Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fan Ramblings – Superman gets “Grounded”

No, Ma Kent didn’t tell him to go to him room. But DC comics is beginning a year long story line in which the man from Krypton will be voluntarily pinned down to Earth and walking across America to reconnect with the people he’s been away from. And I have some reservations… I’m not going to bash a book that hasn’t even come out yet, but I am going to give my opinions and impressions of the idea. I don’t even want to discourage others from giving it a shot. I’m simply going to explain why I’m not too keen on the idea and therefore won’t be buying it.

A little catch up for anyone who hasn’t been following lately. Over a year ago now Superman fought Brainiac and managed to unbottle the city of Kandor. Brainiac’s obsessed with learning and possessing all knowledge so he would fly around from planet to planet and steal a cultural center of each world to study, shrink and put it in a bottle. Then, so that no new knowledge is created from that world, he implants something in the planet’s core that makes it explode after he leaves. In current continuity, this is how Krypton was destroyed.

So Superman managed to get Kandor back and make it regular sized again and we had 100,000 Kryptonians wandering around on Earth and then later on the new planet of New Krypton on the other side of our sun. Superman saw this as a chance to reconnect with his birth heritage and really get to know where he came from. So he spent a year not on Earth dealing with the various issues that surrounded New Krypton including the death of his uncle and the fact that the Kandorians got Zod out of the Phantom Zone and made him the leader of their military. During this time Superman did not appear in the “Superman” comic book or in “Action Comics” where he got his start. He was in the “World of New Krypton” miniseries while the other Superman books focused on Superman’s more extended cast and how they were dealing in Metropolis without him. But because this is comics and Status Quo is God New Krypton was destroyed and Superman is back on Earth.

J. Michael Straczynski is taking over the Superman ongoing comic now and his first arc will apparently be a 13 issue run with Superman walking across the country. And I’m honestly not impressed with the idea. It’s really risky to say the least. Fans have been complaining for months now about wanting Superman back in his own book, so this should make them happy I guess, but it also takes away a lot of Superman’s supporting elements. Like his wife. Who he has already been separated from for a good long while. You would think he would need to reconnect with her. And here we have another year long story arc that could strongly polarize fan reaction.

One of the themes behind this whole story arc is apparently to get the country talking about Superman again. It’s an ambitious goal. One of the ways DC is trying to accomplish this is by having a contest in which people can write in to petition to have their own hometown be one of the places Superman visits. At first I thought this was a great idea. I started to get excited about it. I thought, hey, it would be really cool to get Superman to College Station, Texas! I bet I could write up all my college friends and together we could flood the contest with a bunch of entries supporting College Station. Even if people don’t particularly like Superman the chance to have your university featured in a comic book would be pretty cool. For a brief moment DC’s plan seemed to work. I was ready to spread the word about Superman to friends who didn’t even read comics and to try to get them as excited about the idea as I was.

And then I kept reading. Turns out, this contest is only open to people who live within 50 miles of nine predetermined major cities. None of them near Texas or anywhere in the south at all. My excitement immediately faded. I felt cheated. I understand that the route is more or less set so that the book can come out on time. One Nebraska town is about the same as another Nebraska town I suppose (at least those within 50 miles of Omaha), so there will only need to be minor rewrites to the script in order to make the winner’s town fit. But it took an idea that I saw as grand in scale and as really having the potential to get the whole country talking down to a very small scale gimmick.

Now if I lived within 50 miles of one of those cities I would probably still be very excited. But again, knowing that a lot of it is probably preconceived and pre written there is a chance that your wonderful little town is going to be in an issue all about teenage prostitution or drug dealing or how depressed everyone is because the economy sucks. Are these issues really going to show what makes these towns great, or are they simply going to be fill-in-the-blanks on the setting and maybe reference photos for the artist? Will these cities be prominently featured in the issue at all? Or will Superman just pass a “Now leaving Your Town” sign, making it merely an Easter Egg? Or will it be background while he walks along talking to someone about something? Will he even bother to stop in these towns?

There are a lot of questions we can’t know the answers to, but I certainly feel that the scope of this project isn’t as grand as they are making it out to be. On top of that, the deadline for submissions is July 12, just under 2 weeks away. The essays are short (750-1,000 words, this rambling blog entry is already that long) but I’m not sure if that’s really enough time to “get people talking” about it. And if the writing quality of the entries matches the writing quality on most comic book message boards (the audience I assume will be most aware of this contest and likely to enter) DC is going to be shifting through a lot of garbage to get to the well articulated essays. I could be completely wrong about this, but I’m just not sure that the response to this will be what they are expecting/hoping for.

On a final note, I don’t read superhero comics to be reminded of the things that suck in my life. I don’t really want to read about Superman seeing the parts of the US that suck and the things that not even the mighty Superman can fix. I don’t want to be reminded about the poor economy when I pick up most comic books. I don’t need my flying man to be in a more realistic world. I also feel this could date the comic. Will it still be accessible or meaningful in five years? Ten years? Anyway, I will have to judge the success of this book based on reviews of people who actually read it, because I will not be. I do admire the balls it took to green light this project and hope that it doesn’t blow up in anyone’s face.

And why can’t I shake the Forest Gump vibe this thing sends me?

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