells?
-implausible characters causing implausible character interaction
-scenery chewing villains played by English actors
-bad, bad FX
I will be trying out the new Blade TV series on Spike TV. Aside from that, I dunno. NBC is pushing some new program for the Fall season called Heroes which sounds a LOT like The 4400, which I don't watch, but which they advertise during reruns of Monk. (Yes, I've started watching Monk re-runs, much to Jamie's chagrin. Yes, it's pretty much Murder, She Wrote.)
I guess I feel like I get what I need for my sci-fi from movies and comics, so I don't actively seek it out on TV. Steanso, on the other hand... Let's just hope he's not spending too many nights watching Tripping the Rift.
Lost probably qualifies as Sci-Fi, but I don't watch that anymore. I just get re-caps from magazines and my office mate.
I was never much of a Buffy or Angel guy. I petered out on Smallville when I simply quit caring about what happened to any of the characters. I hear the ratings are higher than ever. Go figure.
Stargate, Charmed and lots of other shows have always left me cold. I tried both and didn't make it past the fifteen minute mark of a single episode. There's usually some "true crime" programming on City Confidential or something on Discovery or History that will get me to stop further up the dial. On TV, reality is always stranger than fiction.
But, then, I've never been much of a series TV guy. I dislike feeling as if I have to keep up with any programming for fear I might miss something. I like to sort of like to wander into TV shows, which may be why I've turned to sports. I can always flip on a game and within a few minutes know exactly what's going on.
Firefly is nice. It's only one season of shows to worry about. There was no "jumping the shark" moment for the show, no point where I felt the characters were causing problems with themselves when the writers ran out of ideas and still needed dramatic tension on the program. The principles never left the show (cough... X-Files... cough).
Maybe there's a lesson there for producers as media formats converge and change. We know shows can make it on DVD, even enough to return to air (Family Guy). But maybe it's time English Language TV went the way of the Telenovella and only produced 13 episodes, making sequels only when the audience was there and the right story came along.
Anyway, it's a thought.
Oh, the new WB/ UPN network was decided NOT to pick up Aquaman in the Fall. I feel it's a blessing in a lot of ways.
Monday, June 12, 2006
I had a totally weird dream this morning that Jamie was going to leave me for some dude in a a Camaro wearing a tanktop. I was so disappointed.
In order to get revenge, I told he she had to take Lucy.
Also, the world was ending and I fell off of one of those electric carts at the grocery because the EMP from a nuclear strike made the cart suddenly jerk to a halt.
Here's how the last poll fell out
My reaction to the new Superman movie is best described as:
-Super excited: 39%/ 13 votes
-Afraid to tell League movie may be disappointing. He may crack. 15%/ 5 votes
-Judging from his trunks, he really is a super man... 3%/ 1 vote
-Not the same without Ned Beatty. But, hey, what is? 6%/ 2 votes
-They really missed the boat by not casting that "Kelso" guy from "That 70's Show". To me, Ashton IS Superman. 6% / 2 votes
-So stunned I silently pee'd my pants. Usually I do this while shrieking. 6%/ 2 votes
-Screw that! I'm waiting for the new Lohan movie "Just My Luck" 3%/ 1 vote
-The portrayal of Krypton is entirely inaccurate. As we all know, Jor-L lived in a city of wonders, not glass. Also, I have never kissed a girl. 21%/ 7 votes
33 votes total
Well done, Leaguers. The next poll is now available.
Funny because it's true...
In case you missed it in the comments section, Maxwell sent along this link to an eerily accurate cartoon...
Holy Entrepreneurship, Batman!
Joanne P. sent this pic in, along with the following dialog...
Batman: Robin! What have you done!
Robin: Holy inflation, Batman! Giving tours of the Cave was our only option.
Batman Fan Film
Speaking of Batman, here's another very, very nice Batman fan film.
Superman Returns Reviews
It seems Warner Bros. had a press screening of Superman Returns over the weekend and spoiler-free reviews are beginning to trickle in. The reviews I've seen have been very positive, with even one troll from AICN bringing in a grudging "Good, but not great". The movie clocked at 2 hours, 37 minutes. So, you know, the inevitable director's cut is going to be Lord of the Rings sized.
Possible RSS Feed
Jim D. may be given free reign over LoM for a little while as he attempts to implement an RSS feed. I've had zero success with implementing such a feature, but Jim D. believes it can be done.
The Dark Knight Lego
Jamie has constructed both the Lego Batmobile and Batwing. I shall take some photos.
World Cup Fever
I am now down in the office pool, falling somewhere behind Tom. For some reason I picked Japan over Australia.
Wow. You know, you guys have been asking for years for that one, and it sort of went over like a lead zeppellin.
Why must we spell it "dood"? Stop it. Stop it now.
SUPERMAN DOCUMENTARY on A&E
If you have basic cable, you probably have A&E. On Monday, June 12th, A&E is playing an all new documentary about Superman. The doc is part of the media blitz tied to Superman Returns and has Bryan Singer as a producer.
I can't vouch for the quality of the documentary, but it's a Monday in summer. What are you going to watch? Reruns of Deal or No Deal?
To learn more, read here.
You may want to check your local listings. It's playing at 8:00 ET, but that doesn't mean too much when it comes to basic cable scheduling on a local level.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
When I was working on the League of Melbotis Awards, I asked for some possible blog topics. Almost half of the respondents asked "Why Superman?"
With the movie coming, I'm hoping to put things in the right context and possibly shed a little light on why I became a fan of Superman as a character, Superman as an industry, and Superman in general.
One of the oddities of being a fan of the Man of Steel is that everyone feels a bit of ownership. As a pop culture icon, Superman is up there with Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus for recognizability. You can chop through Peruvian rain forests for two days and find yourself face to face with a local wearing a Super Hombre shirt who knows, at minimum, Superman can fly, he's invulnerable to most harm and that he's very very strong.
A lot of folks have pegged my comic obsession and interest in Superman as a juvenile interest, primarily due to the marketing of Superman to children. I doubt anyone who has bothered to read a Superman comic over the past several years would feel as if the material were not geared towards children. While the comics of today are simed at adults and "all-ages", there certainly exists a "gee-whiz" aspect to Superman that's undeniable, and perhaps it's that fantasy element which is deemed "childlike". I will be interested to see if these same folks will retain their opinion if the new Superman movie attracts millions of viewers upon it's release, all suddenly Superman fans.
That's okay. From a critical perspective, most pop culture can appear a little silly on the sruface. I personally find the adulation of professional sports to be juvenile, the insistence of celebrity culture to shove starlets down our throats entirely infantile, and the fanboy obsession with trainspotting music and hanging out in garage bands dreaming of "making it" to be a little silly. It's curious that sci-Fi, in all it's many forms, has somehow become an excusable time waster. So has fantasy writing, to an extent. Meanwhile romantic comedies and soap operas are perfectly excusable for millions of people. The truth is: It's all pop culture of one form or another, and all of it just as guilty of flights of fancy.
That said: I've seen the folks who take themselves seriously and consciously behave in a mnner they believe to be "adult". They believe that adulthood means the ending of interest in silly things. I'd rather not turn off the switch in my brain that lets me crack open a comic and peer into another world, simply because some boring life-accountant decided I wasn't spending my time in a way they liked. Just as surely as sports fans would refuse to give up on their games simply because someone pointed out what a collosal time-sink it is to watch people throw around a ball (and, honestly, how much to season tickets cost to professional sports?).
Still, even among comic readers, a Superman fan might not be safe.
Among the fanboys, Superman hit a point of creative stagnation in the 70's that began to make the character less popular for collectors. Superman was not unpopular, but at the time Marvel was having it's triumphs and Batman went from being nearly cancelled to being revived with the Dark Knight work of the late 70's. The release of the first two Superman movies certainly helped the franchise regain a stint of Supermania. In the 1980's, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and the resulting "Man of Steel" limited series should have put Superman back on top with readers, but an odd thing happened. Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" appeared with it's Clint Eastwood 80's sensibility and painted Superman as a patsy. For many readers appearing during the 80's comic boom, the powerful, naive boy scout was the definitive Superman. For years, DC didn't bother to counter their own image. Instead of giving the world a Superman which comic fans could get behind, DC seemed a victim of their own success and went with Miller/ DKR's take on The Man of Steel.
A generation of comic fans wanting to identify with the hard boiled Dark Knight saw Superman as the old, unwelcome man at the party and believed that the image of Superman was what was behind all those "Bam! Pow! Comics not just for Kids!" headlines they suffered through. Ironic then that it was Batman, the yardstick for comic superhero legitmacy, who had been the one who cemented the idea in the baby-boomers' heads that comics were for dullards.
Anyway, that was the context with which I approached Superman as a comic character. Sort of.
Like everyone else, I'd seen the movies in the theater as a kid. I remember being afraid for Superman when Luthor put the chain with Kryptonite around Superman's neck and kicked him into the pool. That's really my only memory of seeing Superman: The Movie when I was very little. I remember seeing Superman II with Jason, John, Jim and my Dad and Wayne. I remember thinking Superman was sucker for giving up his powers for some dumb girl. I even remember seeing Superman III and being terrified of Robert Vaughn's sister when she melded with the giant computer. Superman IV I wouldn't see until college on a sunny Sunday when I was avoiding doing any homework and my roommates were MIA.
In a lot of ways, I preferred Superman as a movie and cartoon character to the comics. I liked seeing him in action, zipping across the sky, using his superbreath to freeze a lake or flying out of the sky to save school buses. The few Superman comics I picked up off the shelf at the drug store didn't match what I saw in the movies. Superman was often in space with various pastel colored aliens. Luthor had his own planet. Mxyzptlk seemed less like the annoying imp from the cartoons and more like a sinister, near omnipotent genie.
When I was becoming a full-blown comic geek in the mid-80's, I have a firm memory of hanging out with a non-comic collecting classmate and explaining to him, in detail, why Superman could never be interesting. Every comic reader has the same litany of responses on the topic, passed down from geek to geek. In a way, it's an attempt to legitimize one costumed superhero over the other, and maybe, in the process, gain literary credibility for their superhero of choice.
Superman is invulnerable. There's no getting around that one. Bullets bounce off of him. grenades are an incovenience. A lightning strike will wind him, but nothing short of a tactical nuclear strike (or a hand full of kryptonite) is going to put him down.
He has too many powers. How can any character who can do anything the writers dream up possibly be of interest? He could resolve any conflict in the time it takes for him to pick from his catalog of abilities (right down to Super Ventriloquism), and defeat anyone in his path.
Superman is a boy scout. There's no danger to him as a character. There's no chance he'll make the wrong decision.
His secret identity isn't believable. How can a pair of glasses make for a disguise? How could Lois not see through the disguise?
His costume is stupid. He wears his underwear on the outside. He has a cape and shiny red boots.
He's got old fashioned ideas. His rogues gallery is lame. He's a government stooge. He's a fascist. He's a thug in tights. Who could ever believe such a guy would make the choice to help people?
I don't know when, exactly, it clicked with me. I think it started in high school when I stayed up too late on a Saturday night in 9th grade watching Superman: The Movie with The Admiral. I still recall watching that last shot of Superman in orbit, our hero pretty pleased with the end of the movie and having a good look at his adopted home planet. I turned to the Admiral and said "That was a lot better than I remember it being."
"Yeah," nodded The Admiral. "I always liked that one."
I picked up a few issues of Superman after that, and the same confusion set in. The DCU, at the time, was a little bit of a tough place to just wander into. They weren't as locked into the Marvel formula of having every character explain themselves in every panel.
I picked up some back-issues of "Man of Steel" at some point and understood what Byrne was doing with Superman, although at the time, I think Roger Stern and Co. had already taken over the regular Superman comics. Like the Superman movie, "Man of Steel" humanized Superman in a way I hadn't expected. Superman wasn't some Super Dad there to slap the wrists of wrong-doers. He wasn't a government stooge. Like in the film, Superman was a guy given incredible power, power he could use any way imaginable, and was trying to make the world a better, safer place to be. Perhaps a bit naive in the beginning (taking the boy off the farm, but not the farm out of the boy), but learning fast enough that the bad guys don't always wear the black hats, and that sometimes a victory isn't as clear as it seems.
No movies were coming out by this point, of course, and I'm not sure the syndicated "Superboy" program ever even showed in the two markets I might have lived in during that time. If it did, I was oblivious. Besides, I was into plenty of comics and didn't need to add Superman to my list of titles.
I was still reading X-Men. I was picking up Batman from time to time, depending on the villain (I was a big Two-Face fan), and I had just started picking up these Sandman comics toward the end of high school. At the time, I didn't even know anybody else who read comics. The internet was still something in a Robert Silverberg book (so there certainly weren't any newsgroups about comics), and I hadn't been to a convention since 7th grade.
They killed Superman my senior year of high school, and I remember having to explain to everybody "No, they aren't really killing Superman." Funny how that works. People still ask me once in a blue moon if that was the end of Superman. Of course the big revelation out such a dramatic turn was that Superman got some really outdated glam-metal hair. Even then I knew the worst thing you could do was try to update an icon to "appeal to the teens".
At some point in college, I picked up a few new issues of Superman, but what piqued my interest once again was the amazing Bruce Timm/ Paul Dini animated Superman series. The show delved deeply into Superman's silver age trappings, updating them perhaps stylistically, but never in spirit. All the villains I could remember from a Superman Flipbook my mom got me out of a Troll book order when I was five popped up sooner or later. Only now Toyman was a creepy little bastard with a plastic head instead of a goof on a pogo stick. Bizarro was full of pathos I'd not realized he might contain while destroying the tables at the Legion of Doom HQ on Superfriends. The Animated Luthor was cunning and brilliant, and utterly believable as a foil for the Man of Steel in a way Gene Hackman's Luthor never appeared to be.
What impressed me once again in the cartoon was the rich origin of Superman.
One of the complaints about Superman by comic fans is that unlike, say, Batman, Superman was born to his powers. But that isn't quite true. The explosion of Krypton, the loss of not just a family he would never know, but a planet he would never know, sent by parents who refused to give in to loss and send forth their only son into the cosmic void... Yes, Superman's powers are not derived from years spent training, any more than that of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man or any others of hundreds of comic book heroes (see: X-Men).
The pained conversation in Superman: The Movie between Jor-El and Lara deciding upon the fate of their child tells you all you need to know. In vague, knowing terms the dialogue establishes that they know their son will never, ever truly belong, as cursed by his abilities as he is blessed.
It's a theme that's been explored in dozens of motifs in comics, probably most prominently in Spider-Man. Perhaps it's the grounding and relatable loss of Spider-Man's Uncle Ben rather than the catastrophic and unimaginable loss of your birth planet that seems somehow more sympathetic. But the idea that the super powers came at a price came from Superman, Batman's origin appearing well after his initial appearances. And, of course, Spider-Man and Marvel's complement of heroes came along decades after Superman's first appearance.
And, of course, the goodly Kents appeared in the cartoon as they had in the earliest episode of the George Reeves series, the Christopher Reeve film, the Silver Age comics and the Byrne comics. Guidance and honest discussion of the life his powers might bring him were the gift from his earthly parents.
So what was the difference? Why Superman?
There's the cultural archaeology of a character who has survived 67 years of the expanding American media world. There's the core of characters (friend and foe) who have made the trip alongside Superman in virtually every media from radio to internet shorts. In short, the character has thrived like none other over since the invention the super hero comic with Superman's first appearance.
He's a character everybody has some knowledge of, and who can spark conversations with just about anyone. On Wednesday I found myself standing in my sweltering house talking to the 60 year-old air conditioner repairman about George Reeves as the repairman eyed Superman floating above the Daily Planet globe (a newspaper name probably as widely known as any actual paper shy of the New York Times). Little kids point to the license plate on the front of my car in busy parking lots. More than once when I've worn a Superman shirt to work (under an oxford) someone in the elevator has looked to me and said "now I know your secret identity" with a knowing nod.
Of late it's been trendy for trucks to sport Superman stickers, perhaps suggesting that the truck is as powerful as the Man of Steel.
Seinfeld dedicated a whole episode to the comic geek friendly notion of "Bizarro".
So if Superman is all of those things that people equate with him, what is there to like?
Superman is the original superhero, and whether the average guy on the street knows that Superman was the first costumed super-powered character of his ilk is almost irrelevant. He's the most imitated, satirized and flat out copied comic character. The concept has been refined and splintered into thousands of new characters since Action Comics #1 saw print, some of whom have existed alongside Superman for almost the same amount of time (and others who pre-dated Superman and were co-opted into the world of super heroes). But all of them have some hint of Superman about them.
It's no doubt the longevity of the character and the various strictures of the time and company have often left Superman looking like a goofy do-gooder. The tendency to mistake brainless entertainment for children's and all-ages entertainment has too often affected the ace of action. With as much Superman product as has existed over the years, not all of it was going to be brilliant. Yet the character continues to find an audience, his career outlasting Sinatra, Elvis, and dozens of other icons of the 20th Century.
At the character's heart, Superman has managed to symbolize many things to many people. As often as Superman is invoked as a sign of invulnerability, his one weakness is brought up just as often. "Kryptonite" has become a synonym for a sure weakness for the seemingly strong.
However, it's in Superman The Movie that we learn that Kryptonite may be what weakens Superman, but it's his humanity that is his greatest vulnerability. No man, no matter how Super, can be everywhere at once. And with the (temporary) death of Lois Lane, we see Superman wounded to his absolute core in his grief, just as he was at the loss of Jonathan Kent. "All these powers" Clark Kent reflects at the loss of his adopted father, "and I couldn't save him."
For me, that's the weakness I can understand. Too many powers? Not enough, we're led to believe. Not enough if you can't save the ones who matter most.
If there's no danger to him as a character, I'll accept that as a criticism. The story of Superman is not the story of a character constantly compromised, nor a character who wishes to be seen as frightening to any but those caught in the act. He's the embodiment of trying to make the right choices and trying to live at the assistance of others. Rather than a sign of lack of will, Superman's character is reflective of what can be achieved by someone who has decided to live selflessly at the aid of others.
We throw around the term "super powers" in relation to governments, but just as often, Superman's dangerous potential is treated with the same cautionary wind reserved for our states of unimaginable power. In the comics, the Luthors of the world see the power and are jealous, seeing in Superman the power to topple mountains. They refuse to believe in a man who could have all of that power and not use it for personal gain, not turn upon his fellow man. How can he weild such power and not choose to enforce his will, not choose to become the single-minded fascist who crushes his will down upon the world? How can a man not reflect what they see in themselves?
Just as often, there are the readers of the comics and the viewers of the movies who turn their nose up, raising the same questions. But these readers and fans are missing the point. The story of Superman is a story of hope.
Superman is about what can be done when we not only turn away from those desires to control and destroy, but when we use that power for the right reasons and in the right way. The actual stories in the comics, in the movies, in the TV series and radio show are about that never ending battle to not only combat the endless tide of the strong over the powerless, but the struggle to know the right choice.
They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way.
Does this make the character less relatable? Perhaps to some. To me, it's a wonderful story. It's a reminder of the potential of everyone to do the right thing, and to remember that everyone has the opportunity to make the right choices. I think that inherent message is what's kept Superman flying for seven decades.
As longtime readers of this blog will know, things aren't always peaches and cream at League HQ. There are the times I wish I could spin the earth backward or lift the bus off the bridge if it could help in the smallest of ways. I don't mind cracking open a Superman comic to remind me that the good fight is a never-ending battle, that it's worth it, and it doesn't hurt if you do it for the woman you love (even if she doesn't recognize you when you're wearing glasses).
Saturday was okay.
I got up early, ran (without being chased) got home, mowed the lawn, weeded the purple flower tree and trimmed the other tree so people don't have to fight off wild monkeys and such as they reach our front door.
Went in, tried to find the end of the England/Paraguay game, realized I'd missed it, and watched some Headline News. Ate some bagels, played with some dogs.
Eventually the Sweden/ Trinidad & Tobago game came on. Watched a good chunk of that. Cheered wildly for the final, tied score of the game. I love an underdog doing well. I also watched the Ivory Coast/ Argentina game. I was happy to see Argentina playing well for reasons which will become apparent below.
Every four years I show an interest in soccer. Since watching Cameroon play in the 1990 World Cup, I've been a fan of the tournament. This year at work I've got two soccer nuts in my office and a guy from Poland who believes that Poland has a chance. Such is the insane nationalism that goes along with the tourney.
Despite the fact that I know absolutely nothing about soccer I'm currently ahead in the office pool, having called the Germany/ Costa Rica score (and victory) and assuming Poland might lose in their first game (which made our Polish guy very unhappy). Everybody else did this thing called "research" before entering the office pool, but me, I went all Colbert and went with my gut. I've got Mexico and Argentina in the final game. The reason I've selected Mexico to win: They're our neighbor to the South. That's it. That's what I'm going by.
In the afternoon we took in the new Altman/ Keillor film "A Prairie Home Companion", which I highly recommend. The movie will never be remembered the way some of Altman's other pictures will be remembered, but it's a heck of a movie. Fans of the radio program may be waiting for certain items to be included, but the movie does well without them. I sort of thought Meryl Streep stole the show, but the movie is filled with an all-star cast that all turn in excellent performances, even Lindsay Lohan (who I will now be able to say I've seen in a movie).
I got home, read the latest Ultimate Spider-Man trade (Silver Sable), played with the dogs, and rested up. After all, we had AZ Rollerderby tonight.
While my beloved Surly Girlies were not playing, we still had a heck of a good time. The Bad News Beaters took on the undefeated Bruisers, and the Bruisers pretty much stomped them. There were a large number of people at the game, far more than at the last game, and we managed to snag some chairs despite the crowded building.
I ran into the guy who manages our building. Apparently his daughter plays for The Beaters. You learn something new every day.
Oh, and since I'm talking about AZ Rollerderby, here's that link to Brickhouse I post every time.
It was a good day, all in all.
Hope everyone else is having a good weekend.