Is the Silver Age holding Superman back? A CBR writer thinks so

CBR's Timothy Donohoo penned a story with the headline Did the Silver Age Ruin Superman? And it's got a point, in that any time the character moves beyond his Silver Age/Superman: The Movie presentation a lot of fans howl, even though that doesn't sell any more. But is there any better version of the character?

Discuss.

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Interesting article.  I'm not sure if you could sell a "different" version of Superman, for all that people may find the current version boring.

Personally, I think DC would like to forget the Silver Age version of the character ever existed. I think they are embarrassed by it. Why else would there be no archival series of DC's flagship character exist? They made a half-hearted attempt between 2004 and 2014, but that's been eight years since the last one and, in those 10 years, only three volumes were produced, anyway. I want a Silver Age Superman Omnibus series!

It's tough to say what version of Superman I would want to see.The version I would have liked to see develop is maybe something like the old Earth-2 Superman.  Maybe not that old, but one who'd been around a bit. I wouldn't have made his ID public, but Lois, Perry and Jimmy should know who he is, because it kind of makes them look dumb if they don't.I have no problems with him being married to Lois, or even having a kid .Anything is better than the Silver Age's "Lois tries to force Superman to marry her" stuff.  (What kind of marrage did she think she was going to have if she'd succeeded?)

Superman shouldn't kill, and , yeah, he should be a bit of a "boy scout".  The key here is that "being a boy scout" does NOT mean "being a naive idiot", a fact that a lot of writers seem to have been unable to understand.  (And don't even get me started on the way the Marvel Family has been mishandled over the years!)

I absolutely disagree. I think Superman worked best during that period.

Yes, he was God-like. However, while it made it harder to write stories where he personally was threatened, I think the absurd amount of power forced many creators to think outside of the box with the character. They found ways to make compelling stories without (always) resorting to kryptonite or some other such dodge. He's invulnerable? Put him in a situation where his powers won't easily save the day. Threaten innocents, create problems for his friends, threaten his secret identity. Honestly, I think those stories are leaps and bounds better than the stories where he has to fight someone who's a physical equal.

In some ways, the Silver Age Superman with its influx of "Super-This" and "Super-That" combined with its multitude of gimmicky concepts is treated the same way by DC as the campy image of Batman from the Adam West series was, despite the successful revival of the Batman'66 books.

As revered as the Silver Age version of the Man of Steel by most of us (myself included), I'm more amazed of the erasure of the Bronze Age Superman who had better writing, more characterization and sharper Curt Swan artwork. That era is seldom reprinted.

And I still want to see collections of Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Supergirl from their Superman Family series and I definitely would like one of Mr. & Mrs. Superman!

I will always have a soft spot for Cary Bates and Martin Pasko's Superman stories. Those that introduced Faora Hu-Ul, the Supermobile, Amalak's last stand and the return of Kryptonite.  With exciting Kryptonian artifacts and trivia coming left and right all the time.  And a Superman that was very much a paragon of virtue in all its forms.  Somehow even his shortcomings seemed to highlight how perfect a symbol of transcendence he was.

Byrne's take on Superman seems to be well liked, but it just left me cold.  I have commented elsewhere that rebooting Superman at some point during the 1980s was probably inevitable, given how difficult it was by that time to use the character.

But use the character people did, and we got some superb stories out of that. 

Take for instance 1977's Superman #314.  Superman's fight against the alien creature Jevik is kind of boring... because it is surrounded by such exciting stuff! In the first few pages Superman finds himself dealing with anger from a loved one; with the realization that while he is nigh invulnerable the people that he cares about are all too mortal; with the pressure of having access to the wonderful achievements of dead Krypton and therefore in practice having the duty to use them to protect his adopted planet; the cruel, manipulative schemes of Amalak, who has access to comparable alien superscience and a lot more mischief and aggression to direct its use.

And later on we have exciting glimpses of what comes with his membership in the Justice League of America, as both Superman and Amalak insist on using its sattelite to further their plans.

Sure, Superman could punch Amalak literally into orbit without even trying hard.  But he will not and Amalak himself is all too aware of that.  He expertly and confidently confronts Superman time and again, with his own superscience and ruthlessness making him a very credible and scary opponent.  Amazo's deactivated form alone has a three panel cameo that is just delightful; he might as well be a wax statue for all the difference it makes in the plot, but he hints of the rich story of these characters.

Good stuff, folks.  I did not even mention that Green Lantern, Flash and Supergirl all have plot roles in those same pages.

And the _real_ shocker is in the last page, despite not making it to either the solicitations nor the cover.  The same Superman who brilliantly but barely overcame the schemes of Amalak and the effects of the "journalist's disease" finally meets Lois Lane again and has to deal with a very poorly timed request from her.  This is a truly superhuman Superman, both in ideals and in vulnerabilities.  By the last panel we can't help but feel sorry for how miserable his lot in life truly is and how deeply he deserves better.

Superman's power levels and (at that time) impressively high ethical demands are a big factor in how to properly write him.  That does not make him boring, just unique.

I think their own cynicism has prevented many post Silver Age writers from developing good story lines for Superman. They simply cannot comprehend a character like the Man of Steel who is incredibly powerful but is decent, moral and completely altruistic.

Some of the sillier aspects of the Silver Age stories, like the antics of Jimmy and Lois, could be done away with and you still have the core of a good story.

I think the writer is off-base in positing that the earliest versions of any given character are the truest and thus there's something wrong with the Silver Age Superman becoming more successful than the Golden Age version. And it's based on the same error many others make: thinking what's true for Batman should work for Superman.

I've said, more than once, that any creator who thinks Superman is boring because he's overpowered is just admitting he isn't talented enough to write Superman stories. Further, I think said creator should step aside for someone who is.

The writer seems to twist facts to fit his preconceived ideas. Saying that Wertham caused superheroes to disappear is untrue. They had already mostly disappeared because they weren't selling. If you watch movies from this time period, as I have been, there was an inordinate worship of psychiatrists and psychologists. Wertham saying that Dick Grayson living with his father figure had to be a predatory relationship says more about Wertham than Bruce Wayne. If he knew his business he should have known that the presence of a woman in a home was no guarantee against sexual exploitation. Like the writer, Wertham made the facts fit his ideas. Finding that delinquents read comics fit his theory; finding out that good kids read comics would not.

The writer implies that Superman was fighting corrupt police, politicians and authoritarians up until the Code is, as I understand it, untrue. This was his character in the earliest part of his career. Faulting the writing of Superman for not criticizing police and politicians is misplaced. It was a requirement of the Comics Code and it had been the movies' Hays Code before it. 

Oh, man, what a great write-up! Superman 314 was my first Superman comic. Imagine having this issue -- a real dramatic pinnacle for the era -- be your introduction to Superman in the comics. It set the stage, and told me how big the stakes were, from the get go.

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:


Take for instance 1977's Superman #314.  Superman's fight against the alien creature Jevik is kind of boring... because it is surrounded by such exciting stuff! In the first few pages Superman finds himself dealing with anger from a loved one; with the realization that while he is nigh invulnerable the people that he cares about are all too mortal; with the pressure of having access to the wonderful achievements of dead Krypton and therefore in practice having the duty to use them to protect his adopted planet; the cruel, manipulative schemes of Amalak, who has access to comparable alien superscience and a lot more mischief and aggression to direct its use.

And later on we have exciting glimpses of what comes with his membership in the Justice League of America, as both Superman and Amalak insist on using its sattelite to further their plans.

Sure, Superman could punch Amalak literally into orbit without even trying hard.  But he will not and Amalak himself is all too aware of that.  He expertly and confidently confronts Superman time and again, with his own superscience and ruthlessness making him a very credible and scary opponent.  Amazo's deactivated form alone has a three panel cameo that is just delightful; he might as well be a wax statue for all the difference it makes in the plot, but he hints of the rich story of these characters.

Good stuff, folks.  I did not even mention that Green Lantern, Flash and Supergirl all have plot roles in those same pages.

And the _real_ shocker is in the last page, despite not making it to either the solicitations nor the cover.  The same Superman who brilliantly but barely overcame the schemes of Amalak and the effects of the "journalist's disease" finally meets Lois Lane again and has to deal with a very poorly timed request from her.  This is a truly superhuman Superman, both in ideals and in vulnerabilities.  By the last panel we can't help but feel sorry for how miserable his lot in life truly is and how deeply he deserves better.

Superman's power levels and (at that time) impressively high ethical demands are a big factor in how to properly write him.  That does not make him boring, just unique.

Agreed. I found a lot of problems with the writers' use/understanding of comics history, including the ones you mention. He seemed to have a sliding scale for when things happened to support his argument.

Was Superman a social justice warrior when he began? Absolutely. But by America's entry into World War II he was in the same camp as all the other superheroes, supporting the government, the war and the military without question. So he was a SJW for two years, probably less. The war was early '42; the Code didn't come along until 1954. Superman was doing silly stuff in the late '40s, with Toyman, Prankster, Mxy, plus domestic silliness with Lois.

He also kept referring to "the Silver Age Batman" as if the silly sci-fi period of the late '50s was the sum of it. No mention of the "New Look," which began in the heart of the Silver Age, 1964. And O'Neil/Adams "creature of the night" version wasn't far behind.

And did DC add a female to the Wayne Manor household in answer to Wertham? Well, cause and effect is iffy, but even if you accept the premise, Wertham's book was in '54 and Aunt Harriet came along in 1964. If it was cause and effect, DC took a looooong time to get the hint.

And so forth. I didn't want to grouse too much on this score initially because I didn't want to snuff out consideration of the main point before the conversation began. But yes, I agree with you completely, Richard.

Richard Willis said:

The writer seems to twist facts to fit his preconceived ideas. Saying that Wertham caused superheroes to disappear is untrue. They had already mostly disappeared because they weren't selling. If you watch movies from this time period, as I have been, there was an inordinate worship of psychiatrists and psychologists. Wertham saying that Dick Grayson living with his father figure had to be a predatory relationship says more about Wertham than Bruce Wayne. If he knew his business he should have known that the presence of a woman in a home was no guarantee against sexual exploitation. Like the writer, Wertham made the facts fit his ideas. Finding that delinquents read comics fit his theory; finding out that good kids read comics would not.

The writer implies that Superman was fighting corrupt police, politicians and authoritarians up until the Code is, as I understand it, untrue. This was his character in the earliest part of his career. Faulting the writing of Superman for not criticizing police and politicians is misplaced. It was a requirement of the Comics Code and it had been the movies' Hays Code before it. 

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