Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Superman University

Unfortunately, this is not the name of a new Grant Morrison Superman series about big blue reforming Academia. Rather, I've been looking for an intelligent place to discuss a character that I find endlessly fascinating in various aspects, and I've learned the hard lesson not to stray from CHUD. Seriously, most places are more concerned with how hard Superman can punch stuff rather than discussing his fascinating history and merits as a literary figure. With a new movie looming, it's going to get harder for me to contain my bullshit (seriously, the three things that I think about most are probably Superman, Bob Dylan, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau), so at least this thread can serve as a decent containment unit, but the goal is more a conversation about Superman that can go off in any direction. To begin, I'll just throw a couple of things out there and see if anyone picks up on them. There's a new issue of Action this week, too, so there might be something to discuss there later on. Anyway...

1) On the Superman/Jesus thing: I can see where it comes from, but as time's gone on I see more parallels to another famous jew, Bob Dylan (complete with a secret identity in Robert Zimmerman). Especially in some of the more recent iterations of Superman's origin, where we have a young Clark Kent who doesn't quite fit in at Smallville, so he ends up traveling to find himself. In Waid and Yu's "Birthright" it's to Africa, and it appears Kent travels American in the upcoming film (just like a young Robert Zimmerman). Find himself he does, of course, with Kent we have his natural father, Jor-El. With Dylan, we have Woody Guthrie. But for both "characters", the new mentors function basically as spiritual fathers who they can only have a small amount of time to learn from (Woody wasn't much longer for this Earth by the time Dylan met him), but they still provide some missing piece to their proteges.

With Dylan, we see him come to prominence as a folk singer who has spent time traveling and learning from the genre's greats and finding a sort of voice in the struggles of the times (Superman started life as a "protest singer" of sorts, too), but even then the folk scene ends up stifling Dylan. After all, he grew up under the Jonathan Kent-like tutelage of pop singers like Rosemary Clooney and rockers like Buddy Holly over the radio. The folk scene makes him neglect an entire swath of his musical heritage, and in the end defines him. In order to escape, to really be himself, Dylan must own his fol influences, his pop heritage, and his own individual genius. He must go electric.

That's what the blue tights are, in a sense. The stripping away of a socially enforced identity that is true in some sense, but ultimately incomplete. Folk Dylan and rock Dylan are both true, as are both Kent and Superman, but if Dylan or Superman were solely one or the other he would be incomplete to the point of nothingness. As would we all be, I suppose. Could we call ourselves selves without both how people see us and the burning secret identity inside? I doubt it.

I think that this is a reason for Superman's ability to endure, he is a myth of (among other things) the reconciliation of the modern conformist and creative selves, an image of how both impulses can complete one another. Which is, in a way, confounding to most modern views of the self, and it has a smell of truth to it. But then, just as Bob Dylan's songs express much more than that, so does Superman.

2) Much more briefly, All Star Superman is aging like fine wine, and to celebrate that fact I urge everyone to take a look at a rather delightful four part essay that compares and contrasts that particular masterpiece and the (apparently, I haven't read it) execrable Superman: Earth One. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Sorry for the wall of text, but this might be a fun experiment.


I love TooBusyThinking, but that guy gets really into his comics sometimes. I mean, I disagree with him that we needed a multi-part essay on what was so awful about Holy Terror, it's basically preaching to the choir. But it's nice that he's part of an interesting tradition of comics bloggers (mostly British, for some reason) who really love superheroes, Superman in particular, and actually believe in the moral concepts they stand for, while simultaneously being very liberal (as opposed to people who seem to get off on the idea of the superhero as a metaphor for American exceptionalism and "might makes right"). Colin also had a long, interesting essay a while back about how superheroes, often accused of being fascist, are actually an expression of small-l liberal and democratic values. So it's always heartening to see people like Colin kicking back at the DC and Marvel writers who only care about badass posturing (like when he wrote an angry review of a recent Spider-man issue where he tortured Sandman). Superheroes SHOULD have a moral dimension.

As for Supes, I can't speak to the Bob Dylan thing, but yeah, I feel like the Jesus thing has always been an ill fit, though his role as a moral exemplar makes it work a little better. Ironically, I think that idea of super-goodness as one of his powers is probably the 1978 movie's doing as much as anything. Sure, the fact that he stood for truth, justice and the American way was always there, and the basic idea that he was an example for humanity as much as a champion was always implicit, but I'd argue the comics never ran with that until after the movie. In the Golden Age he was more of a power fantasy--a power fantasy directed by the right hands, of course (fighting for the oppressed and the little guy, smashing Nazis, undermining the Klan--in real life, no less) but it seemed more like his creators simply knew what was right and was making Superman their instrument. This is probably rampant nostalgia, but I feel like Superman of the 30s didn't need to give instruction, the majority of people knew what he was doing was right. (This is why I rag on the Avengers movie a bit for tiptoeing around Captain America, a character who, similarly, stands for a very specific set of values that Marvel doesn't want to make too explicit because it would go against the increasingly monstrous political philosophies of a large chunk of their potential audience...sorry, didn't mean to smear politics over everything.) Then in the Silver Age the character was constantly being subverted, with covers that constantly made you ask, "Wait, why is Superman acting like a dick?!?" Admittedly the charge here was seeing the heroic Superman seemingly doing horrible things, which always had some insanely convoluted in-story explanation and were often to teach Jimmy or Lois a lesson, but this doesn't seem very Christ-like. I'd argue it's not until QUITE recently that the idea of Superman as moral paragon has been foregrounded in the comics.

I've always preferred the idea of Superman rooted in Jewish tradition (which does tie in with your Bob Dylan theory). He's more of a guy who uses might for right, enforces Justice, and gives moral instruction (often, as I say, in rather dickish ways) which is more the Jewish Messiah, i.e. the one who hasn't shown up yet. Obviously you don't want to call him "old testament" because that doesn't seem to jibe--he's clearly a nicer guy than the old testament god and many of his prophets--but you can see the line of philosophy that leads back there. Plus, there are lots of obvious Moses parallels, the child found in a basket and raised in a strange land, plus his heritage being lost (but which he keeps alive) and the idea that Krypton is a kind of promised land from which he's been barred. Plus, as I understand it, there were some famous Jewish strongmen of the era in which Superman was created, and which probably directly inspired him.


It's funny that we bring up morality and his Jewishness. As I'm always a bit uncomfortable when Superman is handled strictly as a moral enforcer, and his jewish elements tend to be the last things I think about when I'm thinking about him. I've always thought that Superman works best as a sort of moral explorer, and that his best stories involve himself having to discover a right course of action rather than "teaching lessons" to his supporting cast. That's an element of the character that came out more after the WWII, but I think that it was always there. In his early days he's this blistering power fantasy that, I think, the culture kind of needed, but even then his relationship to institutions was kind of complex. You had things like Superman capturing a troubled youth sort of character, but instead of taking the kid to jail he gives a speech about how the ne'er-do-well's lot is the result of bad institutions and he proceeds to tear down the "bad" neighborhood. I forget if he rebuilds the new, nice one himself or if he makes the government do it. The episode says a lot, and I think that it points to a more plastic sense of morality on Superman's part than the role of a messiah figure would allow for. I think the Jewishness certainly plays a role in the narrative of Superman, but just like his creators, he's not completely Jewish. He's also the product of a post-Enlightenment culture and sense of thought. He seems to me to be the hero and avatar of a sentimental reality rather than a codal one, which is compelling to me because he's trying to figure this shit out, too. Stories where he's only doling out judgment and punishment always ring kind of hollow to me (It's more Batman's gig, anyway), as I think in a lot of cases the big action has to come at the fever pitch of whatever moral exploration is going on.

I think that when you make superheroes the representatives of a codal morality is when disturbing things, like Spidey torturing Sandman, happen. At that point, Spidey's not a fellow traveler with the reader, but an enforcer of power, which is all sorts of wrong for that character. And wrong for Superman, too.

I really liked Birthright, but I'd ditch the "they knew each other as kids!" thing and Superman's "soul vision." Don't know why, but that always seemed unnecessary, and it makes his ethics more rooted in his biological perceptions and thus more alien to readers, when that's the one aspect of Superman that needs to feel close and tangible. Other than that, it's a blistering read that gets a lot right. I haven't read Secret Origin, but I flipped through it at the bookshop while waiting for DKR to start a few weeks ago and had a similar reaction to it that Bartleby did, but I thought that there were some beats in it (from what I saw) that really worked. But in the end, it just felt sort of pointless compared to Birthright.

The Superman and Wonder Woman thing is a fine idea, but the execution is kind of shit so far, and I can't help but feel that it's just serving as a plot point to something bigger. Johns seems to be recycling a lot from Infinite Crisis in his JL, and I bet that that moment is going to be revealed as something "the universe does not want" or some shit. I think that having this version of Superman date around is actually a pretty decent idea, and that there are some stories there.


I really like the idea of having Superman date around, and it was one of the first places my mind went when I started reading some of the newer comics (even though I thought that the Lois/Superman marriage worked pretty well most of the time). However, I don't like the direction they seem to be going with it, as Johns doesn't seem to be interested in the emotional stakes for the characters, but rather it's significant to the DCU. Johns himself is a hard guy to pin down, because he has at time proven himself to have a fine grasp of character, but then he's got his "metaplot" streak where all of that goes at the window in the service of writing about the world that the characters inhabit and the way that it "should" be, and this relationship seems as if it is being treated as a part of that puzzle.

With a single Superman, I think that they have an opportunity to touch on some subtle and fine emotional territory. Imagine a story where Superman falls in love with an alien princess who belongs to a race who eventually all rise to a different plane of existence as part of their life cycle. It ends with one last kiss on an empty streets of a midnight Metropolis neighborhood as she sheds her physical body as she becomes a different sort of being entirely. I'd rather see something like that than whatever power couple event they have cooked up at the moment. It might feel a bit too "small" for some fans, but Superman seems uniquely equipped to explore those moments in life where there is drama but not quite conflict, like losing someone because they must "move on."

I have some mixed feeling about what the role of Krypton and Kryptonians should be (and whether Supergirl should exist, frankly). On the one hand, there are a lot of stories there, and I think that the "bad" Kryptonians from the Phantom Zone or wherever that one too enforce Kryptonian ways are good stand-ins for people who can't let go of the past. I'm working on a little something about the role of grief in the Superman mythos, and I think that Krypton is at its best when it's a representation of that feeling: something or someone that you miss terribly but can never have again or ever really know. Having "good" Kryptonians like Supergirl who are still very much Kryptonian undercuts that a bit, I think, and I think that a character like Supergirl works best as a protege that Superman must teach how to live with grief (and by extension, be a human being) rather than someone who's a living link to his own lost past.

Human Krypton cults are an interesting idea, and fun perversion of what Superman represents. I think he's very much about the liberation of the individual, and it's an interesting twist to see people take his heritage and turn it into something that subverts individualism. Superman's not here to make us more Kryptonian, after all, as that would be him trying to reanimate a dead past.

Originally Posted by D.S. Randlett View Post

it's going to get harder for me to contain my bullshit (seriously, the three things that I think about most are probably Superman, Bob Dylan, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau),

The three things I think about most is tits, tits and yeah, more tits ....

Sorry, carry on


So Clark Kent has quit the Daily Planet. Not a bad concept in of itself, in that he apparently is going to start his own hard-hitting independent paper, but the sabotaging of Lois and Perry to get Clark to a point where he would quit is disappointing.


I haven't read the whole article yet, but I think the run as a whole is definitely worth checking out. It's true that the series is about something different than Morrison typically uses Superman for, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. I think that the man problem with the series is that the style that Morrison employs gets in the way of establishing character the way that's really needed for a "new take!" sort of run. I guess it's there, but you really have to work for it to the point that you don't know that you've cracked the story or you're just making shit up. Issue to issue the series is pretty inconsistent, but there are some total home runs in there (issues 9 and 13 are really, really great) and at this point there are some loose ends coming together, but the way Morrison's paced the meta-story and the revelations of his themes doesn't really work. Which is a shame, as I think he's trying to say some pretty interesting things about the character (and I suspect he's trying to create a hypersigil to rescue Superman from the industry) and his place in pop culture.


Like everyone else, I think Morrison was undercut by The New 52 and DC Editorial being insane dickheads. Morrison's been a disappointing company man for a while now, but he seems to have snuck some subversion into his work, with issue #9 (I think) being the crucial one: the Obama-Superman (representing the possibilities for real-world greatness and inspiration that Superman can contain) doing battle with the alternate-reality Superman who's basically an idea warped into horror by a greedy corporation. And who wears armour.

The real Superman fighting against (and only just barely defeating) the same armour-Superman at the end of his run seems to be Morrison saying, "Yeah, OK, the current mess DC's made of Superman is depressing, but Superman as an idea will endure."

Originally Posted by The Prankster View Post

Morrison's been a disappointing company man for a while now,

...really? I can see why people wanting an origin story would be disappointed in his Action Comics run, but his Batman is golden.


So with the upcoming release of Action Comics #1000, Superman is getting his red trunks back:

I said something similar on Facebook, but this basically walks back every single change that's been made to the character since 2011. And before that, the 2000s were spent undoing everything done by John Byrne and Dan Jurgens in the '80s and '90s.

So yeah, along with Cavill in Justice League reverting back to the Christopher Reeve Superman, I guess everyone across all mediums has given up on modernizing Superman.


Nah breh. Bad.

AWell, a return to post-Crisis Supes would be ideal. But Lee's modern redesigns can definitely go to hell like they deserve. Trunks are good... Look at that-- it's like Lee's channeling Curt Swan. It's beautiful.

Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post

I said something similar on Facebook, but this basically walks back every single change that's been made to the character since 2011.

He still has a kid, doesn't he?


Yeah, but the versions of Lois and Clark that had Jon are literally the 1986-2011 versions that were abducted by Brainiac before Flashpoint, held in a pocket dimension, and then escaped to the New 52.

There's been some massaging of that (revealing that the New 52 and Post-Crisis Superman were two halves of a whole that combined and restored a lost 10 years stolen by Doctor Manhattan, because comics), but in spirit and in practice this Superman is the pre-Flashpoint Superman.

And the pre-Flashpoint was Geoff Johns spending a good chunk of the 2000s reverting everything back to Silver Age continuity.

But whatever.

AA lot of that was Jeph Loeb too. I was still reading the books when he got rid of Byrne's version of Krypton, turned Lex back into a basic supervillain, etc. Some things I don't mind, like bringing back classic Supergirl (although Peter David's work on the weird angel iteration was pretty good), but it occurs to me that half of these continuity resets wouldn't be needed if creators weren't so deadset on negating changes that actually had long-term success.

New 52 Superman was so bad though, beside the early Morrison stuff. I like dad Superman so it works for me.

Look red trunks! *colours them black*

A[quote name="Munson" url="/community/t/144678/superman-university#post_4454807"]

Look red trunks! *colours them black*

To be fair, TAS did that too.

[IMG ALT=""][/IMG]

Gotta say, I'm intrigued by a dad Superman-- that's the kind of long term change I generally *do* like from comics characters. I'll have to get caught up.
A[quote name="Bartleby_Scriven" url="/community/t/144678/superman-university#post_4454685"]So yeah, along with Cavill in Justice League reverting back to the Christopher Reeve Superman, I guess everyone across all mediums has given up on modernizing Superman. 

I would hope they're taking a break from deconstructing him, at least.
A[quote name="Bartleby_Scriven" url="/community/t/144678/superman-university#post_4455013"]It's not so much getting Superman back to his 1986-2011 status quo (give or take, as from 2003 onward they kept tweaking this first with Birthright and then with Secret Origins) that bothers me. That's the status quo that I grew up with, and I'm actually a big fan of Lois and Clark having a tween son together. DC has tried to make Clark a swinging bachelor over the years, and unlike Peter Parker, who has bad dating built into his DNA, Clark is only meant to be with one person, Lois.

What I'm concerned about is this incessant need to keep retconning everything because of obsessing over origin details. When done with the intent of modernization, and in such a way that doesn't alter the very fabric of the character, it can be great (Scott Snyder's Zero Year). But this push-pull, back-and-forth this last 15 years over what Krypton aesthetically looks like and when Ma and Pa Kent died, just,


Superman's origin is the simplest in the world. Leave it alone, and get back to telling stories that aren't about alternate realities and meta narratives. 

Because you might say the updating of the origin is done for new readers who are just getting into the characters. And while that's true with the likes of what Warren Ellis did with Iron Man: Extremis, or the aforementioned Snyder Zero Year, it is very much not true with Superman. Every origin revision is a backslide to appease older (as in 40+) fans who can't accept the slightest change. And I'm not even talking about putting Superman in jeans and all the other outrageousness of Grant Morrison: I mean the simplest little thing like whether or not Jor-El had a beard.

And this isn't even fidelity to the old comics. It's this Albatross that is the Donner/Reeve movies, because Geoff Johns was an assistant to Richard Donner before getting into comics. Combine that with the perfect storm of Johns's rising star at DC and Singer bringing back the Donner continuity with Superman Returns, and the last decade plus has been a neverending bickering match, not about what would Superman do or say in certain situations, but minutiae like when did he start wearing glasses.


Birthright was goddamn awesome, though.

Johns did that to pretty much everyone. Wonder Woman had what, 4 different origin stories last year? Kyle Raynor even exist anymore? Aquaman's hand came back, Alec Holland came back, there has to be at least 4 separate concurrent Batman realities happening right now considering he's getting married while dealing with trans dimensional evil metal Batman meanwhile he's also in the Justice League plus he's a dad, and tthat doesn't even deal with whatever is happening in All Star Batman... let alone Mr. Oz and whatever that was with Superman plus the whole Doomsday Clock stuff.

DC needs to back the fuck away from interdimensional stuff cause they basically reboot every 5 years right now. But then the reboot can't help but dredge up the past sooo I don't know. Everyone lost their memories but no one seems to care at all, it's just bizarre. At least Superman and Wonder Women aren't a thing anymore. That was terrible.

A[quote name="Bartleby_Scriven" url="/community/t/144678/superman-university#post_4455018"]

It was. A beautiful update of the character into a post-9/11 world.

And it was immediately walked back by Infinite Crisis and Secret Origins so Johns could play in the Silver Age/Donner sandbox.

In an ideal world, we'd be 15 years in to comics building on Birthright. Much like how the '90s was Dan Jurgens and others building on John Byrne's Man of Steel.

But nope.


Agreed. Birthright was in many ways the opposite of Secret Origin - it felt new, it added to and refreshed the mythos without being either boring or doing shit just to do it/be different. The Clark in Africa period is one of my favorite additions to Superman lore, and will forever be headcanon for me for those post-Smallville pre-Superman years.

The 'S' meaning Hope? Not a family crest, not an actual S for Superman, but Hope? It may get a snicker now because of Man of Steel, but goddamn if that story didn't completely sell it.

And while the time-warp communication bit was a little too-convenient, allowing Jor-El and Lara to hear those words and see their symbol carried on by their son in their final moments? I cried the first time I read it.

If there's one thing I THINK D.C. may be learning (with I believe a little help from Captain America), is that Superman doesn't need to change. He doesn't need to try to be hip. Or edgy. Or dark. If ever there was a character who could be said to be timeless, it's Superman. So, let Superman be Superman. Maybe tell a few stories about corrupt politicians and billionaires getting called out by Big Blue as un-American. Maybe have him take a stand on xenophobia. And immigration. And just common human decency.

Let him react to our fucked up world the way Superman actually would, and you'll never run out of stories to tell.

Dad Superman has been terrific. Tomasi's run on the main Superman title for Rebirth has been the best thing to happen to him (and Lois, for that matter) in years - since Morrison's too-brief Action Comics run, easily. And Jon Kent makes a great comedic duo with Damien Wayne.

AChanging subjects, somewhat-- they have the animated series up on Amazon Prime and I've been jumping around the show tonight while I work on some stuff. Just watched the 2nd season ep "The Late Mr. Kent", which I always liked...

But now, I'm thinking it's not only possibly the best episode this show produced, but one of the best Superman stories, period.

Also reminds me how much I prefer the post-Crisis/Byrne/TAS version of Supes. He may be bulletproof, but bullets bother the guy. It makes even minor adversaries something of a challenge, even if the end result ain't really in doubt. I'll never understand why writers would give up so much simple dramatic material by turning Superman into a god.

Originally Posted by Slim View Post

Changing subjects, somewhat-- they have the animated series up on Amazon Prime and I've been jumping around the show tonight while I work on some stuff. Just watched the 2nd season ep "The Late Mr. Kent", which I always liked...

But now, I'm thinking it's not only possibly the best episode this show produced, but one of the best Superman stories, period.

Also reminds me how much I prefer the post-Crisis/Byrne/TAS version of Supes. He may be bulletproof, but bullets bother the guy. It makes even minor adversaries something of a challenge, even if the end result ain't really in doubt. I'll never understand why writers would give up so much simple dramatic material by turning Superman into a god.

​"The Late Mr. Kent" is great. Superman​ doesn't seem to get as much love as other DCAU shows, particularly Batman​ and JLU, but there's a lot of quality there. As far as I'm concerned, Clancy Brown's Luthor is just as definitive as Mark Hamill's Joker, and puts the various cinematic incarnations of the character to shame.


I'm a big fan of Loed and Sales' Superman for All Seasons.  I particularly like how it filters Superman through the perceptions of four different narrators (Pa Kent, Lois, Luthor, and Lana Lang),  It's an interesting take on the whole "how do you tell an interesting story about a man who's invulnerable?" by having it be more about those he effects than him.  And it handles the mythic stature of the character really well.

Since this seems to be the place for it, recently in the BvS thread the idea of Superman being a refugee came up and it occurs to me that that's a pretty poor metaphor, as Superman and Supergirl are vastly outnumbered by the amount of evil Kryptonians who come to Earth looking to cause trouble. 

It's sort of like the problem of the X-Men being a piss-poor metaphor for minorities, only even worse. With the X-Men, you can say that there are thousands of relatively powerless mutants out in the world just living their lives peacefully. You can't really have that with Kryptonians, unless you think of a way to explain why ten or so of them can't help out with their god-like powers when Brainiac's invading (or, conversely, if they're depowered like the Kryptonians in Kandor, who cares and how does it make for a good story?).

So what would a 'migrant-positive' Superman look like? Never use evil Kryptonians? Use them, but find some way to make it clear they're outliers? And how to avoid making Superman and Supergirl look like outrageous instances of positive discrimination ('not only are migrants good people, but they're the best people ever!')?
I always get the feeling [Boone Daniels] is one of those guys who talks for four hours about how much he respects women, and then it comes out that he sends pictures of his dick to sixth-graders.
Just to remember the late Harlan Ellison, I thought to share his thoughts kn Superman, which I think are as close to the core of the character as Grant Morrison has gotten:

"If one of the unarguable criteria for literary greatness is recognition, consider this: In all of the history of literature, there are only five fictional creations known to every man, woman, and child on the planet. The urchin in Irkutsk may never have heard of Hamlet, the peon in Pernambuco may not know who Raskolnikov is; the widow in Jakarta may stare blankly at the mention of Don Quixote or Micawber or Jay Gatsby. But every man, woman, and child on the planet knows Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Robin Hood... and Superman. He is more than the fanciful daydream of two Cleveland schoolboys. He is the 20th-century archetype of mankind at its finest. He is courage and humanity, steadfastness and decency, responsibility and ethic. He is our universal longing for perfection, for wisdom and power used in the service of the human race. Of all the literary creations of American fiction, Superman, after all these years, born of a 'dispensable, disreputable' genre, is the only one that seems certain to get Posterity's nod. And that is because, simply put, he is our highest aspirations in human form. "
"Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy."

Xbox Live Gamer Tag: Strider Ryoken / PSN: Kenryo81 /Steam: Ryoken81

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)