Everyone, brace yourselves. Clark Kent and I come bearing front-page news.
It's official. Our hero and Lois Lane will no longer be an item come September.
The majority of comics readers I know had already taken DC's half-hearted plan to "examine" the Kent-Lane marriage to mean the two would be divorced by some catastrophic event or some unfathomable rewinding of time. I joined this clan of naysayers pretty quickly, but I have to admit that I nurtured a tiny glow of hope in my heart. I hoped that there might be ONE book among the many wandering, past and present series, where the two might bask in wedded bliss.
But it's not to be, for the following reasons, as documented at Newsrama in quotes and such, but broken down more directly by me:
1) Dissolving the marriage makes Superman more "accessible," according to artist and Co-Publisher Jim Lee. Actually, it is one of the many items within his life being vanished for the sake of simplifying his story (benefits: giving new readers an uncomplicated starting point; allowing writers to center the drama on a man desperate for companionship). Clark's Earth parents, the "kindly couple" Jonathan and Martha Kent, are being killed off early in his life, doubling his tragedy as he begins to develop superpowers. The result? An alien completely isolated from the human experience must find his way in the world. (Why this is not a new idea is something I'll return to.) However, in various series, Superman will either hone his powers, join the Justice League, develop his costume, or struggle with forming relationships while his chief rival at the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, deals with having a boyfriend. (Barf.)
2) DC believes marriage means being "settled." It offers fewer story ideas to play with; better to be single, or so insinuates Lee. "If you have a life partner, you always have someone to rely on. So from a story conflict point of view, it makes for a less dramatic story. I think a lot of writers can agree that one of the most dynamic periods of Superman's history was that period where there was a love triangle between Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Superman." But in returning to the love triangle of yesteryear, Lee points out pioneering Superman writer Grant Morrison will have room to introduce new elements into the mythos -- elements that will make these warring identities and relationships more accessible to a contemporary reader. How will he do this? I have no idea. I assume Lois' boyfriend has something to do with DC's plans.
3) The writers at DC want to explore Superman as an alien, not as Clark Kent. If he's married, if he understands his place in the world, if he sees himself as just another person among many, then what is there left to explore in the character?
4) The ultimate desire in this reboot is to showcase Superman as he comes into his own, unmarried; this means many of the stories being told in Action Comics and Justice League will take place five years in the past, where Superman struggles to find others like him, and learns to deal with those that aren't. In order to hit the ground running, we need to see a hero at his earliest point, at his most vulnerable, apparently. Meanwhile, over in Superman, he'll work at the Daily Planet; that book will take place in the present and deal with Lois.
In response to these justifications, I want to show how this reboot is skipping over some of the more interesting ideas surrounding Superman and his lady love:
1) Superman can hear things happening halfway around the world. He can x-ray your body. A rock can kill him. He's never been like us, and the real tension in his character lies not in his immediate acceptance of his human identity, but in his adoption of it. He's Clark Kent in the same way that the immigrants who came to this country in the 1800's and 1900's were Americans; they abandoned their traditions and even last names in order to fit into American society. They left their Old World behind, and there had to be guilt or at least missteps apparent in that journey. Doesn't Superman have missteps on his journey? That would be a fresh angle to explore, DC -- as opposed to showcasing the same-old, same-old comics struggle of learning how to control your powers. I don't have powers, I don't care how you control yours. I do, however, care about how you navigate your social obligations, and Superman would have issues doing that in certain situations -- whether ordering coffee incorrectly, or yearning to honor a dead society he knows little about.
You're right that Clark being Clark isn't interesting. Your implication that being Clark and Superman at the same time isn't? That's dead wrong. To me, the most interesting stories in Superman lore, or at least cinematically and television-wise, revolve around him acting as Superman while in the guise of Clark Kent. You see the tension between his identities in such setups, because he never stops being Superman. Still, he had to guard his secret, lest he be host to suspicions, mistrust, and dissection; America's never been super-kind to the Other, after all. But he still takes opportunities to melt locks with his heat vision, or x-ray hidden chambers, just by nudging his glasses down his nose, etc. The stakes were always high when things like this happened in "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" (yes, I'm referencing L&C -- not as an amazing dramatic tour-de-force, but as a show that got the everyday issues with being a superhero pretty right, I think). Clark is both a cover and a consolation, but who says Superman has to be comfortable with his surface? Too many writers put him too much at ease with both adopted and intrinsic Kryptonian traditions; there's gotta be push and pull there, if we're gonna identify with the character. Sure, he's not human, but when is he fine with that? When is he not?
2) How can you think marriage is undramatic? Apparently, all the writers got together in a conference room and had a big chat about Superman's marriage. Many agreeing that dissolving his marriage would allow them to explore the character "in a bigger way." Um, that's tantamount to saying his wife's holding him back. Way to go, guys. Everything I wrote about in my previous marriage post turns out to be validated in your misigivings about the relationship (or your misunderstanding about Lois Lane, who's a badass)! I can't imagine how your crew could have so little imagination. Because Superman's married, he can't fly into space and help out Green Lantern? I already wrote about what dangerous thinking that is in my last post, so I won't get into it again. But seriously; he can't be epic if he's tied down? Lame, guys.
Also, if you want to dream bigger, maybe don't try and set up another love triangle (now complete with fourth wheel boyfriend), so the characters are rebooted and actually DIFFERENT! But in your new set-up things aren't different -- the love triangle is still around. Here's an idea: DO SOMETHING ELSE, if you're so tired of sexual tension within relationships. Don't even approach romance. See how the character develops as a career journalist or something, if this a true reboot. Have Clark adopt a kid, have him volunteer at a soup kitchen, or take up needlepoint! (I'm not endorsing any of these ideas. Honestly, Superman's has always been one of the most endearing romances in comics. I doubt a Clark/Lois relationship will be delayed for long; we already waited long enough for them to get married once.)
3) If Clark Kent is an afterthought, as opposed to something that's both in conflict with Superman and helps him, then ... why should I care whether or not Superman is isolated? What is he looking for in these new books? This article gives me no clue, and it makes me nervous to read this reboot. Struggling with your identity is a universal issue, Co-Publisher Dan DiDio points out. And he's not wrong. But where is Superman headed, if the emphasis is staying on his Other-ness, if he's only going to stay an alien?
4) How is this a reboot if you're already telling past stories? That's only going to confuse new readers, guys; new readers don't know that they need to read three series at once to get the whole picture, and I thought the whole point here was to simplify things for everyone. Oh, no, it wasn't. Because you told Newsrama you're doing this because Superman sold great when he was re-debuted in the 1980's! So this is all a cash-cow trick? Great! And what makes it better is that you're stretching the reboot out across several books, meaning customers are forced to spend even more money. Brilliant marketing and sneaky editorialship, a combo that's likely to lose me as a reader.
Socially, it's interesting that we're de-emphasizing Clark Kent in favor of his alter ego Superman in 2011. This is a radical shift, since his comics have been geared completely towards developing his humanity since the 1980's. And I do wonder what it says that we're returning to the majestical 1930's Ubermensch Superman was created to be ...
I think reboot Superman says a lot about where we're at in America. The U.S. stands as a powerful nation with no idea what it stands for in a contemporary context; it has big shoulders and a heavy stick, but its morality is maybe a bit outmoded, and its values elude its citizenry. Superman's direction across the ages says a lot about how we see the U.S.A. as a world power, whether we realize it or not. And for that reason alone, I find the character worth following and loving. Even if I think the direction he's headed in might be disastrous. Or boring. Or both.
POST-SCRIPT: I will refrain from using my next post to talk about DC and Superman. I'll be either reading a new series of comics, or talking about how comics work in movies or television. My anger's exhausting to read.
All-Star Superman Panels: Grant Morrison, Writer; Frank Quitely, Art; Jamie Grant, Inker; Phil Balsman, Art; Travis Lanham, Letterer.