Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Words Collide: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Readers whine about and/or praise Geoff Johns and his use of Superboy Prime as a metafictional fanboy, one who complains that the DC heroes aren't how they used to be, and then cries about how everything's not the way he remembers it.

But the truth is that Superman's rogues gallery overlaps with comic book fandom in more than just that one case. Some may argue -- some like me -- that Superman's villains are all various types of comic book fans, and his heroic act is in fighting against the very readers who sustain him.

It's all part of my Grand Nemesis Theory in this week's "When Words Collide." Read it and tell me how crazy I am.


Bill Reed said...

Your description of Lex Luthor sounds an awful lot like this Tim Callahan guy I read about on the interweb.

Chad Nevett said...

What does it say, then, that my favourite version of Superman is a pacifist? Simple: Joe Casey and I are fine with ourselves -- and Superman.

Shecky Shabazz said...

Good column, but you left out Superguy Prime. The nostalgic comic fan turned pro, ever determined to put things back - i.e. Geoff Johns/Alex Ross.

Timothy Callahan said...

Superboy Prime is mentioned in this very blog post!!!!

Shameful Shabazz said...

Sorry, just read the column at CBR and then came over here to comment. Should probably serve as a lesson, that. But knowing myself, it probably won't.

Bruce Castle said...

I thouroghly enjoyed this.

How crazy are you?

Not at all, but I think you suffer from apophenia. Kidding!

So, when are you going to write that "Morrison Books to Avoid" WWC cloumn you promised me?

Oh, and I'm glad you're back, Tim!

Timothy Callahan said...

Oh yeah, Morrison books to avoid! I will get to work on that for next week! Good call--I forgot about that one.

Doc Malleus said...

I'm sorry to say I was a little disappointed by this article, mostly because it started so strongly but didn't follow through for me.

I'd never really thought about Spider-Man and his villains, but I think you nailed the essence of what made them work and why they're flailing now. Ditto for Wonder Woman. I think her major problem is that she started off as a genuine (but warped, with Marsden's bizarre bondage fetish) war of the sexes icon, with foes like Ares who personified masculine brutality. Gender equality is much more complicated now, and the old Ares villain, much like Wonder Woman's costume, looks like a laughable throwback.

As for Batman, your summation of the villains as repressed aspects of himself wasn't the first I've read, but it was the most lucid and succinct.

I'm not invested in Superman at all, or his villains, so I say the following not as an enraged fan, but a disappointed reader. It's hard to tell whether your analysis of the Superman foes was in earnest or just a bit of intellectual fun. Regardless, I found it funny but implausible, and that's what bothered me as your discussion of the other hero / villain dynamics proves you're capable of more. Because Superman's villains may not be as famous as Batman's, but there is the sense that unlike Wonder Woman's they do work pretty well as a rogue's gallery. And personally I've never been sure why that is.

I mean, yes, I get that every Superman villain is on some level a solution to an intellectual challenge: how to threaten the god-like man. Luthor outthinks him, Parasite turns his strength against him, Mxyplyck (or however you spell it) is so powerful that Superman's powers become irrelevant and he has to survive by wits alone. And I understand the gosh-shucks moral purity of the Kent upbringing vs. the worldly corruption of Luthor. But both the mechanical solutions to hurting an invulnerable man and the cornfed Midwestern values vs. corruption thing are pretty dull bases for dramatic conflict, and for the most part Superman's classic enemies aren't dull.

So I was hoping for the same clarity and insight you demonstrated in the lead up to the main event with Spider-man, Batman, etc. I still feel like the question you raised about Superman's villains hasn't been answered. Here's hoping you return to it someday, because frankly you got me interested in the topic for the first time ever.

Dave said...

Interesting and funny. Though I would go further and say that Superman is the perfect human and he fights our human failings/evils much like a God.

Mr. Mxyzptlk is our tricky deceitful side. Bizarro is our misguided/naive/stupid side. Doomsday is our rage. Parasite is our greed. Zod is our inner conqueror. Brainiac is our pompous intelligence used improperly.

Luthor embodies every on of those things. He represents everything wrong with humanity.

Timothy Callahan said...

"It's hard to tell whether your analysis of the Superman foes was in earnest or just a bit of intellectual fun."

To me, these two are the same thing.

Dean said...

Fun article. I enjoyed the Mr. Mxyzptlk bit and the Brainiac section. I am not sure that the analogy held up the whole way through, but I enjoyed it.

To me, Superman is about heart. The best Superman stories force him to chose between two things he feels strongly. For example, "Superman II" forces a choice between his love for Lois and his Kryptonian heritage. Then, it forces him to chose again between Lois and his duty to protect the Earth.

His antagonists are shadows of that. Luthor wants to receive recognition (and/or affection) without giving any in return. Brainiac wants to literally posses people. Zod is maudlin nostalgia for "the good old days" twisted into something dark. Bizzaro is your most embarrassing social rejection made flesh. Parasite is the clingy person that won't take "no" for an answer.

Dean said...

On Wonder Woman, I really wish people would just get over the embarrassment about the Moulton-Peters version.

Characters are like three-legged stools. They have professional (or academic) motivators. They have family (or domestic) motivators. They have social (including sexual) motivators. Great characters interweave these three aspects into a coherent person.

By that standard, the Moulton-Peters Wonder Woman was a great character. Sure, she was bisexual, polyamorous and enjoyed light bondage. However, those weren't the only things about her. She wanted to carry a message to the Man's world while seeing it for herself. She was driven to this because she seemed to find Paradise Island ... constrictive.

In other words, Princess Diana was seeking breadth in her life experiences across all three areas. It is simple motivating engine that makes sense.

However, when you cut one leg out, the stool falls over. It becomes like Spider-Man without guilt, or Batman without revenge. It is just another person in funny clothes.