Saturday, January 21, 2006

Friday with the World's Finest

Late again. I should have said the column day would be Saturday, I suppose, but then events would no doubt conspire to move it to Sunday. Oh well. At least I'm keeping to within twenty hours or so of my commitment.

I got a bunch of old stuff in the mail and then I went to the comics shop and cleaned out the accumulated pull-list items, so I've been reading all kinds of things lately. And yes, one of then was All-Star Superman, and yes, I enjoyed it, though there were things that bothered me. Didn't enjoy it as much as Brian, didn't dislike it as much as the other Greg.

What did strike me about it, though, probably wouldn't have been as obvious had I not gotten Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 1 in the mail a few days before. I have been spending a lot of my week reading this book, and, you know, not only is Silver-Age Superman a big jerk, always punking his friends to "teach them a lesson" (Oh yeah, like you don't ENJOY screwing with Lois and Jimmy's heads, Super-jerk. I see you floating up there saying "Ha! Ha!" after your latest super-prank while down on the ground your weeping and horrified friends are thinking "(Choke!) Oh no!") but it appears that All-Star Superman is a big jerk too. At least, that's Lois' first thought when Superman finally levels with her. He's getting a big super-mean payback. Where's Perry and Jimmy ready to pop out and laugh at me?

Ha! Ha! I am laughing at you.

Am I the only one this sort of thing bothers? I imagine I probably am. That happens fairly often. But a return to mean-spirited Silver Age Superman would bother me, a lot. I don't want a Superman that everybody admires and genuflects to because it's assumed he's "noble and good," I want a Superman that actually is noble and good. The big guy's mean streak was always a flaw in the original silver-age Superman stories and I think a large part of it was because editor Mort Weisinger, who was not a nice man at all, had a very large mean streak himself. He didn't see anything wrong with screwing with your friend's heads. He did it to his employees all the time. Of all the traditional Superman story riffs to honor and pay tribute to, super-meanness shouldn't be one of them. We already have, that should be enough.

The reason this annoys me so is because I've been living with the fallout of Frank Miller's mean-and-creepy Batman for some twenty years now, and, you know, enough's enough. When I finally got around to reading Identity Crisis -- I wasn't going to support it with my money, but a chance showed up to pick it up used, cheap, and I was curious -- you know, there were just as many flaws and annoying things about the story as everyone said, but I didn't hate it as much as I'd expected to. Because amid all the plot holes and JLA members acting like selfish jackasses and lying to each other and so on and so forth, you know who showed up, out of nowhere?

MY Batman.

I loved that. I forgave Brad Meltzer quite a bit for doing that (though not everything.) Because I hardly ever get to see my Batman any more. I think the last time he showed up on a regular basis was when Mark Waid was writing JLA. Certainly you never see him in any of the actual regular Bat-books.

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To elaborate: My Batman is the guy that showed up out of nowhere in the comics just as we were all realizing that Adam West was really just pulling our collective leg, back in 1969 or so. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams get most of the credit for him, though Frank Robbins and Irv Novick and Dick Giordano were in there too. He started his run in the Bat-titles in 1969, peaked somewhere in the mid-seventies -- some say Archie Goodwin's editorial run on Detective, especially "Night of the Stalker," some say Englehart/Rogers (me, it depends what day you ask me which one I choose; after all, Englehart wrote them both so I think of them as the same) and hung in there all the way through Moench/Colan/Newton, at which point came the original Crisis and Frank Miller and Dark Knight and my guy got buried under a tidal wave of grim 'n' gritty.

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My Batman is a guy who's driven not by revenge -- this is the mistake so many writers make and it really, really bugs me -- but by compassion. Batman exists because Bruce Wayne swore that what happened to him will never happen to anyone else if he can be there to stop it. Period. He is trying to PREVENT grief, not CAUSE it. Everything, the physical training, the accumulation of knowledge, the Bat-accessories, they are all means to that end.

Yes, in order to achieve that end, he'll fight dirty. He'll scare the shit out of crooks and let them think he's a psycho or a demon. But he's not a thug; this is a Batman capable of friendship and even humor, he'll share a quiet laugh with Robin or Alfred once in a while, or even Commissioner Gordon. And, more importantly, he won't manipulate or alienate his close friends, and he'll sacrifice it all in a second to save an innocent life.

That's the Batman I was amazed and delighted to see in Identity Crisis, even if it was hardly more than a walk-on; and that's the guy I miss seeing in the regular books, because God knows he hasn't been THERE in, well, years. Considering the sales on the crappy, thug-pleasing All-Star Batman and Robin, as opposed to, say, Dark Detective, which apparently almost nobody liked but me, I am resigned to not seeing him for quite a while longer. I can console myself with the Dini/Timm animated series and Batman Begins, my guy is easily found there; but it really bothers me that he's almost never in the comics any more.

It seems a shame that the two most famous heroes in comics, the World's Finest, sell better than they have in the last two decades when they are shown as complete pricks. That seems wrong to me. Especially when it's being marketed as the back-to-basics, return-to-greatness that the All-Star line is purported to be. You know what would be back to basics? Having Superman and Batman act like they're really the good guys. That would please me. I have an ugly hunch those days are gone, but I'd love to be proved wrong.

See you next week. Hopefully really on Friday.

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Anonymous Nobody said...

I disagree with you about All Star Supes #2 because Superman was NOT pulling Lois' leg. Though it was perhaps GM's nod to the Silver Age that she suspected a practical joke, isn't it shown by the end of the issue that her paranoia was an irrational fear?

Though Batman is prickish in his All Star title, I'd say Superman is definitely not in his. It's the best Superman since For All Seasons.

1/21/2006 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Walaka said...


I haven't read A-S Superman, so I can only nod in general about Silver Age super-pranks, but I am in complete agreement with your assessment of Batman's character. O'Neil had a much better grasp on this than Miller ever hoped to, it seems to me. If I thought"your guy" (who is also "my guy") was still around, I might even buy a Batman comic...

1/21/2006 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Tilt Araiza said...

I hear you about Batman, but you know, he didn't vanish completely post-Crisis. I've just been re-reading Alan Grant's run on Detective Comics and whatever issues of Shadow Of The Bat I can find and, hoo-boy, there's a Batman a guy can believe in. A Batman who can scare a hood senseless one minute and let his heart bleed the next. A Batman who, when dealing with a small child who tells him he looks scary, says "That's only to make bad people afraid".

1/21/2006 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Jer said...

walaka -

Unfortunately, O'Neil forgot his grasp on Batman when he became editor of the Bat-books. He was the editor of the books through the time that Batman became a grade-A jerk.

And I agree wholeheartedly with you Greg - I miss the Batman who fought crime because it was the right thing to do. We've had this boring child-Batman running around the DC Universe now for over a decade and I'm tired of him. I'm ready for Batman to be a hero again, and not the spoiled brat that he's turned into.

1/21/2006 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Harpo said...

I have to agree with Nobody - I think one of the underlying points of the story was that he ISN'T Super50sPranksterMan. Maybe your perception was slightly colored because you had just read the Showcase stories.

1/21/2006 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

I have to agree with Nobody - I think one of the underlying points of the story was that he ISN'T Super50sPranksterMan. Maybe your perception was slightly colored because you had just read the Showcase stories.

Maybe. It's only two issues in. But it sure looks to me like this is the story where Superman finally decides to STOP being a jerk to Lois because HE'S DYING. It was her reminiscing about all the other times that kind of did me in.

Now, I'm fairly certain that I'm one of maybe three comics bloggers on the internet that feels this way. And I don't actually HATE the book, I certainly prefer it to the regular Superman books, but I just don't think it's all that.

Really though, you go from the Showcase collection to All-star Supes and the way it reads... it's almost like they had a checklist of riffs they wanted to do in this story. Which is fine by me, because those ideas were all good. Except Super-mean-spiritedness. That was something I'd have preferred to see left in the Silver Age. Yes, I understand that Superman's not displaying it in the current arc, but it sure reads to me like there's been a long history of it and I'm not seeing a lot of regret or anything either.

It's a pretty common thing in romantic-comedy stories, so it's not like I'm singling Morrison out or anything. But it's something that has always bugged me, the idea that the hero loves the girl but has to deceive her and treat her like crap and so on and so on, it can't be helped, and then she finds out and it's all okay. I think maybe I'd have liked it better if Lois shot him just because she was so pissed off.

I dunno. Probably reading too much into it. I hope so. I want a Superman who's a good guy REALLY, not just because everyone in the story keeps saying he is. There's something vaguely show-offy about this version of Superman and it is bothering me. The Silver-Age history of Superman jerking the Planet staff around being incorporated into it bothers me more. That's all I'm saying.

1/21/2006 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

It's pretty sad that O'Neil is the one responsible for the Batman you like, but he's also the one who later on, as editor in the 90s, so completely gave in to Frank Miller's vision that he abandoned his previous work on Batman in order to reinforce Miller's vision.

As far as Meltzer's Identity Crisis, I don't think it was a return to your Batman. He was still a dick there too, he just didn't have time to act like one because everyone else was hogging the spotlight acting like bigger dicks.

As far as Superman acting like a dick in the 60s, it doesn't bother me that much because Lois Lane is an uberbitch herself. I mean really, she just spends her time mooning over the all-so-perfect Superman while simultaneously emasculating and belittling Clark Kent. And she's always trying to trick Superman into marrying her or revealing his secrets. She's no angel herself. Poor Jimmy, however...

1/22/2006 02:12:00 AM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

I think it was the Absorbascon that said that the 60s Superman stories were based on how a child percieves adult relationships.

1/22/2006 02:50:00 AM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

I think it was the Absorbascon that said that the 60s Superman stories were based on how a child percieves adult relationships.

Oh, absolutely. I'd go a little further than that and say that in the late 50's-early 60's Superman stories everyone IS a child, except maybe Perry. Weisinger would actually go and poll the kids in his neighborhood and ask them flat-out what they wanted to read about. That was the target demographic. So you got the whole secret tree fort vibe of the Fortress, you got Kandor as the ultimate ant farm, etc., etc. I think that's what they were going for in All-Star Superman, that same wouldn't-this-be-a-cool-place-to-hang-out-with-no-parents-to-bug-you vibe the Fortress had in the old days. But the trap in trying to re-create that is that it seems a little weird and creepy when you layer modern sensibilities over it. It's the kiddie-sensibility Superman but it doesn't feel like it's for kids, there's some mixed-signal clash going on in All-star Superman that I can't quite put my finger on. I know I sound vague but really that's my problem with the book. There's something in it that feels... smug, show-offy. I can't decide if it's coming from the writing or the characters themselves.

I applaud the idea, honest. I just have issues with the execution. My idea of paying tribute to the Silver Age and adding modern sensibility is Elliot Maggin's Superman novels. That's a textbook example of how to do it right. His depiction of the Fortress was just as cool as Morrison's, and his Superman and Lois on a date was a hell of a lot better.

...normally, I don't comment this much. I keep thinking of things I wanted to put in the actual piece and forgot.

1/22/2006 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

A pal mentioned to me that he felt that All-Star Superman #2 was like watching a couple you know have an argument in front of you.

I thought that that was a pretty good assessment.

1/22/2006 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Nobody said...

GregH: I understand that Superman's not displaying it in the current arc, but it sure reads to me like there's been a long history of it and I'm not seeing a lot of regret or anything either.

I guess I see your point now. It's been a few days since I flipped through it in the shop (I'm waiting for the trade... or HC) but I just remembered that Lois does say she expects Jimmy or Perry to jump out and say it's a just practical joke... which does imply a history of Super-pranks.

Since it is an "All Star" series, I think Morrison is trying to unite all of the various interpretations of the character into a single story (a bit Golden Age, a bit Silver, a bit Modern).

Like the Batman Animated episode ("Legends of the Dark Knight"?) that shows a Sprang interpretation and a Miller interpretation, before showing the real Batman who admittedly exhibits a bit of each version, only less exaggerated. I think that ideal fusion was the orginal intended goal of the All Star line, and Morrison is actually following it (unlike Miller).

1/22/2006 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"I know I sound vague but really that's my problem with the book. There's something in it that feels... smug, show-offy."

That's my problem with Morrison in general lately. When I was the kind of reader that needed my self-perceived intellectual superiority reaffirmed, I loved every pretentious thing Morrison wrote. Now as I get older and start to realize that I'm just as much a dumb fuck as everyone else, just with a slightly better vocabulary, I find the show-offy writing just tiresome.

1/22/2006 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

I find the whole Dark Knight/Wolverine brutal trend in comics to be incredibly dull. Comics are like soap operas, I accept that as part of the package, but for the last fifteen years it is like all the comics have have had wife beaters as the the heroes. I have missed much of the run, but I am thankful when I check a Spiderman comic that they have never turned Peter Parker into the Dark Spider Knight. Batman used to be a hero, now he reads like a thug who happens to be on our side.

1/23/2006 03:11:00 AM  
Blogger Derek Quenneville said...

Thoughts on All-Star Superman #2:

I read an interview with Grant Morrison on his inspiration for the All-Star Superman series.. His idea was that Superman's strength and invulnerability would lead to a sort of relaxed state of being. Basically that Superman can't help but be confident and assured in everything he does. (Hence the "chilling on a cloud" cover to #1.)

But now, facing death, he's starting to have anxiety in his life. Consider how Lois has trouble believing that Superman is Clark Kent: Superman is affected enough that he nervously goes to his mirror of truth and puts on his glasses. What he finds is that he doesn't believe in Clark either and it disturbs him.

I get the imppression that this Superman has never had a real relationship with anyone because he's never needed anyone before. Could it be that the main thrust of the series is to teach humility to Superman?

1/23/2006 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Craig said...

"I am thankful when I check a Spider-Man comic that they have never turned Peter Parker into the Dark Spider Knight"

I cannot bring myself to break this man's heart the same way that mine has been broken by so many bad Spider-Man comics.


1/23/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

On the subject of Batman:

One of my first superhero comics was an issue of Batman, I don't recall the number offhand, but it had a beautiful Todd McFarlane cover. The story inside, by Jim Starlin and Dave Cockrum, was about three cops meeting at a diner at 4 AM and each relating a story about meeting with the Batman during their shift.

Cop 1 tells about how Batman stopped a junkie from taking a dive off of a bridge. His Batman is helpful, but no-nonsense.

Cop 2 tells about how Batman stopped a robbery-turned-hostage-situation at an all-night convenience store. His Batman was completely hardcore, going so far as to threaten a punk holding a gun on an old lady (who looked more than a little like Peter Parker's Aunt May) with excruciating torture if he pulled the trigger.

Cop 3 tells how Batman helped him corner some street kids and learned that they were orphans who were living on the streets because the alternative was to be sent to separate homes by Social Services. This Batman was kind, compassionate, going so far as to shed a tear before he tells the kids that he can arrange for them to stay with his friend Bruce Wayne until he can track down their nearest relative, an Aunt Susan.

We end in the diner with Cop 2 expressing total disbelief of Cop 3's story. "The Batman, crying? As if."

And then we switch to Wayne Manor, where it's revealed that Bruce has been compulsively checking on the children every hour. Quips Alfred: "Might our Dark Knight be developing a heart underneath that ghoulish symbol?"

"Maybe just a little."

My point: For far too long, Cop 2's version of Batman has been the dominant one.

1/23/2006 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Omar Karindu said...

There is sort of a creepy vibe to All-Star Superman #2, though I think it's subtly different than the vibe Greg is getting.

It's not so much Superman the jerk or child as it is a Superman who's more disconnected from humanity than ever: not only does he believe he's dying, but he's also developed an even further altered consciousness in which he can't see Clark anymore.

And his solution? Not to try and get back in touch with his roots, but to change Lois so that someone will understand him. Look at the story -- Lois is increasingly paranoid, and, fromt he reader's perspective, with good reason; but ha ha! It's just a paranoia-inducing chemical she was accidentally exposed to.

Likewise, Lois spends the story physically overwhelmed by the fortress -- the key is an emblem of this, a normal object that Lois, the normal woman, suddenly can't use. And at the end -- ha! ha! again, because Lois just needs to be an entirely different form of life.

But what redeems the story for me is that it's about this ever-more-alien Superman trying, clumsily, wrongly, maybe even creepily in its way, to forge that connection. It's just that he's doing it the only way he knows how -- with power, with his pure, irresistible power to accomplish any physical feat he likes.

And so, in its own way, we get a Superman who -- ha! ha! doesn't know how to be a plain old man. A Superman who rattles around his fortress with nothing but clunky robots and a harsh mirror to talk to, whose best approximation of a human being is a clumsy oaf, and whom one could believe is not so much mean as simply clueless enough to launch a physically harmless but potentially traumatic "prank" when he wants to get a point across.

I think this will wind up being Superman's confrontation with humility, as someone else suggested. But I suspect that what seems like his arrogance is precisely the casual ease with power he quite naturally feels, to the point that the one thing he's got no idea about is what it is to be overwhelmed.

1/26/2006 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous carla said...

Dude. I want more of Your Batman. I think Infinite Crisis found him a couple times with his conversation with Earth-2 Superman asking about how Dick Grayson turned out and with his little parting shot to his ward-turned son. I hope we see him again.

And while I may not agree with the idea of All-Star Superman being a 'jerk', for me it's that he just seems so... out of place. Unhappy. Ill at ease. One of the things Morrison mentioned in one interview or another was that his idea for the Man of Steel was that he didn't need to worry or have the conventional fears and anxieties that normal people do. But yet, I'm still not rubbed right by the guy.

Eh. Go fig.

1/27/2006 02:11:00 AM  
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