I wrote this blog post awhile ago and posted it on the DC message boards to prove a point and never thought I’d use it again. Lately, however, I’ve been hearing a lot of melodramatic comments coming from Superman fans who are against Grant Morrison’s September reboot in Action Comics. These fans have been bemoaning the loss of some Post-Crisis continuity, and have been claiming that this is regressive storytelling that will wipe out the realistic characterization that’s been built for Superman since Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now, I’m in favor of this reboot and I’m hoping it makes Superman the dynamic and interesting character he should be. Considering that it’s more than a month until the first issue is released, I can’t comment much on what the reboot will be like. I can, however, try and convince you that you’re not losing much with the revision of Post-Crisis Superman. I’m about to show you how he was the least interesting part of his own book.
As I stated in Part 1, John Byrne’s Man of Steel powered Superman down and put more of an emphasis on Clark Kent. Specifically he made Kent the man behind Superman rather than looking at Superman as the dominant personality. But what does Superman really do in the Man of Steel story? Well, he hits the boy scout routine perfectly, he catches Magpie with Batman, he beats some terrorists on Luthor's boat, makes Luthor angry, and beats Bizarro (who explodes and whose ashes magically cure Lucy Lane's blindness- and this is the more "realistic" version of Superman). Oh yeah, and he whines about being an alien A LOT. And this self-loathing over his alien (Superman) half would probably be Clark 's most unique human trait throughout the Byrne years. Honestly, none of the things Superman does in Man of Steel really impressed or interested me. Also, Kent's self hatred over being alien and Superman in these years presents to me a man who wants to conform rather than celebrate the things that make him unique and special. But- this was a version of Superman that obviously some people needed to see and that DC had been building up to without Byrne for a number of years. Man of Steel as a reboot was also generally pretty successful in renewing some interest in the character. But did this interest really last? Keep in mind what I said in Part 1 of the series, that Byrne believed Clark Kent would be the human link that made Superman more “relatable,” so the man that you’re afraid of losing to Grant Morrison’s Action Comics is basically this version of Clark Kent.
Let's take a look at some of the more memorable Superman stories post-Byrne to see if Clark’s relatability lead to their success:
1) Superman exiles himself to space and fights Mongul on Warworld- Superman abandons his Clark identity and has some space missions (a very Silver age concept).
2) Panic in the Sky- Brainiac returns to his Silver Age roots by staging an old fashioned alien invasion with Warworld. Not many moments for Kent and a more traditional use of the Silver Age villain Brainiac.
3) Death of Superman- Where they kill Byrne's Superman off after interest in him completely ran out. The first time Superman caught my attention as a kid and a highlight of the Modern Age. Clark appears only once in the beginning.
4) Reign of the Supermen- A great Superman story where Byrne's Superman is nowhere in sight. Instead we replace him with four more dynamic characters and we even celebrate Silver Age concepts like having a Superboy and a Superman who was completely alien with his eye on the bigger picture (Eradicator).
5) Dominus Saga- Where Superman drops his Clark Kent identity under mind control and takes over the world.
6) Emperor Joker- Where the charm of the story really came from pitting Supes against the most popular DC villain of all-time. Plus, it’s well-established that Jeph Loeb was doing his best to reintegrate Silver Age concepts like a traditional Krypton and Krypto the superdog.
7) Our World's At War- Where Clark shows up only twice (at the very beginning and very end) and Superman is dealing with insanely vague cosmic threats (again Silver and Bronze Age stuff).
What are the biggest storylines for post-Byrne Clark ?
1) Death of Clark Kent- How many people actually remember this story? How many of you care? It also contains some of Clark's worst fashion sense ever (for those of who are going after the new Action Comics costume). Does Conduit really stack up to any of Superman’s classic rogue gallery?
2) Wedding to Lois- And if you tell me this is an exciting story then you're either lying or really into marriage. It’ a nice romance story with some fine characterization for Lois, but it effectively kills the romance angle for many Superman stories that followed. And Kent wears a hernia belt…
3) Power Struggle - Where he lost his powers and was DESPERATELY trying to become Superman again.
All of this says to me that people really didn't care much about John Byrne's Clark post Man of Steel. Even in the most popular post-Byrne Superman story-arcs, Clark is still mostly absent. In fact, they all seem to have Superman dealing with some sort of cosmic threat. And these post-Byrne stories are still only so good. Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen picked up a Comic Buyer's Guide Award Each. Meanwhile, All-Star Superman has won , Eagle, AND Eisner awards while Alan Moore's Supreme picked up some Overstreet awards and an Eisner. Both of those series use an updated version of the Silver Age Superman with no thought to any kind of Byrne-esque relatability and they produced two of the most critically acclaimed modern Superman stories. All-Star Superman has generated more interest in the character outside of long-time Superman fans than any post-Byrne continuity story.
And yet, people still cling to this post-Byrne continuity. So what if Man of Steel isn't cannon anymore? A lot of what the Man of Steel wrought is still present in Superman today. His marriage to Lois, his lower IQ, the distance he feels from his Kryptonian roots (why else would he care more about Earth being attacked by Kryptonians than the genocide of his own people in the New Krypton story), his excessive self-doubt (caving so quickly to the "slap" in Superman #700), and leaving the legacy of Superman fans who believe in the red herring of Clark Kent so much that they don't think there can be a good Superman story without seeing him as the man behind the hero (even though I think I just proved that's not true). I believe if we just completely let go of this disappointing hero we've lived with for over two decades (and I know this is tough, we've spent a long time with this guy), we can replace him with a hero who has the guts to be a Superman and who will give us better stories that are more fun. Or we can go back to scenes of Clark eating Chinese take-out with Lois in his sweat pants. Your choice.