Superman & Me

BW media is doing a “superman” week leading up to Man of Steel and I thought that was a great idea to steal theme to also embrace.  First up, my own testimonial to the Last Son of Krypton. (later, ruminations on his history and character)  But I don’t mean to just rant about myself here.  By all means, stop by and share your own stories of how a character that doesn’t exist, impacted your life anyway.

It’s probably a result of the timing of my birth that I became such a nerd of DC.  After all, Batman came out when I was 8 years old.  Then B:tAS came out right as I was hitting late grade and middle school.  The only Batman movie I haven’t seen in theaters since then was Batman & Robin and I think only then because it was gone before I could go.  Yes I even went to Mask of the Phantasm and Batman: Forever (of which my dad and I were the only two in there).

But before all that, was Superman.

After all, Supes 1 & 2 had come out in the 70s and, with VCRs hitting the mass market, they were out on VHS right as I hit the age to pester my parents to watch something for the twentieth time.  My grandparents had a pan & scan cut of Superman 1 that I would watch just about every time I stayed with them.  Even now I could probably recite large tracks of that movie from memory (except for the Lois “song” bit which I always zoned out or fast forwarded through).  Superman 2 my house had thanks to recording it at a time when it had aired on TV.  Yes, I spent the first half of my life watching a Supes2 edited for television.  And you know what?  It was still AWESOME!  (I still get a little chill when I hear, “General!  Would you care to step outside?”)

I was such a fan that I watched Superman 3 & 4 too.  (3, also taped from TV)  Say what you will about Supes3, but the scene of him and Clark Kent fighting is comic perfection.  It’s hard for movies today to evoke the pure joy of good triumphing when you see Clark burst out of the trash compactor, choke a bitch, and then reveal his insignia.  It’s still one of my favorite metaphors for the crucifixion.  Of course, I thought a lot of my confusion about things in the movie was related to me being too young to grasp them.  Imagine my surprise when years later, I realized that no, the movie just didn’t make that much sense in some places.

But it wasn’t just the movies.  Besides watching some VHS, when I’d stay with my grandparents, Granny would often take me down to the bookstore (she was an avid reader and passed that on to me – thanks, Granny).  Of course I hit the sci-fi and fantasy section hard but in the small (well, it was smaller back then) town there weren’t a whole lot to pick from.  There was one comic related thing though: A hard cover book collecting some of the earliest Superman stories in black and white.

It had to be one of the first tradepaper backs ever made and if the NSA were to go look for the old library card it had, I’d bet my name would be one of the more common ones listed.  I checked it out a dozen times.  Some of the stories that still stick in my mind (note, I’m not going to source these, I leave that as a fun exercise for the reader):

  • First time Supes met Lori Lemaris.
  • First time Supes met Mr Mxyztplk.  No that is not a typo.  THAT’S how far back the stories went.  They STILL had the original spelling of the imp’s name.  And I know what they say about aging fanboyz but if you ask me, the imp should ALWAYS have a bowler hat and suit.  Maybe it’s me, but I find craziness and silliness has a bit more impact when it’s dashed with a bit of debonair.
  • Lex Luthor and Superman having a boxing match on a world orbiting a red sun.  Oh this planet has aliens you know.  Aliens who then take Superman and Luthor and LOCK THEM IN SEPARATE ROOMS COMPLETE WITH BUILDING TOOLS AND JUNK!  Yes, long before grudge match, aliens were already pitting MacGyver against the A-team.  Did I mention both Lex & Supes build tornado machines?  And that in the end, the planet believes Lex to be their greatest superhero?  Yep, even back then comics were showing that some villains had a softer side.
  • Superman fights Mr Please.  I don’t remember if that was his name but I’m calling him that.  See, this one guy got this power where he could make anything happened if he shouted the word “Please” in a very particular way.  So he went from bum to a bit power mad.  How did Superman beat him?  Why he slapped a spring-loaded muzzle on the guy then used “super-hypnotism” to make the guy never say please again.  Why did the guy have this power?  Oh see, a long time ago, Jonathan Kent helped out a pair of aliens (apparently intergalactic AAA has given high ratings to the Kent household).  They granted him one favor.  Years later, after he was dead, Jonathan was brought back to life for a period of time to see how his son had grown up.  Mr Please had been nearby when Jonathan returned to life and some magic space rays gave him phenomenal polite powers.  You know what?  “Pa” Kent just wanting to see how his son turned out (and subsequently proud of how he did) STILL makes me shed a manly tear.

What’s even funnier?  Almost every one of those above stories were in only 1 issue.  MAYBE 2 but mostly 1.

This is what bothers me about a lot of modern comics “bringing back” the silver age.  They’re making it “dark” and “gritty” when that’s the very antithesis of the silver age.  You don’t necessarily have to make the modern crop of comics silly, but just look at the above examples.  You could take just ONE of the ideas above and stretch it out into a multi issue run.  Take the themes of parental worry about the future.  Yes the Kents are alive (or are they dead at the time you’re reading this?) but what about his birth parents?  What if Jor-El got some weird aliens to allow him to spend a day or week with a grown up Kal-El?  What about a world where Luthor is seen as the hero and Superman the villain?  And I don’t mean a parallel universe where Luthor is good and Clark evil, I mean just a place in this universe where the VIEW the interpretation is backwards?  And like I said, that’s just Superman.  Imagine what you could do with all the other heroes?  Stretch yourself, DC.

Still, no matter how things might be today, I remember what it was like, and nobody can take that away from any of us.  From the best to the worst, Superman taught me… taught us all to fly.

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