Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: The Concept

In 1998, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, and Tom Peyer pitched something called "Superman 2000: A plan to revitalize the Superman franchise for the newmillenium." The pitch was rejected, for mysterious reasons, although Mark Waid discussed why he was forbidden from writing Superman in a 9/29/2000 interview with Warren Ellis:
WARREN ELLIS: I've been given to understand that when you and Morrison were turned down in your bid to take over SUPERMAN, you were informed that, in fact, you would NEVER be allowed to write the Superman books. What did that mean to you personally? What is the condition of your relationship with DC and Paul Levitz following it?

MARK WAID: What did that mean to me personally? You cannot IMAGINE the frustration. No, I mean it. You think you can, but you can't. The one job I'd been working towards my entire life--and I'd just been told point-blank that not only could I never have it, but I couldn't have it for any reasons that were just or made any logical sense--at least in part because someone at DC had point-blank asked me for a proposal and then failed to speak up when another someone decided I was simply crusading for a job that wasn't available, violating the freelance code, and acting in bad (and punishable) faith. Doesn't matter that that wasn't true; since when do truth and politics go hand in hand? Welcome to the real world.

Presumably the zeal with which Waid and the others pursued the job of revamping Superman caused such friction that the proposal was summarily rejected, even though it was filled with great ideas (some of which Morrison has since used or altered for his current All-Star Superman series). But as Waid points out in the interview, this was a pitch that was requested by DC editorial, and not just an example of freelance gunslinging.

According to the pitch, the proposed revamp was intended to, "honor each of Superman’s various interpretations and to use internal story logic as our launching pad for a re-imagined, streamlined 21st century Man of Steel. The 'cosmic reset' notion has been replaced by a policy of 'include and transcend' with regard to past continuity." "Include and transcend" has been a hallmark of Morrison's approach to superhero work--just look at his current Batman run where all of Batman's past adventures are considered part of the character's psychic background--and it's almost exactly what he's doing in All-Star Superman right now. If accepted, the "Superman 2000" idea would have been an all-inclusive continuity embrace, instead of a traditional "white-event" reboot (as we've seen repeatedly in The Legion of Super-Heroes--although perhaps Geoff Johns's "Legion of Three Worlds" is an example of the "include and transcend" philosophy, or at least the "include" part. Whatever the reason, the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer Superman was never meant to be, and it's too bad, because it could have possibly made the mainstream Superman titles more interesting and important than they had been in years.

Here's a small example of the type of approach the "Superman 2000" team would have used, taken from the section of the pitch labeled "The Concept":
The key to the initial concept lies in a radical but organic reversal of the currently accepted logic of the Superman/Clark dynamic.

In our interpretation, Clark Kent isn’t what Superman really IS, Clark is what Superman WAS--until he reached his teenage years and began to realize what all those years of soaking up the Kansas sun had done to his alien cells. Superman’s story here is seen as the tale of a Midwest farmer’s son who BECAME AN ALIEN shortly after puberty. Suddenly young Clark doesn’t just know his Ma and Pa through sight, touch, sound--he knows the exact timbre of their pulse rates, he can look at their DNA and recognize their distinctive electrical fields and hear the neural crackle and release of chemicals which tell him they’ve changed their minds about something.

And he can do all this, he can scan the entire environment in an INSTANT, with levels of perception we can only imagine.

That’s gonna turn anyone’s head around a little.

This is someone who by any stretch of the imagination is no longer just human--except for the part of him, the ethical, humanitarian base nurtured by the Kents, which forms the unshakable foundation for everything Superman is BUT WHO IS WHAT SUPERMAN CAN NO LONGER BE. Or, in other words not our own, "...who, DISGUISED as Clark Kent, fights a never-ending battle..."

As originally conceived by Siegel and Shuster, Clark becomes a cherished, poignant masquerade: mild-mannered, thoughtful, humane Clark. When Superman is being human, Clark is his template but this is a being no longer confined by gravity or pain or mortality and his experiences as Superman are experiences on a level of existence we can only hope to imagine.

So, in order to accomplish the transition to this new take on Superman more easily, our rationale is this: it’s been established that Superman’s powers are a result of solar energy saturating his cellular batteries. It’s even been suggested that his powers will increase through time as he absorbs more of our sun’s radiation.

And that’s just what happens.

As part of his alien maturation process, Superman crosses a second, critical threshold of solar radiation absorption and suddenly wakes up three times more powerful and three times smarter.

This changes everything.

Not a radical change of the status quo, but an interesting enough approach, isn't it? It wasn't just about making Superman more powerful, it was about making Superman more aware. Transcendent.

UPDATE: Chad Nevett just posted a different bit from the "Superman 2000" pitch over on his blog. Read what he has to say about a Vegetarian Superman HERE.


James said...

That's fantastic. Can the whole pitch be found anywhere?

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't know if the pitch is available anywhere. I'll be posting more excerpts from it soon, though!

Marc Caputo said...

I've said this many times in many forums - I don't think people know enough about the inner-workings of the comic book industry. That tidbit about the "freelance code", is just TANTALIZING. I think there's enough of a market for a tell-all, maybe like Tom Shale's oral history "Live from New York" about SNL. It's too bad guys like Gerber, Kirby and Eisner are dead - but that only makes the situation that much more urgent.

I want to read a history of Marvel from 1961 - now. DC? Maybe from the late 70s - now.

Who do we talk to about this?

Timothy Callahan said...

That would be a great book to read, but the comics industry is so small that nobody wants to offend anyone else, so who would be willing to speak on record? Very, very few comics pros.

I've already heard half a dozen stories about some of the things that have gone on behind the scenes that people don't want to officially comment upon. And when I was getting info for my upcoming "Back Issue" article, I had a major force in the industry say that he didn't want to be quoted about his (what seemed to me) innocuous comments--for fear of animosity. So, yeah, people are unwilling to destroy their own careers.

Unknown said...

"Suddenly young Clark doesn’t just know his Ma and Pa through sight, touch, sound--he knows the exact timbre of their pulse rates, he can look at their DNA and recognize their distinctive electrical fields and hear the neural crackle and release of chemicals which tell him they’ve changed their minds about something."

Not too often that I read something concerning the changing of a comic character that makes me say 'Woh' out loud.

I truly wish they had let this happen; that would have been a great change to the Superman line.