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THE QUESTION OF HUMAN TETHERS

May 10, 2012

from Smallville Season 11 #1 (or Chapter 2 of SS11 episode, GUARDIAN, digital-first #2)

By having [Superman] not being married and both his parents being deceased, what you have is a little more sense of isolation for him…He doesn’t have that human tether.

 Because he’s still an alien among men, he feels separate from everyone else … which gives him much more dramatic moments and much more questionable choices and therefore more story opportunities.”  — Dan Didio, DC Comics Co-Publisher, July, 2011

The other day, somebody asked me if Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred was still going to be Alfred, and I just Tweeted, “Yeah, of course he is, except that he’s a cyborg.” And I was just kidding, and like all these people got so mad. They were like, “What do you mean you’re making him a cyborg!” And I was like, “Well, all his robot parts are inside though, so you’ll never know it’s really a cyborg.” And they just did not let it go for a while.”  – Scott Snyder, Hero Complex article, Sept, 2011.

What is it about the importance of being human or superheroes having human attachments that Didio and Snyder don’t understand?

Ask just about anybody on the planet what Superman’s name is, they’ll tell you Clark Kent.  Ask them who Superman’s girlfriend is, they’ll tell you Lois Lane.   Where does Superman work?  The Daily Planet.  (not the Fortress of Solitude or the Justice League).  These are the billions of potential readers DC is seeking – they have rudimentary knowledge of these icons.  Why not build from that and make them hungry for more?

Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the characters of the Daily Planet are the human elements that people relate to.  Not the guy in the cape or the crimefighter in the cowl.  We could never be them, but we get to know them better through the eyes of their human relationships.  Batman (who is hardly ever Bruce Wayne) hasn’t had a steady love interest since the Bronze Age.  His only constant relationship has been with Alfred, his mentor and quasi-father figure.  Making Alfred a cyborg would be cruel not only to fans but to the characters as well.  And to joke about these beloved characters to a reboot rocked fanbase is brutal.

Unfortunately, Didio wasn’t joking about Superman.  In Action, the young ‘Superman’ (named by Lois but we never get to see it or their first meet) spends more time with George Taylor, Clark Kent’s editor at the Daily Star (who may know Clark is Superman) and his landlady, Mrs. Nxyly (same last name as Silver Age villain), who definitely knows his secret.  These conversations were for a few panels in Action #8.  Harry Potter Clark has had more interaction with them than with Lois or Jimmy Olsen in all eight of the first Action story arc issues.  DC has essentially taken away the Kents, Lois, and the people at the Daily Planet and given us . . . nothing, except Silver Age villains.  And we don’t get all that much of young ‘Superman’ since there are at least four timelines involved through the eight issues.  (Number 9 was about a multiverse Superman).

What happened to taking Superman to his Golden Age roots?  Those would be the same origins that had Clark Kent and Lois Lane together in her first panel of Action #1, 1938.  The story that created Superman-mania in 1940.  People could understand Clark Kent living two lives and respected him for having those farmer’s son values while bringing criminals to justice with his superpowers.

The dual identity.  Human tether meets superbeing.  Clark was raised by the Kents as a human with good moral values.  As farmers, they had faith and lived in hope.  They loved Clark as their own child and encouraged self discipline, which is something you want in a being with god-like powers.

Unlike a god, Superman does not manipulate (unless you count what he did to Lois in the Silver Age because she was smart enough to figure out his secret time and time again).   He doesn’t have to intimidate, but criminals know to fear him, not just because of his powers but for his constant battle for truth, justice and the American way.

Take out the Clark Kent and basically you have a one trick wonder of a character.  Superman fighting aliens.  No more power of the pen to stop social injustice or crime.  Just the alien fighting other aliens cause he feels like it.  No human tether – just point him at the latest DC-wide event and let him rip.

I was standing in line at Free Comic Book Day and a ‘lapsed’ (I find this term repugnant.  It’s derogatory.  They’ve returned.  Call them prodigal.) reader commenting how event weary he was and how he missed the stories that were more about the characters and their worlds rather than being constantly set up for the next ‘big thing’ which isn’t necessarily good for the character or his world.   I would agree.  The new 52 has done nothing for Superman and it appears to be endless events, crossovers, etc. well into next year.  For readers, Action Comics is not giving us any foundation to stand on and the Superman book seems bound by editorial restrictions especially designed for the character – and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Enter Smallville Season 11.  It has been highly successful as a digital first comic and DC recently commented the print (Smallville Season 11 #1 released May 2nd) has been doing very well.  Why would the ten year story of a young Clark Kent growing up, discovering superpowers and realizing his destiny sell well?  Human tethers.  Fans of the television series know these characters inside out.  We’ve experienced Clark’s very human journey even though he’s an alien.  He’s the hero of the story.  His emergence as Superman in the series finale made everyone cheer.   And there are more stories to tell . . .

Smallville Season 11 is the best Superman story DC Comics has to offer.  Reviewers everywhere have said this.  The new 52 is not satisfying Superman fans, prodigal or otherwise.   Bryan Q. Miller, who went to Geoff Johns, knew what they had in this take on the Superman story.   We’ve seen Ma (Martha) and Pa (Jonathan) Kent interact with their son and the influence they had on who Superman is.  Smallville Clark wore the blue jeans, t-shirt and workboots  lonnnng before Grant Morrison came up with Bruce Springsteen Superman.  We’ve seen Clark struggle with his powers and his self-imposed duty while building a relationship with the love of his life, Lois Lane, and becoming a reporter at the Daily Planet.  And, let’s face it, Tom Welling is much prettier than Rags Morales’ Harry Potter Clark or lawless Superman.  Cat Staggs, the usual cover artist for Smallville Season 11, draws an incredible likeness of Tom as Pere Perez, interior penciller, is giving us the familiar faces and facial expressions of the actors on the show.

Superman fans who appreciate and adore Superman’s human tethers may find a gem in Smallville Season 11 even if they’ve never seen an episode.  The Little Show That Could has become The Little Comic That Could and isn’t that what Superman is all about?  Overcoming obstacles, having hope and encouraging us to find our own super powers.  Yes, humans like Clark Kent have great powers within and Superman should encourage us, even with our human tethers, to aspire for the stars.

Let’s hope that DC Comics is not beyond learning something when it comes to their decisions about new 52 Superman.  Action Comic orders keep falling month after month.  Superman Comic keeps holding steady as if readers are hoping for it to break loose from the ties that bind.

The boys-in-charge should remember, it is the money tethered to human wallets that feeds DC Comics bottom line.

Smallville Season 11, live long and prosper.  Inspire the new 52 and propel it to aspire.

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