Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DC Comics and Me#4

This is the latest installment on my time as a DC Comics reader. Click the links here for Part OnePart Two and Part Three


In the mid-1970s, I became a regular comic book reader and a lot of that was built on the foundation of Superman.

By the mid-1980s, I had "outgrown" Superman but I came back to the fold with the John Byrne led the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths revamp of the Man of Steel. It is from this that not only was my love of Superman reborn but it fueled my near weekly comic book buying habits for the next two and half decades. 

By the 2011, Superman was no longer on my pull list. 
Art by John Cassady 

A lot has been written about  J. Michael Straczynski's Grounded storyline and none of it was good. I'm not here to re-hash all that but if you want a good summary of how off the rails this story arc was, check out this Comics Alliance piece. But at the core, Grounded was formed from an admittedly intriguing but ultimately flawed premise. That premise was Superman decides to take a walk across America---not fly, walk---to connect with normal people.

But isn't that what Clark Kent is for? 

To be fair, I can't put my problems with this concept solely at Joe Straczynski's feet. The marginalization of Clark Kent had been a growing problem for me as a reader for some time. Another long form story, For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee, was also an (overly) ambitious concept wherein over 12 issues Clark Kent appears only once. And that's a robot.  

Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams 

And of the various series starring Superman, Clark Kent would go not just an entire issue but several issues on end without an appearance. And if Superman's own alter-ego could go without appearing for months on end, it seemed the rest of the supporting cast was not needed as well. It seemed like that the only consistently appearing cast member was Lois Lane. Meanwhile stalwarts like Jimmy Olsen and Perry White and recent additions like Cat Grant and Bilbo were cleared off the decks with little or no mention. The focus was more and more on the guy in the red cape. And here's a bit of a shocker: without Clark, without the supporting cast, Superman, to me, is not all that interesting. 

Remember, a lot of my interest in Superman was born from the concept of Clark Kent, the normal looking guy with a big secret and great power. As a kid, I identified with that. As a young adult, I found the post-Crisis take on Clark by Byrne, Wolfman, Ordway, Stern and others resonated with me as a young adult. The idea of Clark actually married to Lois Lane and working with her as a partner was appealing to me as I grew older and got married myself. The concept of a wide and varied supporting cast capable of carrying whole issues without Superman himself was interesting to me, normal people standing with the Man of Steel, dwarfed by his power but not diminished as human beings, instead made stronger as they aspire to Superman's ideal.

But Superman decided to take a walk and so did I. I understand Chris Roberson who came in to finish off Straczynski's story had some success in sewing the metaphorical silk purse from the sow's ear left behind by J. Michael Straczynski but the damage was done. 

And then the story was over. 

Flashpoint was a big "DC Comics Reboot Button" thing and when it was over, the history of the DC Universe had been re-written and the time of my Superman sputtered to an end. A new era began: The New 52.

Art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant

Interestingly enough, Grant Morrison's Action Comics got out of the gate pretty strong with me. Why? Because Superman is not quite Superman yet. He's Clark Kent, crusading journalist, looking to right the wrongs of the world with his pen as much as his fists. The super powered person is not sure where he fits in but the Clark knows what his purpose is: to seek justice for those who have been denied it.

Overall, Morrison's arc is ultimately an amazing complex story that comes together very well as a whole even if the individual parts were disjointed.  But in the end, this "New 52" Superman seemed distant to me, distant from me. 

So I let Superman go. And remember, Superman had been the driver that brought me to my comic shop. Without Superman, what was DC Comics to me now?

---to be continued---

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