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February 7, 2016

Go, Read: The Trouble With Superman

We're going to see a ton of general-media thinkpieces on superheroes this year. Comics fandom's caped division is a coveted army of eyeballs for anything put on-line, and there are multiple avenues for such articles in 2016. We get DC's big three and DC in general with Superman Vs. Batman. We get the state of Marvel and broad political allegory in the new Captain America. We get genre correction with Deadpool, series correction with Doctor Strange and a flip-take with Suicide Squad. Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Panther will generate some ink. I'm sure there will be others.

imageI like this article by a writer named Asher Elbein just fine. I think it's a measured piece, lacking that squeal of giddy fanboy approbation for one version of the character over another that tends to shock me when I read an article like this one. At the same time, it seemed like a thorough analysis, for instance citing the fairly obscure Joe Casey-written, Derek Aucoin-drawn "Never Throws A Punch" run on the Siegel/Shuster character. I will always think the way to a better Superman, a way to a better versions of all of these properties, as much as that's ever an interesting goal, is to tell good stories built around an appealing take on the character in question -- as opposed to genre tweaking or trying to puzzle out what fans want or having these grand line-wide plans and complicated narratives that obscure or simplify the individual characters of note. I rarely see narratives from DC that serve as vehicles for these characters to make a case for their own greatness.

I've yet to catch up with Gene Luen Yang's version of Superman; I've read only a few issues by the well-regarded team of Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder. The other versions I've seen post New 52 have been something of a chore and that basic conception? Ugh. I sort of hate that guy. And while I'd usually I'd say I'm not the audience, it's Superman. Everybody's the audience.

Update: the great Stuart Immonen just wrote in to point out that the article I mention credited writers without artists except in extreme historical circumstance, like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. That is an awful thing that happens, I should know better. There's no excuse; that's a mistake on my part. I still like the piece, even thought I understand it's pretty unpopular. But, if nothing else, the practice of leaving artists out whole-hog should be its own criticism every time it happens.

I do have some sympathy for writers that try to engage with the world of mainstream comics when they do not exhibit the nuanced appreciation most of us try for that an artist and writer may have overlapping conceptual responsibilities -- in much the same way I think Elbein doesn't credit how increasingly character portrayals are tied into "universe" narratives. I think most of us feel our way through these things more than we care to admit. I added Aucoin's and Kuder's names to the above because that's how I think of those books. However, I didn't add Gene Luen Yang's certainly creative partners because in my conception of those comics for the point I'm seeking to figure out, I think of myself as being specifically interested in Yang's contribution. That might also be in error. It's certainly a rude assumption.

I couldn't tell if you that's a forever-hitch in my step -- if all artists deserve co-author credit in all facets of writing as thoroughly as Jack Kirby does, or if these kinds of things ebb and flow across individual partnerships that makes finding the target of focused analysis super, super difficult. I still feel like there are comics where a primary author might reveal herself; I think Kirby's authorial voice dominates most of the comics he worked on post 1961, and that the early Image comics that used writers were dominated by their artists. The Comics Journal was always Gary Groth's magazine, even when I worked on it. Ditto Wildwood and Dan Wright. But since I can't know that for other people, I should favor mentioning as many voices as seems sensible, and point out the practice when I see it employed across the board. Lord knows we've had a lot of abuse and shortsightedness from the other end of things.

Anyway: my bad. Thanks, Stuart.
posted 9:55 pm PST | Permalink

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