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The Baby with the Bathwater

by Nathaniel Morgan, August 1997

Historical note circa 2005/2006: This essay was written in 1997, as an attempt to explain what was wrong with the then-current Superman titles at DC Comics.  Around 5 or 10 years later, due in part to major editorial changes made at DC, many of these problems were addressed and corrected, and the Superman comics appeared to be back on track.  Not only was Mark Waid "allowed near Superman," but he wrote a fantastic tale for the 21st Century.  Many other skilled writers - such as Grant Morrison and Kurt Busiek - were also contributing new tales to the legend. 

Many people have been trying to put their finger on just what it is about the Iron Age Superman that is "wrong" - they've been theorizing about the changes to Superman's continuity, his history, or his powers.  They've basically been trying to figure out just who Superman is.  But this question is so easy and the answer so obvious that many people have missed it.

So here is the pop-quiz.  Multiple choice:

Question 1

    Superman discovers that Lex Luthor is formulating some plot against him.  So he confronts Lex and says:

  • A
      "Oh, No! You're tricking everybody! I'll never be able to stop you!" (Grabs Lex by throat) "What are you up to now? You'd better tell me, or so help me, I'll..."

  • B
      "I don't know what scheme you've got going this time, Luthor, but whatever it is - it'll never work." (Hauls Lex off to jail)
Question 2
    Superman and Lois head down to the post-office so that he can read his fan mail.  When they get there, Superman sees the innumerable sacks of letters and says:

  • A
      "Oh, No! I'll never be able to read all this mail!"
  • B
      (Superman reads all the letters in 2.3 seconds at super-speed, using his X-ray vision so that he doesn't even need to open the envelopes)

For each question, if you answered B, you know who Superman is.  If you answered A, you must work for DC Comics.  Yes, both of the events in the As are from recent issues and serve to illustrate just how poorly DC understands Superman.

Superman's power level, his changed continuity, and even the new electro-costume are all irrelevent.  The Golden Age Superman, the Silver Age Superman, and the Bronze Age Superman are all very different characters with different powers, different continuities, and different costumes - but they are all Superman.

Superman is moral righteousness - knowing what is right and doing it.  That's it.  He doesn't whine or complain about doing the right thing, he does the right thing because it wouldn't even occur to him to do otherwise.

The Steel Age "Superman" is a killer.  This is not the right thing - it is the wrong thing.  He complains, is unsure of himself, is pessimistic and ineffectual.  He defeats himself before any villain even has a chance to.  He is not Superman - Superman makes a difference.

T.M. Maple put it this way: "Superman is not just some big guy with a lot of powers. He should be a shining example of all that is worthwhile in humanity. His morals should be 'super' too."

DC Comics refuses to let real Superman stories be told.  Even Scott McCloud, one of the best super-hero writers on the planet, has his hands tied in Superman Adventures.

Elliot S! Maggin has proven that it is possible to write post-Crisis Superman stories that actually have Superman in them.  He has done brilliant work in Action Comics #642, Luthor's Gift, and the Kingdom Come Novel.

Mark Waid isn't even allowed anywhere near Superman.

DC doesn't like Superman - they are sitting on a goldmine but refuse to use it.  Superman is the greatest hero of all time and today's comic book readers are literally starving for stories about real heroes.

Legends cannot be killed - someday, Superman will return.  This web site is keeping him alive for just such a time.  Meanwhile, I'll continue to follow the adventures of the white-haired Superman in Supreme and the red-garbed Superman in Astro City.

"Look! Up in the sky!"

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