Sep 7, 2011

Why I Am Not Buying ACTION COMICS #1

Let me preface this by saying that until today, I was going to buy this comic book. This has nothing to do with it not being "my" Superman, as I've spent most of my life having a Superman who isn't "my" Superman, as shown here, and as I've said here before, Superman is open to many interpretations, and just because one doesn't work for me — the previews pretty much said this one wouldn't — doesn't mean that it's an invalid interpretation.

But I was going to buy this one anyway, because I had to know. You see, for the past three months, ever since a conversation with fellow comic fan Rick Diehl, I've been convinced that the Superman reboot — not the rest of the DC reboot — was being done in an attempt to subvert the Siegel and Shuster estates' abilities to create their own Superman comic based on ACTION COMICS #1, and Grant Morrison's disingenuous comments about the whole affair pretty much confirmed it for me. So I said that the new Superman books have one issue to grab me, because I was hoping against hope that this wasn't the case.

From the preview that CBR gave me, it looks like my suspicions were confirmed. The first scene is pretty much a page out of ACTION COMICS #1, with Superman taking the law into his own hands. Strongarming a corrupt businessman and torturing him into giving a confession is pretty much straight out of the initial Golden Age appearance of the Man of Steel.

Top Panel: Original ACTION COMICS #1, circa 1938
Rest of the image: New ACTION COMICS #1, circa 2011

The difference between the two versions of Superman is that the original is a vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and zips away, while this one clearly loves what he's doing, and he's cocky and annoying about it.

This scene is followed by Superman gleefully asking the police to chase him, and then smiling as he's chased and fired upon. There's a dangerously fascistic undertone to this version of Superman. Now, don't get me wrong — there's been a dangerously fascistic undertone in all versions of Superman since the very beginning, and it's been very subtle or always kept as subtext. With Morrison though, as Morrison is wont to do because Grant Morrison is a really a great idea man and a technically bad writer (but since we are in the age of the superstar creator, he's allowed to do whatever he wants), we're subjected to this theme with a gigantic sledgehammer.

I won't lie. This gets my goat. In all the incarnations of Superman, he has never been this arrogant, this... well... dickish, except for some Silver Age stories that are obviously panned today. Superman has been, through all his incarnations, a man who was raised to be good and to do good — he was raised right and he did the right thing for no other reason than it's the right thing to do. Before anyone writes that off as "boring" or "unsophisticated," I humbly refer you to Greg Rucka's article here about the difference between "smart" and "realistic."(Does anyone want to check how Captain America did at the box office?)

To be honest, I see this title clicking with fans. It's generic enough to appeal to cynical masses, and obviously there are people who will be reacting with "Oh my God, Superman's a badass now!", as if having all these powers and using excessive force is being a badass rather than a bully. This kind of thing is easy. It's the kind of thing that would classify as "cool," if you're one of those people who think cynicism means being grown-up. Personally, I think this version of Superman is unlikable. And why would I want to read about that? It's possible Morrison's making some sort of poignant point here, but given that the man completely missed the point of MIRACLEMAN, I doubt it. And sure, obviously, this will all lead to Superman being more responsible, more heroic. But that's not Superman either. You know who it is. Superman doesn't have to learn that with great power comes great responsibility. Superman knows that with great power comes great responsibility.

In the end though, that has nothing to do with me not buying the book. In fact, for all intents and purposes, under any other circumstances, I'd give it a shot. I did say that these stories have one issue to grab me. But then I read this interview, where Morrison flat-out makes it clear that this new "social justice" Superman is taking its cues from the original appearance of Superman.

But as you know, I'm only taking that aspect of it from the original 1938 version, which was the original Superman....It's not just the establishment. He's against everything he sees that's wrong. He's against crime. He's against wife-beaters. He's against people who kick dogs and cats, as much as he's against the evil Congressman or big business.  

So let's get this straight. The rights to the original ACTION COMICS #1 and therefore the original Superman were handed to the Siegel heirs back in 2009, with the Shusters' shares to be fully dispensed to them (though definitely with some legal contest) in 2013. Because stuff has been added to Superman over time, DC will retain ownership over anything created after ACTION COMICS #1, but the heirs will get ownership for ACTION COMICS #1 and the elements in it. So really, the Siegels and Shusters have two ways to finally make money off of Jerry and Joe's most famous creations, in a way that Jerry and Joe themselves never did. Either (1) they settle with DC, or (2) they come up with their own product involving the guy in ACTION COMICS #1. That's a depowered Superman who crusades for social justice.

Whoops! Too late! DC beat them to it again! Unless they can get someone like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman to write their stuff (this being the age of the superstar writer, after all), So now they have no choice but to settle with DC. And considering how many times DC has tried to settle with these guys since 1999 with lowball offers and small deals, well... let's just say it's ironic that this Superman is explicitly classified as one who fights for social justice.

Nothing peeves me off more than the knowledge that this effectively neuters the estates of Siegel and Shuster — again, 73 years later. I'm certainly not calling for a boycott or anything; that's your decision and it's up to where you stand, and of course, the vagaries of the law are complex. But I've been advocating for creators' rights, including retroactive ones, for a very long time, and I just can't do it. I can't buy this book. I feel dirty even thinking about it.

Maybe this Superman will be a big hit with this generation of fans, and maybe that'll be a good thing for the comic book industry. But you can keep this particular Superman — and Grant Morrison — away from me, because all I can see is a middle finger to Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and theirs, unless someone can convince me otherwise.

And that is the last I am saying about this, the Siegel and Shuster case, and anything Grant Morrison says or does for a while, not counting previous work, for a while.

I'm hoping that the other SUPERMAN book will be a different story. In other words — it's your turn, Mr. Perez.


Tim King said...

You can check out my thoughts on Superman in the doodle [photos] section of my FB profile. Don't worry I'm not selling anything.

Madeley said...

I think I'm going to have to disagree with you about this new take neutering the estate of Siegel and Shuster, for no other reason than I can't believe Warner Bros. would be able to do anything to undermine the kind of publicity a non-DC Superman comic would generate. I can imagine Marvel Comics alone would give them an absolute truckload of cash just for the pleasure of publishing Marvel Comics Presents, in the Mighty Marvel Manner, the Amazing Super-Man.

If the age of hype and advertising has taught us anything, content is almost irrelevant- it's all about how you spin the sell. And a non-DC Superman comic is GOLD. Dynamite or Boom or whoever would fall over themselves to publish it. The comic would make the news all over the planet, and shine a light on the ignoble, criminal treatment Siegel and Shuster suffered. I can't believe a simple renumbering and yet another Year One story could do anything to hold back that flood.

Duy Tano said...

A fair argument for the other side, but with Morrison doing what he's now doing, it effectively gives the others a baseline with which any S&S products would be compared. And if not neuters, I would say it significantly diminishes it.

Madeley said...

Also, I just quickly wanted to say that I'm not defending Warner or DC in any way. I think multinational corporations are rabid capitalists who will do any dirty underhand trick they can to turn a profit.

Anonymous said...

I would like to mention that this particular take on Superman was stirring around in Morrisons' brain long before the DCnU. In one of the many interviews he had shortly after completing All-Star Superman, he noted several spinoff projects he was lightly considering, including a Golden-Age inspired Superman set shortly before ASS #5 that sounded quite similar to what is happening here. I can't recall the interview offhand, but I am quite certain that it was on either CBR or Newsarama, and could track it down if that would help. He mentioned he decided to set them aside, seeing All-Star as standing on its own; apparently the lure of a shiny new #1 convinced him to give it a second go. Self-aggrandizing though he may be, I don't think he'd be willing stoop to such depths as to craft his story at DC's bidding around cheating Siegel and Shuster's heirs (he even notes in Supergods of all places the irony that Superman was born from an injustice to his creators). Though if you were to argue DC saw an advantage there that made them particularly willing to run with it, I'm not sure I could disagree...

Anonymous said...

Here is the article backing up my comment on Morrison having come up with this take on Superman awhile ago; in fact, as an out-of-continuity story, this original idea wouldn't have affected the legal issue at all.

Duy Tano said...

Not once did I say that this wasn't already in Morrison's brain. I'm perfectly aware it's been there since the end of All-Star, or even before.

Regardless, the combination of his doing it now, his recent "I can't judge what happened back in 1938 but buy my horribly biased book" comments, and all is sleazy and underhanded.

BBally81 said...

Have tried reading the trade yet? In my opinion, I think you jumped to conclusions way too soon about his run as it also appealed to long time Superman fans as well.

Duy Tano said...

I haven't, but about a year ago, I just about forgot DC existed, so it's not a statement on the book...

BBally81 said...

Ok, then. Still (and please don't take offense to this), I believe you jumped the gun here as this scene was followed with Superman protecting a group of residents in one of those almost down broken buildings from a wrecking ball as the building was being demolished (Morrison's way of having Sups stand up for the little guy so to speak) and in a later issue had Superman rebuild buildings that were destroyed during a battle he and inspiring people to follow suit and the issue where he frees Krypto from the Phantom Zone was sweet. Morrison kind of criticized DC's tatics involving creator rights with his Superdoom character.

Duy Tano said...

It's cool, none taken.

I was particularly more fiery and quick to jump to conclusions back when I wrote this, but I didn't really think any "conspiracy" was intentional on Morrison's part. Maybe DC's. But that's all moot now, anyway.

The New 52 has brought in many a fan and it should be applauded for that, but none of its books have gotten me to stay and the entire linewide tone right now has basically turned me off. Maybe in the future.

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