The Superman & Batman Salon: Makeovers and Renovations

I’ve been a comic-book fan ever since I learned to read. Superman was one of my favourite characters. But as I grew older, the stories seemed simplistic and boring, the art was uninspiring, and let’s face it – Superman was practically invincible, so the end of each story was never in doubt and that didn’t really make for an engaging story.

In the 1990s, I came across remaindered copies of “The Man of Steel” – a mini-series by writer/artist John Byrne that essentially re-wrote Superman’s origin story, making him both more exotically alien and more vulnerable, thus more human. The regular Superman comics then took over, telling the story of this new Superman (pretty much as though the older storyline did not exist). The Modern Age Superman was infinitely more interesting – the humanity and vulnerability of the character led to engaging stories such as “exile”, where an over-worked and sleep-deprived Superman loses self-control and decides to leave Earth to prevent causing any damage, travelling through space as a hero and later a slave, until he finds redemption.

As any comic-book fan knows, makeovers and renovations are part of the industry’s attempt to keep their characters fresh and up-to-date. This is part of the reason why super-hero comics have lasted so long. Take Batman – another favourite character. who started life as a “grim crime-fighter”, took on a colourful sidekick (Robin), in an attempt to soften the character, went on to become a campy detective and finally reverted to his original gritty and grim self in Frank Miller’s classic “The Dark Knight Returns”.

Even the Batman movies have shown different facets of Batman. Contrast Michael Keaton’s grim avenger to Val Kilmer’s playboyish portrayal and George Clooney’s campy performance. The latest – “Batman Begins” seems inspired by Miller’s “Batman:Year One” – the Batman equivalent of “Man of Steel”.

Comic books are consumed on a monthly basis, like lots of other fast-moving products. Many of these could learn something from the comic-book industry. Times change, people’s attitudes and tastes evolve. Finding ways to keep your offering fresh and interesting while remaining true to your roots is always going to be a challenge. Perhaps Superman & Batman can help.

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4 Comments »

  1. Binky said

    I’ve never really been interested in Superman myself – I agree that a character who is essentially invincible is pretty boring. After reading your post though I’d like to read those John Byrne series though. Another Superman story I’ve often heard about but never got round to reading is the alternatice origin story where he he arrives in Russia rather than the US, and becomes a champion of communism.

    As for good ol’ Bats, I wouldn’t agree that Miller simply reverted him to Kane’s original “gritty and grim” character – he went much further into the darkness. I grew up reading Judge Dredd, a fantastic anti-hero who it was sometimes difficult to empathise with, but The Dark Knight Returns goes far beyond that to a point where Batman’s vigilante role becomes abhorrent. That was Millers real masterstroke – making one of the best-loved fictional characters of American comics into something truly disturbing without alienating the audience.

  2. Reynold said

    Hi Binky,

    Thanks for your comment and also for the fair viewpoint on Miller's work. At some level, comics are about fantasy and escapism. Could it be that readers in the US needed to see Batman's story pushed far enough beyond their perception of everyday reality for it to remain provocative and entertaining. Imagine sitting through several "doom is upon us, crime is on the rise, buy more guns" TV programs and watching shows like "COPS".The old Batman must have seemed very vanilla to the audience in his home market at that time.

    Byrne reinvented Superman through 4 mini-series: "The World of Krypton", "The World of Smallville", "The World of Metropolis" and "The Man of Steel". You can find his work at:
    Superman (Vol 2) # 1 onwards (1986 – 1988)
    Action Comics # 584 onwards (1986 – 1988)
    Also worth reading:
    Adventures of Superman # 650 onwards (by Wolfman & Ordway but running parallel to Superman v2, later issues written by Byrne)

    The events leading up to "Exile" are in:
    Superman v2 # 21 – 27
    Adventures of Superman # 444 – 450
    (This period is when Byrne left the book, having sown the seeds for a couple of years worth of great stories).

    "Exile" is in:
    Superman v2 # 28 – 33
    Adventures of Superman # 451 -456
    Action Comics Annua # 2 (1989)
    Action Comics # 643

    I think Exile is also available as a trade paperback.

  3. Melvin said

    Yo anyone see superman returns? I loved that movie and i cant wait to pick up the dvd and game for xbox 360….i heard theres a code in the dvd that lets you play as bizzaro in the game, that should be pretty tight. Im lookin forward to gettin it at the end of the month.

  4. Idetrorce said

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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