Friday, July 4, 2008

COMICS- The Man From Krypton

More on the SmartPop books published by BenBella press.

While Batman is one of the most popular characters in comic books, the other crown jewel for National Periodicals is Superman. It’s hard to understand the affect Superman had on comics and popular culture. The character is a true icon. And his iconic status has been reaffirmed by every generation that has passed or remains since the first time Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster were first able to see their creation in print in 1938.

I have a special affinity for the character, I must admit. My best friend has the same sort of affinity for Batman. We often have discussions like the ones in the book about the various strengths and weaknesses of the two characters. I was always bigger and stronger than the other children while he had to bare the scars of the loss of a parent while he was still a child. I identify with Clark Kent and his struggle to fit in among people he has to be careful not to hurt. I identify with his feeling of being alone in a crowd because he is so different.

All the more reason that I was a little disappointed in this particular BenBella book, THE MAN FROM KRYPTON. It’s not the fault of the folks writing the essays contained in this book. They dissect Superman with the same kind of aplomb that the writers in the first book I discussed, BATMAN UNAUTHORIZED, apply to Batman. There are chapters devoted to Superman’s creation, his early years, the Mort Weisenger era (where we get most of our ancillary back story for the character- variously colored kryptonite, Jor-El with a sunburst crest on his chest, Supergirl, Superboy, Krypto, etc.), his mythical progenitors (everything from Samson and Gilgamesh to King Arthur), the effect Max Fleisher had on the character in his early years, the John Byrne reboot, even the inherent problems with writing a character so powerful. All of this is fodder for the SmartPop gristmill, but somehow misses the point. To me, at least. I don’t think the fault is with the writers of the book. The fault, I think, lies with the current paradigm of the last son of Krypton.

The only Superman series to really deal with the problems of being Superman (and, let’s face it, drama is all about problems and therein lies the rub) is SMALLVILLE. And while it is touched upon here, it is from the point of view of messianic views of the hero and his relationship to his future enemy, Lex Luthor. You can’t blame the authors for dealing with the way the character has actually been portrayed rather than the way that the character SHOULD have been dealt with. Kurt Busiak did a better job showing us the heart of the character in his first issue of ASTRO CITY than over 60 years of Superman scribes have been able to. (Except for a single story by Alan Moore. WHAT DO YOU GET FOR THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING is such an extraordinary Superman story that even the creators of the Justice League cartoon had to adapt it.) Even the first Superman movie showed the character through his limitations better than the comics have (or rather than it would have if Lois had died rather than allowing him to turn back time by spinning the earth backwards or whatever he did- a plot contrivance even Weisenger wouldn’t have allowed).

I’m not saying that THE MAN FROM KRYPTON isn’t worth reading. It is still a wonderful book for anyone interested in the character. The purchase price alone is justified by the inclusion of Larry Niven’s 1967 short story MAN OF STEEL, WOMAN OF KLEENEX. I’m just saying that for anyone who is looking for the true heart of the character, it hasn’t been written yet.

But there is a book that gives the reader great insight into the character of the last son of Krypton. It just isn’t a BenBella book. But let’s save that for tomorrow.

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