Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I have a review of Larry Tye's Superman up at Robot 6, if you'd like to go read it. I thought it was a very good telling of Superman's story, framed sort of as a biography, but more as a (pop) cultural study.

I also really liked the cover image and design. Superman is a somewhat unique character in that he is now old and influential enough to warrant such works about him, and/or his creators, and yet he remains owned and controlled by a corporation that has trademarked almost every inch of him—Publisher Random House couldn't have just stuck an image of Superman on there, nor could they use his S-shield or even the special font his name usually appears in.

A book like this then, is in the tough spot of being all about Superman, without being able to actually use Superman's image on its cover (I was reminded of Marc Tyler Nobleman and Ross MacDonald's children's picture book Boys of Steel, which faced a similar dilemma). Using just his flexing arm, however, still says "Superman"—if you've seen Superman before, you know what his arm looks like—but doesn't say it in such a specific way that it seems to be exploiting DC/Warner Bros.' trademark.

I don't know the ins and outs of the legality of such things, but I thought the cover clever in the way it used a somewhat sly image of Superman...similar to the way Dave Sim and Todd MacFarlane used Superman and many other DC and Marvel superheroes in their collaboration on Spawn #10:
Also, the flexing arm focuses on one of Superman's most obvious attributes—his great strength—and the choice of colors on the cover similarly, almost subliminally conveys Superman. Sure, red, yellow and blue are the three primary colors, but who do you know who owns that particular color scheme the way Superman does?

Here are a few tidbits I bookmarked while reading, but didn't end up working into my piece on the book...

1.) Did you know Jimmy Olsen, who got his start on radio before emigrating into the comics, had a mother who worked at a candy store, but his dad had died? I always assumed he was an orphan.

2.) This sounds unbelievable now, but check it out:
The Superman family of comic books stayed the top sellers through the 1960s, but their sales were falling and their lead shrinking. Batman tumbled earlier deeper, to the point where Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane was outselling him and National contemplated killing off the Caped Crusader; he was saved by his campy TV show, which started in 1966.
There was a time when Lois Lane's comic book was outselling Batman's. Try wrapping your 2012 head around that. Today, the very idea of a Lois Lane having her own comic book at all sounds like madness, nevermind her selling better than Batman.

3.) In writing about the "Death of Superman" era of DC Comics, Tye talks a bit about race and Superman, as Steel opens the door for that particular conversation:
More remarkable and counterintuitive was the injection of race into Superman sotries and into the staff at DC, which for twenty years had struggled with its reputation as the home of heroes who were both white and white-bread. Now the "Reign of the Supermen" story arc had parachuted a black man, John Henry Irons, into the middle of the most popular comics narrative ever. He was the least egocentric of the four replacement heroes and the easiest to warm to.
Tye interviews Louise Simonson, the writer who created Steel with artist Jon Bogdanove, and she reveals something I had never heard before, having read Steel's comics from back-issue bins, rather than off the new racks:
"I was told I was fired because I had sent Steel into space and he should be an earthbound character," Simonson says. "I think I was fired because if there was any publicity related to the movie they didn't want a middle-aged white woman being the face of Steel."
And check this out:
Christopher Priest, who took over, is African American, but he says he "wrote John Henry a lot whiter than Louise wrote him. I made him droll." It didn't matter, Priest adds, because few at DC still seemed to be paying attention, and not many readers were, either. As for making Superman more appealing to black readers, Priest says that would have been difficult sixty years into the legend. Superman, he explains, "represents white culture in an intensely megalomaniacal way. To many blacks, he is not Superman so much as he is SuperWhiteMan. There's no sign on the comics shop window that reads WHITE POWER, but the sensibility is implied."
Damn. Tye follows up that bomb of a bon mot with "Not to everyone," and then citing a few famous black men who are also Superman fans: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Al Roker and, of course, Shaquille O'Neal, whose brings it all back to Steel, the subject of an ill-fated 1997 film.

For the record, Every Day Is Like Wednesday's position on Steel remains:
Fuck yeah, Steel!

I also remain baffled that neither Steel nor Icon got their own books out of the New 52boot, but I guess it's cool that gave Batwing and Static a shot, even if they really fucked up the latter about as badly as it could be fucked up.


mordicai said...

I'm midway through; I think it is a bit dull, which is the problem I had with De Haven's Superman book, too. Difficult for ANYBODY to compete in a market dominated by Supergods, though.

Chris said...

I always loved Steel. He was a character with bucketloads of potential.

When Morrison brought him onto JLA I had high hopes that he was finally going to get his due as a leadership type.

But DC seems determined to keep him firmly entrenched as the brainy best friend, never really giving him any role of substance.

Michael Hoskin said...

Priest's story of becoming Steel's writer in other accounts has basically confirmed Simonson's suspicions - he said he was brought in specifically to cover DC's bases in case the movie brought attention to the comic. Which it didn't.