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Author Topic: Viewpoint: A Generational Perspective on the Iron Age Superman...  (Read 26847 times)
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Gangbuster
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« on: November 15, 2006, 12:51:52 AM »

Since I've been away, there seems to have been lots of discussion on the nature of the "Iron Age Superman," and I've decided to throw my two cents into the debate, so that we can all better understand one another's views..if my hunch is correct. At this point, fellow Georgian Michael Bailey seems to be the primary apologist for Post-Crisis Superman, while the Council of Wisdom pines for the pre-1986 Man of Tomorrow.

The points of view are simple and clearly defined: If you grew up as a fan of Superman by watching George Reeves on television, or reading comics by Jerry Siegel or Elliot S! Maggin, you saw Superman develop as a character over the years, only to be horrified at the end of 1986 when that character was completely erased forever. If you were a comics-reading youngster of late Generation X, you may have thought John Byrne's ideas were revolutionary, grew up with this Superman, and became upset when people like Jeph Loeb started tinkering with him. To you, the pre-Crisis Superman was too powerful, too complicated, and too unbelievable. Many people are not hardliners either way, and have rolled with the changes each time. You could debate these positions all day long; some already have, but I'd like offer my perspective on all of this.

A Post-Post-Crisis Superman

Either way, we now have a post-post-Crisis Superman, and I don't think it's a result of either side of this argument winning. Instead, I think these changes are simply the result of a new generation reading comics.

I am arguably one of the youngest people on this forum, and arguably a member of Generation Y. I entered Kindergarten weeks after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace came out in theaters, and in the afternoons we would watch Superfriends reruns (on TBS, I think.) The first comic book that my mother bought me in the grocery store was an early issue of Superboy: The Comic Book, based on the Superboy TV show. I never heard of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' growing up, as that question had already been resolved by the first time I ate Captain Crunch.

Gen-Y Superman Comics

I would have completely missed the "Iron Age Superman" if not for his death. That was the biggest news ever in my elementary school, and people brought Death of Superman trades so that we could all pass the story around. I did my part when I got a 'Funeral for a Friend' collection, and several months later when the next issue of Adventures of Superman hit the newsstand, I was on top of it. For a few months in 1993 I got all of the issues of Superman that I could, intent on finding out which one of the 4 Supermen were "real."

And then it stopped. Aside from the new Superboy and Steel spinoffs from that era, I was completely uninterested in new Superman comics. My final reference point for my generation's Superman comics was the Reign of Supermen arc- my collection verifies this, as I look back through it, because the few comics that I bought in 1994 and beyond contained one of the characters from that arc: Steel, the new Superboy, the Eradicator, or the Cyborg.

Sales figures show that I am apparently not alone, and even these new series were eventually cancelled. When I talk to others my age about Superman comics, they invariably mention Doomsday or the Cyborg, and know little else about them.

A Generational Shift

What caused me, after my interest in Superman peaked in 1994, to become interested in Superman again, and end up on this site? The Smallville TV series. Millions of people watched it weekly in its early years, and it caused multi-colored kryptonite to be reintroduced into the comics, as well as Luthor in Smallville. At this time, an older friend of mine began recommending comics for me to read- "new classics" if you will. I found that I absolutely hated everything he recommended to me, from Watchmen, Sin City, Dark Knight Returns, you name it. Until he bought me a copy of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and then I knew that Superman was at one time optimistic, creative, and fun.

Generation Y is more optimistic than our X counterparts who gave us grunge rock: we grew up with the Internet and no memories of the Cold War. More than anything else, I think that trait is responsible for the changes in Superman's character in the last year. Superman has not changed because pre-Crisis Superman fans won out, or because "the true Superman has returned." Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of this new, post-post-Crisis Superman:

1) He was killed by Doomsday. As this is the only reference point in comics that Gen Y has for Superman, the whole arc must remain intact.

2) John Byrne is fired. Who?

3) The Fortress of Solitude resembles that of the Christopher Reeve movies (which we've all seen) or the Smallville TV show...NOT that of the Silver Age Superman.

4) On the front end, Generation Y had the Superboy TV show, and on the tail end, the Smallville TV show. As a result, the days of Clark Kent discovering his powers at age 18, or of Luthor never being in Smallville, are over. (Sorry, Iron-Agers.) By the same token, this new Superboy is not going to resemble the one who debuted in 1945...sorry, everyone else!

2006: A Cultural Odyssey

Julian Perez used the example of conservative Christians to show why people emotionally supported All-Star Superman. I disagree a little, but being an evangelical Christian myself, I'll steal his analogy to make a different point. In the 1980s, the Christian Right was credited with a lot of Ronald Reagan's success, which culminated in the 1994 Republican takeover in Congress. In 2006, young evangelicals are pro-environment, ant-war, and have notoriously written editorials at Wheaton College in favor of gay marriage...which has led to a new shift in government. Exit polls say that about 1/3 of evangelicals voted for Democrats this year, with high turnout among young people. (I'd argue that the number is closer to 1/2, because pollsters only counted white evangelicals.)

Political science aside, the same generational shift that caused Democrats to gain control of the government in 2006 could be what caused a shift in the character of Superman since November 2005. I have mistakenly claimed that the Superman of Earth-One had returned, but now I see that isn't the case. Silver-Age fans have been recruited to write Superman comics because they have the optimism down pat, but the new character that they have created is simply the Superman that Generation Y recognizes.

And that's my theory.

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NotSuper
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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2006, 05:07:26 AM »

It's not a generational issue for me. I'm 21 years old and I'm a Bronze Age fan primarily, but I like some post-Crisis stuff too.

Furthermore, my politics are pretty left-wing and I don't actively believe in any deity. (Oddly enough, I actually like the Judeo-Christian aspects of the Superman mythos. Pretty weird, huh?) I don't think there's any strong relation between politics and religion in regards to Superman fans. To me, Superman represents the person that I want to be like. Despite my strong political beliefs, I wish that I could just help people directly like Superman does.

Nonetheless, your theory is quite interesting. You should develop it further.
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2006, 09:31:22 AM »

Interesting, but I'm not certain I agree with your conclusions.

I think the explanation for why classic elements are returning to Superman is much, much simpler than all this: people want to read something new and Iron Age Superman at this point after all these years, has gotten familiar and tired, just as all versions inevitably do near the end. The reason pre-Crisis elements are "returning" is because as SuperMonkey points out, the Carlin/Byrne/Helfer Superman after 1986 is the odd version out. It's inevitable future versions would have more in common with the versions precediing it.

If you think of it that way, it isn't Jeph Loeb and Busiek and others that have put things back IN...it was Wolfman and Byrne and Kesel and the rest that took things OUT.

The principle source of my disagreement with this thesis of yours is...in other newsgroups and other websites, which have a good cross-section of Superman fans by age, from Boomers to Gen X and Y...the general reason people are excited and curious about things like BIRTHRIGHT or the Busiek/Johns Superman and the works of Jeph Loeb, is not because there's a generational shift, but rather, because at this point, after years and years of Byrne's MAN OF STEEL and Carlin and so on, it's all gotten terribly exhausted. People are in the same mood now that they were in the mid-eighties with Superman: they're hungry for something new, and I think THAT has more to do with "classic" Superman elements returning than any attempt to take the allowance money of MySpace.com kids with their Jessica Alba wall posters.

And more to the point, this exhaustion is across the board and not limited to any one age demographic.

Also, the people responsible for post-Infinite Crisis Superman are not exactly members of the Britney Generation. Kurt Busiek is a baby boomer whose formative comics stories were the Englehart Avengers and Detective Comics, and Geoff Johns is a Gen-Xer down to the disaffected goatee.

As for the factors you mention as being evidence that the Post-IC guys are trying to skew their book to the YouTube generation's perceptions of Superman...

1) True, the "Death of" is intact, but presumably so are many other Iron Age stories that Gen Y is not so familiar with.

2) Okay, I'll give you this one. If you grow up with John Byrne as the bitter crank that dissed Steve Irwin, certainly it makes what he established considerably less sacrosanct than if you grow up with John Byrne as the supremely talented demigod that did UNCANNY X-MEN and IRON FIST. If he's a mortal, and a hackish mortal at that, changing around what he did isn't sacrilege.

HOWEVER...the general attitude to Byrne at the present time is that Johnny Redbeard joins the company of Peter Bogdanovich, David Bowie, and George Lucas as someone that was great back in the day, but whose creative instincts have since died. People still consider his FANTASTIC FOUR a classic beyond criticism (and it was, at least for the first year before Byrne reverted to type as a creepy hack and perv as he inevitably does when he writes as well as draws). What I'm trying to say here is, just because Gen Y thinks of Byrne as a hack now doesn't mean they would be okay with MAN OF STEEL not being in play anymore.

3) Yeah, but this one is a no-brainer. The Silver Age Fortress was incredible, but the look was very dated. Of course Busiek and Johns are not going to bring it back looking all "Buck Rogers." Even towards the tail end of the Bronze Age, writers were playing interior decorator - for instance, they shrunk the Interstellar Zoo into a nature preserve.

4) Since we've only gotten the barest hints of how Superboy is going to fit into Superman's life post-IC, I'm not entirely sure how to answer this one. However, the fact they are bringing Superboy back does not necessarily mean they're bringing him back because he's an important part of how Generation Y thinks of Superman.
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2006, 05:51:12 PM »

Another thing that may override a lot of elements is that the people who read comics are different...i.e. many more kids read comics in the Silver Age and abandoned them after adolescence, today, the audience is much smaller with a higher percentage of older readers.
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nightwing
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« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2006, 05:54:04 PM »

I find it hard to imagine DC puts as much thought into their comics as you did this post.  I think they just do what the market demands.  Superman didn't sell as well as they liked in the mid-80s, so they re-booted.  Sales went in the dumps again and they're trying a new tack.  It's a simple as that.

I don't think the comics of the moment are a return to the Silver Age by a long shot. But if we old codgers did "win" anything, it's the argument that vintage concepts don't lose their value by the passage of time.  A good idea is a good idea, period.  It's not that we resented so much the fact that Superman was re-imagined all those years ago (I started out excited about the reboot!), it's that DC editorial's attitude was, "The old stuff is stupid and you're stupid for liking it."  As Alan Moore and others proved even back then, any concept can work in the hands of a writer who knows what he's doing. Any moron can "reboot" a book that's not selling or kill a character who isn't "cool" any more.  It takes real talent to make a book or character work by its own rules, but not much at all to wipe the slate clean and start over.  Especially if you do it every two years.

Characters like Superman, who endure for generations, will over the course of time accumulate a lot of baggage, some of which is retained and the rest of which is tossed aside.  The best stuff sticks, and I think it's telling how much of that stuff dates back to the 50s, 60s and 70s versus what's come more recently.





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Gangbuster
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« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2006, 09:03:12 PM »

I find it hard to imagine DC puts as much thought into their comics as you did this post.  I think they just do what the market demands.  Superman didn't sell as well as they liked in the mid-80s, so they re-booted.  Sales went in the dumps again and they're trying a new tack.  It's a simple as that.

While my post was wordy, I don't think that DC made these changes because of any preparedness on their part for a new generation. I think they were doing as you said...what the market demands. I don't think that very much has changed at DC, because I think the comics are still very much market-driven. Byrne's Superman didn't last because All-Star Superman, reprints, and tv shows were outselling the current titles... not for any philosophical reason (i.e. Byrne Superman is the oddball in history)

And like I said earlier,  I think that Silver Age enthusiasts have been recruited to work on Superman ultimately because this is what the new generation of comics readers will buy. This new generation completely missed Byrne's run on the Superman titles, but is familiar with the Silver Age Superman in a way, thanks to Christopher Reeve movies and tv shows, including cartoons.

I don't necessarily agree with a market-driven approach, because I'm a leftist who thinks that fans should buy out DC and run it as a nonprofit organization. But it's DC's motivation. They killed Earth-1 Superman, they eliminated Byrne's Superman, and I do not hesitate to think that they'll kill again.
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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2006, 06:38:32 AM »

I've been thinking about the Iron Age threads that have popped up on these boards lately, which is usually a dangerous thing because the last thing in the world I need right now is to put more thought into Superman.  The result of all of this is the realization that as fun as the debate is and as much as I like to engage in "conversation" with my fellow fans it all really comes down to two things; opinion and what Superman means to us.

Gangbuster is right to a certain extent regarding the generational aspect as far as it relates to what type of Superman fan you are.  The problem is that, as Julian pointed out, this is a broad generalization.  When you get down to the hardcore fans, the ones who buy the books and trades as they come out every month (which covers the lot of us I think because even if you aren't buying the monthlies I would bet that an action figure or trade paperback has caught your eye), things get ... different.

At heart we all have one thing in common; we like Superman.  We like what he represents.  The S symbol means something to us.  After that it's like night and day sometimes.  So the generational thing can bring us in but what keeps us around depends on what aspect of Superman appeals to us.  For some it's the Silver Age.  For some it's the Bronze Age.  For some it's the Byrne era.  For some it's George Reeves.  For some it's the Super Friends.  For a lot of us it might be Christopher Reeve and that's where the debate begins. 

It really is like varying aspects of Christianity in a lot of ways.  You have your Southern Baptists, your Catholics, your Protestants, your Lutherans, your Presbyterians, your Mormons, etc.  I am not going to get into which Superman fan fits in with which sect because, well that wasn't the point of the analogy.  We all see this one figure and we all look at him different ways and it all comes from what version "speaks" to us. 

I'm an odd duck when it comes to being a Superman fan.  I can see all sides (which I guess makes me the Unitarian of the group) but still have my convictions.  There are parts of each version of the character that make me go, "Yeah, that's cool."  The Golden-Age version was just a ball when it comes to sticking up for the little man.  The Silver Age had a lot of imagination despite telling the same basic story again and again.  The Bronze Age added a lot of depth to the character and moved him forward a bit.  The Byrne/Wolfman revamp gave the property a shot in the arm because sales were down.  The Carlin years were dramatic.  In other media the radio show is just awesome, the serials were cute, the George Reeves series had one of the strongest first seasons I've ever seen, the Super Friends were fun, Christopher Reeve made us believe that a man could put on a pair of glasses and change his demeanor and we wouldn't see that he was also a man of steel, the Superboy season was also a lot of fun, Lois and Clark had some great moments...

I could go on and on but the point is that even though I will argue for the "Iron Age" because that was when I came into the comics and think that it is just as valid as any other version of the character I can see why y'all feel the way you do.

So it is generational, until you stick around beyond the three or four years that the average person collects comics or beyond watching the films or television series.  Then things can get sticky and tempers can flare and we get to the point where we can't agree on how to make Kool-Aid much less which version of Superman is THE version.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we're all right, and we're all wrong depending on who is making the statement and who is reading the statement.

I think we can all agree, though, that the 1975 ABC television version of the Superman musical was the low point.

Yeah, I can say that with confidence.
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« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2006, 04:09:41 PM »

Quote
So it is generational, until you stick around beyond the three or four years that the average person collects comics or beyond watching the films or television series.  Then things can get sticky and tempers can flare and we get to the point where we can't agree on how to make Kool-Aid much less which version of Superman is THE version.

I think the acrimony is a relatively new phenomenon.  Did Golden Age fans kick and scream when the Silver Age version added all the Wiesingerian baggage?  Did the Silver Age fans pitch a fit when Julie scaled back Morty's superverse?  Maybe a little, but not so loudly and not with the soapbox the Internet's provided to every shrill malcontent in the universe.

Frankly, I don't think it's all that hard to connect the Golden Age to the Silver (60s Superman comes off as an older and wiser version of his brash 30s self) and it's simple to reconcile Silver with Bronze.  The distinctions between those eras have been made by fans and historians in retrospect.  But what we saw with the Iron Age was an overt, noisy, in-your-face declaration that things were going to change, that the past was done and this was not your daddy's Superman.  From DC's top brass down to the fanboys, the buzz was "Superman is boring, out-of-touch and silly, and if you like him, so are you."  That is not an auspicious way to begin an era and, in my opinion, it set the tone for 20 years of shouting and bad feelings.

It also put pressure on DC to put up or shut up, and in many ways a lot of us feel they didn't deliver.  When you declare that a much-loved, carefully crafted mythos is just so much silliness, and that now things are going to be more interesting, more dynamic, better crafted and cooler, well then you darn well better be prepared to make good on your claims.  In my book, they seldom did. 

Anyway, that's how I see it.  Superman fans of the past may have been in different camps as far as who they felt was the best writer or artist or what was the best era, but they usually didn't come to blows over it.  In 1986, battle lines were drawn and war was declared on the old guard of fans.

To continue your religious analogy, Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians may all have different services and rituals, and may each place emphasis on a different part of Christian doctrine, but we tend to all get along.  A sure way to make sure we don't, however, would be for a Methodist to barge into a Baptist church and say, "You're all a bunch of idiots and your ideas are infantile!"  That's pretty much how it felt for me in 1986.  And just to make it more fun, DC said, "furthermore, we're closing your church down.  If you want to worship at our new church, come on in, but you'll worship our way or you can get out."

Or something.  That religion analogy is really icky, isn't it?  I tend not to like putting Superman and religion in the same thought, but in a sense they do correlate.  To wit, Superman fans believe in certain ideals and behaviors and in a human symbol of those ideals.  Whoever can work with those basic beliefs and bring us together under one  tent is a great editor, writer, etc.  But it's just as easy for a troublemaker to come in, find our few differences and splinter us into factions.  Trust me, as a preacher's kid I've seen a lot of congregations broken up in my day; it's always a sad thing when people who have so much in common, and can achieve so much united, nevertheless split up over the stupidest, pettiest trifles.

So thanks for offering the olive branch and staying open-minded it.  But as far as name-calling and finger-pointing, I have to show my immaturity here and point out that "they started it."  Once someone tells you the things you love are stupid, it's hard to resist the temptation to come back with, "no the stuff you like is stupid."



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