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After looking around online I realized how sporadic the information on this specific version of Superman is and that there are a great many people out there who have little or no idea about a now lost period from Superman’s past. Even though Superman’s adventures from the 1940s to the mid 1950s were considered his Golden Age and more importantly the Golden Age of comic books in general, I consider the time from 1986 to 1996 to be the REAL and greatly overlooked Golden Age of Superman.
There is so much to be said about the Superman character and all his iterations that many books can and have been written about him, I’m also aware that if you’re reading this then you’re probably a Superman fan yourself, but I’ve written the article as much for people who aren’t in the know and are always willing to learn a thing or two about this great character.
A Brief History of Superman
The ‘40s would later become known as the Golden Age of comics as it was from these characters and their stories that most of modern comics would ultimately evolve, hence the first Superman, published in 1938, is known as the Golden Age Superman. This early version of Superman had a much lower level of strength and speed and couldn’t fly but could leap one eighth of a mile at a time. He could also change the shape of his face to look like a different person and his power was derived from Earth’s gravity being much lower than Krypton’s (there must be a correlation between facial muscles and gravity). Personality wise he a bit of a thug throwing crooks in the air but he did stand against social injustice of the day such as wife beaters and slumlords. He had never been Superboy and had never met Lex Luthor until he was an adult and his parents died in his teens.
The ‘60s would later become known as the Silver Age of comics and DC decided to create new versions of some of their former popular characters who had faded into obscurity while continuing to publish the old Golden Age versions of their characters. To avoid confusion the Golden Age versions of their characters were said to exist in a parallel universe named Earth-2 whereas the newer versions of their characters lived in the primary reality named Earth-1. Thus there were two versions of Superman, the original Golden Age Superman of Earth-2 and the Superman of the Silver Age living on Earth-1; this situation is analogous to the current situation of the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Marvel Universe. The Silver Age Superman was much more powerful, with unlimited speed, strength and invulnerability. He was also a super genius and near immortal and was even capable of a super version of ventriloquism! This Superman had once been Superboy and as Superboy had once traveled a thousand years into the future and been a part of the super team of that time period, the Legion of Superheroes, Superboy had even been childhood friends with Lex Luthor and caused the accident that made young Luthor’s hair fall off causing the two to become rivals!
Having two separate continuities and two Supermen allowed DC to try some new ideas, Earth-2 Superman revealed his identity to Lois Lane and the two married, Earth-1 Superman gained a cousin, Supergirl, and pets, Krypto the Super-Dog, Comet the Super-Horse, Streaky the Super-Cat and Bepo the Super-Monkey (I’m not making this up)! His costume was made of the indestructible, red blue and yellow baby blankets from his Kryptonian rocket ship (apparently everyday objects like cloth on Krypton were required to be indestructible), Lex Luthor spent his time building giant robots to rob banks and Kryptonite came in all the colors of the rainbow (it’s true look it up)! DC had further brainstorms with ideas like the giant golden key in front of the Fortress of Solitude, a key that was so big it could be seen from space but was as heavy as a mountain and hence could only be lifted by Superman so it didn’t require the writers to create a giant Kryptonian doormat, unfortunately it did mean that there were no beings more powerful than Superman, so no-one could ever be his physical match in a fistfight!
(From left to right, Golden Age Superman, Silver Age Superman, John Byrne’s Superman, Dan Jurgens Superman, Ed McGuinness Superman, Gary Frank Superman)
What Makes Good Sci-Fi?
All sci-fi is essentially nonsense. When sci-fi becomes so grounded in reality that it could actually happen it’s no longer sci-fi, it becomes drama or high drama. Chris Nolan’s Batman films aren’t really sci-fi or even fantasy, because his goal was to create a superhero story that, although highly unlikely, could actually happen in real life, his Batman movies should therefore be seen as high drama but not sci-fi or fantasy. So what differentiates good sci-fi from bad sci-fi? Well have you heard the expression “Play by your own rules?” what makes a good sci-fi or fantasy story isn’t whether or not it can actually happen but whether or not it makes sense within its own reality. Take Star Trek for example, a story about a multicultural society in the future made up of many humanoid aliens, now since no (sane) man alive has seen an actual alien and earthbound actors are unfortunately stuck in human form, most of the alien species in Star Trek look like humans in makeup! These aliens not only co-exist, they interbreed, producing characters like Spock, a half-human half-vulcan, in real life humans can’t even interbreed with chimpanzees (not that I’ve ever tried but I’m sure some sad bastard has) even though human and chimp DNA is 99% identical, so what are the odds that a human would be able to mate with a vulcan? But the story of Star Trek isn’t about the plausibility of human/alien hybrids it’s about co-existing with people of other ethnicities and cultures. So in the fictional future of Star Trek most alien races that show up are required to be humanoid in form so they can interact as humans of different ethic backgrounds can and do and so the metaphor can work. Star Trek is also about what would happen if space travelers encountered phenomenon in space that modern day scientists can only speculate on, in that regards, Star Trek acknowledges and deals with the laws of physics. So Star Trek takes liberties in its presentation of human alien species and at the same time is quite rigid when it comes to the laws of physics, so is this a problem? Not really, as long as the majority of aliens featured on the show are humanoid and for the most part the characters have to contend with the laws of physics, Star Trek is following it’s own rules. Now the secret to a good rule is knowing when to break it; occasionally non-humanoid aliens will show up on the show, the humanoid aliens are written as people or people of different ethnicities but the non-humanoid aliens are written as forces of gods or monsters.
So if good sci-fi or storytelling in general plays by its own rules how does any of this apply to Superman? What is the metaphor or story function of the Superman character other that the fact that he’s obviously here to entertain? Well Superman is kind of a cross between Jesus Christ and Hercules right? So in terms of his appearance he should look like a man and in terms of his personality he should always choose to do the right thing and in terms of his level of power and challenges, he needs to face situations where choosing the greater good will help everyone. Now these have never been an issue but in order to make a story engaging and entertaining the hero needs to struggle to win, so if Superman is strong enough to move a planet who can ever challenge him? He would need to wait for an alien as powerful as he was to visit the Earth and the regular criminals of Metropolis would never represent a threat. When something is not a challenge it’s an activity, fighting a guy who can kill you is a challenge, going on patrol is an activity, so most of his adventures would be activities and not challenges. The point is a Superman with an unlimited level of power just doesn’t work, the character needs limits.
Now what good is the Flash in a world where Superman can do everything he can and a dozen things he can’t? If Superman is all powerful why bother continuing the adventures of other heroes such as Wonder Woman? Also wouldn’t characters like Superboy lessen Superman’s impact and uniqueness of Superman? Another problem was that by the Silver Age DC Comics had acquired several smaller comic book companies but instead of integrating the acquired stories with their own they chose to tell their audiences that these continuities were yet more parallel universes, the Charlton Comics characters became residents of Earth-4 and Earth-S became home of the Fawcett Comics characters such as Captain Marvel. DC published a story called Crisis on Infinite Earths which merged all the parallel universes into one united timeline with a new version of history, but in order for this to work it meant they had to say that all published comic history had never happened. The old version of Superman was given a final sendoff in a story titled Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and just as the Golden Age Superman was considered a past version, the Silver Age Superman was also retired. The next month DC began publishing a new volume of Superman and this is where things got interesting.
The Post-Crisis Superman
DC decided to hand the task or should I say the supreme honor of reinventing Superman to writer and artist John Byrne, which he did in the mini-series Superman: The Man of Steel. Byrne himself is no saint, he’s known for getting into fights with other members of the comic book community and making insensitive remarks, but his personality is not what’s being discussed here only his work.
The Psychology of Superman
Byrne must have hated the original Superman (like I do) because his version does the exact opposite for almost everything, the best place to start would be Superman’s mindset. Superman had always seen himself as an outsider, the last survivor of a long gone people, but Byrne reasoned that if Superman had been raised by the Kents since early childhood he would think of himself not as Kal-El a strange visitor to Earth but a Clark Kent, a man of Earth with a special heritage or more specifically as an American born of foreign parents, as many Americans are, which brings us to…
The Early Life of Superman
The problem with Superman’s life is that he was raised as Clark Kent and yet the Clark Kent identity serves as little more than a disguise to allow a godlike being to walk around the streets and interact with people. J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter is a DC superhero who had a career and family on his home world before coming to Earth, on our planet he not only has a secret identity, he has several, none of which are his true self, they’re like outfits, each one designed to allow him to interact with a different aspect of society, his default one being John Jones a detective. Now it makes sense for Manhunter to consider his secret identity a disguise but not Superman, in his mind, logically he would see himself as Clark Kent and not Superman. Byrne also reasoned that Superman’s powers wouldn’t have all become active the exact moment he emerged from his spaceship, they probably would have developed as he grew older and went through puberty, which means that Superman would never have been Superboy. It also meant that if Clark Kent wasn’t the disguise and if he wasn’t all powerful as a child, Clarke could have had a more normal life and a handsome young Superman able to read at super speed and getting stronger and stronger everyday would have excelled in school, hence in Byrne’s retelling Clark had now played American football in high school and was a very popular and happy person he was even prom king. The Kents hadn’t died at all and were a part of grown up Clark’s life, with their help young Clark had discovered his powers one at a time which also brings us to…
The Powers of Superman
One of the biggest and most annoying problems associated with the Man of Tomorrow is that no-one can seem to agree what his power level should be; in some stories he was able to spin Jupiter on his little finger in other stories he had to struggle to move the Earth. Byrne made one of the wisest decisions with Superman ever; he set some logical limits. Superman was still fast but now only as fast as a jet plane, the Flash was still much faster and that’s why a Flash still has a place in a world where Superman exists! Superman was still strong but only strong enough to lift something as heavy as a building, so a monster could beat him up or kill him (but more on that later) best of all we didn’t need that ridiculous key anymore! Superman could now only hold his breathe for four hours at a time and needed an oxygen tank to fly through space. Among Superman’s revised powers was an invulnerable bioelectric force field or aura that his body generated extending a fraction of an inch around the surface of his skin. This meant that any clothing that fell within the field would also become invulnerable and never get dirty, which meant that one of the requirements when designing his uniform was that it be skin tight, which brings us to…
The Costume of Superman
One of the biggest and most idiotic problems associated with the big blue Boy Scout is his ridiculous costume, in the ‘30s it was based on the “underwear over tights” look of circus performers but quickly became dated. The! Since Superman’s powers are derived from the yellow sun and he absorbs sunlight through his skin the most logical costume for Superman would be nothing but underwear to maximize the area of his skin that’s exposed to the sun, at the moment he’s only absorbing yellow sunlight through his head and hands. But of course DC would never do that and to be honest one of the world’s greatest oldest superheroes fighting baddies in his speedos would result in terrible sales (ask Namor)! Under Byrne’s writing only a skintight costume would be protected by Superman’s aura of invulnerability, so it not only made perfect sense, it didn’t require the artists change a single detail of the design but they did choose to draw Superman with more human proportions and a less cartoonish body. This also allowed writers and artists the opportunity for Superman to get into fights with enemies who could grab the fabric of his costume and once they had pulled it more than an inch away from his skin it would tear giving him a torn and battle weary look that no-one had been able to do with him before. Even the now fragile and flammable Superman cape was used with a purpose, the reverse featured a pouch where Clark Kent could keep his clothes and glasses, which brings us to…
No Mask for Superman
Now one of the most ridiculous ideas with Superman is that he has a secret identity and yet wears no mask, in fact one of the stupidest ideas of all time is that Lois Lane let alone the rest of the world would be fooled by a pair of glasses! But once again Byrne had a solution, in his origin story Clark Kent had used his powers in secret for many years but the day he visited Metropolis he was forced to save a plane carrying Lois Lane in broad daylight with the press present and hence the whole world got a good look at the face of the mysterious Superman, so Pa Kent came up with the idea of making his natural face the Superman face and making the Clark face the one wearing a “mask” which would be his glasses. As long as Superman never let on that he had two identities people would assume that he was in a secret hideout when he wasn’t saving Metropolis, which brings us to…
The Secret Identity of Superman
The ‘40s were full of stories where Lois and Jimmy Olsen were continuously trying to trick Clark Kent into revealing he was Superman, it was almost as though the writers of the ‘40s assumed that just because the readers knew Superman had a secret identity that meant the characters within the story would too. Other superheroes like Aquaman and Wonder Woman also had secret identities, but in the post-crisis timeline these were dropped because although these characters would live among normal people they typically wouldn’t live as normal people. So from the point of view of the average man in the DC Universe some superhumans like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Superman have no secret identities, they’re godlike beings all the time, other people like Green Lantern, the Flash and Batman wear masks and hence logically have secret identities, which brings us to…
Batman’s Partnership with Superman
Thanks to Frank (crazy person) Miller, Superman and Batman’s forty year bromance ended in The Dark Knight Returns, but Byrne gave us a better look at them through their first meeting. Until then Superman and Batman had always been friends, almost the best of friends, but in this new timeline, Superman went straight to Gotham to apprehend this vigilante and Batman as usual was one step ahead. During their first meeting Batman told Superman he carried a device sensitive to Superman’s presence and if Superman approached it would set off a bomb killing a person in Gotham. Superman, being held hostage helped Batman solve the crime of the week then demanded Batman free the life he had endangered, Batman revealed the bomb was on his person and that he was the life he had endangered was his own and that he would never endanger the life of someone else but didn’t know if Superman’s powers could tell if he was lying or not. Superman didn’t like Batman but could see he was no threat. Oddly enough Superman is more relatable than Batman, although Superman has a godlike body, in his mind he’s just a normal man constantly asking himself how best to live his life, Batman on the other hand is physically no more than a man but has a mind capable of outthinking anyone, which brings us to…
Lex Luthor’s Rivalry with Superman
As Byrne explained, why would Lex Luthor build a robot to steal a million dollars from the bank? Wouldn’t it cost a lot more for research and development to create the robot than it would to steal? Why not simply use that intellect to create a multimillion dollar company and live like a king? And so he did! Byrne’s reinvention of Lex Luthor was as an overweight man (who had lost his hair naturally and not because of a chemical mishap) with a perfect 200 IQ (the scale only goes up to 200) capable of outthinking anyone. Luthor even acquired the startup capital for his first invention at thirteen by killing his parents after forging his father’s signature on a large life insurance policy! In his finest moment Luthor had anyone with a connection to Superman and anyone who had a connection to them rigorously investigated, this meant the Kent farm was searched where Luthor’s man found Ma Kent’s scrapbook with all her clipping of how disasters around Smallville had been averted at the last moment since the time Clark was a boy. Luthor’s man concluded that the Kents had raised Superman as Clark, but Luthor couldn’t understand why a godlike being like Superman would pretend to be a nobody like Clark Kent, which tells us a lot more about Luthor than Clark. Luthor fired his man who mailed the file to Clark Kent and went on to create the villain Metallo before Metallo killed him (a comic book scientis being killed by his own invention is pretty standard fare). Superman took the file to the world’s greatest detective and that’s how Superman and Batman discovered each others secret identities, Batman using detective skills and Superman using fancy vision! Post-crisis Luthor’s one failing was his motivation for hating Superman, he just didn’t like being the second most popular guy in Metropolis but that’s still better than turning to super crime because some careless jock caused your hair to fall off! Luthor even dated Lois before she met Superman, which brings us to…
Lois Lane’s Relationship with Superman
Now 1940’a writing dictates that every hero should be big brother figure as opposed to a father figure so they can be the elder wiser man yet still maintain their status as a young man who has yet to settle down, hence the likes of Luey, Duey and Huey and Jimmy Olsen, but 1940s writing also dictates that no hero ever be gay, hence the existence of Daisy Duck and Lois Lane. Lois Lane’s function, from a narrative point of view, is that she should be the damsel in distress, the girl for the hero to save. Mary Jane Watson serves this purpose in the Spider-Man films but the character never has a logical reason for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it just seems like a string of bad luck that she’s always abducted because she has a connection to Parker who always takes pictures of Spider-Man. But as an investigative journalist always sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong Lois Lane always had a good reason for being captured, hence she became fiction’s premiere damsel in distress. Now in order to have this strong investigative streak she’d have to be a pretty headstrong woman, so Byrne reasoned that if Lois Lane had a tough take charge attitude, raised as an army brat by the future General Sam Lane, she may be attracted to Superman not because she wanted a man to save her all the time but because she wanted companionship. The difference between relying on a man and desiring a man is the difference between an immature and mature woman in real life and a dull and interesting female character in fiction. Also if Superman was a disguise to allow Clark to use his powers in public he’d want Lois to want him and not the disguise. Byrne’s Kent scooped Lois by delivering the first interview of Superman to the Daily Planet and the two became rivals for years. Byrne even tended to small details like keeping Superman’s iconic hair jet black, but changed Lois’s hair to a more natural looking brown, which brings us to…
The Aspects of Superman’s World
Gone were the many colors of Kryptonite, from now on there was only one Kryptonite, green, keep it pure and simple. Speaking of which when Kal-El was a baby on his native world of Krypton his parents sent him to Earth alone because the process that would destroy the planet had already begun turning the planet core to Kryptonite and every Kryptonian was going to die from Kryptonite poisoning, everyone that is except for the unborn babies in the protective artificial wombs! Since Jor-El and Lara sent baby Kal-El to Earth before the womb had opened and since he had been birthed only after the Kents had found him, Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, was now truly an American, born in Kansas, on American soil. As the quintessential American hero this suited the character well. Speaking of which Byrne also developed the backstory of the worlds of Krypton, Smallville and Metropolis telling us about the civil wars on Krypton, Martha Kent’s first husband, how young Lex Luthor was once Daily Planet editor in chief Perry White’s childhood friend and biological father of White’s son!
Dan Jurgens and the Death of Superman
Byrne has set the ground rules for Superman, rules that made sense and allowed subsequent writers to structure their stories and make the characters grow and feel like real people. In 1987 a talented young writer and artist by the name of Dan Jurgens joined the Superman creative team, Byrne eventually left the Superman books after a few years and as time went Jurgens was given more and more Superman stories to work on. Jurgens and Byrne were cut from the same cloth, they each wrote their own stories and drew their own layouts. Eventually Jurgens and the Superman creative team came up with an idea, why not kill off the man of steel? A story featuring the death of Superman had been done before but Superman came back to life by the story’s conclusion. The idea with this new story would be that Superman would be killed off and the world of the DC Universe would react to his death the way the real world would to the death of the most important person alive, life would go on and eventually Superman would be returned to life.
Jurgens and his colleagues created the character Doomsday, an angry super strong monster intent on destroying everything in its path. Doomsday was intentionally created without a backstory or any motivation other than to destroy hence making him an allegory for a random force of nature. The Death of Superman storyline was followed by Funeral for a Friend a story showing the Justice League and many others coming to terms with Superman’s death each in their own way. The Reign of the Supermen storyline followed (taking its title from Reign of the Superman the title of the first Superman story) which introduced several would be Supermen, Steel a man in a suit of Ironman-like armor, Eradicator an artificial life form, Cyborg Superman who looked like a cross between Superman and the Terminator and Superboy a young clone of Superman but with none of Clark Kent’s memories or personality. Cyborg ended up becoming a worthy Superman villain and Steel and Superboy became new members of the supporting cast. The story was followed by The Return of Superman which showed Superman’s dead but still invulnerable body being revived (as can only happen in the world of comics)!
The Death and Return of Superman had a strange effect, not only was the story meant to show how the death of the original superhero affected his supporting cast and hopefully provoke an emotional reaction and an increase in sales, the story somehow became a media phenomenon, it seemed for a while in the ‘90s people couldn’t pick up a newspaper or switch on the TV without hearing someone mentioning something about how the world was different now that Superman was gone. On a certain level in people’s minds, Superman was a real celebrity who had died or that Superman was an important aspect of our culture we were now forced to make do without, it was as though the stars were in alignment. Some people decided to try to be “smart” by pointing out how DC had always planned to bring the character back from the dead and there was one idiot who (over a decade later) made a youtube video about how The Death of Superman was the worst Superman story, but just because people complain about something, that doesn’t make it true. The cultural impact of this story and the fact that it reminded the world how much they loved Superman can be seen and felt to this day, for instance every time a new Superman film is put into production a popular potential plotline that’s discussed is The Death and Return of Superman. This story is to Superman what the story of the archery competition is to Robin Hood, it’s not the story the character is known for, but it’s a favorite story that gets retold again and again.
The Wedding Album and Kingdom Come
Jurgens and coworkers once said in an interview that they had originally planned to have Clark Kent propose to Lois Lane and for her to turn him down but the characters took on a life of their own and it just seemed like she would say yes. It’s been said that the illusion of a story writing itself is actually the result of hard work of character and plot development. Byrne, Jurgens and the other talented writers and artists had moved Superman away from the caricature-like cartoon characters they started out as and into the world of high drama and hence it seemed appropriate that this half century courtship should result in a wedding. Superman: The Wedding Album was released to great anticipation and success in 1996 and once again the stars were aligned as, at more or less the same time, TV’s Lois and Clark played by Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher also tied the knot on their show. The comic book wedding of Superman became a footnote for the TV show wedding, with people noting that “they also got married in the comic,” but the point is the world rejoiced as Superman and Lois had their happily ever after.
Also in 1996 Mark Waid and Alex Ross created one of the landmark stories in comics; Kingdome Come. Taking place around ten to twenty years in the future of the canonical Superman stories, Kingdom Come showed us what the world would be like if Superman, demoralized by the death of his wife, quit while the rest of the world went on without him. Batman and Lex Luthor surprisingly joined forces creating the Mankind Liberation Front, an organization that deemed the Earth fit only for humans, Wonder Woman led a new more ruthless Justice League against them and the US Government decided to do away with all superhumans leaving a now fifty year old Superman to single handedly break up a three way fight. The story showed us Superman at his finest, the good guy who always does the right thing and a man who understands what principles are and will not abandon them. An interesting side note is that we see statues of Jor-El and Lara in the Fortress of Solitude looking like the John Byrnes designs so it’s safe to assume this story happens in the future of his Superman: The Man of Steel timeline.
Although these stories were never officially the end of Superman they serve as a bookend to John Byrne’s Superman: The Man of Steel as it was all downhill from here on out!
The Return to Krypton, Birthright, All Star Superman and the New 52
In 2000 DC’s new Superman writers Joe Kelly and Joe Casey created the Return to Krypton storyline which showed Superman discovering that most of what he knew about Krypton, or more accurately what John Byrne had set down as canon, was a lie. In fact this story was so bad, it reintroduced Krypto the Super-Dog! This was the beginning of a slippery slope. Kelly and Casey reintroduced the idea of the lonely alien Superman and DC’s editors and corporate directors allowed them to do so!
Oddly enough the man responsible for one of the best Superman stories, Mark Waid, authored 2003’s Superman: Birthright which retold the Superman origin, except now the comics were trying to emulate the Smallville TV show meaning that Lex Luthor was much younger and had been Clark Kent’s childhood friend. Also the part of the story where Clark Kent was forced to use his powers in public making his natural face his “Superman face” and necessitating that he somehow mask his “Clark Kent” face using the glasses was dropped, in the story now, Superman had gone back to being a character to whom it never occurred to wear a mask!
The message was loud and clear. DC did not care about their continuity and absolutely didn’t care about the rules as set down by John Byrne, in one story the Flash even admitted that he always felt that Superman let him win their races, so we were basically back to square one with no discernable power levels! But it got worse! Something evil was on the horizon, someone who was out to destroy the man of steel, a bald headed evil mastermind… no not Lex Luthor, someone much worse… Scottish comicbook writer Grant Morrison.
Remember all those idiotic ideas that the DC and Byrne had successfully removed from the comic books? Well Morrison seemed to think that just because he had been fond of these elements when he was a kid that they belonged in modern Superman. Yes… the super heavy key to the Fortress of Solitude was now back, except now it was the size of a regular key and was made out of dense star matter… and yes, he kept it in front of the house… yes you guessed it, under a doormat! Now as if this wasn’t bad enough DC decided to relaunch their entire product line again, as it turns out DC had decided that computers weren’t going anywhere anytime soon and that the digital copies of comics may just outlive the paper versions and be a whole lot less easy to loose or be destroyed! Hence DC relaunched their entire comicbook line with 52 new first issues, the New 52 DC Universe. Just as with Crisis on Infinite Earths was an end to the previous DC continuity and a starting point for the new one DC’s Flashpoint marked the beginning of the New 52 DC Universe and just as DC had put some time and effort into planning the post-crisis universe they decided that the New 52 would also benefit from order… except they asked Grant Morrison to structure it for them! Morrison reintroduced many elements from the Golden Age of Superman, in his first couple of years on the job he couldn’t fly and fought social injustice of the ‘30s like slumlords (read the new Action Comics, it’s all there)! Morrison must have been feeling Frank Miller envy because he decided that Superman should have a “Year One” style costume, which looks much worse than most cosplay fan made costumes (I’m not making this up)!
Superman acquired a suit of battle armor (because that’s exactly what an indestructible man needs) which featured a collar and longer sleeves and in its dormant form looked like only Superman’s S-shield design stuck on Clark’s chest but which expanded to a full costume, oh and the Kents went back to being dead too, just because Morrison could do that, so effectively all the good ideas of John Byrne were flushed down the toilet! The Batman costume as seen in the recent live action films was presented as military grade battle armor which made sense, the Green Lantern costume in the recent film looked like a solid light construct which made sense, the Superman costume as it has appeared so far in every live action film and TV show has always looked like it was made by some old lady on her sewing machine, which made sense. The new Superman costume just doesn’t make sense, not even from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t help him absorb sunlight, it doesn’t regulate his alien biorhythmic functions, it just looks tough which makes Superman himself look weak (when I was fourteen I designed battle armor for Superman which looks like the costume he wears now and I discarded it because I realized how stupid it was)!
What Was Old is New Again…
In the 1960’s, following the Adam West Batman TV show, DC allowed the creators of the day, most notably Denis O’Neal to rethink Batman. They changed the character around so that Bruce Wayne was the disguise and Batman was his true personality and all Batman creators since then have understood this rule and stuck to it, the first people to break this rule in a long time were Joel Schumacher and George Clooney who wanted a happier, more optimistic Batman who would get over his parents’ death. The fan backlash against Schumacher was severe. But Superman hasn’t been so lucky, directors like Bryan Singer have seen Superman as the character and Clark Kent as the disguise and at the time that Tim Burton and JJ Abrams were working on proposed Superman projects their respective plans were to have Superman help people out of a desire to be loved and for Superman to be a Kryptonian prince who returns to his world which had not been destroyed. Superman, like art or life in general will go through ups and downs good years and bad years. At the moment I believe we’ve gone through a bad few years from 1996 to 2011 and now with the New 52 we may be even worse off or we may be on the road to recovery it’s too soon to tell what will come of the New 52.
But come what may, good writers and bad, movies and their ridiculous sequels, DC rebooting their entire continuity again, misinterpretations of the character in cartoons and videogames, it doesn’t matter, those stories from 1986 to 1996 are a part of the world that can never be taken away like the original Sherlock Holmes novels and the original Star Trek TV show and the original Star Wars Tri… the original Sherlock Holmes novels. Superman is an imaginary character who only truly exists in our collective imaginations, so he’s whatever we choose to think of him as, I think of him as he was from 1986 to 1996, his real golden age.
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