Saturday, 21 December 2013

"...And There Is Death"

Superman began in 1938, Sandman in 1939, both during the Golden Age of Comics. That original Sandman was a vigilante like the Batman but was also part of the new superheroes genre initiated by Superman. Over that many decades, comic book characters appear in several versions.

Superman's comic book versions have been those associated with, in this order:

Earth 2;
Earth 1;
Earth DC/ "Man of Steel" miniseries;
"Birthright" miniseries;
the 52 multiverse;
the New 52 multiverse.

I think. I may have got it slightly wrong towards the end but you might detect my lack of interest in too many continuity changes happening too quickly for any sort of narrative continuity or plausibility.

The Sandman versions have been:

the Golden Age version;
Jack Kirby's different version of the 1970's;
Neil Gaiman's re-creation of the Kirby version in which the title, The Sandman, and the central character's names, Morpheus, Dream etc, diverge.

The Superman of Earth DC indirectly influenced Morpheus because that Superman's powers had been scaled down for plausibility whereas Gaiman, disagreeing with this, decided to make his Endless, including Dream, virtually omnipotent. I agree with DC that it was inappropriate that Superman, a physical being, had become infinitely fast, strong etc but I also fully accept Gaiman's different treatment of his metaphysical Endless.

A fact of life is that we all die permanently. A fact of comic book life is that central characters die temporarily. Monthly comic books overdo and cheapen everything, even the death and resurrection myth. In one Green Arrow comic, the regular return of the deceased had become such a routine occurrence that they even asked the embarrassing question, "How many of you were at my funeral?"

The Superman of the DC universe died in 1993 and Neil Gaiman's Morpheus/Dream died in 1995 but what a difference! Superman stayed dead or, later, presumed dead for most of '94 but then was back to normal with a complete loss of story direction whereas Morpheus stayed dead and his series ended but is permanently in print in collected editions. Thus, he is of much more enduring significance than any character who merely recurs in different versions in ephemeral monthly periodicals. There was a new Dream at the end of The Sandman but this was a new aspect, a different personality, with no memory of having been Morpheus who had permanently and irrevocably entered his sister's realm.

Imagine a version of Superman treated as seriously as Gaiman treated Morpheus. See my earlier post "Getting Superman Right."

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