Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: Lois Lane, Mrs. Superman

I've been commenting on excerpts from the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer Superman 2000 proposal for weeks, and so has Chad Nevett. Here's another small except of the rejected proposal, from the section labeled "Lois Lane, Mrs. Superman" with some commentary by me (just to clarify, the block quotes come from the pitch, and the other stuff between the block quotes are my comments):
Lois brings us to the second major phase of our approach. Everyone’s in agreement that the marriage and the emphasis on soap opera no longer seems to be working as well in the current market as it once did and that a major part of our imperative should be to restore the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle. This is, to our collective mind, one of the most if not the most important reader-identification elements to the character--and yet, we have to find it again without putting the All-American icon through a divorce, without killing anyone, without sullying this grand romance known the world over.
Sounds familiar, no? Well, Joe Quesada and Spider-Man weren't the first to deal with these kinds of thoughts.

By the way, the "second major phase" line implies a first major phase, and that would be the return to a more powerful Superman, as I've outlined in previous blog posts. But it's worth noting that the team thought that the Lois/Clark dynamic was the second most important aspect of the comic. Honestly, Superman has been married for most of my comic book reading career, so that seems like the natural state for the character as far as I'm concerned, but in my current Elliot S! Maggin obsession phase, I've been reading a lot of Superman stories from the Bronze Age, and I forgot how essential those "oh, I secretly think Clark is Superman, but he can't be because there's Superman standing next to Clark" scenes really were. They happened a lot. And it did add some tension to the story. But a married couple with a secret life is also a kind of sexy tension too, so I'm not sold on the notion that the "triangle" is what's most important about their relationship.
How we dissolve the marriage and still be true to the fact that it happened is the one instance where we’ll have to sail close to the cosmic reboot dock--more on this below--but hopefully this time the change will be organic and satisfying and will have a magical, romantic feel rather than the cold, surgical procedures of the previous era’s retconners.
According to Morrison, in a relatively recent interview about All-Star Superman, this bit of the pitch was amended before the final proposal was submitted. Apparently, the "dissolve the marriage" idea was ultimately abandoned, but in this version of the proposal, it's a significant part of the Superman 2000 concept (and what Morrison says in that interview refers specifically to the ideas outlined here). And, as you'll see, it is a very familiar approach to creating a kind of new day, a brand new day, if you will, for a married superhero.
Our absolute conviction is that we’ll have failed in our job if readers cheer when Lois and Superman are split. Everyone will be EXPECTING this to be the first thing we do. We have to make them love Mrs. Superman and THEN take it all away. This has to be universe-shattering romantic overload and when it’s over, it has to break every heart in the land. If it doesn’t, if we do it and nobody cares, we do a disservice to the Superman/Lois relationship. Now that this has happened, we can’t and won’t treat it as just a mistake without making it at least as meaningful a farewell to the Byrne/Jurgens era as Alan Moore’s Krypto deathscene was to the Weisinger legacy. We honestly feel pretty strongly that Lois Kent and the marriage deserve our best efforts before we get rid of them.
Did "One More Day" accomplish this for Spider-Man? Did the story itself make readers love Mary Jane and that caused the uproar when the marriage was taken away? I don't think so--I think that there's no way comic book fans would ever cheer about a major superhero marriage being removed. So Morrison and company really didn't need to worry about that, but the notion of showing exactly what is so powerful about the love between Lois and Clark is a good one.
First thing we must do, however, is shake up the relationship and define its quirks and boundaries anew.

Stage one: split Clark and Lois by sending her off around the world as the Planet’s foreign correspondent. This gives us a whole new arrangement of relationships to play with below).

Lois and Clark are now physically separated. They still meet often, taking the occasional romantic weekend in the revamped Fortress (see below). He makes her breakfast in bed in a manner of seconds with ingredients from all around the world, waltzes with her through the Aurora Australis, etc. A dream, an idyll, but for their own amusement they play a game whenever they meet as Clark and Lois, sniping and sparring like Tracy and Hepburn. Lois and Clark thus become a little edgier, while the love of Superman and Lois becomes grander and more heartbreakingly poignant.
I'm not convinced that such an approach would make their love seem "grander and more heartbreakingly poignant" just because they're not hanging out in the apartment all the time, but the foreign correspondent approach is a good idea. Was that ever used by another Superman creative team?
As we approach mid-year, we unleash our Big Story. The unthinkable has finally happened. Luthor and Brainiac, working together, have finally unearthed the secret of Superman’s dual identity----and they tell the world.
In Maggin's Superman work, his exposed identity was a regular plot point--and Superman would always clean it up by the end of the story. But, wow--the similarities to One More Day/Brand New Day continue, don't they? Maybe Millar whispered some of these ideas to Quesada when he joined Marvel. It's not just "Birthright" and All-Star Superman that ended up with the ideas from the Superman 2000 pitch--it was Spidey as well..
Superman is totally and irrevocably exposed for the first time, and the consequences are more disastrous than he ever imagined. In less time than it takes to tell, his personal life has been destroyed as souvenir hunters snatch everything in his office and apartment; his parents have been hospitalized by a vengeful Parasite; the Daily Planet has likewise been leveled by his enemies, with Jimmy and Perry barely able to escape with their lives--maybe. And Lois may as well just paint a target on her head. For sixty years, we’ve been telling readers why Superman’s secret identity is important. Now we show them.

And that’s just the opening salvo.
And Bendis's Daredevil too...
The Luthor/Brainiac team intensifies its efforts to manifest a global threat. Brainiac turns Earth’s sun red to drain Superman’s powers. Luthor trips triggers he’s had in place for years, all while pitting an ever-weakening Superman against a phalanx of his greatest foes while the Man of Steel wracks his brain trying to figure out not only how to save Earth but how to get his--and, more importantly, Lois’s--life back.
And "Avengers Disassembled." But, enough of my snark. Here's the grand finale of what they had planned for Lois and Clark:
Ultimately, Luthor’s threat becomes so grand that it threatens all of spacetime--including the Fifth Dimension, forging a tense alliance between Superman and Mxyzptlk. With superhuman effort, Luthor and Brainiac are thwarted--but not before Brainiac gets his revenge.

Memories, as science is only now theorizing and as Brainiac has known for years, are not electrical in nature. They are, in fact, actual chemical deposits in the brain. And what is chemical can easily be turned to poison.

Brainiac has adjusted Lois’s chemical memory of Clark’s secret identity so that it’s killing her.

The poison memory can’t be removed. It can conceivably be masked--Superman has more than one magical ally who could erase Lois’s conscious memory of his identity, who could facilitate a reality in which Clark and Lois were married without Lois being aware of her husband’s double life--but deep down, Superman knows that’s too risky. He can’t live with her, can’t be her husband, can’t share her life. She’s too sharp. No matter what he does, no matter how on guard he is, she’ll stumble onto his secret eventually, and when she does, it will be the death of her.

With no other conceivable option, Superman turns to Mxyzptlk. Sure, says Mxy, I can fix this--but only by altering history so that she NEVER knew. So that there was never a memory TO poison.

Unacceptable, says Superman. You have the power to fix this more simply. You don’t have to go that far.

Untrue, counters Mxyzptlk. Despite what I may or may not WANT to do for you...when I’m in the third dimension, I’m INCAPABLE of doing anything BUT mischief.

So the offer’s on the table, the clock is ticking on Lois, and together, she and her husband make their tragic decision. Though Lois would rather spend one day with Clark’s love than a lifetime without it, he swears to her that they’ll be together again when the time is right. For now...they have no choice but to erase their lives together so that Lois might live.

Mxyzptlk weaves his spell. As night falls around the globe, people will begin to fall asleep--and as they do, the world will change and Clark’s secret will be restored. People will awaken without any memory that Clark Kent and Lois Lane were ever married, were ever together. Clark and Lois have until sundown to enjoy one last, perfect day.

And so long as we live, we will never again see two people so much in love as we do that day.

Eventually, however, the violet dust of twilight settles across the city. It’s happening. Their arms wrapped around one another as if they’ll never touch this way again, Lois and Clark begin to fall asleep. With a last kiss, they drift into slumber...

...and when dawn breaks across Metropolis, Clark Kent exits his bachelor apartment at 344 Clinton Avenue and makes it to his Daily Planet desk just in time to catch the latest in a long line of caustic barbs from rival reporter Lois Lane. She has her sights set on Superman, thinks Kent for the millionth time. If only I could get her to love me as Clark...
Memory poison and Fifth Dimensional magic instead of a deal with the Devil. But still, eerily similar to the Spider-Man situation, isn't it? And by "eerily similar," I mean "pretty much exactly the same--a memory wipe."

What do you think the reaction would have been if the Superman 2000 crew actually decided to do this for real? Would fanboys have been in as much of an uproar? I don't know--it seems like it could have been possible to pull off if the story was epic enough.

Your thoughts?


Chad Nevett said...

The problem is that they want to dissolve these marriages, but in a way where it's like they never happened and things can be oh so great like when we were all kids and the sun was always shining and candy rained down from the heavens like mana. So, you're left with fifth dimension magic or deals with the devil to solve your problems. I would say that Marvel really ripped any of this off (which you weren't saying either), it's more that the demands of the end product leave creators with few options besides stuff like this.

Timothy Callahan said...

You mean you don't think Mark Millar brought the secret anti-marriage recipe to Marvel?

You think it's a coincidence? You think it's just chance that Mephisto--the Marvel analogue of Mr. Mxyzptlk--used his magic to make everyone forget?

Next thing you're going to tell me is that Professor X wasn't ripped off from Niles Caulder.

Chad Nevett said...

He may have--I just don't think it matters, because the demands of breaking up a marriage without divorce or death leaves few solutions, and that is clearly the only way Marvel and DC would allow those marriages to end. They want to keep the characters pure, so no divorce and they don't want to kill off Lois Lane or Mary Jane, because they still want them as possible love interests. That, and Marvel tried killing off Mary Jane... that only works if the character stays dead (which never happens in comics) as the minute she comes back to life, he'll want to get back together because his wife is back from the dead!

Really, the magical "reset" option is the only one that works for what they want accomplished. Of course, Millar could have mentioned the Superman plan, but I also think that it is so obvious that that wasn't necessarily the case either.

Chad Nevett said...

Although, I will add that the "willing sacrifice" element is a little too coincidental. The "magical reset" part is obvious, but that "last day together" part is not. On that point, Millar's influence is much more probable, you're right.

jmb418 said...

Actually, an abridged version of this part of the proposal has seen print several times over the last few years. So Joe Q or someone else involved with the Spider-man retcon could have heard about it even if it didn't come from Millar.

Unfortunately, the fact that marvel has already done this (to a less than positive response) means that it's highly unlikely the Lois/Clark/Superman triangle will ever be reestablished.

it's a pity, too, I think this could have worked.

Timothy Callahan said...

I really didn't think Millar was whispering secrets to Quesada--I was being a bit sarcastic, actually.

I'm sure Quesada knew all about this pitch, though--especially since it was one of the reasons Morrison and Waid jumped over to Marvel.

J.R. LeMar said...

I've been enjoying all these blogs on this proposal & have been meaning to comment on them.

I think Chad is correct in that, with these big icons like Supes & Spidey, the publishers have painted themselves into a corner when it comes to options for ending marriages. Despite being ever more common in real life, divorce is still, for some reason, taboo. And, really, how can they do that? Do we want to think of Superman or Spider-Man as the kind of guys who dump their wives?

And even if their wives leave THEM, it makes the women look bad, because what is their reason? "You don't spend enough time with me!" Sheesh, that would make Lois or MJ look really selfish, wouldn't it? It's not like their husbands are off playing golf on the weekends or getting a beer with their friends after work. I know you may not like having to spend Valentine's Day alone but, dammit, your husband had go save 10,000 people from a tsunami in Asia, so cut him some slack!

So unless they go with a total universal revamp ala the Ultimate line or COIE, they're stuck with only option being some kind of magical/sci-fi solution if they want a single Superman or Spider-Man.

So I do think it's possible that Quesada really wasn't aware of this aborted storyline when he came up with OMD. In fact, Joe Casey once revealed that, back in 2001, he & the other Superman writers of the time also had an idea of how to end the marriage, using Mxy. It took me a while to find it again, but here is the quote:

"Back in 2001, we'd actually come up with a huge story where Superman's secret i.d. is exposed, Lois is killed and Superman travels to the 5th dimension where he makes a deal with Mr. Mxyzptlk to use his powers to "fix things." So Mxy plays a trick on him. He sends Superman back, and everyone had forgotten his secret i.d.... including Lois. The twist was, Superman remembered everything, so the burden of his life was restored... could he now stand to protect Lois by not marrying her? He became, in a weird sense, the Wandering Jew, which to me brought him right back to the kind of superhero Seigel and Shuster created in 1936. Denying that kind of intimate, lifelong relationship... it was the ultimate sacrifice. It was celibacy, basically."

You notice how it's similar to the Morrison Team's proposal in some ways, but also different? But still, the ultimate goal is the same: the marriage is ended by "magical" means. It's like that's really the only way anyone can think of to end the marriage.

I'm going to continue in another post, just because I don't want this to be TOO long...

J.R. LeMar said...

In regards to how "Fandom" would've reacted to this storyline, in comparison to OMD,I think it would've been accepted if it where written well, which I have no doubt that this team would've done.

The problem vis-a-vis OMD was beyond just the fact that the Peter/MJ marriage ended, but that they way it was handled was really poor (or so I hear, since I didn't actually read it). Plus, Joe Qesada's defense of the story really smacked of arrogance most of the time. Sure, many fans (like me) wouldn't have been happy with the marriage ending under any circumstances, but I think it would've been accepted better if made more sense.

But you can tell from this Superman proposal that that group of writers really did care about these characters & put a lot of thought into the storyline & were only doing it because they really thought it was for the best. And I personally agree.

It's interesting that you note that you have no problem with the Clark/Lois marriage because they've been married in the comics for most of the time you've been reading them. I think a lot of fans have the same opinion regarding Peter & MJ, which is what made this so difficult. I'm 35, so I was reading Spider-Man before he got married, & continued to enjoy the comics ever since.

The difference betweeen Supes & Spidey is that Peter & MJ have been married in the comics for almost half of the time Spidey has existed. So a strong case could be made that the marriage IS part of the "status quo" now. And undoing it isn't returning things to how they "should be," but rather it's just as unsettling a change as they claim the marriage was in the first place. That would be like if J. Jonah Jameson sold the Daily Bugle, opened a Diner, & hired Peter as a waiter. Sure, you might be able to tell some fun new stories with that setup, & you'd still have the JJJ/Peter boss/employee dynamic, but it just wouldn't feel right anymore.

But Superman is different. The Clark/Lois marriage is still relatively recent (about 12 years) in his history. So I don't think the general public thinks of them as married when they think of Superman. Even the portrayals in other media support the idea that they should be apart. Superman II explained why they couldn't be together. And, as Casey pointed out in that article, Smallville has remained commercially successful far longer than Lois & Clark did, which lost it's steam after they got married.

While Spider-Man works as a married character, I think that for Superman (much like Batman), marrige is "the end." That's something he would do after he's retired from being Superman. Witness Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow" story. I like to think that eventually Lois & Clark will settle down, get married, & live Happily Ever After, but it shouldn't be happening currently. So I would support the marriage being revoked.

Hopefully, in a few years, Mark Millar (with Bryan Hitch) will get the chance to do his big 60-issue Superman revamp.

Timothy Callahan said...

Has Superman really only been married for 12 years? Wow--it feels like they've been married forever.

I'm actually older than you, J.R., and here's the thing--I, of course, remember Spider-Man and Superman not being married, but even before they were married, they were pretty faithful to Mary Jane and Lois. To me the marriages changed hardly anything. Except in the eyes of plenty of weak writers.

By the way, a Millar/Hitch Superman sounds horrible. Have you been reading Fantastic Four?

jmb418 said...

I don't think the problem is that divorce is "taboo" so much as that, in Superman's case, it wouldn't fix the problem. The basic dynamic of the characters has been broken.

Of course Superman will marry Lois one day, but we, the readers, should never see it happen because that's the "happily ever after" of the story.

And Tim, have you ever read any of Millar's Superman stories? He really gets it. He's sworn one day he and Hitch will do Superman, and I'm pretty sure they're going to have to kill him and bury him face down before he'll stop trying.

Timothy Callahan said...

I've read his Superman Adventures run, but Millar has taken a strange turn for the worst since then. Although 1985 is really good, so maybe he can bounce back and do a great Superman. I'm not really interested in Hitch's Superman, though. His style has moved into the realm of the grotesque by this point.

Mark Millar/Alan Davis Superman?--sure, I'd read the heck out of that.

James said...

I think the epic-ness of the story would be absolutely key in the selling of a marriage-deletion. At first I didn't buy their premise that "showing exactly what is so powerful about the love between Lois and Clark" would be remove the sting from the retcon, but after reading the outline... that could've worked.

'Cause sure, in One More Day they keep telling us that MJ & Pete's love is a cosmic force of overwrought absurdity, but it's too late. We'd all read Quesada's rationalising and baiting on the matter, and we knew exactly what was really going on; a quick, dirty, four-issue pseudo-tribute before the big rug-pull. But this crazy chaotic saga where Supes is completely backed into a corner (and, of course, we're SHOWN the importance of the relationship rather than told)? I dunno, I think I could've bought it. Especially if they'd managed to keep the thing quiet, rather than generating 2 years-or-so of bad feeling on the subject.

Anonymous said...

J.R. is right (Except for the Millar writing Superman bit...terrible idea, there!). There are some pretty huge differences between this proposal and what we saw in "One More Day."

1.) Lois is a part of the decision-making process. Mary Jane was completely in the dark, and Peter wrecked their lives without her even knowing.

2.) Superman erases his marriage to save Lois' life. The love of his life, a vibrant young woman with decades ahead of her. Peter erased his marriage to save his decrepit old aunt.

3.) Though Mxyzptlk is a foe of Superman, he's really just more of a magical prankster and hardly the equivalent of Mephisto, who is actually more akin to, y'know, the DEVIL. Mephisto, who has a strong tradition of bargaining with people for their immortal souls and then souring the deal somehow once hands are shook. Mxy has no such tradition, so Superman dealing with him is much much much less skeevy. Mxyzptlk may even actually want to help the couple. He seems to pester them because he likes them.

Anonymous said...

Memory chemical poisoning = SMART.
Sharp, cunning, sneaky, logical, SMART. Highly fascinating how they managed to meticulously sift through the rut of the potential complications of this move, yet surgically kept each and every characters' essences intact. Brainiac remains a science menace, Clark is a compassionate, yet giving sap. Lois is a steadfast, astute, yet highly ' professional ' ( as to how she's seemingly objectively accepted the arrangement ). Myzptlk ( fuck it, couldn't care 'bout that damn spelling ) is a hyperpowered runt. And Superman sees from the higher perspective enough to involve reality. Everything stands as everything's changed, in a way that's clean cut,& perfect. It's legit, it makes sense, and it could definitely have sold. Like literally pulling the tablecloth from under the glass cups, enough that none of them ended up damaged; still remaining as they are in their spot, yet lying on a new template. They didn't even have to break the table.

I've been reading through these ' Superman 2000 ' here; and this bit, and the impeccable craftiness of its proposed resolve, is my first reassurance that these books
may have been truly something else !

Anonymous said...

The best of all is that the writers wouldn't have needed to prep it up much to convince people, other than say THIS IS EXACTLY HOW EVIL AND FUCKED UP BRAINIAC AND MYZTPLTK ( Dammit ) ARE TO THE GOOD ONES !!!!!
True to nature, and, very remarkable.....

Scott said...

Wonder if Russell T. Davies read about this before penning the Donna Noble memory wipe in "Journey's End".