Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Project Progress

I suppose I should provide some sort of update, in case anyone's paying attention. Despite few recent posts, I've been working hard at this project. I traveled to Boise, Idaho, this past weekend to deliver a conference paper based on a chapter, called The Apotheosis of Our Former Selves. It was about Superman and nostalgia and the need for adults to incorporate some sort of playing in their jobs. Good times.

This was part of a panel on mythology at the American Folklore Society meeting. There's some talk of turning the papers from the panel (three or four, depending on what we decide) into an issue of a journal, sort of like a collection of articles. There's a journal interested. We'll see. It was a good panel, and Boise was pretty cool.

About ten days from now, I'm going to deliver another conference paper. This time, it's about the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, and the dedication of Jerry Siegel's old house in Cleveland. This will be part of the Hoosier Folklore Conference, in Nashville, Indiana. The paper's called "When Imaginary Places Become Real."

I'm working on revisions of an article to submit to the journal Western Folklore, whose editor has been more than helpful. And I spent half an hour talking to a book publisher on Friday of last week.

But there's still a long way to go. I've got a good sense of the entire book, and an outline, and a lot of research....still, I figure it'll be a year before I've got a manuscript done and ready to show to anyone. That seems sooooo far away.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Short one

Just needed to keep this link handy. it's a review of All Star Superman that calls it the greatest Superman story.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More about the Secret Origin

Just a couple of links. The first is to the Superman Homepage, which has reviews of pretty much every Superman comic for the last ten years (and more). In this one, there are a bunch of review for Secret Origin 1.

Then there's a discussion of the same series over at Blue Tights Network. Mixed reviews, but most people seem excited about the series.

So why, you may wonder, so many links to reviews of this particular comic book? I'm interested because this project is mostly about Superman as a myth. Myths, unlike much of literature, usually don't have an established, authoritative text. Even the Bible (in English) has lots of versions, each with agendas that influence the translation. And, for example, the four books of the gospels actually contradict each other every so often. Greek myth is harder to pin down, since there's no text. You've got Hesiod and Homer, but those present problems. Later writers were just writing down what they'd heard, or paraphrasing other writers. And these often contradict each other as well. It gets even more compex with a living mythological tradition. So what happens is that everybody has to decide for themselves what's canon and what's not. The church may try, but with all of the different sects out there, there's something for everybody. And you can always try the church down the road if you don't agree with the interpretation being offered in yours.

With Superman, there's the added element of continuity. He's been constantly in publication since 1938, with stories in every medium. And writers try to make the story interesting in every medium, so they add or eliminate elements. Then there's editorial fiat, or stories introduced to boost sagging sales or garner higher ratings. And every so often, something like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis happens, so the entire history of the character is wiped away, to be written anew. Then, there are things such as Imaginary Stories, which aren't real.


What we've got are competing versions of a story. The reviews and discussions are largely about how well the latest version works, which means that the readers evaluate it in terms of the expectations of the myth of Superman. Each person has a preconception of that story, which by virtue of their own identity, will emphasize, highlight, obscure, or outright eliminate motifs of the story as they see fit. Sometimes this isn't even conscious. Some people will imagine a Superman who is absolutely perfect, in morality, in physique, in action and in intent. Others will humanize Superman, giving him physical flaws or moral grey areas.

This includes the writers and editors. One of the Superman homepage reviewers postulates that the writers of comics today are particularly interested in the comics of their youth, so much so that they will force the comics they are working on to fit into the same mold, whether or not the story is progressing that way. They will alter characterization, add in nonsensical plot elements, etc, just so the comic feels like the comics of their youth. I don't know the extent to which this is true of Secret Origins, if it is at all, but I have certainly read comics that feel that way.

Nonetheless, readers are free to pick their version. There's a continuity to DC comics that runs throughout a great many titles. but there are elseworlds. There are Superman Adventures (well, not right now, but there used to be) that were outside the continuity driven titles. There's smallville, and cartoons, and other stories. Superman's also kind of like the weather. If you don't like it, wait a while. It'll change. Not much, of course, but it'll change. The last time it changed was Birthright, by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu. That was way back in 2004.

This variability is one quality that makes a story mythic. I'm not talking about the variability of a single film adaptation of a movie, or even two or three. I'm talking about the fact that there is no fixed text. People can point to an official Moby Dick or Lord of the Rings. They can't point to an official Superman. Would it be this current Secret Origin? Yeah, if you read the comics and adhere to the continuity. For the next five years or so, until they do it all over again because of a universe-shattering battle. But it's not THE Superman if you're only a fan of Smallville, or of George Reeves, or Christopher Reeve, or the Silver Age, or don't read the movies or watch the shows or read the comics but still know about Superman because everybody does. (Seriously, everybody does. Even people with no real access to American media.)

The point of all this is that there is no fixed text. There is no fixed Superman. The nature of the character's existence is to reflect the world because it's a constant product of that world. Sometimes we're awash in nostalgia. Sometimes we need our heroes to be vulnerable. Sometimes we need them to be perfect. And sometimes we need them to have a mullet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Too Perfect

The notion that Superman is just too good to be interesting is one that pops up quite often. Here's one statement, from Miss Cellania:

While Superman is, well, super, he was always too perfect, and rather one-dimensional.

There's Henry Jenkins, from a while ago.

And, because we're still trying to figure out how to make Supermen...Science!

Another review of Secret Origin 1, by Rokk. The discussion is interesing, particularly for this line:

it isn't like DC's continuity or present-day comics for that matter warrant religious following; you pick and choose what you like, sadly

This list is an intersesting one. Not so much for the content--it's really just a list of Superman comics that the writer likes. It's how it's framed that I find worth noting. 10 Essential Superman comics to help you forget Smalliville. As with any sacred narrative worth caring about, there has to be dissention among the ranks. I think this is worth exploring.

I'm going to have to find this one. What if Superman were raised by apes?

I have to post this. In Italy, a Man Dressed like Superman is arrested for stalking Burlesconi.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Following Links

So I was looking at pictures of the Siegel house in Cleveland (Glenville, to be specific). I came across a few interesting things.

There's evidently yet another documentary about Superman, called Last Son. This one delves into the truth behind the creation of the character. If I'm reading correctly, it's more about the death of Siegel's father than anything else. Looks interesting. Not quite sure how to get my hands on it, though.

Marc Tyler Nobleman, creator of Boys of Steel (a comic book biography about Siegel and Shuster) wrote this little post about the current popularity of Superman's creators. The Last Son guy throws his two cents in.

In an unrelated link, there's this essay on the impact of John Byrne's 1986 variation of the Superman story at newsarama, by tomothy Callahan. He says the legacy of Byrne's changes is the humanization of Superman, and the cumulative stories--continuity, in other words, and character issues instead of just fights.

Here's a lesson plan on how to teach heroism and mythology to middle-schoolers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Links, and a new origin

Recently, DC began publishing a new origin for Superman, called Superman: Secret Origin. A bunch of people have stuff to say about this.

Here's a good one, by Rikdad. It begins thus:

The artist takes a pencil and traces an oval where the face will be. Rather than touching the pencil to the paper and drawing it in one solid curve, the oval is composed of many shorter arcs, parallel, intersecting, concentric. Each one nudges the outline from where the previous faint lines had begun, adjusting them, repositioning the curve, correcting it. The pencil is flipped and the eraser rubs some graphite off the page; a sleeve wipes the rubber and dust away, and then the pencil goes back to work. At some point, a mannequin-like shape is there, and then a face is drawn inside, outside, and over it, without ever erasing the original imperfect outline. Eventually it will have life. Eventually it will be a face. Little strokes keep touching it up, making it better, or at least different.

Superman is a work in progress.

Which is good. An apt analogy for the process by which Superman has survived. But it concludes in an even better fashion:

Superman is the Great American Hero, and America is a country that was saved by a quirky Constitutional fiat called the Great Compromise. If Superman was being torn apart in a creative tug of war, Geoff Johns has refused to pick sides. He's come down hard on the side of not favoring sides. Ultimately, the kind of tail fins the rocket has don't matter so much as the adoption of a version of Superman that reminds a plurality of fans of Superman. What could be more pleasing to Superman than to have everybody win?

Good stuff.

I'm planning a thorough analysis of Grant Morrison's All Star Superman series. Here's someone who likes it a whole lot.

Here's some more about Secret Origin.

And more still, from Newsarama.

One more time, from Comic Book Jones.

The consensus about this Secret Origin seems to be that it's completely unnecessary, but that it's pretty good.

Completely unrelated, but still useful: the kids parade in Grand Island.

Which reminds me...Halloween's coming up. There will no doubt be kids dressed up like Superman. Time to do more fieldwork.

There's something more to be said about the "science" behind Superman's powers.