When Superman Was A Sitcom

In the early part of the decade, I landed a dream job: I was paid some very good money to write. The odd fallout of that lucky win: I stopped any extracurricular writing. I’m trying to get back into the swing of non-deadline-oriented writing, writing for pleasure, and you – you lucky lucky taxpayer – have stumbled upon the result. Try not to hurt yourself on the sharp edges. And there will be plenty, as I attempt to get my muse back on her game.

Now back to my waxing rhapsodical (well, waxing something) about my digging back through beloved comic books.

You’d think that I’d start at the beginning, that would be easiest. That would probably mean starting with Superman, the ground zero of superhero-dom (although my current madness really started with The Fantastic Four… but enough of that). Well, I’ve got one of the Showcase Presents Superman volumes – number one to be precise – and I had it down for my recent reading rotation. I was halfway through it before I realized I had read it cover to cover when I first bought it months ago and just simply did not recall any of the stories. My failing, aged memory? No. They just weren’t very memorable.

Supes has always ranked pretty high in my super hero listings, yet he’s one I’ve never had the typical fanboy yearning to write. Even in his more modern, down-powered state, he’s still awesomely overpowered, and that can’t be easy to build a story around. (watching some of the Filmation superhero cartoons of the 60s, I was amused to see Supes pushing the Earth out of orbit again. At least they made it look kinda hard – I seem to recall in the Super Friends days, he could pretty much do it by accident. Then again, the Super Friends always did five impossible things before breakfast, anyway).

There are two things that contribute to the lightweight quality of most of these stories. The first is a stolid, hidebound editorial stance alluded to by Mark Evanier in his book Kirby: King of Comics – a very strict view of “this is how comics is done”. Apparently a commercially viable stance, but it led to practically every DC comic being written in the same voice – which starts to be truly irksome in the early Justice League stories), with only different costumes and utility belt contents to differentiate characters.

It’s also this editorial stance that apparently led to a much commented-upon propensity to feature frequent gorillas on the covers of comic books to boosts sales. Yeah, I scratch my head, too, but this has given us such evergreens as Titano the Super Ape and Gorilla Grodd. Not to mention, I suppose, Congorilla and Beppo, the Super Monkey.

Heh heh. Monkey!
The second thing? I note that the stories in Volume One all hail from the years 1958-59. The Comics Code Authority was formed in 1955, and it has to be admitted that these stories are pretty dang unprovocative, with nothing to insult anyone. Unless you’re a woman, or a man with a lick of sense. But as we all know, these are okay to insult.

Yeah, we’re getting to the era that’s mined for sites like Superdickery or What Were They Thinking. There’s much that’s risible here – Lois Lane is so Superman-hungry that you wonder when she’s got the time to be such a highly-regarded journalist, and Superman is, to say the least, extremely gullible. He blabs his secret identity to people in disguise at least twice in the first half of the book, which would lead Batman to smack him upside the head with a Kryptonite-lined glove and bark, “Clark, you moron! You have X-ray vision!!!”

I suppose I regard these stories as more or less dispensable because they have no effect or impact on Canon, with a capital “C”. Then, Supes has been rebooted at least twice in my lifetime, so how could they? For what it’s worth, I love the happily-married Lois/Clark dynamic, and the fact that Lois is currently a strong enough character to hold her own amongst super-types. Which makes the story in Vol. One where Supes, believing himself to be marooned for life on a tropical island with Lois, reveals his identity and marries her in a native ceremony, all the more quaint. Especially since Supe then has to pull off an exceptionally lame series of explanations how Clark managed to fake super powers when a way off the island is figured out. Because, you know, girls have cooties.

Cue Batman with that kryptonite-filled sap glove again. Maybe Superman is a dick.

Then again, Batman has it easy. His Showcase Presents starts in 1964, into the “New Look” period that brought Batman more or less back into the “real” world (or at least as real as Gotham City ever gets), and not gallivanting off into space every issue to fight alien menaces that Flash Gordon would have refused to take seriously.

Which is too bad, really. I was looking forward to some Batman and Robin vs. the Mullet Men goofballery that filled the 25 cent 80-page Giants of my youth. Then one has to admit those, like these Superman stories, were definitely slanted toward the juvenile demographic. No way adults would ever be caught dead reading this stuff. No way at all.

This is likely the charm the stories hold for me: their very milquetoast, workmanlike quality. I admit that a few years back, when Grant Morrison was writing the JLA, I actually got very tired of the universe coming to an end every month. That was the only way to manufacture any dramatic tension, given the amount of power on that satellite – but would it have killed them to have the JLA stop a bank robbery once in a while? Those idiots in the Royal Flush Gang seem to pull one a week, at least…

So really, it’s kind of a relief to read a story where Superman is trying to teach Lois a lesson by wearing an Alfred E. Newman mask.

What? No, I’m not kidding.