DC's bold gamble gives us a Superman of the people


DC's bold gamble gives us a Superman of the people


Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

Sept. 13, 2011 -- DC’s grand experiment, “The New 52” titles starting over at issue #1, launched 13 of them Sept. 7, with augers and portents of success. Especially for Superman, whose Action Comics #1 seems to be the biggest seller.


There are no official numbers yet, but shop owners and customers on my website and elsewhere on the Internet reported sell-outs all over the country, especially Batgirl #1, Swamp Thing #1 and the surprise hit Animal Man #1. My local shop, Comics & Collectibles in Memphis, Tenn., said Sept. 8 that all 13 first issues had sold out at the distributor level (meaning they can’t be re-ordered until there are second printings), and #comicmarket on Twitter, where comics retailers chat, is electric with debate, surprise and more excitement than I thought possible among these often cynical merchants.


These anecdotal reports are encouraging. But comic-book readers in this country total less than one percent of the population – maybe as low as one-tenth of one percent – and it’s not only current and lapsed readers DC is hoping to reach, but new ones. The bitter irony is that there’s a huge superhero revival on the big screen, but that success is leaving the comics market, from whence those characters leaped and flew, untouched.


That’s DC’s true grand experiment: The Hunt for New Readers. Part of the calculus is same-day release of all their comics digitally at comiXology.com (at the same price as the print versions, to avoid slitting the throats of the brick-and-mortar stores).


But DC is definitely putting its best foot forward. I don’t have room to discuss all of “The New 52” in this column (although I promise I will on my website), but I have a lot to say about Action Comics #1.


Actually, it’s Action writer Grant Morrison who has a lot to say about Superman, and he has already done so in his book Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human ($28, Spiegel and Grau).


Morrison has written a lot of critically successful and often controversial comics, and there’s probably no one on Earth who has thought as much, or as well, about superheroes. He’s especially philosophical about Superman, the first and greatest superhero, the one who created the genre and gave his name to it.


To backtrack a bit, Morrison attributes the various superhero “waves” in history as a response to existential crises. Superman arrived in 1938 during the Great Depression and Hitler’s reich. The superhero revival of the late 1950s and 1960s was, he said, a response to the fear of The Bomb and total annihilation at any second. And a third wave of superheroes, the current one, is the same:


“Look away from the page or the screen and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve arrived into mass consciousness, as they tend to arrive everywhere else, in response to a desperate SOS from a world in crisis,” he writes in his book. “Could it be that a culture starved of optimistic images of its own future has turned to the primary source in search of utopian role models?”


If you suspect that’s a hint about Morrison’s Superman in Action, you’d be right. The Man of Tomorrow’s incarnation in the 1940s, he wrote, “was a hero of the people. The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism.”


While it’s a lot to read into a single issue, it appears that Morrison’s Superman in Action will return to those roots. After forcing a confession from a ruthless corporate CEO, the new/old Superman announces “You know the deal – treat people right, or expect a visit from me!” To blue-collar workers being forced from their homes: “If you need me, I’ll be there!” Even his Clark Kent persona – working for one of the Daily Planet’s competitors – is a crusader for the little guy.


Superman’s current power levels also harken to his past; he only leaps instead of flying, and he isn’t invulnerable – he’s injured several times in this first issue. There are hints his power levels are increasing by leaps and bounds, though, so we might not have long to enjoy this Man of Steel 1.0.


This is a huge departure from decades of the character’s role as invincible protector of the status quo. And to tell you the truth, it’s fresh air. The rich and powerful don’t need a champion, but the rest of us do. I like this all-too-human Superman, and I think a lot of you will, too.


 Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.




Views: 209

Comment by Chris Fluit on September 16, 2011 at 3:47pm
Cap, DC linked to this article on the Scripps-Howard site.  I think they really liked it.
Comment by George on September 16, 2011 at 5:06pm

Morrison writes in his book, "Supergods," that Superman was essentially a socialist -- a hero who looked after the "little guy," who opposed corrupt politicians and corporations. (That's the hero Siegel & Shuster created.) He thinks this may explain why Supes has lost popularity in recent decades. Socialism is out, capitalism is in.


Morrison thinks it's no coincidence that the most popular heroes today -- Batman and Iron Man -- are both handsome tycoons. More people dream of being rich and glamorous than dream of helping their fellow man, it seems.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on September 17, 2011 at 5:08pm
...Are the people Superman saves from the wreckers in fact squatters/" not properly living there " , even if they are employed persons , in fact ?????????
Comment by Mr. Silver Age on September 17, 2011 at 7:13pm

Morrison thinks it's no coincidence that the most popular heroes today -- Batman and Iron Man -- are both handsome tycoons. More people dream of being rich and glamorous than dream of helping their fellow man, it seems.

That's a bit harsh. Wayne and Stark are hugely successful, Wayne by leveraging his inherited money and Stark being a self-made man. They're powerful guys in civvies dealing with corporate problems and social needs and then go out at night and bash criminals. What's not to like?  (Is Iron Man really that popular? I think the X-Men are a much bigger franchise, both in comics and the movies.)

I note that Clark is a crusader in his other identity, too, which brings a lot of attention and admiration to him. It goes against the lying low concept, but it fits with his Man of the People idea. Even so, that original Superman didn't last long, because he's an advocate for Might Makes Right, and that leads to a benign dictatorship--Superman makes the rules because nobody can stop him--and I don't think that's much admired, even by the people who benefit. Dropping businessmen off a roof is cathartic but not really very effective.

-- MSA

Comment by George on September 18, 2011 at 4:28pm

Morrison doesn't believe hardcore comic book fans -- as opposed to "readers" for whom a good comic book is just part of their pop culture diet -- really believe in truth, justice and doing good anymore. He sees Mark Millar's "Wanted" as the ultimate comic for the obsessed superhero fanatic, especially the ones who post anonymous screeds on the Internet. "Wanted" is a series where the bad guys win and the "heroes" are rapists and murderers.


Morrison thinks this is the ultimate fantasy for fanboys today --- having power and using it to get even with everyone. And getting away with it.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on September 18, 2011 at 6:29pm

...I don't know that the CHRONICLES Vol 1 Supes was really a socialist , however , it is true that " Americans are scared of the ' socialist ' word " , as People Have Said .

  FDR 2nd-term-era Supes was certainly a " muscular New Dealer " .

Comment by Captain Comics on September 21, 2011 at 12:47am
THIS fanboy ain't like that, George!
Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on September 22, 2011 at 4:12pm
...As I wrote " muscular New Dealer " it occured to me that that was rather a play on the Victorian-era term-concept " muscular Christianity " , i.e. , I was saying that this Superman ( the 30s one ) was , kind of , an expounder of a philosophy - sort of ironically - besides literally stating the obvious .


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