Sunday, 14 November 2010

"The Truth": What Straczynski & Davis's "Superman: Earth One" Tells Us About Morrison & Quitely's "All-Star Superman", & Vice-Versa, part 2 of 4


continued from last Friday;

5.


I.

Elsewhere in "Superman: Earth One", Mr Straczynski is forced to rely on exposition to establish key plot-points which he and Mr Davis have forgotten to actually show the reader on the page. When the decidedly unfearsome Tyrell questions Jimmy as to why he hasn't "run away" when "everyone else" has (65:1). (*1) Olsen declares in a quite inconceivably pretentious fashion that "I'm a news photographer. We don't turn away, and we don't run from the picture." (65:4) It's a statement which might have sounded less cringeworthy if the reader had previously been provided with a single panel in which Olsen's fellow citizens were indeed pictured racing away in fear while he was shown to the bravest man alive. But, since we've not had a chance to directly compare Olsen's behaviour with that of "everyone else", it's hard to generate such an awed respect for Jimmy that we can swallow the haughty slogan that Mr Straczynski has him deliver.


Of course, the irony is that this exchange just makes Olsen sound like a pompous jerk, and a fool too, since it's not simply brave to stand before alien cannon taking photographs and proclaiming your moral daring; it's actually incredibly stupid, and futile too. But Jimmy Olsen has to be shown as an incredibly daring and principled man at that point in the story, because Clark Kent, who can't make a single decision for himself without following another character's lead in "Earth-One", has to be inspired by what is in truth ignorant and egotistical behaviour. Regardless of whether Olsen is or isn't actually behaving in a laudable and valiant fashion, the structure of the narrative of "Superman: Earth One" relies on him being perceived by Clark and the readers to be doing so. And so we're given the following deathless exchange between tyrant and shutterbug;

Tyrell: "You and your kind would stay and die for a photograph?"

Olsen: "No -- we stay and die for the truth. Because it's the only thing worth dying for." (65:3-5)


And at these words, the watching Clark Kent, who has seen Metropolis assailed by alien ships for a good while now and done very little at all in response, finally clenches a fist and allows himself to be moved at last into some aggressively super-heroic action.

II.

It's a moment that makes some purely functional sense in the terms of the beats of the story. The character of Clark needs an inciting incident that will transform him through a good example into Superman, and that's what Jimmy is, a dramatically and supposedly inspiring one-dimensional plot device. But just a moment's thought can reveal how shameful the scene and those words are. Firstly, because journalistic "truth" surely isn't the "only thing worth dying for". I can think of so many other causes worth laying down a life for that it's futile to begin to list them, but, nevertheless and to make a point, perhaps we might agree there might be just cause for self-sacrifice if a beloved neighbour needs saving from a burning building, or when the principle of a vital civil liberty is under threat? But to suggest that a newspaperboy's truth is the only thing worth dying for is actually a rather disagreeable statement, callous in its egotism and absurd in its meaning. But, regardless of logic, JMS constructs his script around that principle. It's Olsen's willingness to be ray-gunned in the name of this ill-defined "truth" that turns Clark into the Man Of Steel.


It's such an odd thing for Olsen to be made to say in the first place. There he is in the story, placed by JMS in direct opposition to the big evil antagonist of "Superman: Earth One", and the major turning point of the whole tale relies on Mr Straczynski's decision to have one character pronounce to the big baddie that they're willing to die for the "truth". But in what way is Tyrell standing for "lies"? In what way is this turning point connected to the conflict that forms the spine of the book, namely Tyrell's hunting down of Clark? Perhaps it'll be revealed in a later volume that the alien world-killer has not been entirely truthful with the history of Krypton that he later relates to Clark, but there's no sign of that in "Earth:One" itself. And so, while I could accept that the fight against Tyrell was all about "survival" or "freedom", I've no idea what this "truth" has to do with things. I can't even say why Jimmy Olsen feels he's serving the truth by dodging around a battlefield taking pictures of robots. It's impossible to believe that there won't be a host of photos from the various cameras that the state and its citizens possess in 21st century America, so why is Olsen out there? Is he engaged in some moral mission armed only with a camera, or is he perhaps fighting for this "truth" by taking a better quality of picture? Whatever he's doing, it's Jimmy that's the hero of "Superman: Earth One" in terms of the structure of the book. "Everyone else" is running away, but Jimmy's actively taking photos, and that's what makes the alien in the jodhpurs Superman. Even if Superman's value is later to be revealed as a figure who inspires all these cowardly Terrans to do something, it's Jimmy that establishes that key point first.


It's ridiculous, of course. It's the single most important event in the whole book and it's so silly, so puffed up with authorial imprecision and misdirection and so wounded by the stupidity of the silly concept being thrown around that it quite literally defies understanding; how could JMS and his editors have ever let this get to the published page? But, regardless, Mr Straczynski wants to tell us that Olsen is brave because his plot demands it to be so, and so a brave example there will be. Most worrying, however, isn't the total lack of sense, but the assumption on Mr Straczynski's part that the big gesture needn't be anchored in a recognisably moral context. Bravery in isolation from a decent cause is no virtue. There are endless examples of quite despicable individuals in history who were "brave" and yet quite appalling at the same time. "Bravery" in isolation from principle is no more admirable than, for example, "determination" untempered by decency, and being brave in the name of some ill-defined and photo-centred "truth" is actually rather contemptible; is this Jimmy Olsen really this pretentious and stupid? What is this "truth" that Tyrell is so threatening and how is Olsen standing up for the truth with his brave picture-taking?

For, yes, we're all aware that Superman has traditionally been defined as a superhero standing up for "truth", as well as "justice" and, in most versions, the "American way". But a stance of "my truth unto death regardless of whether it means anything at all" is hardly a statement of principle worth sacrificing one's life for, or rather, it's not for all but the most self-obsessed of individuals.


III.

And so, though Olsen is eventually shown attempting to help Superman escape from the effects of a super-weapon, the damage to the plot and the meaning of "Superman: Earth One" has already been done. The reader's sense of what the book's about has been quite derailed by this key but ill-advised principle of "truth", and Olsen himself, the boy who in by example inspired Superman's first big fight, is revealed to a foolhardy and pompous windbag who thinks taking photographs is in itself a profoundly moral act worth dying for, regardless of what the pictures he's actually taking are. (After all, I think it's pretty clear to everyone that Tyrell is one alien terrorist who's not trying to cover up the facts of his attack on Earth's cities are concerned. He's pretty up-front about it, actually. Whatever the truth is that Jimmy's illuminating, it's nothing to do with the content of the photos he's taking)

Perhaps if JMS had chosen instead to show Olsen concentrating on helping the victims of the alien assault, he, if not his beloved "truth", might have seemed more inspiring. We are later told that there are many folks buried alive even after the battle with Tyrell has ended. (120, column 3) If only Jimmy had thought to help his fellow citizens rather than only being moved to lend a hand when the glorious superhero in his longjohns appeared, then he might have seemed to be a little closer to the inspirational figure that Mr Straczynski so evidently demands we believe he is. As it is, the Earth of "Superman: Earth One" seems to be one in which nobody, nobody, but Jimmy Olsen and a few fighter pilots are brave, and nobody, nobody, thought to help anyone else until Superman was inspired to start punching Tyrell. As a consequence, it's hard to care about Jimmy's world, let alone the daft little boy himself.


But since Olsen has been so unconvincingly placed by JMS in the role of spirit-raising, moral hero, what does this say about the Superman of "Earth One"? What can we say about a Clark Kent who watches on as his adopted city is bombarded and the Earth devastated and who does nothing but save a few threatened soldiers, who has to be motivated by talk of self-aggrandising journo-principles and, it might be said, the fact that the aliens have declared that they will destroy the planet if he doesn't appear? It's not very heroic of Clark to have to be inspired by Olsen's mendacious tosh into fighting back, but it's also undeniable that he's got no choice but to start punching aliens anyway; Tyrell will destroy the planet and Clark along with it if Superman doesn't force the aliens back to wherever they've come from.

Does Mr Straczynski, who finds it necessary to spell out to his readers so literally how he wants his work to be understood, not grasp that by the evidence of his own script, Jimmy Olsen is a fool and Superman a self-obsessed, dense and rather cowardly young man? For it's one thing to be young and to be unsure of what to do with one's life, and quite another to be a Superman and not be able to grasp that sacrificing yourself for the community while it's being laser-blasted to hell because of your presence is what needs to be done.


After all, if Clark hadn't wanted to fight, he could have taken Tyrell up on his offer to leave Earth alone in return for his surrender. Perhaps he didn't believe that his adopted planet would be safe from Tyrell even if he did give up, but to not fight and yet not surrender either while the Earth is being destroyed isn't the mark of a young man coming to terms with his destiny. It's the mark of a moral imbecile. For cities were being flattened and large numbers of people being killed and Clark was doing nothing while waiting to be inspired by Jimmy Olsen and the ethics of zen photography. And since Mr Straczynski offers us no explanation at all for Clark's various hesitations, it's obvious that he presumes the reader will be thrilled by Superman's heroic fight-back rather than appalled by his protracted hesitation to do anything of substance that put himself at risk at all.

It would have been fascinating to read of a scared Superman, a fully-realised late-adolescent who had to learn to face his fear and the shame of having caused so many to suffer while he was frightened to act. But that's not what we're being given here. The "truth", it seems, is not quite so absolute a guiding principle as JMS might wish us to believe it is, because "Superman: Earth One" tells its readers lies. Jimmy's not a hero, the truth isn't an issue, and Superman seems to have made it to the age where he can fill his longjohns without an ounce of inititiave or moral decency to guide him.

*1:- That's a pretty unconditional statement. Metropolis was monitored and "everyone" ran away? Apparently the emergency services, for example, all ran for their lives! That's a strange statement from a man who was so supportive of the people who did their very best to help out at 9/11, and we'll be discussing that issue of community in the concluding piece on these two graphic novels.


III.

The Jimmy Olsen of "All-Star Superman" is no less unfamiliar to the reader than that of "Earth-One", in that he's as different from previous versions of the character as Mr Straczynski's take is, but he's a far more engaging figure. He's introduced in chapter 3 of ASS, and Mr Morrison and Mr Quitely work together there to deliver a great deal of information about Olsen visually. (3:3) Not for them great set-pieces and broad statements about virtue and purpose. While Steve Lombard is raging about the property damage caused by Krull's rampage through Metropolis, for example, Jimmy is presented to us calmly contacting Superman with his signal watch, immediately establishing himself as a focused and practical young man with barely a world being said. And by Chapter 4, Mr Morrison and Mr Quitely have assembled for us a Jimmy Olsen who's been shown to be brave, resourceful, ambitious, able and even capable of breaking into the top-secret P.R.O.J.E.C.T. databases (4:21:5). That's he's also somewhat ridiculous and self-important, such as when dressed in his bra and mini-skirt (4:1:5), is part and parcel of the fact that he's a character rather than a plot-point. Mr Straczynski's Jimmy has to be perfect, because he has to be the perfectly brave example that inspires Clark Kent; there's no-one else in the book to do that because everyone else ran away and obviously the Kents never convinced Clark about the value of civic duty. And that heroically one-dimensional Jimmy Olsen has no other function or existence in "Superman: Earth One" beyond that. He's brave and principled so that Superman can learn to be brave and principled too. But the Olsen of "All-Star Superman" has his weaknesses as well as his strengths, and they often overlap, as when the competent Olsen helping to run P.R.O.J.E.C.T. displays some alienating streaks of arrogance too. And it's because the Jimmy of "All-Star Superman" is almost as flawed as he is admirable that we feel so fond of him as a person rather than responding to him as an example of blowhard rhetoric.


Parachute the Jimmy Olsen of "All-Star: Superman" into "Earth One" and though he'd be both paradoxically a more real and yet more cartoony character than those around him, he'd still be a fascinating figure. Transfer Mr Straczynski's Jimmy into "All-Star: Superman" and, even adjusting for the difference in tone, he'd stick out like an irredemable idiot, fit only as comic relief, a deluded sidekick of Steve Lombard. Whatever would the Clark and Lois in that world think of this boy running around the ruins of Metropolis for no good reason at all?

And so, rather than having their Jimmy Olsen prove his bravery by taking photos of robots and pontificating to alien super-villains, Morrison and Quitely's Jimmy shows how much he loves Superman by bravely exposing himself to the Doomsday virus in order to save his friend (4:17:2), and by then cradling the fallen and badly beaten man of steel while shouting at the folks who approach the two of them;

"Don't let anybody see him like this! You hear me!" (4:20:2)


It's such a touching scene, displaying how much Jimmy cares for his friend's privacy and dignity without ever explicitly saying as much. And if Jimmy's somewhat over-wrought, well, he's just been transformed into a Doomsday monster and, let us never forget, he's still a young man, with a young man's emotions. But for all of that, he's presented as a brave character rather than one we're told is brave, and he's one among many in the pages of "All-Star Superman" who show themselves willing to help others at a great potential cost to themselves. That's in such contrast to the Earth One Jimmy, who turns out to have sacrificed nothing at all, and to have helped no-one either until Superman appears on the scene and makes assisting the war-wounded more sexy.

For just declaring that the word "truth" is of such importance, as Mr Straczynski does in "Earth One", doesn't mean that that's so. And the reader of "All-Star Superman" knows without having to be told that the principle of "sacrifice for the greater good" is what Morrison and Quietly's graphic novel is all about, because they've been shown example after example of characters facing up to their social responsibilities and being portrayed as admirable, or failing to do so and being depicted as shameful.


6.

I.

The pages of "Superman: Earth One" are full of characters who are clearly intended to seem endearing and commendable, but who are revealed to be anything but when the meaning of the text rather than its intent is considered. Mr Straczynski spends, for example, four pages of static and tedious images establishing the rather obvious point that Perry White is an editor of a newspaper, and we're clearly intended to admire this opinionated old professional around whom the Daily Planet's staff revolve (18-21). But given that we're never told anything about White and his role that's in any way necessary for the plot of "Superman: Earth One", the question comes to mind concerning why the readers are ever asked to get to know this Mr White in such detail? The assumption can only be made that JMS either thinks his audience will be fascinated by hearing an editor lecturing his staff on the finer points of grammar and the data-processing capacity of the Daily Planet's computers, or that they need the mass of information that's being given to them in order to believe that such an exotic figure as a newspaper editor can actually exist.


And yet, for all of Mr Straczynski's obvious intention to present the Daily Planet's editor as a noble patriarch, his take on Perry actually comes across as little more than a self-satisfied windbag. To read him lecturing Clark on "active sentence structure versus passive structure" is to want to walk away in the completely opposite direction from the man, especially when it's realised that White is actually analysing the title of Clark's old hometown newspaper; how much does this vain old man long to be seen as the font of all wisdom? Perhaps if the character were called upon to do anything but lecture and, at the tale's end, give Clark a job, the reader might feel that all that talk had been invested in to some purpose, but it's hard to see what the purpose might have been. It can't have been part of a plan to establish the Planet as a friendly, exciting place to work. Even Clark responds to his interview by throwing away his application forms (21.4), and it's the one time in the book that it's possible to see Kent's listlessness as an appropriate option. For White is nothing but a grumpy old Lou Grant stereotype grumbling at what seems to be nothing more than a little gaggle of low-achieving journalism students. He lectures Lois Lane on the flaws in her writing in front of Clark Kent, a stranger to both of them with no professional standing at all, and then White leaves her for dead in mid-sentence(23:3/4 - 21:1). It's humiliatingly unprofessional on White's part, but then, he's obviously incompetent anyway, despite what Mr Straczynski seems to think he's established. White has, after all, hired Lois as a reporter without making sure she knows the difference between a news story and editorial content, and he's only now grasping out that she can't do the simplest part of the job. It's a scene that's supposed to, in plot terms, show Lois as a feisty young thing trying to express herself in her work while establishing Perry as a no-nonsense sage of what was once newsprint. But that's not what the scene actually says. Once again, Mr Straczynski's intentions and his achievement radically diverge. The collision of a stereotype of an opinionated young reporter and a gnarly old-school editor just makes her look incompetent and whiny and him a self-important old fool.


But then, Mr Straczynski's Lois Lane is a profoundly ineffective and incompetent character whenever she appears in "Earth One". Oh, we know how she's supposed to appear to us, because she's called Lois Lane, but the facts of what she does and says stand in contradiction to the author's intention. She's stubborn rather than independent-minded, as is shown by the fact that she does nothing of any professional or humane worth on the battlefields that are the streets of Metropolis, with a single exception we'll discuss in a moment. She's not taking notes, or speaking into a recorder, or communicating with the Daily Planet through a mobile phone. Nor is she helping anyone except for her colleague Jimmy Olsen, and we've already talked about what he is and isn't doing himself. In truth, Lois is almost an entirely worthless character, and indeed so unimpressive and weak is she that Jimmy Olsen himself is moved to paternally ask her if she's "sure" she wants "to be out in the open for this?" (77.1) (The sexism of the comment quite passes JMS by, as it shockingly does Lois, who dream-facedly declares that "I wouldn't miss this for the world." Well of course she wouldn't; she's not having to work on her journalism or lend anyone any assistance and she gets to stare at Superman too.)


In the absence of any goals throughout the pages of "Earth One" beyond her desire to be able to add some personal opinion to her journalism, Lois is as unimpressive and insubstantial a figure as can be imagined, all dewy-eyed at the appearance of the blue-tighted Kal-El and very little else. It's a point that's emphasised when Olsen rushes to Superman's aid, pausing only to hand his camera to Lois for safekeeping because he "doesn't want it to get damaged" (93:2). Good old Lois! Good old Jimmy!

Still, Lois does eventually display a measure of initiative by generating the bright idea to drag Superman out from under a gravity beam by throwing him a chain that's attached to a truck. Perhaps she even drove the truck itself, but Mr Davis doesn't show us that vital piece of information. Based on everything we've seen of Lois, I rather suspect that Jimmy steered and she looked after his camera.


II.

The Lois Lane of "All-Star Superman" is a far more complex and admirable character than her counterpoint in "Earth One". For one thing, Mr Morrison and Mr Quietly's Lois is constantly shown doing something of purpose if not always value; she's never the beautiful girl whinging about not being able to express herself and wandering without purpose on a battlefield in search of superhero eye-candy. Even when she's presented in "All-Star Superman" sitting passively in a car being flown northwards by Superman, she's tellingly portrayed as a self-confident women quite free of awe, challenging her partner and ignoring the spectacular scenery for the pages of a newspaper, as an obsessively ambitious career reporter well might. (2:1) Elsewhere, she's established time and time again as an utterly trustworthy and capable woman, such as when Superman is shown leaving the Bizarro Repellent in her hands (7:17:3). She's wonderfully brave, as she displays when she rolls her eyes and refuses to panic with a weary "Don't ask" despite having been captured by a mad old man in charge of a war robot (10.8.4), and she's compassionate too, as displayed in the way in which she tries to encourage Luthor to resist the temptations of super-powers at the beginning of "Superman In Excelcis" (12.5.4).


Of course, at no point does she declare that she's brave, empathetic or resourceful. She's shown to be those things. The reader is trusted to be able to read the evidence before them, and, crucially, Mr Morrison and Mr Quitely ensure that the evidence is actually present in the text. She's certainly not presented as a character worthy of our attention and respect in the absence of any evidence to support such thoughts and feelings. And our willingness to empathise with Mr Morrison and Mr Quitely's Lois is only increased by the fact that she's not a paragon in any way at all, just as their Jimmy too has his flaws as well as his strengths in "All-Star Superman". She's capable of a measure of paranoia, as shown during her visit to the Fortress Of Solitude in (2:16:1-3). She can be brusque with, and indeed cruel to, Clark, though she's also quick to defend him against the insults of a passer-by (1:19:2-3), and for all that she wonders why Superman loves her, she's very well aware of her own virtues. She's certainly too vain to believe that Superman's Clark Kent identity could ever have fooled her. (2:1:233) But like all the characters who prove themselves in the pages of "All-Star Superman", she's always ultimately capable of putting her own interests behind those of others in need. And so, when Lois almost stoically declares at the end of Morrison and Quitely's tale that "Superman's not dead" and that "when he's done ... he knows where to find me" (12:19:2-4), the reader can understand exactly why Superman loves her so, and why he's absolutely right to do so. Mr Quitely's art shows us that her heart has been gravely hurt, but also that she's never given in to despair where her faith in Clark is concerned, and the brevity and precision of Mr Morrison's script inspires our sympathy for Lois without ever making her seem pitiful.


But we're shown nothing in "Superman: Earth One" to suggest why the Clark Kent of that Metropolis should ever be at risk of falling in love with Mr Straczynski's Lois Lane, beyond the fact that he's a profoundly shallow young man himself. But then, as we'll discuss in the final part of this piece, there's little reason for us to believe that a Lois who's the equal of her "All-Star Superman" counterpart would ever fall in love with the JMS Superman either.


To be concluded, with a look at the ethics of All-Star Superman and Superman: Earth One.


What's next? Well, as promised last time, the conclusion of this piece, a look at the new Gail Simone Secret Six collection, The Walking Dead, a chat about Mark Waid's work, and of course the weekly dip into the world of 2000 ad, which may be delyaed because my subscription copy hasn't turned up! I hope you might pop over at one time or another, and, as always, I really do wish you a splendid day. Thank you for dropping in, it's much appreciated.


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22 comments:

  1. Jimmy's a photographer working for a major newspaper and he doesn't have a zoom lens? All the moral implications are damning enough, but there's no logical reason for him to be that damn close to the robot - he can get close-ups from further away, and if he can't hand the photos to Perry if he's dead - which, combined with the dialogue, comes off like he's deliberately getting that close just to show off to the villain. (I originally thought it could be an "up yours" gesture but ycharacters only do that if such a gesture will undermine or upset the villain, and Whatsisface just seems mildly curious)

    - Charles RB

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  2. Hello Charles:- and you're right about the scene, you really are. It's as if everyone involved knew there needed to be an inspiring moment there to rouse Clark after the invasion had begun, but communications broke down in one way or another over what that moment ought to consist of.

    I would love to know what the editing process on soe was. And I mean that sincerly rather than as a snide comment. I'd love to know why those involved in the process decided that that scene, for example, should go through without a rewrite. I may think it needed one, but others obviously didn't, and I'm genuingly curious about the editorial process in modern comics. There are professional reasons for why this graphic novel was constructed this way and I'm missing them. I feel that I could understand a great deal more about the comics I read, and sympathise with their contents a great more too, if I had a better grasp of how creators and editors saw their responsibilities.

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  3. There is a glaring error in your otherwise entertaining and well-considered review, Colin - you have reviewed All Star Jimmy Olsen and somehow manage to not use the word 'fabulous'.

    I haven't read Earth One because as far as Superman 'secret origins' go, in recent memory we've had Superman For All Seasons, Secret Origins, Birthright, and at least one other that I'm kicking myself for not being able to recall here, but they're all the same canon despite being contradictory, and then there's the stuff over in the regular super-books like that story where he goes back to Krypton and it's not the Krypton from the recent arc or the Dan Jurgens version or the John Byrne version but a revised Golden/Silver Age Krypton that contradicts what comes before and after - as much time as I have for Superman - and I have plenty - I am simply burnt out on reading a new take on his origins and Earth One did not appeal for that reason alone.

    Thus I may be talking from my posterior here, but perhaps the problems you cite with it are a deliberate result of the author's intention to bring something else to the mythos that others haven't tried before, such as an unlikeable Clark Kent and the robots from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Smallville has been giving us the former for the last ten years, albeit with a decent rationale for Kent not becoming Superman or believing in the inherent good in people by having a father who's an unrepentant and sanctimonious prick, so perhaps JMS is channeling a little of that to create a redemptive journey for Clark Kent's eventual embracing of selfless altruism by throwing off the terrible example a judgmental and small-minded control freak of a father set for him?

    Not that I like this idea personally, as Superman is not really an everyman character but a larger than life aspirational ideal - that's why he can say "and the American Way" and mean it without malice or subtext.

    All in all, though, I have to say you haven't really sold me on Earth One.

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  4. Hello Mr B!:- I must admit the old heart was a little concerned when I saw that mention of a glaring error in your first sentence. But then, your last sentence made me laugh outloud, so all's well and balanced out.

    Your hypothesis about the intentions behind SEO may well be correct. And I'd be more than happy to read such a comic book; I'm no kneejerk traditionalist. I hope it's plain that I've made no complaints about the vast majority of the changes made to the Superman mythos in Earth One. My problems are with how these changes have been applied, the techniques of stortyelling, and not what the changes are themselves. (Well, so far. I am a touch concerned with two changes which I'll post about next time, but even there it's the execution of the changes that worries me the most.)

    I'm with you about the huge number of origins for Superman in recent years. I didn't pick up SEO because the subject matter was irresistable, although I do of course love Supes and one of favourite books of the past couple of years is the Geoff Johns/Gary Franks LSH 6-parter. But I was intrigued by how well the book sold and the mass of positive reviews for it. That, along with the claims for the book made by various folks involved with it and DC in general, made me pick it up. I'm becoming more and convinced that there's SO much to learn from big-selling contemporary books even as they tend to get short-shrift from a great many bloggers.

    I must say, I've been enjoying the pics you've been posting recently. The Judge Dredd team up with a very big polar bear cheered a long hour for me.

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  5. Why yhank you, Colin, I am happy to have brought polar bear-related murder to your home.

    That sounded better in my head.

    I was actually more wary of Superman: Earth One because of the reviews you mention - as glowing as the trade quotes were, there seemed to be some sort of slant to them that I couldn't put my finger on at the time and damned if I don't have a copy of the ads to hand, but I think I got the impression that they were recommending the book not as a comic but as an extension of the movies or the tv shows. Makes marketing sense, I suppose.

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  6. Perhaps a key to understanding the turning point in the book is that JMS started off his career as a journalist. Now one would assume that having been in that world you'd think he'd know that a photographer putting himself in harms way like that is just as likely to be an obsessive or a blinkered idealist or an adrenalin junkie or someone with a deathwish (more so than in the general population, unless the only people you know are BASE jumpers), but not necessarily brave. In fact there are probably interesting parallels that could be drawn between that breed of photographer and superheroes, just not in SEO though.

    Is that turning point not another example of that stop/start approach to storytelling? In the middle of the mayhem the two of them just stop doing anything and have a chat. Surely you could do the same thing, with less chat and more action, as well as a bit more character development? Jimmy is out on the street taking snaps but sees people in trouble, so he puts the camera aside to help them. A building collapses perhaps and Superman is inspired to intervene and save the young man who ignored the chance to take a career making snap (a rather selfish act) in order to save other people (something you do hear cameraman and photographers doing, it is easy to get lulled into thinking you have a secure bubble around you when looking at events down a lens but there are times when you have to put aside documenting the "truth", whatever that is, in order to help your fellow man). Its a little... trite but does the same job in a way I'd find more interesting, although I do feel this isn't the way to handle Superman's... coming out, there must have been some other lower key incident before that would require him to go public - what until the baddie is part way into kicking the Earth's ass seems like, poor timing, at best, and would need a Helluva good excuse to explain: "Hey Superman, why couldn't you have stepped in earlier and saved my family??" "I, err, was too busy brooding." Not so super, man. You'd want to kick him in the balls, unfortunately they are steel too.

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  7. "Based on everything we've seen of Lois, I rather suspect that Jimmy steered and she looked after his camera."

    It's fortunate that "Earth One" was such a healthy seller, because all concerned in its production will need to invest heavily in aloe vera as a result of this MASSIVE BURN.

    And a well-deserved one at that! I used to work at a newspaper myself (albeit a MUCH smaller one than the Planet is meant to be) and so the Perry White sequence is particularly grating. Another good comparison between the works at hand here: "All-Star" Perry is introduced as a leader, discussing the Planet's direction from a high-level perspective with his staff. "Earth-One" Perry, on the other hand...if I were unfamiliar with the character, I would assume from reading that scene that he was some sort of unnecessarily caustic copy editor.

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  8. Hello Brigonos:- Superman: Earth One HAS been brilliantly well marketed, and I say that not in the sarcastic sense that only that would explain its success, for I fully realise that a great deal of people have very much enjoyed it. No, the marketing itself has been very clever and effective. I wonder how well the second book will do. I suspect rather well.

    Ah, your polar bear-related murder is the only polar-bear related murder I welcome in this house. Well, that I can think of, anyway.

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  9. Hello Emperor:- there is, as of course I know you'll know, that media-fuelled tradition of the battlefield photographer who can't seperate himself from danger and the causes she/he believes in. And it feeds off the memory of those like Capa, who without that zen photography nonsense but with a fierce commitment to their craft and its moral purpose, produced so much work of so much value. But Capa going in to Omaha Beach is so far from the comfortable Jimmy popping out from his office for a few shots of robots without, as Charles says above, his zoom lenses, that the whole conceit is shameful. Jimmy is all talk and no moral purpose. What a silliness it all is. Capa talked about the "truth", yes, but not in the sense within the context that Olsen does. Capa died in Indochina, of course, a horrible death in a hard war, and given he was appalled by the suffering imposed by war, I suspect that Jimmy's "war's-fun, nothing-hurts-me" role woulde have done nothing to impress him. There's no truth in that Olsen chap in SEO.

    That's a fine point about the stop-start storytelling. It is indeed a staged confrontation that requires a massive suspension of disbelief. It requires, as I said, and this worries me greatly, every other member of the public, every member of the emergency servives, EVERYONE, to run away, for NO-ONE to stay to fight or help others.

    And I'll be extending that point as well as your well-made one about our hesitating Superman, both of which I'm really pleased you saw some value to in the piece because they're important points to me, in the conclusion to this. I say that, as always, not because I ever imagine that anyone would read that and decide to return as if were a matter of the slightest importance, but merely to say that once again you've anticipated where I'm going with the piece and so I'll just hold off more comment for a little while.

    Those cowardly emergency services in Metropolis, ah? No wonder they need Zen Olsen photographer to inspire them ...

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  10. Hello Justin:- and THANK YOU for what you've written, because you've expressed what I tried to say about Perry White's role far better than I. I'm pleased that my point was, however, one worth making, because I felt strongly that White's portrayal was not just unconvincing, but ridiculous. Do they not check that their reporters know the difference between news and editorial before hiring them as staff? Silly, silly, silly. Your phrase "a caustic copy editor" made me chuckle. Thank you!

    I had to cut a whole section on the ASS Perry simply because the points just repeated those on Jimmy and Lois. I'd written it because Perry is essentially a background character in ASS, and yet he still carries more weight there than he does in SEO, where he pontificates at such wearisome length. I love how Perry takes the lead when the Christmas Party is attacked by Bizarro-ness, for example, and how, of course, it's him leading the fight, organising the folks as they race up the stairs to the rescue Jimmy's called in; there's no need to have him discussing tenses, is there? It "just" takes craft.

    I hope it doesn't look as if I'm out "get" the JMS book. Firstly, how stupid would that be even were I that degree of an egoist, given that, for all this blog has a thankfully healthy readership for a small little thing, attacking SEO to cause harm would be ridiculous; it's not a beast I can prick, let alone wound. Secondly, I've seen it written on a few boards that I "hate" JMS and his work and yet I've written well of other JMS work before, and so I hope I've focused on the graphic novel itself here and not the man or his work in general. But I do think that comic books, for all their popular form, deserve the same degree of craft and attention that other story-telling mediums do, and I do believe that SEO is a tale that its writer isn't in control of. I couldn't care less about Hoodies and Emo, as so much of the criticism has focused rather uselessly on. I just think that that readers deserve more, though I guess the counterargument of 20 000+ sales by now might indicate what a futile argument that is. Hey, 20 000+ readers! How much burn salve will THAT buy?

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  11. Oh, I hope I didn't give the impression that I thought you had some sort of personal ax to grind with the book or its creators; I just always appreciate a well-placed zinger. This is a pretty scathing review, but it's all coming from the work. Citations and all, I mean really, nobody can rightly accuse you of saying "I have a problem with JMS" or "I have a problem with reinterpretations of Superman"; it says "I have a problem with this panel, and this panel, and this panel...and let's talk about why."

    I agree, of course, about Perry being a background character in "All-Star," which is all he really needs to be most of the time. One of the things I admire about Morrison and Quitely's story is that it never just goes about checking off boxes; this is a "definitive" Superman story in which green kryptonite plays almost no role, after all! M&Q never think, "Oh, every Superman story needs to show Perry breaking someone's shoes about Good Journalism to establish who he is, so let's do that scene," and they don't spend any more time with him than is absolutely necessary, and yet he does get that nicely underplayed moment in the sun you describe at the Christmas party.

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  12. Justin, are you sure not English? Because I too feel the urge to now to offer a tentative apology and say that I hope you don't think that I thought that you were suggesting that I had an anti-JMS grudge. It's not so true at all anymore, but there was a time not so long ago that entire conversations between Englishfolks could be composed of "I hope you didn't think" revolving round and round without ever coming to rest!

    Of course, I hope you won't think that I meant anything in any way insulting about my josh that you might be English ......

    That Christmas party is wonderful, isn't it? JMS so wants his characters to be taken so seriously, as is his right, but Morrison and Quitely know that being absurd and being admirable aren't oppossing principles. And so there's that sad little party, from the point of a hipster mentality, or there's that lovely party of adults, from a more mature perspective; Lois is her party frock, Steve hoping to get lucky and dosed up in anticipation with his, er, medical prescription, and Perry dressed pretty much as he would be in the office. I love them all even as I don't think I'd like to know too much of any of them. On the other hand, JMS presents a bunch of folks supposedly full of admirable qualities and so stiff and unreal are they that I couldn't imagine meeting them, let alone sharing a glass of punch.

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  13. It is a good point you make about Capa, there are a lot of inspiring and fascinating tales about photo-journalists that you can draw on if you wanted to present Jimmy Olsen as a more serious figure, who is brave, if perhaps a little foolhardy, and make this portrayal complex and, hopefully, engaging for the reader (Capa's life is like a film, danger, romancing beautiful women, but with a darker aspect: did he fake some photographs? Was he throwing himself right into the mouth of danger due to some deep underling motivation, as well as his desire to bring people "the truth"? The former, obviously having a bearing on the latter). Dashing out of the office and having a chat with a murderous alien tyrant seems a missed opportunity.

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  14. Does SEO Perry White not know that a prepositional phrase appearing at the beginning or end of a sentence has nothing to do with whether that sentence is active or passive? Both of his example sentences are passive!

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  15. Hello Emperor: Capa said "The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda.", but he was of course referring to real wars, where there was suffering and doubt and a need for citizens to see and understand what was happening. There was no doubt what was going on in Metropolis, no need to take photographs that way, and no cause to serve more important than either staying out of trouble or helping others. Capa did in many places refer to himself as being a gambler, but he was gambling, as with D-Day, on a game well worth playing. Jimmy was capturing useless photos of generic robots.

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  16. Hello hilker: Obviously that Perry White knows as little of the specifics of English as a language as I do. The difference is that I've always owned up to my lack of knowledge and shame at it. White, it seems, is a blowhard.

    Thank you for that contribution, hilker. In your one example, you've done more to sink the meaning of that scene than all my waffling. My best to you.

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  17. Heh. Wisconsin is not so different, actually! We can be as rude as anyone, but as soon as we encounter politeness, it becomes like a contest: Who can be the most deferential? It's a miracle anyone ever makes it to a restaurant at all -- "Where do YOU want to go?" "I don't care where we eat, whatever's cool with me." "Well, I'm not in the mood for anything in particular, really, whatever you pick will be fine..."

    Being from the Midwest adds a layer of difficulty to writing as well because we're so terrified of voicing strong opinions. Half of any editing I do to my own writing is removing qualifying words. "I sort of feel like this is maybe not such a terrifically great comic, actually."

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  18. Hello Justin:- you know, I miss that mix of deference and insecurity at times. I know that ultimately, where England was concerned, it was a means, whether by design or not, of keeping folks from questioning the status quo. But we've lost the pseudo-politeness without being any more politically engaged and certainly no more kinder. There's something to be said for social doubt.

    I've actually tried to keep some of those hesitant qualifying terms in my writing. I recall being quite wonderfully ragged by Elliot S! Maggin for doing so, and that was a great experience, it really was. But I can't help but feel that given how forceful, upfront and often plain unfair much of modern blogging, and modern writing, is, there's something to be said for being unsure and careful.

    Of course, I'm probably wrong ...

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  19. I think 'Jimmy standing before the alien' was JMS's attempt to ape the guy standing before the tank picture in Tienanmen Square. But Lois should be the one standing up to the alien, distracting him while Jimmy digs a trapped baby out of the rubble. Lois is the one with nerves of steel, Jimmy is the one with compassion. Even Superman needs a pal. This Superman needs some reason to act, Lois and Jimmy, acting together, risking their lives for others, would goad him into action.

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  20. Hello Steve:- and of course I should have spotted that reference, and I'm grateful for the steer. Thank you.

    I agree with what you say about the roles that Jimmy and Lois did and could have played. The oddest thing about "Earth One" is that there's so much there that's of promise, but the way in which it's used results in a story which functions in a fashion that it's hard to believe the creators intended it to.

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  21. Finally learned about this post and your site. This also explains a lot about why I haven't liked JMS' monthly Superman, being just as informed as the OGN, and probably if I think about it long enough, his Wonder Woman as well. Both of the monthlies were hanging by a thread on my pull list and JMS' pursuit of OGN makes it all so much easier now to drop them and not buy his OGN, as my patience was at an end. Never mind his arguable burning of fans with yet another incomplete run.

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  22. Hello there!:- I'm pleased that you found your way here too. It's a crowded net where comic blogs are concerned and I'm always tremendously pleased to note when someone new has popped in. I'm glad that you seemed to enjoy something of your visit.

    The JMS issue is a problem, isn't it? I'm going to very much hold fire on his work for a good while, unless its to write well of his early Spider-Man work, which is something I've been meaning to write for a good while. I don't want to be bashing his work as a career. There's nothing but disrespect in that direction. And the truth is that I'm predisposed to think very well of his work. Mart from the TooDangerousForAGirl blog speaks well of his Brave And The Bold stories, for example, and I still intend to pick that collection up. For I'd like to write something enthusiastic about his more recent work, I really would. Such an enthusiasm I certainly would write about.

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