Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ooh, a Happy Little Superman Fan Am I

I don't talk about him nearly enough, but it should be stated that my favorite superhero is Superman. I love that guy.

I was a superhero fan LONG before I was a comics fan. I VIVIDLY remember seeing Superman III in the theater, having no idea why or how Superman was fighting Clark Kent, but loving every minute of it. That may in fact be my first memory (I know I just made half of you feel really old, and the other half sort of young). I loved The Super-Friends, and the late '80s Superboy show. I waited forever for Superman IV to come out ("Superman was going to fight for peace! Hooray"). Looking back, I know all of that was terrible, but when you're young...

Anyway, it didn't matter, because it had Clark Kent, who's just great. To watch Christopher Reeves, particularly in the first movie, play it, was to instantly get it. Here was a schlub, the last nice guy in a town where nice gets eaten for breakfast, in painful love with the girl who wouldn't give him the time of day. Basically, he's you, he's me. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl. We all know what it's like to be ignored.

But Clark has a secret! He jumps into a broom closet, puts on the bright blue and red costume, fixes his hair, and does amazing things! All eyes on him, everybody loves him, or envies him. He's free! Free from his job, free from the law, heck, he's free from the laws of physics! He can do whatever he wants... and all he wants to do is help. And he doesn't WANT to be loved for helping... he wants to be loved for being the last nice guy. He wants to be loved for being Clark. How can you NOT love that guy? How can you not want to be that guy?

But... though I followed him from lousy movie through lousy TV show and back, I wasn't reading the comics. I kind of knew they were still publishing comics, and I know I had an issue or two growing up, and even though I loved comic strips in the newspaper, I just wasn't walking into a comic book store to pick up the latest heroic tale about my favorite Kryptonian.

Until one day when I was thirteen my dad handed me this comic as a spur of the moment gift; he had no idea what he was unleashing on the world: (after the jump!)

Yeah, that's right. I became a comics fan because of The Death of Superman. So you can all just shut up about media friendly stunt storylines because they can Goddamn get new readers into the store.

You can also shut up about making comics more "new reader friendly" by simplifying continuity. Have you read this issue lately? It's got Matrix Supergirl, Chief Henderson, Cat Grant, Kismet, Blaze, Byrne's Kryptonian imagery, Gangbuster, NONE of which I had ever seen before, and it ends with the introduction of FOUR completely new characters. Was I scared off by entering in the middle of a story? Confused and discouraged by all the characters I didn't know and plots circling around?

HECK NO! I was hooked! I wanted to know more about these characters. Who they were. How they related to Clark and what it meant about his return. I made my parents take me to the local comic book shop (a now-defunct branch of Golden Apple, if you live in the LA area), and we picked up the readily available Death of Superman and Funeral for a Friend trades (also Panic in the Sky, because our local comic book dealer flat out lied to my parents, but that's okay, because Panic is a better intro to most of the DCU anyway, and the store's out of business now anyway). And I was definitely in until at least the end of The Reign of the Supermen, and the moment Superman shatters the genocidal Cyborg, looking bad-ass and strong, in retrospect my first F*$% Yeah moment, that was it. I was in.

Because the Superman books acted as a pseudo-weekly, I quickly developed the habit of going to the store every week. Because I'm borderline obsessive compulsive, I learned to go every Thursday morning (it was the summer) then every Wednesday afternoon. (I'm better now, I can usually hold out until Friday, sometimes even Saturday. Guess I'm an adult.) And while I was in the store there was this big Batman storyline going on too, so I started picking up that, and it spread from there...

But I always read the Superman titles. (Well, almost always, the Dominus storyline drove me away, but Luthor trading his baby to Brainiac 13 for power brought me right back.) So why am I NOW such a happy Superman fan? Because for the first time, in a long time, the Superman titles are actually GREAT. I mean, in the thirteen years I've been reading comics, they've usually been good, or good enough. Even when the storylines seemed more designed to get attention than tell a good story (the engagement, the death, the return, the break-up, the wedding, blue, blue and red) there was some really good writers and artists turning out decent work. Writers like Karl Kessel and artists like Stuart Immonen and others. And it was fun... but it was never really GREAT. I'd pick it up because it was available at the store and I'd be amused for 15 minutes, but I realized I wasn't dying to read it anymore. I mean, before November 16th, 2005, who was really LOOKING FORWARD to the next issue of ANY Superman comic?

Guess what comes out tomorrow?

No, no, not that. Or rather, not JUST that. Action Comics #842 is coming out, the second part of adventure where, well, Aliens Steal Our Stuff. Seriously, I've been looking forward to this issue since just seeing the cover by Dave. Freaking. Gibbons. And Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods are knocking out of the park an old school crazy-ass Silver Age Superman adventure. It's funny to think this is from the same writer who wrote the last issue of Superman, which mostly had him sitting on a plane, reading a book and thinking about a conversation he had with Lana the other day, which was ALSO a great issue.

Three FANTASTIC ongoing comics starring my favorite, favorite, favorite character. Some of my favorite writers, great artists I'm only now beginning to appreciate, and an editorial staff devoted to making Superman, above and beyond anything else, FUN!

I'm just waiting for the wink.


Ragnell said...

You can also shut up about making comics more "new reader friendly" by simplifying continuity.

Hehehe, you know how I got into DC Comics form Marvel? The Return of Barry Allen. All the continuity questions just made me more anxious to find out what the hell was going on.

Chris said...

Ditto for Busiek; he brought the "real" Avengers back, which brought me back into comics full-time.

Dude knows how to resurrect and reestablish major properties.

Steven said...

Ragnell, that is a great, great story, STEEPED in continuity, but you don't need to get it to get the core. And it's certainly a story that makes you want to go through the back issues.

Chris, my appreciation for Busiek is growing week by week (not only because there's a small but none zero chance he's reading this). I LOVED Marvels, and my friend Jennifer got me a whole bunch of Astro City trades for my birthday a few years back, but his "mainstream" in-continuity superhero stuff never interested me. NOW I want to go back and get his Avengers stuff (at least for "Ultron. We would have words with thee.")

Though his run on JLA wasn't great, I thought. Too slowly paced, not enough invention. Maybe it was because he was inheriting a title running out of steam rather than relaunching the Justice League anew like Meltzer is. Maybe if he was given more freedom with his picks for the team, or was told to tell shorter, faster stories...

I have now read Action 842 and, brother, it's a sweet ride.

Anonymous said...

Nevertheless, I think you might get a kick out of the Superman is a Dick web site.

Bill S. said...

The comic that made me a comics fan was the Baxter relaunch of The Legion of Super-Heroes. Talk about a book that was not at all friendly to new readers! A super team that numbered in the 20s, an equal number of villains arrayed against them, various supporting players -- reserve members, trainees, love interests, the Subs, the Lallor heroes, various family members -- and I just loved it all. It was like every page introduced someone new, and I wanted to know who they all were, and what was happening. And the letter page (I remember those!) was dazzlingly incomprehensible to me. But I was hooked. I read that first issue to shreds. And then I started grabbing up back issues by the armful. Which is why I never trust the talk about "new reader friendly". I think that there are ways to make a new reader engaged with a book, but not at the expense of dumbing down the book, and certainly not at the expense of story.

But then again, I was weird. So maybe I'm wrong.

Cuitlamiztli Carter said...

Hey, I know this is an old post, but I wanted to comment that I too got into superhero comics as a kid because of reading the Death of Superman and Knightfall (and I was under ten years old). I remember vividly the issue in the Knightfall series where Batman has mug shots of all of his foes up on the Bat-computer, and how incredibly excited I became. I recognized some from the animated series and the 60's show, but I remember seeing all these new faces, as well as all of the Superman allies you mentioned in this post, and thinking "There's a whole world in these pages that I do not know. I want to know this world."

Continuity didn't scare me off.