Friday, July 04, 2008

The Superman 2000 Pitch: Origins, Family, Friends and Adventures

[The final post in my and Tim Callahan's look at the Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar and Tom Peyer "Superman 2000" pitch. And, yes, the entire pitch will have been quoted and examined by the end of this post. Tim or I will put up a "table of contents" in the next few days so there's an idea of how the Quartet laid out the pitch. Enjoy.]

Today, I'm going to look at the supporting cast of the books, but we'll begin with "One Last Little Detail":

It’s always bothered us when Jor-El is shown to have knowledge of Earth's existence and even to have pictures of our planet. There's something so much more powerful about the infant Kal-El being hurled into space with only the slim chance that he might find a safe haven out them. The cosmic drama of Superman’s arrival on Earth is diminished, we feel, by Jor-El's aiming the rocket at Earth. There’s something mythical about the seemingly hopeless plight or the tiny alien child through merciless space. What cosmic destiny allowed the escape ship's computers to finally seek out and home in on a planet with the optimum conditions for survival of the Kryptonian infant--the computer, programmed by Jor-El to locate the best possible environment for the development of the child, finally giving up the ghost as it shuts down everything but survival systems and crash-lands on a primitive, technologically challenged planet. By sheer million-to-one chance, Jor-El’s last, desperate attempt to preserve his world, his bloodline, his people, this quite un-Kryptonian act at hope, is validated by Earth and by Superman’s arrival there. For Jor-El to know of Earth seems to strip away this sense of miraculous fate; he's simply posting his kid off to a world where he knows he’ll be great.

The Quartet doesn't take all of Jor-El's agency out of Superman's origin, but makes it more passive: he programs the ship, which then finds Earth. I agree that this does give Superman's arrival on Earth a more mythic and miraculous air, that fare somehow played a role in the whole thing. Like Superman was meant to be Earth's champion.

Although, there already was an element of chance in his arrival on Earth, because the place where he landed played a big part in how he turned out. Millar explored that in Red Son, and the Quartet discuss the role of his adoptive parents, the Kents:

Ma lives on to play an important role as the connection to Superman’s lost past, his own "golden age."

Pa should die. It seems right somehow that his death should mark Superman’s passage into a grander, more iconic phase of his career. Pa gave Clark his values and Superman will carry them to the stars.

Superman needs a little bit of tragedy here. The character works best and stands most tall when he’s forced to deal with things even his powers cannot help with. Frankly, the post-’86 Superman, death aside, has had a pretty sweet life, and the greatest heroes of myth and legend are always shaped as much by adversity as by triumph.

Moreover, as nice as it’s been to have the Kents around as supporting characters, when used poorly, they have a tendency to actually weaken Superman by making him less independent. We’d like to see him wrestle with moral and emotional struggles on his own without always being able to so easily talk them out with the infinitely wise Jonathan and Martha over a piece of rhubarb pie.

This is a compromise between the pre-Crisis and post-Crisis versions of Superman; in the former, the Kents died, while in the latter, the Kents lived. I do wonder about having Pa die, because it reminds me of Spider-Man where Uncle Ben dies while Aunt May lives. There's an obvious point there, of the missing father figure, the constant challenge to live up to that expectation, that yardstick that isn't there anymore. Morrison implemented this idea in All-Star Superman and also showed how Pa could die without Clark's intervention.

As well, from my experience (and I could be wrong, of course), when Clark has needed advice, he's gone to his father mostly, so his death would put him a position where he would need to figure things out for himself more. I do think it raises another level of dependency, though, as having only his Ma alive could make him visit more often and feel the need to take a more protective role.

The other major supporting characters are Clark's colleagues at The Daily Planet:

It's no longer a newspaper--or, if it does publish papers, it does so as an ancillary gesture to the faithful. The Daily Planet becomes the world's preeminent global internet news service, read worldwide. For the first time, the citizens of Fiji can read Clark Kent's exclusive on how Superman capped their erupting volcano. Not nearly as drastic a move as making Clark a TV reporter, Clark (and Lois and Jimmy and Perry) maintain their exact same jobs; only the venue changes, to something a lot more exciting, accessible, and identifiable to young readers.

PERRY WHITE remains the editor-in-chief.

JIMMY OLSEN keeps doing what Jimmy does with a new emphasis on his role as Superman’s Pal and a new way of looking at what that means now that Superman has changed. Part of the fun of Jimmy was that he was the guy who always got to enjoy the same kinds of wild adventures Superman enjoyed but without any of the incumbent responsibilities; we won’t forget that.

Jimmy has a special and unique respect for Clark as well as Superman, since Clark is less dismissive of him than the other staffers. To borrow from the old radio show, Clark is the only person alive who calls Olsen not "Jimmy" but "Jim," and that small gesture--the notion that there’s at least one Planet staffer who treats him like a peer and not a dweeby kid--is not lost on him.

CAT GRANT moves in on Clark while Lois is away. She doesn’t get it. Lois and Clark always seem to be sparring, so why does Clark keep her at arm’s length? Cat should now be the character in the book who suspects something about Clark. Truth is, she can’t figure out why she’s so powerfully attracted to this klutz. It’s like he’s got super-pheromones or something...

STEVE LOMBARD returns to the Sports Page as part of a nostalgic effort to bring back old readers. His column is a huge success. He can’t help trying to bully Clark, who can’t help enjoying thwarting Steve’s pranks. We suggest bringing Steve back mainly because his role in the office was a very distinct and useful one which hasn’t been taken by anyone else since.

Outside of Lois and Clark, those should be the main Planet characters. Banter and interplay at the Planet offices should be succinct, sharp, and to the point, carrying us from Clark’s short scenes into Superman’s adventures. Complex soap operas about the tertiary characters are sometimes interesting in small doses, but the trials of Lucy Lane and Ron Troupe (for example) can too often run the very dangerous risk of pushing Superman out of his own series. On that note...

A strange combination of throw-backs and updates for the 21st century here. The idea of updating The Daily Planet to an internet news service is a bit obvious and, in a way, cynical. Granted, like they've done over in Amazing Spider-Man with "The DB," the internet would play a role, but it's ten years since this pitch was written and newspapers haven't exactly died out yet. A little too forward-thinking? But, it is also less of a drastic step than shifting the cast to television, as was done in the books in the '70s.

I really like that the Quartet places emphasis on the role of Clark here rather than Superman, particularly in relation to Jimmy Olsen, where we'd expect him to be played up as "Superman's pal" given the fondness of the writer's for pre-Crisis Superman stories. Although, they do seem to be scaling back Jimmy's place within The Daily Planet because he was more of a peer by this point in the books, I believe. No longer the "kid," he was a photographer and has since grown in that role to full reporter (again, I could be wrong).

Besides the shift from print to online, the biggest change is the reintroduction of Steve Lombard, who does play a useful role in the interoffice politics. It is interesting that Ron Troupe gets mentioned a few times in the pitch, but doesn't warrant a spot in the Quartet's Daily Planet (or, at least, a mention of what they would do with him--although, there is the possibility that he'll become the new Kryptonite Man, as mentioned later in the pitch).

This section leads into a short bit on "The Adventures":

While, as with the current run of books, there will always be time for subplots and secondary character development, our take on the SUPERMAN titles is that they aren’t "group books" or "ensemble pieces." Even more than now, we want the focus to be on Superman himself as he takes part in grand, world-shattering, star-spanning adventures which tap into the same sense of awe and wonder we strove to invoke with JLA and KINGDOM COME. Superman is the Man of Tomorrow. He mustn’t stay mired in the fast-passing trends of yesterday’s post-WATCHMEN comics. Superman’s world isn’t the life-sized, realistic world outside our window. It’s a world of limitless wonder, a thrilling circus of amazement in which absolutely anything can happen.

Given the magnitude of the changes we’re prepared to put him through, we can’t imagine running short of Superman-centric ideas once the spotlight is once more firmly focused on him. Once we’re up and at it, there’ll be room to check in on the Ron Troupes and Alice Whites as necessary, but for now, if the kids are going to be laying down two bucks every week, let’s give them the star of the show--saving the planet, defending the weak, and whenever he gets a breather, exploring the mysteries of... [The Fortress]

Here, we'd expect a few plots, but the Quartet discuss Superman's adventures in abstractions, in the general tone they want to achieve. I find this interesting, because if you look at the pitch, as a whole, very little plot is mentioned. The only story we really get is the Luthor/Brainiac one that results in the dissolution of Lois and Clark's marriage. Clearly, the Quartet is interested in telling stories, but want to make it clear what lies behind the stories, what their objectives are, how they view the world that Superman inhabits. Of course, I am interested in what some of their other plot ideas would have been.


And that about does it. I will leave you with the final two paragraphs of the pitch's initial section, which outlines exactly what Morrison, Waid, Millar and Peyer wanted to achieve and you can judge if they would have succeeded:

Our intention is to restore Superman to his pre-eminent place as the greatest super-hero of all and to topple Spawn and every Marvel comic that’s currently in his way.

We don’t think this will be much of a problem.