Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: Clark Kent, Vegetarian (and Superman's Evolving Morality)

When discussing Joe Casey's final year on Adventures of Superman, I described his decision to make Superman a pacifist as "probably the biggest leap forward for the character in decades." I see Casey's decision to do such a thing as a character-defining moment quickly ignored because it is too tough to write and conflicts with how we like to view the character--after all, can we have Superman comics where he doesn't punch things? Perish the thought.

Casey has also said he regrets Superman explicitly stating his pacifism, wishing he had simply had Superman not use violence, but not discuss it. I found that wish very interesting as that's the exact opposite reaction I had at the time: I wish the idea had been taken up by DC and made an integral part of the character. Use The superhero as the agent of change and really explore the next stage of superhero comics where, maybe, superheroes don't have to use violence. It's not a new idea, as the old Captain Marvel comics often had him simply take punches and bullets until the criminals simply gave up.

Casey's regret at stating it explicitly also reminds me of part of the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer "Superman 2000" pitch where they also wanted to take Superman's character to its next logical step by having him be a vegetarian:

One final little note, which has nothing to do with the fact that Grant wrote "Animal Man" and Millar’s a veggie, but is a matter for pure logic. Clark eats bouef bourginon? The man with a code against killing eats murdered animals? Regardless of his farm upbringing, can we justify a Superman this aware and attuned to life in all its forms being a carnivore? Though there’s no need to make a direct, on-stage issue of it, file this thought away; his diet would be beans, pulses and windfall, if anything, and his body would be capable of extracting maximum energy from these simple foods if not solely from the sun’s rays.

Like the pacifism, it makes perfect sense with who Superman is--he respects all life and would continually alter his behaviour to be more in line with those morals. But, the four also mention that they don't want to state it explicitly. I can understand why, as didactic stories are rarely good--and do you want to turn readers off by having Superman of all characters preach about the evils of eating meat?

At the same time, why not? Shouldn't Superman contain elements of didacticism? His comics always have--his role has long been the moral guiding post for youth and inspiring others to act to his level. Shouldn't he be a pacifist and vegetarian, state those things proudly--not preach, not try to convert, simply put that knowledge out there and hope that others follow his lead?

Or, is it reluctance to enact any meaningful change in the character, because it can and will almost certainly be undone by the company within a couple of years? Despite being a forerunner among superheroes, the leader of them, is Superman incapable of meaningful leadership because of corporate influences and goals? Is bleeding the trademark for all its worth impeding the logical evolution of the character?

Shouldn't Superman be an agent of change and progressive morality that alters how we view superhero comics--and how superheroes view themselves? Isn't that the best way to make the character relevent and interesting? Isn't that exactly what he needs?

Update: Tim Callahan discusses The Concept portion of the "Superman 2000" pitch over at his blog. Go read that.