Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Like Superman?

I only truly started reading comics last year. To ease myself into the fandom, I decided it might be a good idea to get a broad sampling of all the DC and Marvel characters, starting with whatever origin stories and first issues I could find. I jumped right in with Batman: Year One, Green Arrow: Year One, and the first trades of Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four.

With few exceptions, my philosophy has been to read one trade paperback per character (life is much easier without needing to deal with single issues), and then move on to another character. I'm reading Star Trek graphic novels on the side, and I'm gradually exposing myself to more non-mainstream comics, but my focus is still on understanding who the DC and Marvel characters are, and what their worlds are like.

My plan is to have sampled a wide range of DC characters before starting to read Crisis on Multiple Earths, as the Crisis stories seem to have an impossibly large cast of characters, and I'd prefer to have even a minimal backstory on as many as possible. My plan with Marvel is to read through everything set in the Ultimate universe, because I'm all about continuity, and it's very easy to identify that anything with "Ultimate" in the title is going to take place in the same universe with the same characters. Yay continuity!

That being the case, my experience with DC has been very broad, and my experience with Marvel has been a little less broad but a bit more deep. My plan to read just one issue of a series before moving on to another hasn't been as successful with the Ultimate universe, but that's mostly because I haven't yet seen any issues of Ultimate Ant Man or Ultimate Quasar to diversify my collection. DC, on the other hand, has afforded me the opportunity to read Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Flash, Green Lantern, and others, though I confess I like Batman and Blue Beetle enough to have read through a few more comics than my self-imposed maximum of one.

Superman, though. Superman has exceeded the acceptable buffer limit of two comics on my shelf, and frankly, I'm shocked.

Superman: Birthright cover artAs I stated in my review of Superman: Birthright, which should have been the only Superman book on my shelf, I am not a fan of ol' Supes. After watching the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, seeing Superman Returns, reading Superman: Birthright, and seeing one or two Superman cameos in the Batman books I'd been reading, I had concluded two things:

(1) Being an indestructable powerhouse vulnerable only to a silly green rock is booooring; and
(2) Fighting against Lex Luthor all the time is booooring.

Supes had one shot to win me over with Superman: Birthright, and though the comic was a very decent read, it didn't do much to convince me that I should spend any more time or money on Superman.

A while later I found myself browsing the shelves of a comics shop, and I happened upon Superman / Doomsday. Now, this might be worth spending a little more time and money on Superman; I knew nothing about Doomsday, so right off the bat I'd be getting exposure to a new villain, which worked into my plan quite nicely. Furthermore, there was the outside chance that Superman might be a smidge more interesting when pitted against Not Lex Luthor.

DoomsdayIn the end, it was worth picking up because Doomsday is interesting enough and because Superman actually got smacked around a bit. Still not enough to convince me to read more Superman, but it at least helped to dispel some of my misgivings.

At any rate, that was the last I was planning to hear about Superman until he showed up in my Batman comics again. Naturally, things didn't go according to plan.

Somewhere around the same time, I read Wonder Woman: Paradise Lost because I wanted an introduction to Wonder Woman, and I couldn't think of a more ideal way to become introduced than through a crossover with Batman. Ultimately I wasn't captivated by the Woman's charms because I'm not all that interested in mythology, but I was willing to give her another chance if the right comic came along.

Enter Trinity.

Trinity is a Batman / Wonder Woman / Superman story that was a shoo-in for the position; if Wonder Woman didn't impress me, then I could at least depend on a good showing from Batman and a predictably ho-hum experience with Superman.

Now I am finally beginning to understand why people pay attention to the author of a comic book.

Previously, I expected the characters would be pretty consistent from one writer to the next; after all, I had grown up on shows like Star Trek, which had numerous writers, and there was never much variation between writers that I could detect. When all the heroes and villains and locations are already mapped out for you, how much difference could one writer make, anyhow?

Apparently, I know nothing about writing a story.

Superman / Batman / Wonder Woman: Trinity coverUnder the command of Matt Wagner, Trinity gave me an appreciation for Superman that two movies, two trade paperbacks, and a lifetime of indirect exposure did not.

Kal-El has to keep up the pretense that he's a regular, imperfect human being, so he intentionally misses the train thrice per week in a town where the trains are always on time. He isn't just a brawny do-gooder; he is the last surviving member of an entire race of people, and his heritage carries a high value in this world of aliens.

Also, Bizarro is a wonderful villain, at least the way Matt Wagner writes and draws him.

Maybe this Superman guy is okay, I thought.

Superman: Last Son cover artSo I read Superman: Last Son. Now Supes is a family man. Now Clark Kent is looking out for other people, and not just trying to hide his secret identity. Now there are more people from Krypton who have survived, and Superman reacts accordingly. Now Lex Luthor is the clever, scheming villain he's supposed to be.

Now Superman is a real and dynamic character, not just an invincible goody-two-shoes with the same lame-o villain all the time.

It took a very long time, but I am shocked to say that I think I might consider reading another Superman comic.

Head for the hills; it's the end of the world.


Scott said...

Kingdom Come!

I just have to keep plugging it, it's one of the best Superman stories I've ever read.

Of course, if I keep pushing up your expectations, it'll inevitably suffer when you find it...

Flashman85 said...

Didn't I mention it? I finally tracked down a copy of Kingdom Come, and there's only a few titles I have to read before I jump into it. I'll be sure to do a full review!

Scott said...

Awesome! I'm looking forward to it!

Not only does it have a great character-based story, amazing art, and some of the most compelling portrayals of comic characters I've ever seen without being "post-modern gritty gore", but the main character is a preacher... which gives us an interesting perspective on events.

Anonymous said...

I'll second Kingdom Come and on top of that suggest Red Son. (It's in the Elseworlds line. I don't know if you've seen or heard much of Elseworlds: they consist of various what-if scenarios played out for a few books. Red Son addresses the question of what Superman would be like and what would become of the world if his capsule landed in the USSR and he were raised to be a paragon of that nation's espoused virtues.)

While Elseworlds can be hit-or-miss, I have found Red Son to be one of my favorite Superman stories. If you also appreciate Lex Luthor, Bizarro, and Batman, I think you would find their incarnations in this alternate universe satisfying.

Flashman85 said...

I've heard of Red Son, but now that you've officially recommended it, I'll look into it. Thanks!

Scott said...

Another popular Elseworlds Superman book is the JLA collection called The Nail. The sequel, however, is less than satisfying.

Kingdom Come is also an Elseworlds book. If DC has a neat story idea that doesn't work in the "real world", they just throw it under the Elseworlds imprint. But then they started treating the Elseworlds books as other universes or the future and things are getting really inconsistent... but that's another gripe entirely.