Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: Superman

I've discussed the "Concept" and "The Writing Process" involved in the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer proposal to revamp Superman for the 21st century, and Chad Nevett has discussed the proposal's concept of a vegetarian Superman and the cyclical nature of the superhero genre. Now, I'm going to move on to what the uber-crew had to say about Superman himself (with my commentary). The block quotes come from the Superman 2000 pitch:
Superman is defined immediately by his increase in capability. This is a more powerful Man of Steel, a Superman with a much keener intellect and curiosity. Suddenly there’s more to learn, more to do, further to travel and a greater responsibility than ever before. At the same time, one of the first effects of his increases in power is to make Superman a little more remote (but only as he takes time to understand the changes which have affected him). After the initial shock, Kal is more Superman than ever before, with a corresponding tight focus on the character and his incredible adventures. Now is the time to make Superman very definitely the star of his own book and to play down the sprawling soap opera subplots.

This notion of a MORE powerful Superman is in stark contrast to what John Byrne did to depower Superman in the 1980s. And that's the point, of course. This Superman for the 21st century is supposed to be everything the Byrne Superman was not--powerful, distant, incredible. Byrne focused on the SuperMAN, while Morrison and company proposed the SUPERman.
Superman’s character is one we all feel we know intimately. The scene with Superboy and the grasshopper in Miracle Monday nails it beautifully; this could be the world’s scariest living being, a detached, scientific observer with the ability to experiment upon us all. Instead, this brilliant Kryptonian brain was introduced to the noblest of human values and somehow those great powers were put to use in the service of an ethical code the Kryptonians would have been impressed and startled by.

I haven't yet read Elliot S! Maggin's Miracle Monday novel, but I've ordered a used copy (it's long out-of-print) and I've heard only good things about it. Has anyone here read it? I wonder if it informed All-Star Superman the way it seems to have informed Superman 2000. I'll get back to you on that one.
To that end, we’d like to balance out his battles with Brainiac and Luthor with stories which thoroughly explore those values, stories allowing him to return to his roots as a champion of the weak and oppressed. Even more so than for Batman, Green Lantern, Flash--all his peers and contemporaries--Superman’s job is to fight for and inspire those who cannot fight for themselves. His job is to make this world a better place and to help all men realize their potential as supermen.

Further to this, it’s important to keep in mind the Superman/Christ parallels WITHOUT being obvious and heavy-handed about them. Superman has to think differently from us, and when we see into his head, we should be shocked by the clarity and simplicity of his brilliance and compassion. This is a god sent to Earth not to suffer and die but to live and inspire and change the face of the galaxy by his deeds and reputation. This is the man who will take time out from stopping Mongul’s plan to crash Alpha Centauri into our sunsystem just to save a drowning dog or dry the tears of a child.
We also see Superman as the ultimate communicator--invulnerable to pain, he needs none of the physical defensive postures we take for granted and so would be incredibly relaxed and open--the big smile, the instant handshake, the conviction that everyone he meets is to be regarded as a friend until he proves otherwise. Superman should be indefatigable and trustworthy. No more "Bad Superman" or "Crazy Superman" stories for a while.

This is far more of the Silver Age notion of Superman's goodness than anything we saw in the Bronze or Modern Ages. But even in the Silver Age, Superman could be, well, a dick (there's a whole website about it, isn't there?), so this Superman 2000 concept of the character is more of a synthesis of all of the character's best qualities (not best as in "coolest" or most "commercial," but best as in BEST), than it is a return to basics. It's a return to what the character always aspired to be, but writers always wanted to give him flaws to keep the character relatable. Morrison and company wanted to make Superman ideal, so we could aspire to him, not so he could make us feel good about our own flaws.
His curiosity and kindness are childlike in their purity but he should also be frighteningly quick and clever. The combination of contradictory qualities adds to his slightly removed air. The eyes go vague when he looks at your electrical field for a second and gets the idea for an oscillating defensive forcefield based on the rhythms of your pulse rate. Sometimes he seems not all here, but it’s only because he’s much more here than we can sensibly hope to be.

This bit seems to nail the kind of Superman that we're currently seeing in All-Star Superman, doesn't it? That "frighteningly quick and clever" being who is more than we can ever hope to be. That's what makes him Superman. He is the paragon, not of humanity, but of the ideal of humanity.

More from Superman 2000 each week, until Chad and I run out of stuff to say.


andy khouri said...

Thanks for continuing to post excerpts and commentary from the Superman 2000 pitch. Superman is a subject I never tire of.

I haven't re-read a single issue of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, so I may be misremembering some things, but I recall that the power-increase seemed a bit much to swallow for some reason. I wonder if it's really necessary to play Superman in the manner described in the pitch.

Surely, portraying him as this paragon of humanity without any kind of plot device would be startling and refreshing enough a change from the status quo of the last few years, and especially that of Byrne's era?

These sorts of powers-changes bother me because the tendency is to take up pages exploring those powers in what I think is often an overly indulgent fashion; the writers' become interested in some concept or piece of scientific curiosity and is running with it for his own ends -- see Warren Ellis -- even though it may not make the most entertaining Superman story.

Now, like I said, I haven't re-read any of ASS, so with the bigger story in mind this component may not bother me. But for now, it is an irritating itch in a story/Super-philosophy I otherwise adore.

Kal-El, The Last Son Of Krypton said...

The question is, was it REALLY necessary to depower him? Like Timothy said, "but writers always wanted to give him flaws to keep the character relatable. Morrison and company wanted to make Superman ideal, so we could aspire to him, not so he could make us feel good about our own flaws."

We aren't supposed to "relate" to Superman, but to be inspired by him, to be in sheer AWE by his mere presence. A god sent to Earth to guide us to the light.

In my opinion, these attempts at "humanize" Superman have done nothing but hurt the character, taking away his uniqueness and turning him into just another Superhero, another one of the bunch, another regular Joe with powers and tights.

And Superman is so much more than that.

Chad Nevett said...

What I find interesting is that the writers wanted to give SUPERMAN more powers, but also humanise the CLARK KENT persona more than it had been recently. They recognise that the aspect of the character that people relate to is Clark Kent, while Superman inspires. It's an odd balance quite unlike any other superhero, I think.

andy khouri said...

I've just finished reading the first couple trades of Byrne's run, and a surprisingly large amount of it isn't dedicated so much to humanizing Clark Kent but rather EXPLAINING CEASELESSLY the nature of Sueprman's "new powers." Kal is constantly going on (in thought bubble form) about how his "aura" extends around the mass of objects he is lifting to explain why they don't buckle under their own weight, why his clothes don't tear, how he can fly, blah blah blah.

I'll bet my inert memories of these comics informed my prejudice against new powers or anything beyond the most simple status quo where super abilities are concerned. The temptation to go on about them is too strong.

Aside: Superman The Animated Series featured a decidedly de-powered Superman, being informed heavily by the Byrne era status quo, but in my view achieved much of what the Superman 2000 team were going for in terms of SUPERness, especially when they got into the space and fortress and Kirby business.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm not a fan of a distant, remote, Christ-like Superman. I understand the appeal to some folks, but to me, that's boring. I'd rather read about a man who's CAPABLE of being that person, but struggles with balancing that against an innate humanity that makes him a hero.

For me, that's more dramatic, more intrinsically interesting and psychologically complex.

I'm glad this plan was nixed, even though that's more or less the Superman we're seeing now.

J.R. LeMar said...

I love this idea of Superman. And I've always felt that those who've argued that they can't related to him because he's too powerful are missing the point. We're not supposed to relate to him, we're supposed to be inspired by him. And to do that, he needs to be BETTER than us.

But I think that's a sign of the times. Look @ our celebrity culture. We love to tear down our idols, & laugh @ their foibles. That's why sites like TMZ & tabloids are so popular. The bigger they are, the harder we want them to fall.

Not to get overly political, but I see the same attitude in our electoral process. Take Obama, for example. I'm constantly seeing opponents of his online derisively referring to him as a "messiah," & accusing his supporters of "worshipping" him & being so blinded by his charisma that they don't see his flaws, etc. It seems that many in our society just cannot stand to look up to anyone.

And, let's face it, many of our so-called role models, be it celebrities, athletes, politicians, or other authority figures (priests, anyone?) HAVE let us down. So that's why we now look for ulterior motives behind everything. If someone is doing good things, we assume they must be hiding something. And that's the problem some have with Superman.

I've seen folks online talk about how "unrealistic" Superman is (no, really?) because he has no reason to be a hero. Unlike, for example, Spider-Man or Batman, Superman isn't motivated by any tragedy or guilt. He's a hero because that's what his parents raised him to be.
And, like "anonymous" said, that's boring to them because they want a hero who "struggles" with doing the right thing.

But I disagree. As Grant Morrison once said:

"...who really wants to watch Superman suffering agonies of doubt, for instance, when he could be wrestling Phantom Zone giants back into the 10th dimension?"

I also never accepted the "too powerful" argument. Any writer who says they can't write interesting SUPERMAN stories because he's too powerful just doesn't have enough imagination, in my opinion. And Grant is proving that in All Star Superman. Re-read the 11 issues so far, & you'll see that Superman rarely throws a punch @ anyone. And when he does actually get physical, it's usually just for a couple of pages.

To me, the best instance of what to do with an ultrapowerful Superman is the scene in ASS #10 where he confronts the suicidal girl. It's not the typical scene where she jumps & Superman catches her, but rather he talks her out of jumping in the first place, with just a few words.

THAT is what Superman is here for.

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