Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Comic Book Wednesday - The Not So Secret Identity Crisis

I haven’t post a lot about comic books lately and I have a few topics percolating in the back of my brain. So for the next few weeks, I will be devoting my Wednesday posts to my erstwhile passion. Today’s post is about a comic book I’m not even reading, Superman.

I’ve written before about my interest in Superman as a young boy. My main appeal to the character was not so much the costume and the powers; no, the main appeal of Superman to me was Clark Kent. Yes, Clark Kent, the ordinary schlub with an incredible, astonishing secret. The power of Superman, walking around in the guise of a normal guy. No, I didn’t have super powers but who knew what secrets I was hiding in plain sight. I empathized the most with that element of the Superman mythos.

While I stuck around the world of comics, I drifted away from Superman. It was not just that I was getting older and more “mature” (yeah, quotes around that are very much warranted) but Superman stories seemed to be getting more juvenile. However, when John Byrne came over to DC to revamp the Man of Steel, I was back in. From that point on and for nearly a quarter of a century, I remained a devoted Superman reader. The best of those times was when Roger Stern was on board as a writer who seemed to get Superman, Clark Kent and the whole cast in a way that no other writer had or would again. Still, I remained a faithful follower of all the Superman titles (there were 4 monthly titles, a new one every week) through a lot of ups (“Reign of the Supermen”) and downs (Electric Blue Superman? Ugh!). 

About 10 years ago, I found myself drifting away from Superman again. The Superman titles had been an enjoyable habit for the most part; now it was becoming just a habit. Then I went from drifting away to being pushed thanks to J. Michael Strazynski’s misguided “Grounded” arc and the gut wrenching abandonment of 25+ years of continuity in favor of the New 52 reboot.

I followed Grant Morrison on Action Comics where he did some really weird, twisty things with the early days of this new Superman and I quite enjoyed it. But I couldn’t deal with what was being offered in the current continuity. The devoted love of Lois and Clark, their marriage, tossed out the window. And Superman himself seemed more alien, more cut off from his humanity. The militaristic armor/costume did not help.

After Grant left Action, I was more than willing to give Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel a shot and I was really impressed by their first issue. Unfortunately, by the time I actually read that issue, this team was already caught up in the grinding wheels of editorial interference and Diggle left. That was it for me.

The main reason I’m writing about Superman today is the recent storyline where Superman’s identity as Clark Kent has been outed. By Lois Lane, no less. 

Now, this is on the surface a unique plot development in the history of Superman, the idea of his identity being exposed to the whole world and then dealing with the consequences of that action. Superman and Clark Kent have been exposed in a variety of one shots and alternate timeline stories. But dealing with that exposure in the main titles, that is, I will admit, a ballsy move.

I just wish it was being handled better.

Now a disclaimer: All I know is what I read of preview pages posted online through various comic book news sites. I’m not buying any of the Superman titles. But what I’m seeing in those pages has not enticed me to reverse that position.

Most disappointing have been the pages I’ve read from the main Superman title from writer Gene Luen Yang. Gene wrote one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, The Shadow Hero (which I reviewed here). But what I’ve seen of his work on Superman has not made me want to come back to the title. While Gene has developed a very 21st Century opponent for the Man of Steel, his grasp on the characterization of Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane is woefully out of sync. Or maybe I’m just too far removed from whatever or whoever the current Superman is supposed to be. Maybe that’s the problem: Superman is going through a lot of stress with the loss of his secret identity (not to mention a  severe reduction of super powers) and I just don’t care anymore. Maybe it’s not you, Superman, it’s me. 

One sequence that I saw from Superman was chided for being out of character but I have to admit, I'm not sure is all that off base. After the reveal, Clark Kent visits Perry White who is in the hospital after a super villain attack on the Daily Planet. Perry is not happy with Clark because Clark deceived him for many years. In a moment anger, Perry snaps, "Take those damn glasses off" and slaps those glasses off of Clark's face. I'm not sure if the Perry of my Superman would've reacted as dramatically but I think his feelings on the matter would not have been much different. Perry White has always been a proponent of the truth and here was a person under his nose who was hiding who he really is. 

I can’t help but think what Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens and Louise Simonson would’ve done with that kind of moment between Perry and Clark, indeed exploring all the consequences of the worldwide exposure of Superman as Clark Kent. Week after week of some of the best Superman writers in the business peeling away the layers of this onion, of Superman being stripped of his most important asset, his identity as Clark Kent on a global scale. Of course, at the end Zatanna or Doctor Fate or the Phantom Stranger could put that genie back in the bottle again but I think it would’ve been an amazing journey to get there and I would’ve cared what happened.

Now in this world where Superman operates today, everyone in that world knows Superman is Clark Kent. But it's not the world of my Superman. Sorry but its a bit hard to care.

NEXT WEEK: As we get closer to Halloween, I take a moment to review a graphic novel I caught up on this past summer, a story of vampires and zombies and a new spin on class warfare. 

In the meantime, another new post is coming up tomorrow. Until then, be good to one another.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You 

One Less Republican

Veteran GOP strategist Steve Schmidt renounced his Republican Party membership. The following is taken from a series of tweets that Schm...