Tuesday, March 06, 2007

7. The Superman Chronicles

by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

I am in love with the idea of the DC Archives. Glossy, hard-backed editions of classic DC comics. I am not, however, in love with the price. Even if I slum it and buy them from Amazon, they’re still $35, down from their $50 retail price, and even that would be okay if there were, say, one volume that had all the Superman comics or all the Green Lantern comics. But that’s not the case. How can I commit to upwards of five volumes, $35 each, for all of the superheroes I want to know and love. Now, DC has started doing these “Showcase” books where they reprint a gabillion issues of a particular comic for the low, low price of $10 each, but do you know why they’re so cheap? They’re in black and white! The art, including the coloring, of a comic is at least half of the beauty and meaning and reason for the comic so how can you possibly alter it to state of rendering it devoid of all its original color? How, I ask you? I mean, I’m cheap, but I’m not that cheap.

It looks like DC may have gotten hip to this conundrum with their new “Chronicles” series. So far I’ve only seen one volume of The Superman Chronicles, with one supposedly to be released soon, and two volumes of The Batman Chronicles. What makes these great is that they’re only about $15 full price and they’re in vivid, glorious color. I really hope they start publishing other series…and all of them, too.

What’s interesting about old-school Superman is how mundane his exploits are. So far there’s no Lex Luthor and no other worldly villains to speak of. Instead we see him battling the owner of a dangerous mine, a banker who threatens to do in a local circus, a prison owner who abuses and whips his chain gang, and a crime lord who exploits the stupidity of young boys, among other terrestrial scoundrels. There’s nothing like Brainiac or the Parasite, like in the Animated Series I’m Netflixing. And Superman’s powers are much less super than the mythos has built them up to be. He can still run really fast and his skin is impenetrable and he has super strength, but he can’t fly. He can only jump really high. There’s talk of a distant planet that was destroyed, but Krypton isn’t mentioned nor does Superman come into contact with kryptonite. As far as we know he’s completely invulnerable.

I was also surprised to learn that Lois Lane really hates Clark Kent. No…she really hates him. In fact, she comes straight out and says, “I hate you, Clark Kent.” Whenever they’re on reporting ventures she tries to lose him and scoop the story herself. She’s not even interested in being his friend, let alone anything else, and Clark does little to change her mind. What she hates most is the meek, mild-mannerness we’ve come to associate with Superman’s alter-ego, but really, if you knew Clark, you’d probably think he’s a bit of a pussy, too. He lets people shove him in the face and doesn’t so much as shoot a fighting word back. Even in this day and age, when masculinity can mean knowing which facial moisturizer works best after a shave, an uncontested face shove is a bit suspect.

I liked that these stories were short and succinct, definitely a forebear to the serials that are compiled into graphic novels today. They were clearly meant for an undeveloped attention, but they were simply just fun to read. The art isn’t as sophisticated as the later Superman books, but there’s something quite nice about that. It’s nice to think of a simpler time when all a superhero needed was to don some red panties and a cape and he could fix a bridge, save a circus strongman, or pull a banker out of bed to fly around town and show him his wrongs. And still he had to spurn the advances of the woman he loves.

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