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mygif

The problem is… you get that, but the people who write Superman comics don’t always get that, and the ones who do certainly don’t emphasize it enough.

Plus, when was the last time anything bad happened to Jimmy Olsen, or to Lois Lane, or to anybody other than faceless cardboard cutout bystanders? By this point, Superman’s supporting cast is so well-established that their plot armor is nearly as thick as Superman’s.

I’ve always kinda wanted to see a Daily Planet comic, focusing on the hectic newsroom at the Daily Planet and heroic investigative reporting by Lois Lane–and absolutely without her being imperiled and then rescued by Superman.

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mygif

I’ve always kinda wanted to see a Daily Planet comic, focusing on the hectic newsroom at the Daily Planet and heroic investigative reporting by Lois Lane–and absolutely without her being imperiled and then rescued by Superman.

I have honestly lost count of the number of times I have heard somebody say this: a Daily Planet comic is the natural Metropolis equivalent of Gotham Central, and we all know Gotham Central was pretty goddamned great.

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mygif

“For him, failure doesn’t come with the sweet release of death. He’s going to have to live with it.”

As explored in Kingdom Come, right ? 😉

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Andrew W. said on August 25th, 2009 at 1:39 am

I don’t think Wolverine cares as much as Superman does about random Joe Citizen. Even if you are a horrible person (and Superman will know), Superman will save you from . . . whatever.

It is a fundamental characteristic of Wolverine that he is the armoral killer who is the hardest ass in asstown’s hard district.

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Master Mahan said on August 25th, 2009 at 1:55 am

I believe the typical argument against Superman is not that he can’t die, but that he can’t be beaten. As you pointed out, these are very different things. Even if Superman isn’t going to die, you can still achieve suspense by pushing Superman to the limits of his powers. The trouble is, Superman’s power is effectively unlimited. After Superman flies to the end of the universe in less than a second, it’s a bit of a cheat for Superman to suddenly not be fast enough to reach one human life in danger. If Superman fails, it’s usually only because the writer decided he needed to fail.

Which isn’t to say that you can’t create a story that’s not about whether Superman might fail, or that you can’t create a situation in which Superman’s powers are useless. There have been a great many excellent Superman stories that do just that. If you make a story about whether Superman is fast enough or strong enough, though, the only possibility of failure lies in writer fiat.

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mygif

Sorry, but I generally don’t care about Lois or Jimmy. I certainly don’t care about random bystanders unless you give me a reason to. No, not even if it’s a puppy. It’s not a real puppy.

I did like Lois & Clark, and I don’t remember why. I’m going to bet it’s because it was Lois & Clark, and they therefore tried to give Lois some substance.

BTW, I like Captain Marvel and Mon’el, so there goes your strawman argument. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t care about Superman.

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mygif

Plus, when was the last time anything bad happened to Jimmy Olsen

Well he did have to take a prominent role in Countdown

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Trilobite said on August 25th, 2009 at 5:28 am

I’ll happily jump on board the “There needs to be a Daily Planet series about the newsroom in the same vein as Gotham Central” bandwagon. I don’t care for Superman himself or for his supporting cast, but man, I love a good journalism story. If they could make Lois Lane a credible reporter (and Jimmy Olsen less of a douchey goofball) and also add a bunch of characters who act like real people who I can identify with (something always lacking in any Superman issue I read), it would be one of the two best series that DC ever published.

The other top-two title being Gotham Central itself, of course.

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mygif

I also support the idea of a Daily Planet series. I also support Chris Sims writing it, just to see what he’d do.

But to those who say that Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen couldn’t carry a series, let’s remember that Gotham Central didn’t focus exclusively on cops that had already become recurring characters in Batman titles. Others were introduced, some of whom died. You can get much the same effect with a Daily Planet title-Jimmy, Lois, and Perry aren’t going to go away, but what about the website editor with a chip on her shoulder about not being a “real reporter?” Or the police source who keeps the Planet informed on most stories, but has to choose which things to leak to the press and which ones to keep to themselves? You make people like that into important members of the cast for that title, limit how much space Superman and whatever he’s doing or fighting can take per issue, and you have the basis for a very good comic.

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mygif

I think Kelberon has the right idea of how to construct a Daily Planet comic. Anything Superman tangles with is a fairly earth-shattering event — no single reporter is going to cover all of the fall-out from that. Actually, I’d love to see a story about what happens to the pilot of one of those planes Superman is always catching — that’s gotta change a guy’s life.

Another one of the mistakes I think pops up in Superman stories alot is the idea that what Superman does is beat other people up. While he certainly can do that, his core concept isn’t a soldier or a warrior — he’s a rescue worker. What drives the plot should be how Superman comes up with a solution to a dangerous situation. Whether or not he can punch an alien out is one thing. How he uses his amazing toolkit to tackle a complex, constantly changing scenario is another.

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mygif

Oh, but he’s more than just a rescue worker. He’s also an explorer, a journalist, and a scientist (an aspect of the character that’s almost completely faded away after the Byrne reboot.) One of the great things about Superman in the Silver Age was just how many plot hooks you could hang on him; he always had a reason to get involved in situations, and the situations were always creatively (sometimes insane, but always creative) designed so that they couldn’t be solved with mere brute force.

If it’s just a question of being fast, strong, or tough, it’s not a good Superman story. A good Superman story is about being smart.

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mygif

This is EXACTLY what I’ve been saying for YEARS.

Well done, sir!

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mygif

Pencil me in a supporter of a Daily Planet comic.

If you watch the first season of “The Adventures of Superman”, then I think you will be struck by its noir tone. Lois and Jimmy are routinely bumping up against really bad people. The other remarkable thing is that it works extremely well.

After all, Clark Kent and company are working the city beat at a major newspaper. The people they would be interacting with on a daily basis would not the most wholesome folks in the world. They would also be people with a lot of problems that cannot be fixed by punching someone in the head. Even the most absurdly powerful version of Superman cannot fix human nature.

However, that is a title that is much harder to write. It needs to be grounded in reality. That is the real challenge, since reality requires research beyond re-watching “Superman, The Movie” fifteen times.

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mygif

John Seavey:

Explorer and journalist, yes, but I’ve never liked the idea of labeling Superman a scientist. Interested in science, sure, and willing to help the scientific effort. But calling him a scientist himself on top of everything else makes him sound a little too busy.

My favorite interpretation has honestly been Superman as the struggling, denied intellectual. He wants to be a more prolific writer, he wants to attend more university lectures, he wants to read more of the classics — but his responsibilities as Superman give him too much of a run-around. I like to think Superman leaves an audio book playing in his apartment so he can super-listen to it while he’s on patrol.

Actually, one notion I’ve had (which has no basis in the comics but I think would be cool) would be Superman’s friends and family doing research for him on the side, so he can know the best and safest ways to use his powers. (I think it came to me reading 52, when Clark realized Booster was going to short out the city by accident — I thought, “Yeah, Superman would have to pay attention to that stuff, wouldn’t he?”) I have this image in my head of Clark opening his e-mail to find a link to another military project or a political upheaval or a new physical theory, with a note from Pa Kent, “PUT THIS ON THE BIG BOARD!”

(Shameful confession: I briefly entertained what I would do if I wrote Supergirl. One of changes I would make would be Martha Kent telling Kara to wear a basic utility belt, because she’s a farmer and she doesn’t approve of Clark jury-rigging everything by rubbing a penny really fast between his fingers.)

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mygif

Well thought and well reasoned, sir. And many and great have been the geek arguments I have hashed out with friends over this issue.

Unfortunately, for me at least it doesn’t hold water. It’s the power set of Supes that destroys the comic for me. He’s 99.99% invulnerable, for crying out loud. I don’t want to have him killed. I don’t even want him to be able to be killed, necessarily. I want him to have real, personal risk and involvement.

The best two Superman moments I have seen in any form are those where he is not able to overpower the situation, where he is forced to engage and be involved, not merely swoop in and save “us” by proxy. The best, in my humble opinion is the “world of cardboard” speech from Justice League Unlimited. Followed immediately by Darkseid curbstomping Kal. The second best being the Superman – Captain Marvel mini series First Thunder. I really wished they’d continued from there. In both casesit was that at that moment, he wasn’t disengaged. He was on the same level as his foe or the situation. He was vulnerable, whether physically or personally.

I have no issue with the “Flying Brick” superhero. I have issue with a character I just cannot relate to, because the only risks he has are psychological or abstract. One of the reasons I am a fan of Captain Marvel is the contrast of the Big Red Cheese and the host of the power but for me at least, there’s something missing from the big S.

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Lister Sage said on August 25th, 2009 at 8:57 am

Here’s the problem I have with your post: through 90% of your article I feel you can swap the word Superman with the name Spider-Man and nothing changes. Why would I want to read about a character that can’t be hurt, wounded or killed when I can read the same story with a character that can? To me that’s what makes a hero, someone who’s willing to risk life and limb for a total stranger. Superman has nothing to lose, he could walk out of a volcano and be like “What?” when people look at him strange. When other heroes have to run into a burning building to save someone they have to worry about being choked by smoke, having the flames overwhelm them, the floor breaking under them, the roof collapsing… Superman, he has to worry about how he’s going to explain to Jimmy why he had to take a leak when there’s a massive story breaking. Which is actually a problem a lot of other heroes have to worry about as well and they still might not live to tell their lie.

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Kid Kyoto said on August 25th, 2009 at 8:58 am

Very well said. One of the things I missed from the post-Crisis reboot was Superman losing the Kents. His great weakness is that he can’t save everyone but that he wants to.

I’d also like to see a reoccuring conflict in SUperman books where he wonders how far he should go. Should he round up Earth’s nuclear weapons? Send all supervillains into the phantom zone? Fix global warming?

Sure from time to time these things come up but usually they are dismissed out of hand, I’d like to see Superman really weigh his role and stand on the edge of becoming a a supernanny or superfacist.

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mygif

Here’s the thing I never liked about Superman. It isn’t the plot armor. It isn’t how tough it is to kill him. It’s the fact that he’s a moron because he has to be, and I just can’t find myself identifying with a stupid person.

Hear me out. Superman’s power set is pretty much unbeatable. Intelligent application of said powers (especially the super speed) pretty much defuses any situation you can think of. And that would be *boring* to read about. So it starts with writer fiat – the writer pretty much has to make him selectively ‘forget’ to use certain powers for whatever reason. But it gets worse.

Superman’s greatest foe has got to be Lex Luthor. Sure, Darkseid is bad, Mr. Mxylptlk is bad, but his most iconic villain has got to be Lex Luthor. Lex doesn’t have any powers. His only powers are being smart and being rich. However, as is standard for villainy, he must also leave holes in his plans that he did not think of. Holes so wide that we, as the audience, should be able to pick them out. The drama comes from Superman finally figuring out, after some sort of dilemma and great strain of brain, that hole and capitalizing on it.

So, for the most part, Superman has to be stupider than Lex Luthor, who has to be stupider than the reader.

That makes Superman someone I have a hard time identifying with, because I don’t feel like I have much in common with a stupid person.

–Rawr

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mygif

Rawr-

I will say this. Warren Ellis has written for Superman. He writes Superman as smart and technologically savvy. And it is immensely entertaining.

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mygif

There was a black-and-white Daily Bugle miniseries sometime in the 90s that was along the lines everyone’s talking about. Spider-Man only really appeared as a background character, and I don’t think they made any connection between him and the fairly minor supporting character of freelance crime photographer Peter Parker, so that was neat.

Lister Sage: The difference between Spider-Man and Superman is one of scale and stakes. Spider-Man can do a whole issue trapped in a burning building and it’s exciting; that’s in his wheelhouse. No contest for Superman, though, so anything longer than a page risks being a bit of a waste. That’s why writers have to be challenged to come up with bigger and grander and more insane threats for Superman comics; it’s rare that Spider-Man has to save the whole city from CERTAIN DOOM by himself, but Superman’s called upon to save the world solo routinely.

As for the power issue, scale comes into play there too. If Superman has nothing to do but rescue people from that burning building, then there’s no suspense. But Superman also knows at that moment there’s also an earthquake in China, Brainiac is in Cleveland for some reason, there’s a guy threatening to jump off a skyscraper, an old woman is having a heart attack in her apartment, the Justice League is paging him about something called “Earth-7 1/2”, and the fire engines are close, but are they close enough?

Where do you start? And what do you leave for last knowing you might not make it in time?

So, to address That Guy, his challenges *are* almost entirely psychological and not physical, it’s true. I don’t think one sort of challenge is greater than the other, though; they’re just different.

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mygif

Here’s the thing – the argument that Hero X can’t die – there’s another issue coming! can apply across the board. It’s very rare for a hero to die and their title to just continue as normal – contrast Captain America and Batman. It’s just not done for the most part, and if it is, there’s usually a sign it’s coming (title canceled, all the Batman hullabaloo, etc)

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ps238principal said on August 25th, 2009 at 11:31 am

For the “he can’t die” argument, a little clarification: It’s that there’s not even a whiff of concern that he’ll be hurt, unlike other “mere mortal” superheroes. He’s basically a god with his underwear outside of his pants. He’s practically a force of nature, and I think it might be time to start treating him as such.

If there were such a thing as Superman in real life, I’d probably be very nervous around him. I think a comic someday should reveal that the reason he thinks nobody ever saw through his disguise as Clark Kent is because everyone was scared he’d go bananas if they disagreed with him.

“Dude says his name’s Kent.”
“You going to tell Superman he’s wrong?”
“Hell, no. He told Olson that he liked his bow tie and the guy’s been afraid to take it off for years.”

Superman might need some semi-retirement in the DCU as a focal character, opting instead for the Kurt Busiek model of stories told from those having to deal with/interact with Supes. Heck, I’d love to see a “Cloverfield” type movie where Superman and Darkseid ar ripping up Metropolis, and the people escaping aren’t sure who to be more frightened of as they try to escape the city and the destruction.

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mygif

Coren- We know superheroes aren’t going to die, or that they will inevitably come back if they die. But with Spider-man, or Iron Man, or most other superheroes, they can get their asses kicked. They are vulnerable. Superman is perfect morality (no character flaws to make him interesting) + absolute invulnerability (no physical weaknesses to make him interesting.)

You know what else? Lois, Jimmy, Perry White, etc. aren’t going to die either.

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Lister Sage said on August 25th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Justin Zyduck: The problem with “…come up with bigger and grander and more insane threats…” is that there comes a point when every goddamn issue Superman has to save the multiverse. You could say ‘Well that’s when you do a story about him having to deal with seven issues at once.’, but this brings up the problem of why do other heroes even exist if Superman is going to deal with everything. Wasn’t that the point of the first Justice League animated story? That Superman can’t do everything so other heroes are needed. (Which is the way it should be, don’t get me wrong.) Plus if we continue the logical advance of ‘it’s always got to be bigger and better’ then it will have to become multiple threats to the multiverse, issue after issue.

I’m with ps238principal on this one, Superman needs to be retiered for a year or go off into space and deal with aliens and cosmic stuff. I mean wouldn’t Superman even get bored doing all this shit? “What? Another earthquake? Crimminy. Isn’t that the third this month? I long for a flood.”

Since I mentioned the Justice League cartoon I’d like to bring up that the best Superman-centric episode was “Hereafter” because it was about him surviving a post-apocalyptic Earth. Plus Batman being all “He’s not dead.”

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mygif

ps238principal: The difference between Superman and a force of nature is that forces of nature don’t have emotions, and I think that’s the interesting bit with Superman. He’s sad when he’s not able to rescue someone, he’s mad when someone like Luthor puts financial gain over human life, he’s awestruck by sunrises and the laughter of a child and soft pretzels from street vendors. If nothing else, the lack of mortal peril forces writers to step up their games a bit. “Will the hero die?” is a pretty easy dramatic crutch to fall back on, and that has the risk of getting stale. He can’t die; what *else* you got?

Also, I think Grant Morrison had a pretty good rationale for why people *aren’t* afraid of Superman, and that’s because of the costume. Instead of dressing up as an intimidating badass, he wears bright primary colors you can see a mile away and no mask. It’s all designed to put you at ease. And he doesn’t mind if you laugh at his overshorts, because at least it means you’re not wetting your undershorts.

Lister Sage: The trick is to not just have it progress in a linear fashion like that — first he saves Metropolis, then the US, then the world, then the solar system, and so on up through the multiverse. That would be predictable and unsustainable. You’ve got to change things up a bit, vary your big cosmic threats with weird little offbeat stories set in Metropolis, or Busiek-y character pieces that trade spectacle for emotion. I guess saying he needs to face “bigger” threats all the time isn’t precise; they need to be *different* threats with different stakes.

Again, I’m not saying it’s easy! That the Morrison/Waid/Peyer/Millar Superman proposal never got picked up is as close as something can be to criminal without being prosecutable.

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mygif

There is a series of things that really opened my eyes and allowed me to enjoy Superman.

1. The Hitman issue where he and Tommy talked. It really opened me up to the idea that Superman isn’t about the fight, it is about more than that.
2. The battle between him and Darkseid and JLU (someone mentioned it earlier).
3. The speech from Kill Bill 2. It opened me to the idea that the character is layered.

DC is about gods on earth. This is very true, but just as people enjoy greek and norse myths there are good stories to be told about gods among us.

Superman to me is often about the balance between the many and the few, and self and society. What he wants as Clark and a “earthling” and his feeling that he can’t have that. It is a morality tale in a lot of ways.

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ps238principal said on August 25th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

@Justin Zyduck

The difference between Superman and a force of nature is that forces of nature don’t have emotions…

Ah, but fiction has always ascribed emotions to them, be they storms, gods, or just dumb luck.

If nothing else, the lack of mortal peril forces writers to step up their games a bit. “Will the hero die?” is a pretty easy dramatic crutch to fall back on, and that has the risk of getting stale. He can’t die; what *else* you got?

That’s fine, and it makes a good story setup, but that’s not what we get. And if you want to talk “stale,” read Superman comics from the past decade or so, and then think about how long this has been going on.

Further, perhaps Superman needs to come to grips with problems facing the world that sometimes come in a form you can’t punch. Let’s say Metropolis goes bankrupt (it has it’s own derivative bubble or something) and just for fun, when LuthorCorp takes advantage, Lex doesn’t use his newfound power/advantage to create some kind of super-criminal thing he can get busted for, but just stays a hair on the right side of the law as he fiscally becomes the king of the city.

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mygif

“Superman needs to be retiered for a year or go off into space and deal with aliens and cosmic stuff”

This is exactly the plot they’re doing now, and it is terrifyingly lame.

I’m in your corner, Justin, yet again. Superman’s weakness is his humanity, his heart. He can’t punch out every problem, and often he tries to find ways around that as well– case in point, Joe Casey’s run, where Superman was a pacifist.

I’d also love to read (or write) a Daily Planet comic. The supporting cast from the weekly 90s Superman comics made those books much more interesting than the Super-comics have been this decade.

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mygif

This is where we’re agreeing here, because what I’m on about here is that half of the reason people aren’t into Superman (and I’m not trying to force Superman upon anyone or saying one *should* like Superman, only that one *could*) is because they think he’s boring, and the other half is because creative teams frequently don’t put out a good argument to the contrary.

(Although for what it’s worth, I’d argue that Superman has been represented tolerably well this past decade if for no other reason than All-Star Superman and Birthright, which approached the character in very different ways, but were both very thoughtful and entertaining.)

The Luthor situation you posit was basically post-Crisis Luthor, right down to the “king of the city.” (Luthor’s a bit of a character in transition now, because the nostalgia for “evil scientist” Luthor is competing with the still-successful and relevant “corrupt businessman” model.)

But yeah, the intellectual and moral challenges are what Superman comics ought to really be about, and that’s why Toyman and the Prankster, often dismissed as being too weak to be a challenge to Superman, are exactly what the doctor ordered. Toyman and the Prankster aren’t going to give Superman anything to punch except as distractions (and I love Kurt Busiek’s re-imagining of the Prankster as “the guy who diverts Superman’s attention so that petty crooks can get away with bank robberies”). They could, however, mess with Superman using a series of psychological games and headtrips.

But, like you say, saying things *should* be this way or that doesn’t matter if the stories don’t actually live up to their potential. But they could! And sometimes they do.

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Lister Sage said on August 25th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Justin Zyduck:”You’ve got to change things up a bit, vary your big cosmic threats with weird little offbeat stories set in Metropolis, or Busiek-y character pieces that trade spectacle for emotion.”

And how is this different from any other superhero? (Assuming you replace “Metropolis” with whatever city the hero is in.)

Because your right that you can’t have the same story appear every month. There has to be some variation in scope and focus. But just because one month Superman is fighting Parasite and the next he’s racing to get a heart to a little boy in the hospital doesn’t change the fact that I don’t care what Superman is doing and would be more interested if someone else had these problems.

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mygif

Well done, Justin, this totally makes up for you bitchslapping Will Eisner! :)

Frankly, the argument that “Superman is too invulnerable” makes no sense. Sure, in the “real world” he’d be unstoppable, but he lives in a comic book, people. You can literally pull whatever you want to be a legitimate threat out of your ass if you’re a creative enough writer. Oh no, the Golgolax of Acheron-7 is attacking, and it’s a MILLION TIMES STRONGER than Superman!

…Silly, but you see my point. Even within the established canon, there’s kryptonite and the idea that Superman loses his charge of sunlight if pushed too hard or too long, so he does have vulnerabilities.

Apparently Neil Gaiman gave Sandman nigh-omnipotence precisely because he thought the arguments about Superman being uninteresting “because he’s so powerful” were a load of tosh. If all you want to do is have two characters punch each other, then yes, it’s hard to create drama with him, sort of (though again, kryptonite, etc.) But that’s exactly where creativity and subtlety come into play. And yeah, Justin’s dead on about Superman being emotionally vulnerable. It hasn’t often been used well, but it can be.

I feel the same way about Superman being supposedly boring because he’s so good and noble and pure. If anything, this aspect of the character has made him more interesting in these morally murky times. It’s one thing for Superman to beat up the bad guys, but it’s not always easy to tell who the bad guys are, is it? This is where you get into an almost theological area of storytelling with Superman, an aspect that I really think could be exploited to great effect. Not to mention the whole Watchmen-ish idea of Superman being an unwitting agent of the status quo. There’s a ton of story material and emotional resonance there, waiting to be tapped.

Anyway, doubters should go read All-Star Superman and maybe Alan Moore’s Supreme into the bargain, then come back and tell me Superman comics can’t be fun and exciting.

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sgt pepper said on August 25th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Remember that series from a few years back where Darwyn Cooke wrote and Tim Sale drew Superman? Based on the way Cooke wrote Lois and Jimmy and the way Sale drew them, those two would make an awesome creative team for your Daily Planet comic.

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mygif

The problem with the conceit here, as well as people’s “issues” with invulnerability, is simple: death and danger are not what create suspense. The proposed Strawman comic reader is wrong that invulnerability renders story tension moot, but I can’t get behind the issue being not whether Superman will survive but rather whether everyone else will, either.

It’s not about death. Superman neither has to die nor be in danger. If Superman is our protagonist, he must simply want something, and the dramatic tension comes from whether he can get it.

So what does Superman want? A better cape? More money? Fame and fortune?

Obviously not.

He wants to save everyone.

Can he?

Obviously not.

And there’s all the tension required.

No matter what Superman does, no entity he encounters will ever be stronger or better or more powerful than he is, but still, no matter what Superman does, he will never be able to do enough. Not in his own mind. There will always be another person to save, another fire to tame, another . . .

This is why “Superman Returns” failed so utterly. Not only did it start giving Superman something more to care about and forcing him to address previous shortcomings, but it also introduced a slightly more realistic element into the story. Luthor got off because Superman didn’t show up to court. How brilliant is that?

And then they make Luthor a real estate mogul who wants a Kryptonite continent, which is mind-crushingly dumb.

For Superman to work, he needs to encounter his own weakness, which is not about how much he can lift and how far he can fly but rather that he can’t do everything. Tension in Superman would rather come from whether what is good for one person is good for everyone. Can Superman deal with bureaucracy? Alex Ross’ “Superman: Peace on Earth” made a reach toward such an epic story, and it came off rather powerfully for what it was, especially in that the villains were dictators and despots, climate and natural disasters, and not a hunk of rock.

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mygif

With all due respect, Misters Entrekin and Zyduck, again I disagree.

Mr Zyduck’s reply to my contention that yes, his challenges are pschological and social, I assert no, those are the hooks to get us to care about what he faces. And unfortunately for the character, they don’t hook everyone very well. It’s a matter of tast I suppose, but no, I really don’t have enough invested in Supes to really care if he saves everyone. Or if that affects him. If it does, I really haven’t seen it in the books I have read.

If those are his challenges, then honestly the comics themselves should be far less underants-over-tights wearing flying cross city brawls and more … I dunno. Archie? Mary Worth? I just doin’t see any investment of the character that way. Granted I rarely read Supes…

To Mr Entrekin I say nay nay. It’s not death or disfigurement I’m looking for. It’s risk. It’s outting something on the line- your self, your reputation, your freedom, your well-being. It’s an intrinsic investment on the art of the hero that he could, indeed lose in a palpable, real, personal, immediate way. We know the hero won’t. Or at least it won’t last, but the bet is on the table, understood and accepted. So we root for the “goodie” as we identify with the risks taken.

Superman doesn’t risk, unless it’s by proxy – his survivor guilt driving him to save others, or worse by extention- his family, friends or loved ones. So I end up asking do I really want to root for a guy willing to do this? I can’t answer yes. I really can’t.

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mygif

I would counter that Superman does take some risks, though (again) psychological ones and not physical ones; he is vulnerable to despair and does, after all, frequently teeter on the edge of imposing his will on us stupid humans. There is a fine line between helping people out, to doing too much and stunting human development, to becoming a superfascist and taking over the world (as in that JLU episode with the “Justice Lords”). There is interesting material in Superman examining just where that line is, and how much is too much, but then how could someone possibly do too much good? and round and round.

Of course, this is a less immediate risk than life and limb, to which I can only say that I can’t really hold it against Superman that he’s invulnerable, as though it somewhat decreases what he accomplishes. He could, after all, choose to do *nothing*, but he doesn’t. Given that it would be much more lucrative to scale back his powers in public and become Clark Kent, highest-paid professional athlete in history (or, frankly, just take over the world), it’s pretty swell that he decides to devote much of his free time to helping people for no reward.

But, ultimately, if that does not satisfy That Guy or Lister Sage, then I have run out of arguments. Short of hypnotizing you into liking Superman or wiring your eyelids open Clockwork Orange-style and forcing you to watch Superman IV over and over again, I’m probably never going to convince you that Superman is a rad character, and I shall respect that. Fundamental opinions are fundamental opinions.

So I will affect my best Brian Blessed voice (which is, in fact, the same as my worst Brian Blessed voice) and say “Then we agree to disagree! Let us retire to separate alehouses content that no blood was shed in this civil disagreement!”

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ps238principal said on August 26th, 2009 at 3:13 am

I think we can agree that some of Superman’s problems, from a writing standpoint, stem from the unwillingness of the editors to take many risks with the character (and this goes beyond him being able to be hurt or killed). The ones I can recall were quite ham-fisted (Superman Red and Blue, anyone?). However, given the retconning binge a lot of comics have been on lately, I don’t see why we couldn’t have an experimental Superman storyline or two that gave him some higher purpose/goal other than “save everyone, but don’t kill anybody,” and see where that leads him. Maybe he is fed up with how things are run and decides to use techniques learned from Batman to do some shadier work against crime. Perhaps his kryptonian mind lets him become a “pre-crime” hero, where he notices patterns in behavior and intervenes, apparently illegally, to stop criminals before they act.

If it goes into the commode, it’ll vanish with the next “Final Crisis, We Promise This Time” event.

Turning to Prankster’s comment:

Apparently Neil Gaiman gave Sandman nigh-omnipotence precisely because he thought the arguments about Superman being uninteresting “because he’s so powerful” were a load of tosh.

But if you read “The Sandman,” that story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the Sandman, for all of his power, had rules he had to follow, and ultimately, turn to his advantage (kind of. Or “kindly” of, if you get my drift). He had an epic cast that didn’t do dumb things like rob banks even though they had enough tech/money to not need to rob banks. I could also add that this was a comic where the readership could go for pages without an action shot, which isn’t how to sell a Superman book, unfortunately (though I do wish they’d try once in a while, but with a dynamite dialogue writer).

And a side note about Lex Luthor and Norman Osborne, since they’re the same type of character (a mastermind with resources and power, but no metahuman abilities): I’m all for flawed, evil geniuses. But I really hate it when time after time their perfect plan’s “flaw” is that they don a suit of armor or hire an easily-traceable contract killer (usually with superpowers) to do in an old arch-nemesis, rather than finding a clever way of being a threat that the hero must overcome, perhaps without being able to send the villain to jail.

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Candlejack said on August 26th, 2009 at 7:09 am

The problem with Superman’s conflicts coming from his fear he can’t save everybody is that he doesn’t really reach for saving everybody as if it matters. Supes stories I’ve read have left me with the definite impression that he could save way more people than he does, without even cutting too much more into his free time, if he just used his super-speed more, or spent less of his time stalking a legally-untouchable Lex Luthor. I’m sure there are issues where he races all over the world doing disaster relief or what have you, but I apparently haven’t read those issues.

Mostly Superman hits things. He could shorten fights (and cut collateral damage) considerably if he wasn’t so dedicated to a punch things ’til they fall strategy. His first reaction to any fight is to go in with his fists, and he only bothers to do something else if that doesn’t work. It makes him seem…kinda lazy. Intellectually, at least. Like he’s got more important things to think about while he and his current fight buddy knock out twenty blocks of apartments and offices. Like he’s not just boring, as strawman fanboy charges, but actually bored.

He also almost always falls for kryptonite traps, and again, it seems like it must be because he’s rather unconcerned with it all. By now he’s got to know that a good 30% of Krypton has fallen on Earth, and the bits that Batman isn’t keeping in reserve to kill him with are all in the hands of his enemies. Yet he so often rushes in without looking first, when a simple application of vision and hearing powers, combined with the intelligence he’s supposed to have, would let him turn things around before he’s at the writhing on the floor in agony stage.

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Some of us have seen the Superman Who Tries To Save Everybody Every Time before. His name is Samaritan, and he has no life. Then, of course, there was Red Son.
But you are so right about his speed. Anyone who can race the Flash and beat Green Lantern rings because he can move 20 times as fast as thought has no excuse for most fights lasting more than a few seconds, tops.

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TheFinalWraith said on August 26th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I do like Superman most of the time, but there are some qualities that I hate when writers emphasize them…
First: his speed… Thinking logically the Flash and other speedsters already have one of the most ‘broken’ powers and giving Superman that speed, on top of everything else, makes even the possibility of Superman failing absurd.
Second: his intelligence. As an earlier poster mentions, he really doesn’t seem to use it that much, or at least his common sense, and it’s just overkill.
Third, his senses: because how much of a jerk does he seem like if when he’s drinking his morning coffee at the Planer, he’s hearing thousands die in Indonesia?
Fourth, and most important: The notion that he’s better than us, some thinly veiled messiah stooping to help us lowly mortals. What I like to think is that instead he’s the best of us, the notion that if we were givin fantastic power, we’d use it to help others instead of ourselves.

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I’ve always tended to prefer Captain America. Other than the unbreakable-except-for-twice shield, the usual version of Steve Rogers had realistic abilities with an unrealistic morality.

Obviously, there are good Kal-El stories.

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@ThatGuy: I think my contention is that there are plenty of things that can be risked even when neither death nor physical harm are on the table. Existential crises might be a bit harder to capture in panels, of course, but really what it comes down to is that moreso than the idea of vulnerability of some sort, what Superman really needs is something to care about and want.

Of course, there’s also a way easier way around it, which would be alien physiology and the effect of Earth’s sun on a Kryptonian. Do we know what life expectancy for a Kryptonian would be? Especially when jacked up on sunshine?

I’ve always thought the problem is it’s not treated realistically. Superman doesn’t need to eat, right? And is presumably not susceptible to disease? I mean, if scientists could figure out what makes that tick, and how, we just solved world hunger and the AIDS crisis.

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And honestly, Will I can see your point, but my counter to it is that it really doesn’t seem to matter in the Supes stories I’ve read. He doesn’t seem to have the issues you bring up, it doesn’t weigh on him.

Maybe that’s why I loved First Thunder so much – on finding out what Captain Marvel is, Superman was in a rage. He tracked down the Wizard, and got right to the point. Then he used not his powers, but his reporting skill to track down Billy, get into the situation and solve it.

I guess the bottom line is that I can see your point, but I don’t or haven’t seen it being used in the comics I have read. When it’s actually used it works. Red Son, mentioned up thread is another example of that, but they aren’t the norm.

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You can’t pierce his skin because he was born on Krypton, but because he was raised on Earth you can break his heart.

I anticipate that being the best line about Superman that I will read all year.

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Andrew W. said on August 30th, 2009 at 5:42 am

I’m on board. I don’t think, really, that I’m ever really convinced that superheroes are in danger, even when you have guys like Batman or Captain America facing down Thanoseid alongside the Justice League and the Avengers. Any character you care enough about won’t get squashed, and any character that gets squashed like they ought to you don’t care about anyway (unless you’re out looking for a reason to grind that axe).

With the exception of Wolverine, I think you could charge that every superhero could do more. I mean, I guess you could exempt the Samaritan, but I don’t think you could fairly bring him up because he’s off in his own little property. Spider-Man could work out a deal with someone rich if people didn’t have such a hard-on for a cash-strapped Spider-Man; the X-Men could give a crap about the rest of the world instead of whining about how everyone’s racist against them; the New Avengers could stop sitting around in safehouses watching t.v.; the Dark Avengers . . . well, they’re doing pretty good; Bruce Banner could actually try to control the Hulk or SCIENCE! his way out of it (c’mon – fucking super math so he never kills anyone and he can’t cure the Hulk?); Green Lanterns still have the ultimate deus ex machina; Batman could expand the Bat-family and train folks; and so on, and so forth.

Danger’s the same way. Spider-Man fucking beat the Juggernaut on his own. The Juggernaut. A dude who whoops on the Hulk and ALL of the X-Men at once. The Hulk was super-math’d out of being a threat to everyone who ever got in his way. Death’s a revolving door joke anyway.

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