November 21, 2012

Supes And Me

I have watched with interest the recent modernization of my childhood heroes. There is a lot to admire about today's superhero comics. Graphically, they are very sophisticated. The colors are sharper, the layouts are amazing, and today's crop of artists clearly possess great skill and confidence. I might say they overdraw at times, but that is a minor quibble. The stories themselves are infinitely more complex, and character development is paramount. At times, they can seem like super soap operas, but that's also a minor quibble.

Today's superhero comics are far from junk, but I can't get into them. The Superman currently appearing in Superman comics is not my Superman. Today's Superman belongs to another generation. My Superman was a brilliant concoction of Mort Weisinger-era mythology with Curt Swan art, George Reeve paternalism, and Christopher Reeve heart. I cannot imagine that today's Superman could inspire today's young people like my Superman inspired me and my generation. He seems cold and distant to me, too much alien, not enough human. I'm not sure I would feel comfortable hanging out with him in his Fortress of Solitude.

My Superman. He was from Krypton, but you never would have known it. He had "Oh Shucks" Kansas charm and just the right amount of savoir faire, so as not to seem cocky. He was prone to sentimental gestures, like spending a few minutes of his day building an orphanage at blinding speed. He was not that complex. He was who he was and he did what he did, just to help out where he could. His admiration for people was self-evident. He realized his limitations and was not above asking Rao (his word for God) for a helping hand every now and then. You could often find him, in his downtime, having a beer with Bruce, Oliie, and Hal, just one of the guys. He loved his dog. He was a wonderful man.

Everything fit together in his Pre-Crisis universe. Forty years of mythology fit together without seeming contrived. There was another Superman that appeared in comics before my Supes appeared on the scene. He lived on Earth-2 and they crossed paths occasionally.

Curt Swan drew my Superman and gave him a seemingly endless variety of facial expressions. When something struck my Superman funny, he had a belly laugh that not even Santa Claus could top. When some rogue threatened harm to one of my Superman's pals, his eyes did not crackle red with rage, but I definitely knew he was angry and about to take care of business.

My Superman was 29 years old for a long time. He lived through The Twist craze, Kennedy's assassination, flower power, and the women's lib movement. He probably had a few disco records in his modest apartment, which was located at 344 Clinton Street. Apt. #3B. He didn't change much. He was steady and secure in himself. I think sometimes the idea of character development makes writers think they have to constantly keep developing a character. My Superman had character, and he was fully developed. He was like a big brother to me, and I mourn his loss.

Adolescent power fantasies are a dime a dozen. Heroes are harder to find. I meet a lot of college students in my line of work, and I'm struck and, I admit it, sometimes surprised by their thoughtfulness and desire to improve their world. I even think some of them would prefer my Superman over this new guy that's flying around in comics. Maybe they don't need a Superman at all. If they ever do, I hope they'll give my Superman's stories a chance. He was a good guy to know.


John Charmley said...

I always loved Curt Swans art work...after it went away I stopped buying comics that and they started costing over a dollar per comic. You would think that the folks that make Superman movies would actually read some of the older comics to get some better ideas for their films...Superman Red and Superman Blue comes to mind and its concepts would make one hellva movie

Tony Nichols said...

I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and as corny as it sounds, Superman was my moral compass when I was a kid. I didn't really go to church, and my parents set a great moral example for me, but when the rubber met the road, I would think "What would Superman do?". Or, more accurately, would he be disappointed in my actions. Sure, I knew he wasn't real, but, somehow, I knew he could be... or more specifically, I knew it was possible for man to be as altruistic as Superman... after all, he was created by men, right? I wanted to believe it was possible.