Comics

Please Don't Enter the Museum!: "Superman Family Adventures #1"

It's the one thing that's never been recaptured in all the years of attempting to recapture that original Silver Age Superman, and Art & Franco have it in spades…


Superman Family Adventures #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Art Baltazar & Franco
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2012-07
Amazon

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children, of all ages…presenting the one, the only… he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he is as powerful as any locomotive, faster than even a speeding bullet… here's your… Superman!

If you've read, as I have Dear Reader, with earnestness and at times even emotional involvement, Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's much-hailed masterpiece of Superman iconography, this past decade's All Star Superman, and if in doing so, you believe as I once believed, Dear Reader, that this has been a return to the zany, crazy, wild scifi of the Superman of a bygone era, then indeed you are correct. But if you believe, even for a moment, that this zany, crazy, wild scifi, as zany and as crazy and as wild as it surely is, is in some way the modern analog of those classic Superman Adventures from that bygone era, then your belief is certainly misplaced, Dear Reader. Because while Morrison's writing and Quitely's artwork certainly effect the same content, the emotional experience of you and I, Dear Reader, reading All Star Superman, could not be further from the emotional experience of those original readers reading those original Adventures. And I say this honestly because, simply put, Morrison's storytelling conforms to modern storytelling techniques. And those original Adventures, are of a more classic storytelling pedigree.

Morrison's All Star Superman is certainly one of the hidden gems of comics in any age. It does smack of a return to the pre-reboot Superman (the first DC reboot in 1985/85 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, not the more recent reboot of the New 52). But it is also dissimilar to pre-reboot Superman in at least one crucial way. And that is, the storytelling is far more structured, for more honed, far more, in a word, "mature". Buying a comic today, and reading it cover to cover, is a very different experience from a comic prior to 1971. Back then, comics had far more in common with pulp magazines, and pulp styles of storytelling and narrative. Even after the Juvenile Delinquency Hearings and the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, comics stories and comics storytelling remained garish and outlandish (the industry having had its hand forced into self-regulating against "lurid").

This was particularly evidenced with Superman, the first, and even at that point, still the primary superhero. Fifties and '60s Superman Adventures were episodic, short, and included huge chasms across which its audience leaped, suspending their disbelief. Like some four generations earlier, when readers of Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes as a kind of interlocutor for all rational knowledge in the world, or like today when Hugh Laurie's House intercedes for audiences to explain the current episode's medical intricacies, Superman of the '50s and '60s acted as translator for what was back then unimaginable science. In defeating Brainiac for the umpteenth time, Superman would readily explain in the final captions, that it was "unstable radio molecules" that cause the mudslide. In the Silver Age, science fiction was very much a part of not only the stories, but a part of the storytelling itself.

But things change after 1971. We see the rise of social realism, a deepening of characterization, a growing complexity of narrative imbrication. The change happens suddenly, and almost exclusively in one place, in Superman Adventures when the creative team of writer Denny O'Neill and artist Neal Adams take the helm. In a year-long storyarc (arguably the very first storyarc) Denny and Neal tell the story of "Kryptonite Nevermore!". This was possibly nothing more than an editorial mechanism to reduce the influence of Kryptonite, the mysterious radioactive element from Superman's homeworld of Krypton which causes his powers to falter. But what Denny made of this was a genetic launchpad for the future of comics storytelling. Superman deepened as a character, his relationships with those around him became as important as his powers. And the appearance and reappearance of "Sand Superman" time and again throughout this year, signaled an increasing sophistication on storytelling. These weren't simply formula-driven, episodic adventures any longer. These were far-reaching events, that had a deep and lasting impact on the character and his world.

So as much as All Star Superman looks like the Superman of the past, it never really recaptures that original storytelling mechanism. The mechanism with scifi at its core, the mechanism where the adventures are episodic, and where the character possesses unique knowledge (hidden in the beginning, of course, that's really the drama of each adventure), and will ultimately act as interlocutor for the reader. This was a Superman larger than ourselves, where Superman himself would intercede between us as readers, and a science we couldn't possibly know.

And any attempt to recapture that Superman would be incomplete if captures only the content and the themes and the joyful garishness, without attempting to recapture that mode of storytelling. Which is to say, you should really read All Star Superman because it is a beautiful project, and it is worth your time. But if you really want to read the "modernization" of the classic Superman Adventures from the '50s and '60s, you should really, really read Art Baltazar & Franco's new offering, Superman Family Adventures.

Because Art and Franco recapture that unique storytelling mode that enthralled some three generations. This is Art & Franco's successor book to their runaway smash hit Tiny Titans. In a cheapened way of looking, this is a kids' book. Which is to say, this is Art & Franco maturing their creative output to meet the narrative needs of their maturing audience. Which is to say, I won't need to explain to kids how to read this book, or why. Which is to say I fear that, if you think of this as a kids-only book, you might miss out on the magic that Art & Franco find in Superman.

This is the generational story of Superman. It is the unsullied, unfettered story of how Superman has come to live as a deep and meaningful idea in the popular imagination for nearly a century now. And it is a vision of this deeply iconic character, crafted by the hands of masters. And this is the purest, most accessible form of that classic, Silver Age storytelling. A return to that deep science fiction of Superman.

If every other vision of Superman, subsequent to "Kryptonite Nevermore!", is an homage to Hemingway, then what Art & Franco have achieved is Hemingway's summer home in Cuba. Now a museum, you can walk the grounds and look in by the windows, but the veil of history (and the Cuban Museum Board) prevents you from entering. And it is with a sense of pure delight, that Art & Franco resurrect that same sense of a museum that captures the past as a working, lived-in space, that you may look in on at any time.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image