Friday, June 13, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: History

[Another in my and Tim Callahan's look at the Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer "Superman 2000" pitch. New posts by Tim Wednesday-ish and by me on Fridays.]

In last week's post, I discussed the concept of cycles and how it not only informs some of the writing of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, but also informed the approach taken by the two with Mark Waid and Tom Peyer in their "Superman 2000" pitch. Building on that and my discussion of evolution, I'd like to look at two sections of their pitch, "The Costume" and "The 'Lost Years.'"

First, the Quartet's take on Superman's costume:

We’d like to tweak the costume by finally getting rid of the red underpants. This gives us a new look which somehow recovers the more classic, Golden Age, "primal" Superman look and feels like an update. This move also has instant media appeal: Finally, Superman’s smart enough to wear his shorts UNDER his pants.

Now, the fact that Superman wears red "underpants" over his costume is a constant joke that everyone would like to rectify, but no one does. Obviously, it would be an evolution in his costume, a step forward, but note that the Quartet specifically references Superman's Golden Age costume in explaining this change. It is not just a step forward, but a tribute to the character's history. This is the only time I've ever seen someone argue for this change by citing the character's original costume and I find that connection inspired.

Continuing with that, the Quartet want to give Superman a different sort of Golden Age connection and tie his existence into the history of the DCU a little bit more during his "lost years":

During the "Lost Years" of Clark Kent after he left high school--if he still has any room left in there--we’d like to establish that he met and was given training by a member (or members) of the Justice Society, possibly Al Pratt, the Atom. Since Superman in our currently-operating timestream wasn't the first super-hero, we’d like to restore his prominence by reaffirming that he is most certainly the greatest. We see Doctor Fate, near the end of his group’s life, telling the JSA that their work is all but over. That the first age of heroes was but the prelude. That soon, the greatest hero of all will arrive from the stars and it will it will be the task of the entire JSA to find him and teach him about the world of the costumed crimefighters. This little addition to the past gives Superman a new grandeur, a fresh religious dimension, and ties him more directly into the development of superheroics in the DCU (although having said that, we want to keep Superman's adventures on the periphery of the Universe, in the sense that we don't really mention the JLA much or refer a great deal to other heroes. The JSA should be seen as some misty Olympian group of supermen from the past, guys who are now dead, gone or replaced by the greatest hero of all. At least in his own book, we want to reclaim that old feeling that Superman is the only super-hero). It also seems mythically right that Superman should, at some point before he dons the cape, meet his predecessors, his John the Baptists, who have awaited his coming and now have a few lessons for the fledgling hero.

This idea of Superman trained by Al Pratt adds a lot to the character by, firstly, putting Superman within the larger context of the DC universe and not simply acting as an independent agent. In the current continuity, the JSA came long before Superman, so it's only natural a young Clark Kent would seek out a member (or members) of the group and look for training. With that resource at hand, why would he simply jump into superheroics? As well, it gives him a parallel to Batman that the Quartet doesn't mention; since Bruce Wayne was taught to box by Ted (aka Wildcat), Clark Kent trained by Al Pratt gives the sense of these two fitting into the generational aspect of the DCU (throw in Wonder Woman's mother as a member of the JSA and the entire "trinity" is represented). Since the need for Superman to be young and relevent must be upheld, providing him with historical context only makes sense. There's a tip of the hat to the Superman from Earth-2 who was a member of the Justice Society of America, and keeping that connection alive.

The invocation of the religious and the mythic is nothing new, but this is a fresh way to further the concept of "Superman as Christ" by providing him with a group of prophets that act as harbingers for his coming. As well, I do enjoy the idea of both entrenching Superman within the DCU while, at the same time, moving him away from his fellow heroes (as a solo title should). It's a clever way to keep Superman's adventures focused on him, while still ensuring the reader recognises his place within the larger universe.

This attempt to fit a contemporary into the historical context of the DCU is fascinating, particularly as it acts both as a means to propel the character forward, to add new levels of meaning, and to tie him to his roots in older continuity. It certainly fits with a concept the Quartet mention at the beginning of the pitch:

The Superman relaunch we’re selling bucks the trend of sweeping aside the work done by those who came immediately before. Unlike the "cosmic reset" revamps all too prevalent in current comics, our New Superman approach is an honest attempt to synthesize the best of all previous eras. Our intention is to honor each of Superman’s various interpretations and to use internal story logic as our launching pad for a re-imagined, streamlined 21st century Man of Steel. The "cosmic reset" notion has been replaced by a policy of "include and transcend" with regard to past continuity.

As Tim mentioned in his first post, we can see this concept applied in Morrison's current Batman run, but it's great how it comes up in subtle ways throughout the pitch as the two cases above show.