What’s Wrong With the Man of Steel
I have been hearing from a lot of people that Grant Morrison is the best Superman writer to come around in a long time. I’ve also heard that Morrison is the best Superman writer and no one else even comes close. The latter has to be the most ignorant statement I’ve ever heard. First of all, you are discounting Jerry Siegel, the first writer of Superman whose stories were really good given the concept of the times. Then you are discounting the various writers of the 1960s and 1970s who created timeless Superman tales. And let’s not forget John Byrne, who reinvented Superman and Dan Jurgens, both of whom created the Superman that we all knew post-Crisis.
Most of the praise comes from a limited series Morrison did from 2005 to 2008. Why it took three years to do twelve bimonthly issues, I’ll never know. All-Star Superman is the story of Superman dying. He’s been overloaded with solar energy, which fuels his powers, something that, reading the Superman comics, says can’t happen but that’s probably another reason this story isn’t canon. Anyway, the series focuses on Superman as he’s dying, spending tender moments with Lois and trying to make the world as good as he can while he is still alive. And for some reason he also visits another Earth, fights Atlas and fights a Jimmy Olsen that has turned into Doomsday. At the end of the story, Superman dies, however he dies off-screen and the ending is left open to interpretation, or a sequel. It’s a decent story that seems cemented in the Silver Age which Morrison has said that’s kind of what he was trying to do.
What I don’t like about it, aside from the art, is that Superman, throughout the entire story, is too alien. Writing Superman, and many writers have said this, is a daunting task. He’s way too powerful to have a decent villain so writers tend to focus on the human aspect of Superman—Clark Kent. Morrison doesn’t do that. Instead, Superman galivants off to other planets, other dimensions. The only thing relatively human he does is spend time with Lois Lane—but first she has to gain superpowers so they can go to the moon together. But I’m not here to complain about All-Star Superman. A lot of people have said All-Star Superman got them interested in Superman either for the first time or again and that’s fine because without Superman, your precious Wolverine probably wouldn’t exist.
I want to talk about DC Comics’ The New 52 which started back in August of last year. When I heard that Grant Morrison was going to take the reigns of the second volume of Action Comics, I was hesitant but excited to see what changes he would bring about. Action Comics #1 was a really good read. Better than I thought it would be. Superman is not yet trusted by the people of Metropolis and, in a throwback to the original Action Comics #1, attacks a politician who is cheating the people of Metropolis. I get wanting to make Superman disliked because in this age of us (re: Americans) fearing and hating anything that is different from us, it makes sense. We are introduced to a new Lex Luthor—make that Dr. Lex Luthor, who is attempting to “help” General Sam Lane capture Superman. I have to admit that this issue really puts the Action back in Action Comics and it ends on a good cliffhanger of Superman, pinned between a bullet train and a wall, unconscious.
The second issue continued with the storyline with Superman now captured and General Lane and Dr. Luthor. Luthor is trying to piece together where Superman came from and doesn’t really get that far. Superman escapes and finds a rocketship that talks to him using the phrase “Ha-La” instead of the Kryptonian language that has been used for the last decade or so. That is really the first thing that bothered me. Ha-La? And the origin seemed to just get weirder. First, Jor-El says he and his family can escape to the Phantom Zone…but Zod and other evil Kryptonians are also there so did Jor-El really think the Phantom Zone would be safe or was this Morrison’s awkward way of introducing Krypto (who dives into the Phantom Zone) and General Zod? Either way, the rest of origin is about the same but at the end of issue #5, Superman is standing there with the Goddamn Legion of Superheroes.
I like the Legion of Superheroes but I don’t like them associated with Superman. It makes Superman more than he is and reinforces his alien side and I’ll get to that later. In the Silver Age, Superboy hung out with the Legion of Superheroes and when Byrne revamped Superman he got rid of Superboy which somehow caused continuity issues down the line which probably wouldn’t have occurred if recent Superman writers weren’t so keen on keeping the Legion merged with Superman’s history. The Legion is essentially there to help Superman obtain his rocketship but Morrison has them meet when Clark is about ten years old and ten-year-old Clark is shown wrestling a bull…in his cape. “Oh, that’s a cute cape your son has Mr. Kent. Wait a minute…Superman is wearing the same cape as that Kent boy!” Why are the Legion coming to Superman—Clark—when he is ten years old? It would make more sense—a lot more sense—if they came to him when he is 15 or 16. Post-pubescent at least.
The first real villian Superman faces is Brainiac which is…not really original. Brainiac here is modeled into a collector of worlds and he wants Clark—Superman for his collection to put with the city of Kandor. Superman easily defeats Brainiac, who is now a worm-like construct(?) and saves Metropolis causing people who formerly hated and feared him to like him and consider him a hero. He gets the key to the city and visits his parents’ graves because they both apparantly died really young considering Clark is about 22, 23.
But Morrison doesn’t care about Superman having human parents because, to Morrison, Superman is not human. He is Kryptonian and nothing else. Morrison made Superman more alien than human in All-Star Superman and it’s the same in Action Comics. The most glaring proof of this is near the end of Action Comics #8 where Clark is talking with his landlady and she asks “Are you Clark pretending to be Superman or the other way around?” Clark doesn’t give an answer, he avoids the question. The reason Clark doesn’t answer could be because he’s not sure, he’s torn between his two homes but that can’t be the answer because Clark has never known Krypton. In the post-Crisis stories, Clark is raised as a human by humans. If it weren’t for his powers, would he ever know he was from Krypton? Clark is driven to be Superman to make sure Earth doesn’t become another Krypton because he genuinely cares for its people. Clark is raised to believe that most humans are as loving and caring as the people he has in his life—Jonathan, Martha, Lois, Lana, Pete, Perry, Jimmy. Clark is the man, Superman is the mask. Every other writer knows that, except for Morrison. If Earth did explode and turn into another Krypton, Superman would be fine and just leave for another planet. Morrison’s Superman seems like he would be fine with that because, again, Superman is not a human.
Over in Superman, I was excited to see Dan Jurgens take over co-writing and art on the series. In issue #8, Superman said something that I was really hoping he would say, “I didn’t adopt this world. This world adopted me. I’ve experienced the best this world has to offer thanks to parents who never once considered me anything less than their son.” Jurgens’ Superman acts more human on that one page than Morrison’s Superman does through eight issues. Will Morrison’s Superman become more human as Action Comics continues? Maybe. It’s possible but I’m not holding my breath.
Now, I realize that these changes may be because of the Superman lawsuit currently going on. But the things that are currently being challenged can just be glossed over and doesn’t require to be completely changed from who he is.
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