Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A Magic Word: Origin.

Or, 'How I learned to despise interpretations of superhero continuity'.

I didn't like Superman: Earth One. In short, that's what this entire post will be about. It's a pretty fickle thing to say, and I'll go into some detail about it, whilst talking about the ways in which writers can claim to interpret origin stories and classic tales.

Superman: Earth One is written by J Michael Strazyinski, and tells the tale of a young Superman in our version of Earth, becoming the superhero for the first time. The main point is to have a whole new continuity and interpretation of the character, but let's just look at the main points in the story.

A young Clark Kent arrives in Metropolis, is shown to be fairly intelligent and decides to become a journalist. He works with Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, and defeats a superpowered enemy after donning a red and blue costume.

What makes this so different from any other Superman story before? Nothing. There isn't a single moment in this strung out fight scene that couldn't take place in the current Superman universe. Add to this the fact that, let's face it, there is no Metropolis on our Earth. It's lazy writing.

But what about reinventing the myth? Isn't all this just necessary for readers who expect such things from Superman comics? What are the base elements of Superman? I think Grant Morrison, writer of 'All Star Superman' manages to sum up these elements in one page, and eight words:

"Doomed Planet
Desperate Scientists
Last Hope
Kindly Couple"

That'll do quite nicely. Because beyond these eight words, what else really should define Superman? A costume, that's just the logo, the brand, not the character. These other charactrs like Olsen and Lois Lane, they're just dressing - a result of years of continuity and story arcs - they don't define Superman, they're just a part of a particular story.

Pretend for a moment that you, as a writer are told to write a character named 'Superman', What if you were given just those eight words as an origin? Would you still send him to a fictional city, get him a job as a reporter and have him dress up in Red and blue?

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