Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blogathon 37: Adventures of Superman #616

Okay, first the plot stuff: Kid Scout brings Ben Conrad who begins to write a new final chapter of the book on the typewriter he used to write the novel back in 1960. Superman confronts the Hollow Men, allowing them to attack him again, hoping that he can beat their hopelessness with his idealism.

The experience is, well, pretty bad. All of the colour is drained from him. We see him on a farm with Lois, just sitting on the porch, never doing anything because why bother. And then he's chained to a table as Lex Luthor cuts him open, Lois as Luthor's sexy nurse. But, Lois is the key as she is what inspires Superman. He manages to break the Hollow Men's assault, returning everyone they've attacked to normal and leaving them empty ghosts. Conrad finishes the chapter and the Hollow Men are destroyed.

The issue ends with the phrase "This is the way the world begins," echoing the introduction of the Hollow Men in 612.

But, this issue has Superman say something monumental: "No violence. I won't resort to that. I'm a pacifist, Dr. Welbourne."

Superman is a pacifist in these twelve issues. He doesn't throw a single punch. He uses his will and his brain to overcome the challenges he must face.

Now, Superman as a pacifist goes against almost 70 years of history. He's Superman! He punches out the bad guys to save the day, but Casey takes a 21st-century to the next logical step: if he is the representative of hope and life and goodness, how can he raise his fists in anger? How can he physically assault another being? How can he inspire humanity to rise above its violent nature when he won't?

Casey said in interviews that he regrets having Superman say this explicitly, that it was going too far. He could have had Superman be a pacifist without saying it and no one would have noticed, but the point is to draw attention to it.

Superman is a pacifist.

My god, the enormity of that idea--it's probably the biggest leap forward for the character in decades. A leap that doesn't just challenge the character, but the creators and the fans. Could people read a comic where Superman doesn't hit anything?

Some people were upset by the idea of Superman as a pacifist, arguing that it goes against the character and so on. It just seems like the logical progression of the character to me. In 612, Casey had Superman confront what is basically the Golden Age version of himself, a version whose first instinct is violence, who is hand's on, who is old-fashioned.

Casey's Superman is a 21st-century thinker, someone who is not burdened by antiquated conceptions of masculinity or heroism. A child's first instinct is to hit, but Superman must be above that. He has to be the most mature and advanced being on the planet, the man of tomorrow, a harbinger of humanity's potential.

Joe Casey made Superman relevant.