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Opinion:
How To Fix Superman
By Joshua Elder

01.14.03


I worship Superman to a degree that borders on idolatry. The total value of my Superman comic collection is equivalent to the price of a good used car. I have a different Superman T-shirt for every day of the week. I even have the ďSĒ symbol permanently etched on my right bicep in red and yellow ink...so I think itís safe to say that Iím a fan. Which makes it that much harder to actually read the swill that passes for Superman comics these days.

According to Diamondís December sales chart, Superman is the number 46 book, right below Marvelís Weapon X. Weapon X! Something is seriously wrong when a book starring Wildchild and Mesmero outsells Superman. Clearly, something must be done.


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Letís start with the format. Currently there are three (Man of Steel is getting canceled next month) inter-linked ďcontinuityĒ titles and enough miniseries, maxiseries and one-shots to choke a Kandorian flamebird. Thatís just way too much Superman. Overexposure dilutes the franchise and alienates the core fanbase. The fat needs to be trimmed.

I would begin by instituting a strict limit on the number of Superman ďside projects.Ē There would be one - Elseworlds, miniseries, whatever Ė per quarter. This will help ensure that only quality books get published. Next I would streamline the ďcontinuityĒ titles to include just Action Comics and Superman. I feel this would be an acceptable compromise between the fans that were willing to buy four interconnected titles a month and those who yearned for a single, self-contained title. Finally, I would transform Adventures of Superman into an anthology title in the vein of Legends of the Dark Knight or Tangled Web. Creators could use this title to tell solid Superman stories without the restrictions of monthly continuity. It could also be the home to more experimental and off-beat stories that would have ended up as overpriced prestige format books otherwise. To take a page from Marvelís playbook, AOS would come out 18 times a year. Itís designed to be collected in trade paperback form anyway, so the faster the issues come out, the faster the trades can hit the bookstores.

Then thereís the matter of creative vision Ė something the Superman titles sorely lack. I place the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Eddie Berganza, the Superman group editor. He chooses the artists, and he chooses the writers. He is ultimately responsible for the characterís overall creative direction. Iím sure the pressures of helming a franchise character like Superman are immense Ė both from a corporate and a creative level - but that doesnít excuse his poor performance. Some drastic changes need to be made and if Berganza isnít willing or able to make them then DC should replace him with something who is. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I interned at DC for two summers while in college. During that time I submitted a story to Eddie that he later turned down. You can read it at for yourselves at www.chron.org/~elder/when_youre_older.htm. I admit to being a little bitter, but I think the facts of this matter speak for themselves.

So whatís wrong with the Superman titles from a creative standpoint? The art, for one thing. Superman works best when drawn in a realistic style, which is why Jerry Ordway is one of the great Superman artists and Duncan Rouleau most certainly is not. Even Ed McGuinness, whose work I love, is still too stylized and cartoony to be the best choice for the regular artist on a mainstream Superman book. Which is exactly the reason a book like AOS should exist - to let those artists whose styles arenít suited to the monthly books still have a shot at drawing the Man of Steel.

Story-wise the Superman titles are floundering as well. I want to preface this by saying that some of the most powerful and moving single issues of any Superman comic Iíve ever read have been published in the last three years, but those are the exception and not the rule. The rule is bloated crossovers, dangling subplots and severe character mismanagement. In order to get the Superman books back on track, some changes definitely need to be made. First, Clark Kent has to become a prominent character again. This essential human element of the Superman mythos has been all but ignored these past few years, and the books have suffered for it. Second, the writers need to move the character forward instead of rehashing Silver Age concepts best left forgotten. Itís time to start adding to the Superman mythos again. Third, the stories need to get smarter. Books like Rising Stars and Astro City show how powerful the idea of a superman is, but the Supertitles themselves rarely live up to the potential of their premise.

In all honesty, Iíve just wasted both your time and mine. Itís highly doubtful that the folks at DC will ever adopt any of my ideas. They just promoted Eddie Berganza, so itís obvious they disagree with me on his job performance. And even if they did take my advice, thereís certainly no guarantee that it would work. Still, I have to hold out hope that somehow the Superman books will turn themselves around. Otherwise Iím going to feel like a real chump for getting that tattoo.

 

 
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