Ah, yes, Superman's 78th birthday. While other comic book news outlets are celebrating 'The Man Who Has Everything's" birth, I want to take a moment and ask a very important question:
Where the shit is Superman?
Nah, I'm not talking about DC Movie Universe Superman, I'm talking Comic Book God/Legend/Icon Superman. Think I'm blowing this our of proportion? Ask a Comic Book fan between the age of 14 and 20 and ask them to describe Superman.
What you are likely to get is an insane, mixed-up, confusing bag of mumbo jumbo instead of an actual character description, biography or list of powers. Why?
Well, that's essentially what DC has presented to readers for the past 27 years.
The man most commonly associated with comics is now the most perplexing figure comics has to offer. So, no, I'm not here to wish Superman a happy birthday or link to all the sweet deals DC is offering in his honor.
I'm here to bitch and complain.
I'm not alone, as readers are more sour on Superman than they ever have been. Before presenting some statistics I need to preface the following with this:
2010 was a very bad year for comic books.
2015 was a very good year for comic books.
Caught up? Cool.
Superman comics sold 55,000 copies a month in 2015.
Superman comics sold 70,000 in 2010.
That's bad. As the comic book industry continues to grow, one of its elders is fading away. As The Atlantic elegantly put, "It’s a problem that has less to do with the character himself and more to with DC Comics, which found itself stuck with a flagship character it thought needed fixing. In trying, it broke him nearly beyond repair."
While Superman is still all about truth and justice, he's going about it all wrong. What made Clark Kent and his alter ego so special was how he went about fighting for truth and justice, and most importantly, whom he was fighting against.
Clark Kent, a shy, well-behaved, goody-two-shoes reporter is tasked with hiding his secret identity from the world. More importantly, he's motivated by the people. The homeless, the poor, the down on their luck you name it.
He's not only Peter Pan with a red cape and underwear on the outside, but a journalist, who is supposed to be the public watchdog of those in charge of the world/community/city.
I, once again, point to The Atlantic's amazing feature-piece on Superman to help communicate this point:
"This is who the character is at his best: not a walking set of superpowers, but a man fighting for truth and justice to the best of his considerable ability. He’s stuck in a love triangle with himself, between the man he is, and the man he wishes he could be."
This is Superman. Not that he can fly. Not that he's invincible. Just all of this.
This is a man who wants to be everything for the people of Earth, who just so happens to be an immigrant from another country.
For the past three decades, DC Comics has performed an arthroscopic knee surgery on a perfectly healthy knee. They were distracted by the success and competitions of others and instead of building what made a character so great, they tried to reinvent him.
Every major, well-known superhero has been through some garbage but none other has been affected so negatively as Superman has (Well, Wonder Woman has sustained the same damage). DC tried to make a Red and Blue Superman, they married he and Lois Lane, they made him dark, they killed and resurrected him etc. etc. etc.
I can't personally tell you the last time I read a Superman book or even tried to keep up on his current arc. Every time I've picked up one of his books, its felt like DC is writing about a character they're not sure about. When the publishing company comes off as unsure, the reader will feel the same.
There are no meaningful stories. It's all "Hey! Look it's Superman ... That's pretty neat, right?"
While I'm trying to be humorous, this is 100 percent the inner-dialogue that runs through my brain each time Superman appears on a panel I happen to be reading.
Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer pitched an idea to DC to bring Superman into the new millennium. The proposal was sent in 1998 and can be read in full here. See below for the introduction to the pitch:
This is an important character. He helped take down the KKK, he inspired people during the Great Depression and there is still so much he could accomplish in print and on the silver screen.
My advice to DC is to keep it simple. I shared that near 20-year-old pitch to prove one thing; legendary names in comics still give a shit about Superman, and they're willing to help.
Talk to these people. Get to the basis of the character again and, for fuck's sake, tell stories about Superman and not just stories that include Superman. There is a difference.
With so much social indifference in the world, there are still so many people left for Superman to inspire, to entertain and to care about.
Find the root of this character and put him in stories that are relevant to our daily lives; there is no shortage of material.