I recently read The Death and Return of Superman story arc. Yeah, little late to the game on that one, but I'm trying to catch up. And as I expected, it did nothing to change my opinion of Underpants Man. All it did was remind me why I like Batman better. Just reinforced my image of him as a proto-Captain America (who I'm not fond of either)--the ever moral boy scout. And it's about the only one that focuses on Superman--and not even THAT because half the story is about the other Supermen.
Isn't that sad? "Death and Return" is the one story arc that ranks as most memorable solo Superman story. And it's awful. Not only that, but it's the only one any man on the street can remember. X-Men's got "Days of Future Past" and "Age of Apocalypse" and "Dark Phoenix" and "House of M". Spider-Man has the "Clone Saga" and "Blue". Batman's got "Under the Red Hood", "Long Halloween", "Hush". The only time Superman's in anything memorable is a crossover like "Crisis on Infinite Earths".
Anyway, let's get talking. The first issue is our bad guy. The prologue consists of three or four issues about non-important things, and each ends with a fist punching its way through a cage, with the caption "DOOMSDAY IS COMING". This is called hype you haven't earned. Superman has fought all kinds of nasties. What's there to be intimidated by a fist?
All right, so Doomsday breaks out of his box prison, buried somewhere on Earth, and starts destroying anything he sees. He takes out the JLA (conveniently pushing them out the way so we can get the one-on-one), then heads to Metropolis because he saw it on a commercial. Fight, fight, fight, and then they both die.
And if that doesn't reek of publicity stunt then take a whiff of the FOUR OTHER SUPERMAN who come forward to take his place. One is just a rip-off of Iron Man, just with steel. They tried their best to make him different, giving him a "growing up in the ghetto" storyline, but it's too transparent. Superboy is pretty good -- I'd read his comic book. At least he's got a personality: young and brash, powers that don't always work, getting swept up in the fame. Not like the real Superboy comic where aliens keep landing in Smallville and Lana Lang has the power to shapeshift into a bug.
The "Last Son of Krypton" has merits too. He acts robotically, has to wear a visor (which means he has a weakness other than kryptonite), but struggles with acting like a fascist versus doing the good Superman does. He learns that he's making mistakes. He has an arc.
This is the first real solo Superman that I've read for the modern age, and it's bizarre. It's like it never emerged from the timeline of its origins. People still talk like 1920's newsboys. In fact, there's a group of kids that live in a genetic research lab that call themselves "the newsboys" and act like extras from Newsies. No idea what was up with that. And then there's somebody named Bibbo Bibboski, some guy who owns a bar and claims to be Superman's best friend/biggest fan and speaks like Joe Palooka.
That's the other thing, Superman never fights humans. He always fights aliens or mutants or something like that. And that distances him from relatability (moreso), because humans pose no threat to him, like they do to us. It makes the comic science fiction instead of superheroes. Superheroes fight all kinds of baddies, but mostly they fight other humans. Humans who maybe have some innate thing that makes them a match for the hero (like Joker or Green Goblin), but we're talking peers. Nothing peer about Invaders from Mars. It's more like Star Wars.
The marketing gimmick is more transparent than the Phantom Zone flippy-square thing. And I agree with Max Landis when he said it ruined death in comic books. It showed you can get away with killing major characters to sell books, and bring them back with no consequences. Superman defeated death. When death is no longer an issue, it ruins any suspense. It's like Landis said: "Superman is boring. He was just the first."
Labels: DC comics, superheroes, superman