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Old 03-23-2014, 09:09 PM   #678
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Default Re: All Things Superman and Batman: An Open Discussion - - - - - - - Part 42

Originally Posted by The Batman View Post
IMO, an ideal 21st century Superman film should be heavily influenced by All Star Superman.
I liked this description of where the different versions of the character that we've seen fit in...

We all have 'our' Superman, and mine was primarily defined by these three guys. Their works (Last Son of Krypton, Miracle Monday, assorted comics and short stories; All-Star Superman, Action Comics, JLA; Superman: Birthright) are the alpha and omega of the character for me. So it's struck me more than once that each writers' take on the character is 100% incompatible with the others. It just doesn't fit. That used to bother me, but the more I think about it, the more I find it a testament to the characters adaptability, these three guys forming a sort of 'sliding scale' of what is and isn't workable so long as the core tenants remain in place.

I mentioned John Byrne above, and yeah, I'm one of those guys who doesn't quite consider his version of the character the 'real' Superman. But to clarify, I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with the basis of the character he came up with, even if I have significant issues with the Man of Steel comic itself. Some really solid stories have operated within that setup (For All Seasons, Geoff Johns' stories, and by my understanding a through deconstruction of the version of this version in the Injustice comic). The iconicism, the good nature and [URL=""] the most basic lesson Superman teaches [=URL] remain in place. But what is misses is the basic, defining element of him as a character: his alienation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not any more a fan of mopey "am I really huuuueemaaan" Superman than anyone else. But the basic idea of Byrne's Superman is that he's a normal, good guy raised by good people who happens to have powers, hence the idea of Clark as the 'real' person. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, even if it's harder to breed character conflict that way. But as a characterization of Superman...well, in words not mine, "who disguised as Clark Kent, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice". This has some really serious repercussions on the nature of what he represents; while he remains aspirational, he's no longer inspirational. He's a reflection of what's already great about some of us, as opposed to a beacon of what we all could be given time and effort. More than that, the idea of Superman as an alien, someone who shows us the value of communication, who holds all life as equal, and who demonstrates that in spite of our differences we can come together, is immeasurably lessened when he's so thoroughly One Of Us that his alien origin and nature are either incidental, or something to actively fight against. It takes away that little character 'kink' that gives his relationship with and desire to protect humanity it's poignancy and personal difficulty, at which point you've got Kieron Gillen's vision of the character: "I generally believe heroism is about sacrifice. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it might as well be holding the door open, and that’s not heroism; that’s politeness. Superman saving the world is basically politeness, as far as I can see. It doesn’t cost him anything. I know that’s the opposite of the Grant Morrison position..."

Getting on to the main attractions, Maggin's Superman is ALL ABOUT the idea of him as an alien. He isn't simply unlike us, he has distinctly different thought processes. He's totally moral, but he doesn't really understand us, his weird little Clark Kent identity a total construct of his hyper-intelligent mind so that he can pretend to be human for a little bit. When it comes right down to it, the reason this guy's so attached to his identity isn't about protecting those around him (though that's obviously of paramount importance), it's because he's afraid of having to let his freak-flag fly 24/7, so to speak. But at the end of the day, he's able to reach out to those around him, finding friends and loved ones and building a bridge between himself and humanity, even as he shows them all that they could become by embodying the ideals taught to him by Jonathan and Martha Kent.
(Other examples of this take: Ed Pinsent and Mark Robinson's bootleg Silver Age Superman, Moore's Superman stories, For Tomorrow, deconstructed in Miracleman, done in the most terrible manner possible in JMS' Superman stories)

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Mark Waid's Superman, who is somewhat close to Byrne's in that he is, at heart, a pretty ordinary human being. But he doesn't "just happen" to have powers; these abilities define his personality. He's isolated from those around him, and his attempts to approach others as Clark Kent, even though that's an extension of who he really is, are compromised by his need to hide his real personality due to his responsibilities as Superman. But just the same he manages to break down his self-doubts and get close to others after all, and still points the way forward for humanity by showing how they might best deal with power, rather than the "the powers are incidental" core of Byrne's Superman. Even as the idea of isolation remains, this is a powerfully humanistic Superman, rather than the alien of Maggin's take.
(Other examples of this take: Greg Pak's Action and Batman/Superman, Kurt Busiek's Secret Identity, Smallville, deconstructed in Waid's own Irredeemable, done in not quite the worst manner possible but still rather problematically in Zach Snyder's Man of Steel)

Briefly, it's interesting to note the Waid considers Maggin's Superman novels as the holy grails of the character, given that their takes are so diametrically opposed, with Waid's human who has to deal with being an alien, and Maggin's alien who has to deal with being a human. One can glean from this that A. Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday are basically the s#!t and everyone reading who doesn't already own them should go get them RIGHT NOW, and B. The CORE OF THE CHARACTER is preserved and indeed exalted in both cases, even while coming at it from such different angles.

Then there's Grant Morrison's Superman, the Platonic Superman. He's sort of in the middle, the Optimal Man, the best humanity might one day be in thought and deed. This to me is the optimal take, as it both reinforces that basic moral of Superman I noted earlier in-story, and still keeps the idea that he's isolated from those around him (Clark still fits in here, as either a complete construct meant to mingle among normal people OR as a genuine extension of who Superman is), but can draw from both of the other takes. You can't really have a totally human Superman that has little elements of total alien-ness or vice-versa, but a Superman that's simply above us can have aspects of both. Morrison's own takes embrace this, All-Star skewing towards the alien angle with moments of humanity, Action showing something much closer to a normal person who still clearly operates on a totally different level, mentally speaking. JLA and Final Crisis/Superman Beyond showed a sort of 'perfect' middle, and while that guy admittedly isn't much more complicated emotionally than Byrne's, that isn't a problem in an ensemble titles or stories devoted solely to the symbolism like those, and is to me still better for the reasons I mentioned earlier in regards to him being more inspirational that way by default.
(Other examples of this take: Jerry Siegel's stories, Mark Millar's stories, Scott Snyder's Unchained, Paul Dini and Alex Ross' Peace on Earth, Samuel Hawkins' delightful Superboy stories linked here along with the Maggin stories, and celebrated in Moore's Supreme and Millar's Superior)

I was at some diplomatic party once. Got to talking to this princess who told me that when it came to Superman, I was missing the point. She told me, "His real strength lay in his generous spirit and sense of what's fair." - King Faraday

He’s much more of a working class superhero, which is why we ended the whole book with the image of a laboring Superman. He’s Everyman operating on a sci–fi Paul Bunyan scale." - Grant Morrison

"Self Portrait" By Batman
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