Tuesday, 26 February 2013

After The Crisis

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, I was a Superman titles completist for several years. Briefly, some DC and Marvel Comics were appearing on British news stands. I bought Green Lantern 200 for nostalgia value, then got hooked on Green Lantern Corps and John Byrne's The Man Of Steel.
Fortunately, there was a comics stall in Lancaster and comics shops in nearby cities.

The Man Of Steel showed how good Superman could have been with a completely changed dynamic between Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor. Byrne simply and rightly reversed Kent's character which should never have been changed back again. I don't know what it is in current continuity.

After a few years of collecting Superman comics, there were too many monthly titles, annuals, specials, mini-series, prestige formats, cross-overs, Elseworlds (have I missed anything?). It was quantity again quality and would have led to massive storage problems if continued. I stopped buying cross-overs as an act of civil disobedience. A more restrained approach would have kept my attention for longer.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


A mythical character is one that is universally recognised even by those who are unfamiliar with the original text. Usually, the character can be defined in a single phrase like the Great Detective or The Boy Who Never Grew Up. Many modern fictitious characters have become myths:

Sherlock Holmes
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
the Batman
James Bond

Some mythical heroes have mythical villains:

Holmes Moriarty
Bond Blofeld
Superman Luthor
the Batman the Joker
Bulldog Drummond Carl Peterson (ok, maybe they are not universally known)

In an earlier post, I said that the trailer for the upcoming Superman film evokes or expresses that character's mythical status. Although I am way behind with the Smallville TV series, just catching up with Season One on DVD, I have just watched a clip from much later in the series in which Luthor defines the mythical status of himself and his adversary:

Luthor resents Clark's years of deception and dishonesty;
he resents Kryptonian superiority to humanity;
if he had had those powers, he would have gloried in them, not hidden them;
he had earlier suggested that, with his intelligence and Clark's powers, they could rule the world but now he accepts that they are adversaries;
he, Luthor, is great because his enemy is;
"Our story has not been written yet" (or similar words; sorry if the quotation is not exact).

This is a powerful statement of a story known to us all "but ne'er so well expressed", a modern myth.

Reporting LuthorCorp Industrial Relations

On pp. 133-137 of the Smallville novel, Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith (Smallville Omnibus 2, London 2006), Chloe Sullivan works late in the Torch office at Smallville High School, reviewing recent events:

a group of LuthorCorp employees had talked to a union about improving working conditions at the Smallville plant;

Lex Luthor met this group and, although he did not want the plant to be unionised, did seem amenable to making changes that would benefit the work force;

two days later, every worker that had been connected with possible union activity was laid off;

however, the layoff notices came from the Metropolis office;

Lex, interviewed by Chloe, had promised to do the right things for the laid off employees, adding that it was illegal to fire anyone for union activity but that on this occasion he was obliged to act on his father's orders;

everyone said that this rang false but Lex had not rung false to Chloe.

Why do I value this passage? It is authentic real life stuff about journalism and industrial relations and is as far away from Superman as you can possibly get, the only discernible connection being the name of Superman's main adversary. These two major characters, Chloe and Lex, have taken centre stage.

I think we could have more fiction set in the DC Universe but focusing on citizens who do not fly or wear colourful costumes. Millions of people live in Metropolis and Gotham City reading the Daily Planet with Lexcorp or Wayne Tech ads in the background and with superhero activities reported in the news or discussed in Congress. Superheroes are an acknowledged mysterious powerful presence as the gods were to the Greeks, Romans or Vikings but the average person is as unlikely to meet Superman as they are to meet a politician or celebrity - but what would it be like to live in such a world?

Wow, Chloe Sullivan (And Allison Mack)!

What's not to like? -

a really cool character, specially created for the Smallville TV series;
also starring in The Chloe Chronicles on the web;
at one stage, accepts a job offer from Lionel Luthor (but I do not know the outcome of this);
has a thing for Clark but later marries Jimmy Olsen, then Oliver Queen!;
friendly with Pete Ross but never got together with him;
Allison Mack, who plays Chloe, had a big input into how the character developed;
continues into the Smallville comic where she becomes pregnant;
some fans thought that she would later change her name to Lois;

Imagine not only playing a part on TV but then seeing yourself drawn in the comic. I thought I was getting mixed signals about whether Chloe, while in Smallville, lived with both parents or only with her dad so I googled and got the impression that there is a mother but she is not always around (?) and that Allison Mack conferred with Editorial to work out this part of the character's background.

When Lois Lane had her own comic, it was all about her relationship with Supes but, in The Chloe Chronicles, a supporting character of the pre-Superman Clark Kent runs with her own series. In the Smallville novel, Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith, a ten and a half page chapter describes how the hero Lex faces down the FBI in his search for his kidnapped father and many chapter sections are narrated from Chloe's point of view. Here, we are at the furthest possible remove from the original Superman comics. First, we come forward many decades to an Internet Age version of the character, presented not in comic strips but on TV and in prose fiction. Then we go back ten years to before he was a superhero. Then we follow the separate exploits of these two major supporting characters, Lex and Chloe.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Understated Clark And The Heroic Lex

In Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith (Smallville Omnibus 2, London, 2006), Chloe, Clark and Lana have found two bodies in a pond at the Franklin farm and alerted the police. Later, investigating a second pond hidden in a swamp at the back of the farm, they see from a distance flannel and human hair on a tree and again contact the police. Clark alone has discerned two human bodies among the weeds but must wait, like everyone else, for police divers to recover a body that can be identified as a third murdered Franklin.

This is a far cry from the Superman that Clark will become or even from the Superboy that he was in earlier versions of the story. Apart from his more acute vision, he is just one of the crew. There are a couple of less obvious differences. He does not sweat. Insects rarely bite him and do not like it when they do. As for his special vision, Chloe notices:

"Clark...looked past her, staring at the spot where the divers had gone down. She doubted that he was really looking there. He seemed to be seeing something beyond all of them." (p. 109)

In one of the comics, Lois Lane comments on Clark Kent zoning out yet again. Chloe calls him "Eagle Eyes" and quips that he has "X-ray vision" (pp. 87, 82). It would be difficult to conceal the use of such powers especially when sharing information with someone as observant and suspicious as Chloe.

In Metropolis, Lex, not yet a villain, is instead a veritable hero marshalling not only the resources of Luthorcorp but also his own shady Metropolitan contacts to track down his father's kidnappers. At his command, a team of hackers traces the blackmailers' email and fax. This Lex is simply a different character from the original comic book villain. Even when he does become evil, it cannot possibly be in the same way as the earlier version.

Meanwhile, it is ironic but also appropriate, that Superman was first published in 1938 yet this novel, which was published in 2003 and is about Clark Kent before he became Superman, is fully up to date with its references to the Internet, faxes and emails. Superman exists in the eternal present.

A Diversion

From the Poul Anderson Appreciation blog last month:

For months, I have been reading, mainly rereading, Poul Anderson's novels and posting about them while reading them. This means that I read the books more slowly than usual but also that I get more out of them. It also means that I read less other stuff. However, I must occasionally read something else.

Having received the Smallville TV series First Season DVD's as a present, I have been watching the early episodes and have also started to reread a Smallville novel, Dragon by Alan Grant.

Grant's description of a small spacecraft surrounded by a meteor swarm entering the Solar System and falling towards Earth while the Luthors and Kents go about their business in Smallville, Kansas, is worthy of Anderson. Many different authors have written Superman. Isobel Allende wrote a Zorro novel - called Zorro. Poul Anderson contributed to many other authors' sf series. (In fact, "Anderson in Asimov's, Niven's and others' universes" could be a topic in itself.)

What if Anderson had written a Superman novel, scientifically rationalising all the absurdities of a humanoid alien with impossible powers and presenting the character as interacting not with even greater absurdities but with the real world of economic crisis, climate change and US military interventions - Clark Kent reporting from Iraq and investigating Lexcorp? The twentieth century myth of Superman deserves such treatment in the three related media of prose fiction, graphic fiction and film. Graphic story-telling is intermediate between prose and film. Each of the three can do what the others can't. Poul Anderson would have been able to write a memorable novel.

Lex And Lionel

Point of view is perfectly controlled in the Smallville novel, Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith (IN Smallville Omnibus 2, London, 2006).

As yet, I have reread eight of the twenty two chapters. So far, the point of view characters have been Clark, Chloe, Lionel and Lex. Thus, we have seen Lana, Pete, Jonathan and Martha only externally.

Lionel and Lex are strong viewpoint characters. There has been a complete reversal here. If a comic strip has a viewpoint character, then it must be the hero, thus Superman in Superman. Lex Luthor was created to be a villain in Superman comics but now we can read prose fiction in which Lex and even his father are viewpoint characters. This may be the only time when we get Lionel's pov? He is kidnapped so the only other way to narrate it would have been to give us the perspective of one of his kidnappers. Instead of that, what we read is Lionel's deductions about where he is being taken, plans to escape and/or negotiate with his captors etc and we must learn about them as he does.

These Luthors are complete reversals of the ones in the prestige format comic book Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography by James D. Hudnall. There, Luthor Senior is a drunken Metropolitan slum-dweller murdered for insurance money by his High School-attending son who, in this version, is self-seeking and even spiteful from the start and had been a class mate of Perry White, not an older friend of Clark Kent.

In Whodunnit, the Lex of the Smallville series pauses when it occurs to him that Lionel might already be dead at his kidnappers' hands.

"How often had he wished for that?" (p. 39)

But Lex energetically takes charge of the attempt to rescue his father. I have as yet seen little of the TV series but do remember that one Season ends with Lionel, life endangered, appealing to Lex whose dark side might be about to emerge...

Friday, 22 February 2013

Smallville: Whodunnit

I am starting to reread the Smallville novel, Whodunnit by Dean Wesley Smith in Smallville Omnibus Two (London, 2006), which gives no information about the authors. The novels are well written, readable and enjoyable and bear rereading especially since many of the details are forgotten after a few years.

They are of particular interest while watching the TV series on DVD. All that I remember about Whodunnit is that Lionel Luthor is kidnapped and that Clark and his friends find a murdered family on a Smallville farm. In fact, Chapter 1 ends with the discovery of a body and Chapter 2 begins with Lionel in Metropolis.

The cover of the original edition of the novel (see image) seems to show Lex looking for his father. I had not remembered that the novel is set during the period when Lana's boyfriend, Whitney, is away in the Marines. This defines its chronological relationship to the seasons of the TV series.

The author clearly is able to write the characters, so far Clark, Lana, Chloe and Lionel, consistently with the TV series and some knowledge of agricultural practices and techniques is helpful. It must be odd for an actor or actress reading the novels to find physical descriptions of themselves in the texts.

The novels enhance the TV drama. It would be good to have the complete set of Smallville DVD's, novels and comics.

Smallville: Hug

In this episode, two meteor-empowered salesmen can convince anyone of anything. Jonathan Kent even sells the farm although this situation is only temporary.

Chloe gets the chance to show her feelings for Clark. We see the first Superman-Luthor fight as Lex fires a machine gun at the bullet-proof Clark. Lex forgets this afterwards but we feel that one part of the real Lex has been revealed.

Knowing that the two salesmen had been friends but then fell out, Clark wonders if that could happen to him and Lex but Lex replies, "Trust me. Our friendship will be legendary." And it can be. Elliot S Maggin wrote a Superman comic in which the future Luthor, rehabilitated, befriends his former enemy and they travel round the galaxy together.

There is another way in which their friendship can become legendary. I understand that, later in the Smallville TV series, Lex dies only to be replaced by his evil clone. If that is what happens, then the early friend and the later enemy are different persons. Thus, both the friendship and the enmity can become legends. It could come to be known that the original Luthor had had a friend called Kent and that his clone was an enemy of Superman even if it were still not known that Kent and Superman were the same person.

Luthor mentions To Kill A Mocking Bird to Clark. In the John Byrne period of the comics, that novel had strongly influenced Clark Kent.

Smallville: Rogue and Shimmer

Two more episodes of Smallville: what occurs?

A second person learns Clark's secret but conveniently, although also plausibly, dies at the end. As the corrupt cop dies from bullet wounds, Lex asks him what he had on Clark but the cop won't help Lex. Lex watches security film on which Clark moves too fast to be seen.

An invisible man becomes visible when paint spills on him. (Alan Moore did this with Wells' Invisible Man, Griffin, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)

Good interactions involving Clark, Lana, Whitney and Chloe.

A very good sunset seen from the Kents' barn by Clark and Lana.

In Metropolis Museum, armor worn by Alexander the Great with a snake curled into an S on the front.

Lionel warns Lex against an English business rival's daughter (see image).

Very little of Pete here.

When Clark told his parents that it was ok for him to use his powers in Metropolis because (he thought) no one saw him, he should also have emphasized that he was saving a guy's life.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Runaway III

Reading further, I find that the Smallville novel, Runaway (New York, 2003) by Suzan Colon, is indeed set in a highly specific period of the TV series, maybe between Seasons One and Two:

Lana has known Lex for just over a year;
Lana's Aunt Nell has moved to Metropolis and Lana has moved in with the Sullivans;
Clark has told Pete about his powers;
Lionel Luthor was temporarily blinded and is living in Smallville;
Clark mysteriously found Lana just after some tornadoes (I think this was the climax of Season One but will find out).

This novel also refers to the previous Smallville novel by the same author, thus forming a series within the series.

Luna tells Clark:

" 'Wait till you see [Metropolis] at night, when it's all lit up...It's really beautiful.' " (p. 56)

This expresses in prose what we saw on screen in the early episode when Jonathan and Martha went to the city for their anniversary. Clark delivers a package to the Daily Planet and, of course, decides that he wants to work there. Series writers have an endless ability to add new details to an already established story.

There are some more switches of viewpoint. On pp. 71-74, a conversation seems to begin from Lana's viewpoint and definitely ends with Chloe's. On pp. 114-118, a conversation definitely begins from Martha's point of view but ends from Chloe's.

Addendum: On pp. 41-44, the viewpoint changes from Martha to Jonathan and back.

I thought there was a reference to Clark finding Lana after the tornadoes but now can't find it.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Runaway II

Two clever things about Runaway (New York, 2003), the second Smallville novel by Suzan Colon:

a new woman friend with an L-name, Luna;

we already know that Clark will move to Metropolis maybe to attend University but certainly to work as a reporter - however, by making him run away to Metropolis while still at High School, Suzan Colon becomes able to describe Clark arriving in Metropolis for the first time before he moves there permanently.

This is a perfect addition to a series because it is a major story in its own right but at the same time manages not to contradict established continuity.

By referring back to her earlier novel, the author also summarises the effects on Clark of the Smallville version of red kryptonite. I was not familiar with this version of red k yet since I am still watching only Season One.

When Clark tells Luna to order whatever meal she wants and he will pay for it, she asks if his last name is Luthor so the familiar name is easily woven into the background of the story. Like other Smallville novels, this is an enjoyable read.

Smallville: Runaway

This Smallville novel by Suzan Colon is set in a highly specific period of the TV series:

Martha Kent has become Lionel Luthor's personal assistant;
Terrance Reynolds has become principal of Smallville High School;
Lana Lang is managing the Talon coffee bar;
Whitney Fordman has gone to the Marines from which, I think, he will not return;
Clark had recently declared his feelings for Lana, then returned to being just friends (I think that this probably happened in Smallville: Buried Secrets by Suzan Colon, to which Runaway (New York, 2003) is a sequel.)

A note "About the Author" says that Suzan Colon has written two Smallville novels, a Catwoman book (novel?) and features for magazines. Although writing scripts for a TV series or novels based on the series is not on the same literary level as writing entirely original screenplays or novels, it is nevertheless a writing assignment involving skills which most of us do not have. I would like to be able to write fiction and to contribute to a series like Smallville. Alan Grant, who has written at least two Smallville novels as well as other novels based directly on the comic book versions of several DC characters, is mainly a comic books writer whereas Suzan Colon seems to be entirely a prose writer and this novel, like all the volumes of the series that I have acquired, is written well.

There is one stylistic problem in Chapter 3. The chapter is narrated from Clark's point of view until the top of p. 18 where:

"Clark wasn't sure he'd heard her right." (p. 18)

Lana continues to speak, then:

"Lana was interrupted by a flash of memory: Clark coming into the Talon..." (p. 18)

She reminisces about the incident, then returns to what she was saying. So the point of view has jumped abruptly from Clark to Lana in mid-speech and stays with her for the rest of the chapter. But writers generally accept and readers, if they reflect on it, expect that each scene will be narrated from a single point of view. Lana and Clark each experience the entire conversation only from their own perspective. The jump from one point of view to the other does not represent anything that happens in a real conversation.

Sometimes, a writer will, in different chapters or chapter sections, describe a conversation or other occurrence first from one point of view, then from another. If that had been done here, then we would have been told how both Clark and Lana had perceived the entire conversation and would have appreciated added depth rather than an abrupt change of viewpoint.


I dug the first glimpse of Metropolis in the Smallville TV series: long avenues of brightly lit skyscrapers, presumably New York at night (see image). Willingly suspending disbelief, we think, "Superman will fly between these towers."

We see:

a Metropolitan woman putting her baby to sleep in their apartment;
a former employee approaching the Luthor Corp building and asking to see Lionel (presumably, there will in future be an "L"-shaped  Lexcorp building);
Jonathan and Martha Kent spending two nights in the city and eating out to celebrate their anniversary.

I gather that in later seasons the series moves to Metropolis and maybe should have changed its title accordingly.

In the Smallville novel, Runaway by Suzan Colon, Clark temporarily runs away to Metropolis where he works for a message delivery service and delivers messages so amazingly fast that he would have had no trouble holding down that job if he had wanted to. Alan Moore's Top Ten is set in Neopolis where nearly everyone has super powers. For example, the pizza delivery boy has super speed. Clark's temporary job, the speedster pizza delivery boy and the scene in the first Superman film of young Clark outrunning a train both ultimately derive from the single panel on the first page of Superman where the adult Clark outran a train.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Smallville: Jitters

In this episode, we see:

Chloe's embarassing father who manages Luthorcorp, Smallville;
Clark moving so fast that everyone else seems to be standing still;
friction between Lana and Whitney;
a meteor-affected man vibrating in a way that could become super speed.

- and Lex sees:

more evidence of Clark's powers, not only how did he pull two guys to safety, which Lex does ask about, but a hole smashed through a wall, which he does not ask about but must notice;
real family feeling between the Kents while having to fake it with his father for the cameras;
his father successfully covering up again.
Thus, the story inches forward at the right pace for a TV series.

Addendum: And we learn that this version of Martha moved from Metropolis to Smallville to marry Jonathan. I think she was local in earlier versions. I felt I had to show an image of Clark, Lex and the vibrating man but could not resist including Chloe (and Pete) as well.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Manor II

The young Bruce Wayne, who is to become the masked avenger known as the Batman, chases a rabbit in the grounds of Wayne Manor and falls through a hole into the Cave where he is frightened by a bat. Thus, there are two Alice In Wonderland aspects to Wayne's career:

falling through a hole after following a rabbit;
later, an insane opponent modeled on, and named after, the Mad Hatter.

The young Oliver Queen, who is to become the costumed adventurer known as Green Arrow, kills a rabbit with an arrow in the grounds of Queen Manor. Queen's encounter with a rabbit is cleverly designed to contrast with Wayne's.

Green Arrow started out just as "Batman with Arrows." Everything was in place: the Manor; the Cave; the car; the plane; the signal; the kid sidekick. Trick arrows from GA's quiver were like techno-gadgets from the Batman's utility belt. Later, Queen lost his fortune, grew a beard, changed his costume and attitude, lost the trick arrows, went on the road and became a different character with some memorable stories, particularly from Mike Grell who avoided any reference to really existing superheroes so that, for Grell's run, the series could have been set in a universe where superheroes were fictions.

Not only have the Batman and Green Arrow moved on from their earlier stories but the kid sidekicks, Grayson and Harper, have grown up and become independent characters. Change occurs in comics universes although at a slower rate than on Earth Real.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Manor

In our collective imagination, there is a Manor house where a hidden staircase descends to a secret headquarters in a cave beneath the Manor. The occupant of the Manor leads a double life as a notorious but anonymous vigilante whose costume, equipment, gadgets, vehicles, computer, archives, laboratory, gymnasium etc are housed in the Cave.

Usually, the house is called "Wayne Manor". However, it has counterparts on other fictitious Earths. Zorro's grandfather clock concealed the hidden staircase before Bruce Wayne's did. However, this is not a coincidence because a Zorro film inspired the young Wayne.

Two members of a super powered police force arrest a dog-themed vigilante in the cave beneath his Manor in Alan Moore's Top Ten and I am currently rereading Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's The Boys, Vol 2, Get Some (London, 2008), in which Butcher and Hughie of the CIA superhero watchdog team interrogate the vigilante Tek-Knight in the cave beneath his Manor.

"Old money" is mentioned in both Top Ten and The Boys. This is familiar territory to the reader even though the names and incidental details of the characters have changed as they always do on different parallel Earths.

When Tek-Knight cannot understand something, he expresses his mystification thus:

"It's a mystery. A grade one, primo, full-on, even the world's greatest detective couldn't solve this motherfucker, mystery...", (Chapter Eight, Get Some, Part Two)

And, of course, in the DC Universe, the world's greatest detective is none other than the Batman - unless we count Holmes who, I think, is still alive in the Himalayas.

Later: As I reread, I realise that Tek-Knight resembles Iron Man in that he is super powered only when wearing his armour. But this also makes him similar to the Batman who fought Kent at the end of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Parodic super heroes are derived from diverse sources.

JLA And Analogues

The original Justice League of America line up was:

2 Greek myths/royal persons: an Amazon princess and an Atlantean king;
2 cosmic forces: speed and light;
2 extraterrestrial exiles: a Martian and a Kryptonian;
1 masked avenger.

At least two other superhero teams are exact one to one analogues:

the Marvel Comics Squadron Supreme;
the Seven in Garth Ennis' The Boys.

The Seven are (allegedly):

a Queen of Otherworld and a helmeted submariner;
Mr Marathon replaced by A-Train and the Lamplighter replaced by Starlight;
a Jovian and an extrasolar alien;
Black Noir (who turns out to be a surprise). 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Quiet Moments

What I like in comics is quiet moments, conversational passages with graphic art that shows the characters' facial expressions and interactions against colourful detailed backgrounds. There is a lot of this in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates but the work that I am currently rereading is Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's The Boys, Vol 3, Good For The Soul.

Early in this volume, there are six entire pages of Hughie and Annie remeeting and speaking in Central Park, New York. She is so distraught that she initially embraces him. They sit and talk. We see close ups from different angles and some scenes shot from further away. There is a lot of greenery and we should look at the details of the Park.

They arrange to meet that evening and their relationship really starts from here. Neither yet suspects that they are on opposite sides. It is only by chance that a guy like Hughie is getting together with a woman like Annie.

We turn the page and are into a conversation between the Boys who start to spy on a conversation of the Seven while Hughie goes to eavesdrop on Teenage Kix. In fact, the volume opens when Annie speaks to Christ in a church while Hughie goes to speak to the Legend and Butcher talks with Rayner. All of this is more entertaining than when the Boys spend several pages trashing Supes.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Superman Writers and An Editor

Passing Julius Schwartz in a hotel corridor at a World Science Fiction Convention, I shouted, "Hi. I'm a Superman fan!", to which he replied, "Good for you!", after which we continued on our separate ways. Despite being a long time Superfan, I had not got back into reading comics yet so I had nothing else to say.

I have met Alan Moore a couple of times. Although never a regular Superman writer, he did write three good Superman stories, including the "last Superman story", "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?", edited by Julius Schwartz. By that time, I had got back into reading comics and I took the opportunity to thank Alan Moore for what he had done with both Superman and the derivative Marvelman.

Earlier today, a remark on facebook implied that local writer Andy Diggle was going to be writing Superman. A text to local Comic Book Guy Mark, then a quick google search, confirmed that Andy will follow Grant Morrison on Action Comics. I really do mean, "Far freaking out!" Superman is a myth but his story continues through the creative imaginations housed in the brains of regular guys who walk the streets of Northampton, Glasgow and Lancaster. (Well, I haven't met Grant but I assume he is a regular guy?)

As you know, Andy has been Tharg and has written a number of characters including the Moore-created John Constantine and Green Arrow (Green Arrow: Year One - GAY1). In general, I have been turned off by what has been done to Superman in mainstream continuity, although I expect I will read Grant's run in collected editions, but, in any case, I am going to have to see what Andy Diggle does with the original superhero. The myth continues on screen and in print.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Man Of Steel Film Trailer

I have just watched the Man Of Steel trailer which conveys very clearly that Superman is a myth. On the one hand, we recognise the story. On the other hand, we always want to see a fresh new version of it. It is both old and new. Jonathan Kent played by an unfamiliar actor nevertheless is clearly Jonathan Kent.

The familiar myth is easily conveyed by the name "Clark", by a swirling red cape, by a distant human figure seen flying against the clouds.

Jonathan says that the man Clark becomes will change the world. This is as it should be. As Alan Moore made clear in Watchmen and Marvelman, anyone that powerful would change the world simply by existing in it. We should imagine that we are looking at a new version of Superman whose existence is being revealed now or the day after and that the future will be different with him in it: not only the Man Of Steel but the Man of Tomorrow.

The only other comment that I can make at present is that, having searched for images on the internet, I do not like the changes that have been made to the costume.

Verbals And Visuals

Rereading a Poul Anderson science fiction novel late at night, I suddenly wanted visual as well as verbal input so I switched to rereading The Boys Vol 4, We Gotta Go Now, by Garth Ennis.

A novelist describes a scene to his readers so that we can visualise it whereas a comics script writer describes a scene to the artist so that we can see it. The same fictive process, the transmission of an image from author to reader, is mediated differently.

Occasionally, the writer is also the artist. In that case, he does not merely relate but realises the visuals of the scene or event to be communicated. In either case, whether there is a writer-artist team or a solo writer-artist, the visualising has been done for us but it is down to us to notice the details in each panel, not just to follow the narrative from panel to panel by reading speech balloons and captions. In a purely verbal medium, our attention moves continuously along the lines of the text and from page to page whereas, with graphic fiction, we need to pause in order to look as well as to read.

Returning to the novel the following day, I immediately found one of Anderson's rich descriptive passages. Two of the characters:

"...turned north into Riverside, a road cut from the left bank of the Jayin. On their right, trees screened them from view of town, a long row of deep-rooted swordleaf, preserved amidst this terrestrialized ecology to be a windbreak when tornados whirled out of the west. Opposite, the stream flowed broad, murmurous, evening ablaze upon it...On the farther shore, native pastureland rolled into blue remoteness...a peacefulness that Sparling wished Constable could have painted...Westward under a sinking Bel, a few clouds glowed orange. Elsewhere the sky stood unutterably clear." (Fire Time, London, 1977, pp. 68-69)

There is a lot more but I can't quote indefinitely. Appropriately, for the comparison that I am making between prose and graphics, one of the characters wishes for a pictorial representation.

In The Boys, we get:

beautiful pictures of Hughie and Annie naked in a field or in bed together;
a distant horizon seen through the wall-sized window of a superhero team's hovering headquarters;
an American corporate executive talking importantly into a mobile phone while driving around a golf course;
close-ups of our characters' wistful glances, enigmatic smiles, horrified stares etc;
a gallery of covers by big name comic book artists, including Dave Gibbons of Watchmen.

Far out. Vive la difference.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Paradoxes Of Sequential Art

(i) A nonverbal panel may be an instantaneous snap shot whereas a panel with a speech balloon represents the period of time during which a character spoke those words.

(ii) A panel with speed lines after a moving vehicle or flying superhero represents the period of time during which the motion occurred.

(iii) We understand that a winged superhero, angel or demon flies by flapping their wings but, because the art, although sequential, remains static, we never see the wings flapping. We might instead imagine that the character is gliding. I have not seen JLA animations with Hawkman or -woman flying. Presumably, they do show the flapping. Live action films would now be able to do it with special effects.

(iv) Some comic readers, used to reading texts, read the speech balloons and captions, then move on, missing any information that is purely visual. In Watchmen, Rorscharch's face had been before us from page 2 but I didn't recognise him when he was unmasked.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

From Superman To Smallville

Two posts ago, I argued that the first published page of Superman (see image) should be included as the last page of a science fiction volume of the Britannica Great Books of the Western World series. This brief superhero origin story is not great writing but is of considerable significance. In a single page, it encapsulates heroic traditions starting from Samson and Hercules, links them to science fiction and initiates the modern pictorial and cinematic mythology of superheroes.

One post ago, I commented on an episode of the Smallville TV series. Smallville is derived from, very different from and of much higher quality than that original Superman story, which kind of proves the point about the significance of the latter.

The full potential of superheroes has not yet been realised although the fact of that potential is demonstrated by John Byrne's Man Of Steel mini-series, the Smallville TV series, Alan Moore's Watchmen and Marvelman, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates, Tom Veitch's and Bryan Talbot's The Nazz, Garth Ennis' The Boys etc. This one page started all that.

Addendum, 6/2/13: One panel of Krypton, not yet named! Since then, Krypton has had a lot more coverage in the stories, has been twice visited by a time travelling Superman, has had other survivors including two entire cities, has gained a history, in fact alternative histories, has featured in a back up series, more than one mini-series and a novel and has appeared on cinema screens. That one panel is a metaphorical acorn.

Smallville: Craving

In this episode, Luthor continues to move imperceptibly towards the truth:

he visits Smallville High to check whether he can fund its computers;
he sees Chloe's Wall of Weird;
she confirms to him that she thinks meteors, not Luthorcorp, explain Smallvillean weirdnesses;
she mentions Professor Hamilton who is researching the meteors;
Luthor visits Hamilton's lab and eventually gets Hamilton to accept a cheque from him.

When looking at the Wall, Lex tells Clark for the first time how he lost his hair. Clark says he is sorry and Lex, of course, says that it is not his fault. He might revise that opinion later.

My daughter, having seen this and previous episodes, commented that Smallville High should be making the national news with a different one of its pupils being transformed every week. However, this is a TV version of the DC Universe where strange things do happen every week, or at least every month:

there was probably a superhero team during World War II;
there may be evidence that Atlantis still exists under the sea, inhabited by merpeople;
it might join the UN;
there may also be visits from other planets;
there will be evidence of ghosts and other supernatural events, maybe even of the Olympians and Aesir;
Bruce Wayne will meanwhile be travelling around the world, encountering some very strange people.

I do not think that Smallville will make it into the national news although the Planet might send someone from nearby Metropolis.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

"Great Books"

Britannica published a Great Books of the Western World series, two volumes of summary and discussion followed by fifty eight volumes covering three thousand years of epics, drama, history, philosophy, logic, mathematics, science, theology, psychology, economics, political theory and novels, from Homer to Beckett.

If the series had been able to include one single work of science fiction (sf), then I suggest that it should have been HG Wells' The Time Machine, an admirably brief speculation about the nature of time and the future of mankind with vivid imaginative descriptions of "time travelling." If an expanded edition of the series were to include a volume of sf, then I suggest that the contents should be:

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus;
The Time Machine;
Last And First Men;
the first page of Superman from Action Comics no 1, June 1938.

Frankenstein, the first sf novel, addressing the issue of the legitimacy or otherwise of scientific inquiry, is listed as "Additional Reading" on "Science," which is one of the 102 "great ideas of Western thought," from "Angels" to "World," identified by the Great Books editors. The Time Machine is listed for "Progress" and "Time."

I think that Superman should be included among the works of fiction because:

it can be represented by a single page;
whereas the Great Books includes Nietzsche among the philosophers, the comic book Superman was created by an American Jewish writer-artist team during the period when the Nazis were in power in Germany;
this Superman not only represents a transition of media from prose fiction to sequential art but also initiated the transition of genres from sf to superheroes, just as Frankenstein had initiated the earlier transition of genres from Gothic fiction to sf;
it should be recognized that narrative, drama and sequential art are the three story-telling media;
superheroes, also known as mystery men, are a major modern multi-media, mainly magazines and movies, mythology;
the "Additional Reading" for Superman would include the seminal sf novel, Gladiator by Philip Wylie, a possible source for Superman, and Alan Moore's major work, Marvelman/Miracleman, which not only expresses but also reflects on ancient and modern mythology.