Thursday, 6 October 2011

Goodbye, Hello: Part One

Let's be clear here: This is not a fill-in post because I haven't yet written anything for the next issue. Against all expectations (including mine!) I'm three issues ahead, eager to build a backlog of material before my awful retail-career eats up my life at some point in the next three months!

So, I don't know if you've heard, but DC have been having some changes lately. And by some changes, I mean throwing everything out of the window (unless you're Batman or a Green Lantern) and starting again from scratch. Being fans of Superman, we're pretty accustomed to this, having had, on average, a new origin or retelling every two years for the past decade. However, unlike those, this one is total and absolute, wiping out everything that has come before (including record breaking numbering) and starting fresh and anew.

So, as the second month of the relaunch kicks into gear (I've just finished reading Action Comics #2, and don't get me started on the story finishing just over halfway through the issue), I think that it's an appropriate moment to mourn the passing of five things that have made the last 25 years worth of Superman such a great read. Oh, and because it was never all great, we'll also wave goodbye to five turds that are finally being flushed into the sewers of hypertime.

So, without further ado, let's start at the very beginning,


The First Thing I’m Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52

The Man Of Steel

I think, considering the raison d’etre for this blog, you could probably have guessed this one. For nearly 20 years, these six issues were the seed from which Superman and his comics grew. So much of what is now accepted as the standard Superman status quo was established here, from the Last Son of Krypton (no exceptions) to Superman’s shaky relationships with other heroes. But most of all, coming from an idea by Marv Wolfman, John Byrne gave us the ruthless businessman Lex Luthor, as seen in Smallville, Lois and Clark, and Superman: The Animated Series.

The structure of the series took us from before Kal-El’s birth to six years into his career when he discovered his origins. The statement at the very end of the series, where Superman reconciles his Kryptonian birth with his human upbringings is the most succinct and accurate summation of who Superman is. For years afterwards, writers would intertwine their stories involving Superman’s youth with these six issues. And whilst the name may have come from a Batman story, some of the most successful 1995 Year One annuals were carefully structured to occur in an around the events of this series.

As we’ll see below, the strength of the writing and the iconic nature of what was presented within was such that it took three attempts over nearly 10 years to establish a new origin for Superman, and not long after that series was completed, DC hit the big red button and started everything all over again. Officially, the Superman in Action Comics #904 and Superman #714 came from Secret Origin, but for most of us, he was the same person who landed the space-plane, who fought Bizarro and unexpectedly restored Lucy Lane’s sight, and who brought public embarrassment upon Lex Luthor when he frogmarched him to a police cell. He was our Superman, and we’ll miss him.

The First Thing I’m Not Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52

Birthright's Canonicity

Let’s be clear on one thing before we get going, as it’ll be many years before this appears in the blog. Birthright was not a bad series at all. In fact, faked-Kryptonian attack aside, it was pretty good. Mark Waid eschewed much of what is considered to be normal for a Superman origin story – Krypton’s destruction, growing up in Smallville, etc. – opting instead to start with Clark trying to make his way in the world, and bringing these elements in as the story progressed. Leinil Yu’s artwork was also noteworthy, strengthening as the series progressed and his style asserted itself.

No, what I have an issue with is DC’s reluctance to take a stand on wether or not we were reading the official new origin for Superman, even for years after the series had wrapped up.

If you were reading Superman comics at the time, then you’ll remember that it wasn’t until after the series had begun that DC first began talking about Birthright as a replacement origin for The Man of Steel. But they decided to be uncertain about this, stopping short of definitively stating this fact, despite elements of Birthright starting to appear in the comics. As Superman vol. 2 rolled towards #200, noise was made about the anniversary issue making a firm statement as to Birthright’s canonicity. At the end of that issue, following a fight with Braniac, Superman found himself journeying back to reality, but got distracted along the way when he saw Krypton. This was the moment that things changed, but the issue stopped short of saying that he was now attached to a new origin. Only the meagre back-matter, highlighting some of Leinil Yu’s Birthright designs, mentioned the series by name.

As a result, readers were left to wonder as to which origin would stand. The next two story arcs, Strange New Visitor and Godfall, wouldn’t involve the origin at all, and the next set of creative teams on the titles would again craft stories that took Superman forward, not looking back. Even when the multiverse returned and New Earth was formed, hints were given as to a new origin, but it took nearly four years for that origin to be presented to the readers.

There are plenty of things to argue about with Superman, but arguing which origin applies to him from 2003 onwards is an argument we shouldn’t have had to have. I’m very happy to finally not have this be an issue, and whatever changes come to Superman’s origin in the new 52, my only wish is that there is consistency.

Next on World of Superman: Come back Sunday for the continuing coverage of the post-Crisis Superman's life, and at some point in the middle of next week, we'll be taking a look at number two on both lists.

And don't forget to check out the latest episode of the 20 Minute Longbox, taking a look at Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #2!

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