Happy Father’s Day.
At some point, relatively early on, in the retrospect of history, the people who make and published comic book stories realized that nobody would buy a story about Superman struggling to beat somebody up. Those rivers had long dried. He’s Superman. Nobody can beat him up. The people behind the comic book stories of the 1950s-1970s (roughly) had a pretty good idea: take the focus off of Superman’s ability to succeed and place the focus on Superman’s ability to cope with puzzling, unpunchable disasters.
The Superman comics of the time: Superman, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane were specific answers to a question that has since gone on to stump comic writers in the decades after their publication: “how can we get people excited about the adventures of an invincible guy?”
The answer is simply this: the writer doesn’t confront his characters with problems that they already possess the skills to cope with. The writer confronts his characters with problems that the characters haven’t yet learned how to cope with, regardless of those characters expertise in other talents.
Superman is bulletproof, can punch a building to pieces and fly to Mars. But how can he cope with a jealous wife?
Superman is the only superman but what happens if he finds a place where people all pretend to be him? He’s strong but what about when his best friend develops stretching powers? Or psychic powers? What does this bulletproof, flying guy do when he finds that his protected identity is at risk of being compromised?
There isn’t anybody in the world who reasonably believes that Superman will finally get punched so hard that he falls down and the earth will be conquered. Nobody believes that. Which is why 1993’s The Death of Superman was such an awful comic. That is precisely what happened: a super-DUPER-alien came to earth and punched Superman until he died. Shame on you dudes. The only positive is that Superman came back to life as a lightning bolt.
Superman is not only perfect, he’s super. Superior. Better. Higher. He can perform miraculous feats and that is a large part of the appeal. What do you do with a character who can do anything you’d like to do better? Again: you give that character a suitable and believable challenge.
Or you change the apparent circumstances of that character’s known traits or predicaments so that the audience feels compelled to know what the situation is and why strange things are happening. Why is Superman pranking Jimmy Olsen? Why is Superman murdering Lois Lane? There must be a logical, reasonable explanation for this. My senses do not deceive me, so there must be something else to this story. Here, have my thirty-five cents, have my dollar, have my $2.99-$3.99. Just let me know what happened to where Superman is acting like this, why Jimmy Olsen has developed strange abilities, why are things not-as-they-should-be?
“It ain’t a dream, things ain’t always what it seems!” -The Notorious B.I.G.
One of the reasons why modern superhero comics fail to captivate people is that their self-important seriousness has passed earnestness and passed self-parody and moved into a perverse mixture of passionate fetishism and pretentious ambitionlessness.
This, I promise you: it doesn’t matter if your comic story is six issues, or an eighteen-part crossover event, nobody will ever believe that the bad guys will win and kill the cartoon character good guys, enslave the earth and end the comic book series. Never going to happen. Also: it’s highly unlikely (in the we-are-the-99-percent statistical region) that the audience will be on the edges of their seats for half of a year, clenching their knuckles, eager to reach the conclusion of your superhero story (spoiler: the character whose name is in the title punches the bad guy until the bad guy succumbs to head trauma).
I will even go so far as to tell you that it is desperately unlikely that your audience will be panting in anticipation for three months about the conclusion of your “short” story arc. Let’s be reality: it shouldn’t take three months of waiting to know that a make believe guy summons the courage and inner strength to punch another make believe guy really hard.
Listen, listen. Please listen: no matter who you are, you do not have anything to say using the medium of a superhero comic book that should last more than a single issue of that comic book. Yes, you too. I don’t care what your name is or what awards you have won. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the comics that you ladies and gentlemen are writing/publishing/drawing. I enjoy them for what they are. But you’re bugging if you think that any of this stuff beats the following: