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!
Heh.
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.

3 Comments

  1. I’m an odd case (a phrase I’ve deemed jokingly will serve as my epitaph…”He Was An Odd Case”…hee!)…a younger reader who actually was around and actively reading to have seen both sides of the canon controversy…pre-CRISIS and post, if you will.

    As a youngster, I disliked DC’s canon outside of the DC books I read, those being GREEN LANTERN, THE FLASH, JLA, Roy Thomas’ attempts to bring the glory of the Golden Age back, namely ALL-STAR SQUADRON, INFINITY, INC., YOUNG ALL_STARS, etc…Wolfman and Perez on NEW TEEN TITANS, a little thing called SAGA of THE SWAMP THING that some Moore guy was writing. Even though I was fascinated by the concept of alternate timelines, I found the use of alternate Earths in their canon to be a bit confusing and convoluted, basically a scape-goat option used way too often. The Superman titles were a shell of what they could be, potential-wise, basically having reverted back to the silly 50s stuff those last few years prior to the CRISIS and the Bat books….outside of the Mike Golden illustrated “Special” that contained the Wraith story and some of the Walt Simonson penciled issues that contained a Joker story….I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened during the last 7 or 8 years prior to Miller’s YEAR ONE (which to this day remains my personal favorite Bat-Man story).

    I honestly believe that I was of the perfect age to have appreciated CRISIS when it happened (I was 11/12 years old)…and at a point in my fandom experience to been able to completely comprehend it’s ramifications (at this point I had been reading comics for around 6 or 7 years). I actually understood what they were going for…the DCU did indeed need fixing, and the efforts put out to do so seemed to work. After being a hardcore Marvel Zombie for much of childhood, I jumped eagerly into the “new” singular Earth concept after reading Byrne’s revamp of Superman…in hindsight, I realize exactly what DC was attempting when hiring the man…they wanted a flagship book that read like a Marvel title, and what better way to achieve that than tap a guy who was a Marvel mainstay at that point. I embraced these changes so much so that when they started mucking around with the origin again a while back, I was almost offended. I felt that Byrne’s Superman origin worked…almost as much as what I considered the perfect superhero origin (that being Lee and Ditko’s Spider-Man 10 pager from Amazing Fantasy)…so wy fuck with perfection.

    Yet at the same time, I found that age and nostalgia were conflicting my perspective…in the 20 years meantime since CRISIS I had grown to love the goofier elements of the Silver Age, god bless it’s little soul, and finally threw up my hands in surrender…

    This is why I have a house full of Krypto the Superdog stuff and treasure my plush Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-hound as if they were made of gold.

    Sigh….it’s tough out here for a fanboy.

  2. Now I will always have the fact that you own a plush Bat-Mite to hold over your head like a nerdly Sword of Damocles.

    I’m also slowly chewing my way through the Showcase Presents Justice League, and the nest story in line will be the first of the Earth-2 crossovers with the Golden Age Justice League, which would become an annual event. Man, I looked forward to those. The Golden Age heroes just seemed so – exotic.

    I’ll agree the proliferation of alternate Earths was getting pretty ridiculous by the time DC cleaned house with the first Crisis, but then I also miss environments where it was possible to perpetually fight Nazis without worrying about troublesome real world issues. Like, how old is Jay Garrick, anyway?

    I am also geek enough to admit that I stood up and cheered when I saw the Charlton heroes were getting folded into the main continuity. I think the exact phrase was, “That’s the Question! That is the fucking Question!!!!

    So having twenty-some odd years on you fanboy-wise, I have to say I was a lot more cynical about the Crisis than you. It seemed to me a response to Marvel’s Secret Wars nonsense, though with a lot more lasting ramifications. Well, at least it took Barry Allen two decades to come back from the dead, anyway.

  3. Re: Bat-Mite- You should see my hobby room…a few years back I went Krypto-Krazy, and anything I could find that involved a member of the Legion of Super-Pets….giggle….sorry….DC Direct statues, plushes, etc,…went into a little shrine in the corner.

    The reason why I say I was perfect age for CRISIS is that those ramifications you mentioned seemed…I dunno…more concrete, than they would for an older, more jaded reader.

    I mean, I can remember actually being shocked by Barry’s death…a real left field sort of thing. Now, one has to remember that these were the days before internet fanboy speculation and everyone and their brother reading the solicitations for upcoming books 6 months in advance.

    A Peek Into The 12 Year old mind of HKC:

    Sure, Supergirl had died the month before…but, c’mon…she’s a secondary character, almost in a supporting role that could never really even support her own monthly title for very long periods of time….but THE FLASH?!?! He’s been around forever!

    It really began hitting me hard in the following months when several books that I felt were “flagship” titles started dropping like flies. Just as I was wrapping my head around the death of Allen and the cancellation of his series…then, they canceled WONDER WOMAN! Holy crap! She’s an even more recognizable property the Fastest Man Alive, whose title had been around since the 40s!

    I almost lost my mind when I first read “Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?” as it was coming off newsstand shelves…I truly took it seriously, like the world I had known for nearly a decade was coming to an end…hee hee!

    As much as I hated the uncertainty I was experiencing at the time, I’ve prayed for the last 20 odd years for something to come along that just….felt…the same way.

    INFINITE CRISIS, the 2005 follow-up, had moments that felt the same way, and the recent Sinestro Corps War came close….but nothing has ignited that much wonder and awe in my mind since…..


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