Krypto like playing fetch! And other lessons of the new Superman
July 8, 2008
One of the most interesting attributes of comic books as a media form is the frequency with which creative teams change. It’s rare to see a show-runner leave a successful TV show, and even rarer to see multiple executive producers within a year. (Commander in Chief, is the rare recent exception, but one that hardly bodes well for the system’s prospects.) Movies sometimes change personal between sequels, but, most likely, no-one gave thought to the prospect of the sequel before the first movie was made. Creators also sometimes change in genre fiction, especially after the initial creator has passed (like the new Bond novels), but authors hardly change in serious fiction. Although I’d pay money to read Thomas Pynchon write a Zuckerman novel, it’s not something anyone’s likely to see.
It’s really quite amazing how regularly comics change their creative teams. It’s such an established part of the genre that we don’t really think about it, yet something truly different and worth thinking about. Comics exist within a push-pull of long-term storylines and attracting new readers; being “true” to a character’s history and reinvention; remaining within continuity and a continuum and being accessible to anyone who buys the issue. Some stories, like “Final Crisis,” don’t even pretend to be comprehensible to the amateur reader, but other comics, like Superman, have to belong to everyone. Superman is such an American myth that any American needs to be able to read Superman and understand what’s going on. It’s why you can’t do anything truly radical to the character (like make him electric blue!)–at least not for too long. Also, while a storyline may be very good on its own (like upgrading Metropolis), there’s a strong chance that it will be diminished by later authors. Frank Miller’s “dark” superhero stories of the 80’s were brilliant, but much of what came after only cheapened them.
So it is that the first issue of the James Robinson run on Superman is just so-so. Robinson is one of the best authors working in comics. His Starman was probably the best superhero comic of the 90’s/early 200s; at least the most consistently great. Robinson made us care about every aspect of the character’s universe. His history, his city, his rogues gallery, his personal life. The lives of the families in the city. It was a completely unique world. His recent run on Batman was highly enjoyable, and one of the better Two-Face stories, even if not so unique. But his Superman, while promising, leaves a lot to be desired. Robinson clearly wants us to care about the characters, but his initial attempts (let’s let Krypto narrate part of the issue!) fell flat. Robinson has more than earned the benefit of the doubt (though, there’s always the danger that some characters are just too stupid to succeed) but on it’s own, Superman 677 was not an especially good issue and only time will tell if Robinson, a great writer, is a great writer of Superman.