Superman’s Portrayal in the DCU- A Few Thoughts


Writing in comics is something that many of us have a great deal of passion about.  Who writes and how a book is written is almost as important as who the main character is, and I would say even more important than the art.  It’s part of the fun of comics, isn’t it?  Seeing different creators play in the sandbox that was begun by Jerry & Joe, Stan & Jack, etc. with characters like Superman, whose longevity in the books is just as much a testament to his malleability as a character.  Superman and Lois of the Golden Age are very different from Superman and Lois of the Silver Age, who are night and day from today’s interpretations, and so on.  There is a lot of room for creativity, and something that allows for a lot of fun stories.

Within the different interpretations by different creative teams and eras, it seems like Spider-Man seems to always occupy the same space, more or less, be it in comics, TV shows or movies.  So too, with Batman, Daredevil, Wonder Woman, and many others.  Superman?  Not so much.  For whatever reason, it seems that, unlike a lot of other characters, Superman isn’t just open to different interpretations by creators, but is more prone to misuse, or at least misunderstanding by creators.  For every Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens or Mark Waid, there are an infinite number of writers- across all mediums- that for whatever reason just don’t get the character, and fans are often left wondering, why?


Having just finished Dark Nights Metal, by the phenomenal creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, I can confidently say, yet again, that this is the case here.  Snyder is one of, if not THE greatest writers of his generation, and his pairing with Capullo when New 52 launched in 2011 was the one bright spot in the entire line, indeed, a revelation!  Snyder’s Batman was fresh, original, dark and moody but with plenty of heart, and always with great art, panel layouts, dialogue, you name it.  It moved the character of Batman forward in a way that, for my money, hadn’t been done in twenty years (Grant Morrison’s popular but, for me, overrated run notwithstanding), while still remaining within the space that he needs to reside in as a character.  Despite being fairly new to comics and, in Capullo’s case, having been out of the industry spotlight for a long time, they made it look easy. 


After the conclusion of All-Star Batman, Snyder announced that he would be reteaming with Greg Capullo to move their collaboration to encompass the entire DCU, in a move to revitalize DC’s “events” and springboard to new books down the road.  Metal was the result of said efforts, and featured a new incarnation of the Justice League, among other spotlighted characters.  

As is often the case with the League, the spotlight shined primarily on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. At the risk of this turning into a review of Metal, I’ll simply say that I found Snyder’s portrayal of Wonder Woman to be good, as was his Batman, even if it did elevate the character to nearly Morrison-esque levels of ability.  Superman, on the other hand? Again, not so much.


I get that whenever Superman and Batman are on the same team book, both almost out of necessity become a little exaggerated, something I’ve never been a fan of.  Batman has to get a little smarter to keep up with the earth-shattering power levels he’s surrounded by, and Superman has to be come a bit more of a boy scout.  What gets me though, is when Batman is written to be a super genius, while Superman is relegated to naive child, or worse, angry naive child who becomes the team’s resident strong guy who’s good for a big punch every other page.  Some fans have coined this approach to Superman “fists with a cape,” and I’m inclined to agree.

It seems that Snyder, despite being insanely talented, falls into the trap that so many others do when writing Superman: not knowing what to do with him. In Superman’s heyday, writers often assumed that part of his abilities was “super intelligence” or, at the very least, knowing how to reason his way out of a problem (he is an award winning journalist, after all!).  In the greatest Superman stories, rarely does the Man of Steel go off on a villain at the drop of a hat, if ever.  An out of control Superman, one that’s prone to violence and relying on others around him to tell him what to do, just isn’t Superman.


This has been a common theme with writers at DC for the last two decades, and ironically, I think I blame Bruce Timm. As brilliant and wonderful as the cartoons of the Timmverse are, I never felt like he completely got Superman, and now a whole generation has grown up with his work as source material. In either S:TAS or Justice League, Superman is featured, far too often, as being someone who the action revolves around, instead of driving the action, getting beat up, or just getting angry. Snyder’s Metal feels like his own version of Justice League Unlimited, especially in his interactions between the main characters, with some Morrison peppered in for good measure. Its sequel, Justice League: No Justice was more of the same. The exaggerations of Batman and Superman are front and center and drive me nuts. 


Even so, for every generation of creators there are bad ones and good ones, and for the last three years the good have eclipsed the bad I’d say, at least when it’s come to the Man of Steel. It would just be nice if when Supes was featured in a big DC event or even team book from now on, boundaries with the character were made very clear. Note to DC: please have him act like he does in his solo book. And really, isn’t this why we read other books that feature the same character, because we like their portrayal in the main book?

 I’m cautiously optimistic about Snyder’s new Justice League book, which I’m trade waiting for at the end of this month. If that doesn’t pan out, there’s always Doomsday Clock. Whenever that happens.

Here’s hoping.


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