March 10th, 2006

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Up Up And Away!

I'm not so big a Superman fan. However, since the DCU is more my neighborhood, I follow around and hear a lot about the big blue boyscout.

Aside: I was a boy scout from the ages 8 until 17 (well, WeBeLo first, then Cub Scout, then Boy Scout). I managed to make it to the Star rank until my records went missing. I was losing interest with "outdoorsy" type activities since puberty, though. I still have the Boy Scout Handbook, and I wish I knew where to find a more grown up version with a similar outlook but less repetition.

Anyway, I still think Superman's okay, maybe even pretty cool, but usually I'm less focused on him. From a pure power fantasy standpoint, he's the way to go: super strong, super fast, super smart (although that's been downplayed in recent years), super breath, super vision, eye beam powers, and many others. Chief among them is flight.

Who wouldn't want to fly, y'know? Complete unpowered "natural" flight--although the comics have used all sorts of pseudo-scientific explanations for how Superman flies over the years. No hassle of airports, no fuel chugging behemoth machines . . . even the whacko-est of environmentalists can look at Superman's completely fictional flight power and not be bothered. Although, now that I think about it, I'd like to see a one shot where someone gets it into their head that one of Superman's powers is detrimental to Mother Earth, and a silly movement against him sprouts up . . . That's really a much more "marvel" type of thing to happen, though Superman's got it so easy, coming up with ways to keep him from using his powers could end up an interesting story.

But it's the "got it so easy" part that keeps me from embracing Superman too closely. There's this idea that characters who can do too much aren't interesting to read; twice this has gotten Superman in trouble. In the 70s, Denny O'Neil--who had just revitalized Green Arrow for DC while completely failing to revitalize Wonder Woman--brought Superman to a level of power unimaginable before (he was completely unaffected by Kryptonite, which should boggle the mind of even those with the most mildly pop-cultural-related knowledge) only to go right back around a few issues later (it was all planned) and cut his abilities by about 1/3. This was supposed to be a way for writers to find the character more attractive, but it didn't work: in the very next issue after O'Neil's 8-issue run, Superman was back to his previous power levels.

The second time stuck around a little bit longer. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, John Byrne was brought in to write and draw the new early adventures of Superman, and in the process, Superman was severely depowered. Before, Superman was capable of playing pool with planets . . . and was also a super-genius, as much scientist as superhero. Now, Superman wasn't particularly bright, and had trouble flying for protracted lengths of time in space (he now was required to breath, so he had to hold his breath--which he could do for like hours, but whatever--or do it with an oxygen tank), and was no longer able to completely fix everything in the blink of an eye like before. The difference was demonstrated starkly in a story in which Superman found a pocket dimension while time traveling, and learned that the Superboy there (this new Superman had never been Superboy, so suspected something was up when he met a younger version of himself that had never existed) was still at Pre-Crisis power levels. The new Supes couldn't keep up. Slowly, over the last 20 years, his powers have grown a bit, but still essentially been around the same as John Byrne's reboot. That is, until Infinite Crisis, where apparently he can hear things through the vacuum of space, and go toe-to-toe with the original Golden Age Superman.

But that's a big digression: essentially, Superman is too much a power-fantasy and not enough a character, at least for me.

However, should he be? I mean, he's this all-too-human alien creature with a compulsion to protect the all-too-frail (especially compared to him) by both some strange survivor's guilt (the last planet he was on kind of blew the fuck up) and a sense of duty (he's got all these powers, he ought to use them, right? And should he use them for his own glorification or the betterment of everyone? He chooses the latter, which irritates some people just because they can't fathom or reach that level of moral dedication, or maybe I'm reading too much unto it). He becomes a journalist for the stated reason that news reporters get access to breaking emergencies pretty quick, so he'll have an easier time helping people. But I always felt that there was another reason he chose a field in semi-creative writing. Having such an easy time physically, he's the type to seek a challenging environment and excel in it. Creative writing is something that is challenging even to super-geniuses (I say that from the perspective of someone who's pretty smart, you know, not super-genius or anything, but I do okay). Plus there's the puzzle-solving aspect, trying to figure out what's going on behind the scenes and all. And it lets him meet women like Lois Lane, high-strung detail-oriented competitive and smart. The kind of woman a superman would be attracted to.

. . .

Starting enjoy Superman a little more.

Anyway, Kurt Busiek will be writing some of Superman's adventures immediately after Infinite Crisis. Mr. Busiek is a master of characterization, so I figure this would be my chance to get excited about Superman, the character.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque