I QUIT or MY THOUGHTS ON DC AND BENDIS TAKING AWAY CLARK KENT AS A SECRET IDENTITY

Back in 2010 I stopped collecting the Superman titles.  I think it was around August or so. I’m sure if I scoured Facebook I could find the exact date, but it really doesn’t matter.  I went from buying all of the various Superman titles to buying none of the various Superman titles.  

The reason was simple; I wasn’t enjoying the books.  I could go into the laundry list of reasons, but that would just bog this down even further, but I will mention the main reason, which was I just wasn’t enjoying the books like I used to.  DC went in a direction that I didn’t like and I was tired of hating everything I read, so I felt it was better for everyone if I just walked away.

It wasn’t easy.  I started buying the Superman books in 1987 and by 1996 I was getting everything associated with Superman on a monthly basis.  It was part of my identity. To a certain extent it defined me. I even had a running gag to explain why I bought stuff that might have been of less than stellar quality; I would say that I had signed a contract to be a Superman fan.  

Why did you buy all of those Elseworlds specials in the late nineties?  It was in the contract.

Why are you still collecting the books when they aren’t as good as they used to be?  It was in the contract.  

Superboy just isn’t a good title anymore, but I “signed the contract”.

The truth was I bought them because I wanted to.  There was a bit of feeling like I had to and when I did consider dropping the books it became a tug of war between stopping and keeping up with the collection.  This is something a certain contingent of fans deals with from time to time. I have such a long run. Why break that now?

From a thousand foot view it seems silly.  From the ground level, it feels very real.

When I walked away in 2010 it was hard.  Ultimately it proved to be beneficial on an emotional level.  I was spending all of my time being angry at this hobby that I supposedly loved and that wasn’t healthy.  I realized in my time away that my real problem was DC had moved away from what I considered to be “my” Superman.  I use quotes because the phrase “my Superman” or “my Batman” can be weaponized to justify terrible behavior. “That’s not ‘my Batman’, so I can call you names or worse because you disagree with me.”  Still, there was an era of Superman that I felt at home in, that defined my views of the character, and that I was a part of and that era had ended. It was freeing in a way. I came to terms that things end and had a better appreciation for the generation before me that left when John Byrne’s Man of Steel hit the stands.  Suddenly, I was in their shoes and understood where they were coming from.

Part of me wishes that I would have come to that conclusion earlier or through actual enlightenment.  I kind of feel bad that I had to go through their struggle it to know what the other side went through, but there I was.

When DC started promoting the release of Action Comics #900, I started to have second thoughts.  I kind of felt like Dallas towards the end of the movie The Outsiders (based on the S.E. Hinton novel, not the DC comic); there was no way they were going to have an anniversary issue of Action without me.  Not as dramatic as Dallas and his rumbles, but the theory held. I was there for 600, 700, and 800, so it only felt right to be there for 900. So, I came back.  I started getting the books I missed and catching up on Black Ring and Grounded and the Reign of the Doomsday stories. It was nice to once again be buying the books, but I told myself that the decision to come back was mine and that if I started to not like the books that I knew where the door was.

And then DC dropped The New 52 on us.

My timing with these things has always been spectacular.

The New 52 was a bad time for Superman.  Despite the occasional bouts of good writing and/or art it seemed like DC just didn’t know what to do with Superman.  Their idea to make him younger and edgier did not translate into better sales or a consistent audience and over a four year period they stripped more and more away from the character until finally they took away the Clark Kent identity and de-powered him for nearly a year.  You would have thought that this was the moment that would have made me walk away but, for some reason, I didn’t.  

I can’t explain why.  I was thinking about it and there would be months where I wouldn’t read an issue I wasn’t reviewing for The Superman Homepage, but right around the time I was thinking of leaving the books DC announced Rebirth and that the dynamic of Superman and Lois being married again was coming back.

It was glorious.

Rebirth was the opposite of The New 52.  Over the course of a year DC brought back everything I loved about the character.  Dan Jurgens and Peter Tomasi were producing four amazing books a month between the two of them.  It wasn’t exactly “my” Superman, but it was close enough that I was satisfied. 

I was so satisfied that when it was announced that Brian Michael Bendis was going to take over the writing of both Superman and Action Comics I was legitimately excited.  He was saying all the right things in the interviews. He was talking about how important Clark Kent was as a character. He was glowing in his praise of Lois. This seemed like a good fit.

And, for the most part, I liked what he was doing.  He aged up Jon, which was a little weird but I actually was behind the change because, while I liked the character I also saw the pitfalls of keeping him young.  Lois was kept away for awhile, but the explanation for why worked for me. It was all going so well.

Until it was announced that DC was once again getting rid of the Clark Kent as the secret identity for Superman.

At first I was annoyed, but decided to keep my cool until I read the New York Times article where Bendis went into why this was happening.  “On some level, this is what DC brought me here for,” he is quoted as saying. After reading that I had several very strong and angry thoughts all at once.

Thought #1: I was lied to.

Thought #2: DC brought Bendis to undo just about everything that had been done during Rebirth.

Thought #3: I WAS LIED TO.

I’ll go into Thought #2 first since Thoughts 1 and 3 are the same.  Looking back at Bendis’ run thus far, it suddenly feels like the best parts of Rebirth (the return of Clark Kent as Superman’s secret identity, Jonathan Kent as he and Lois’ son, and the marriage) were all being systematically undone.

Jon was aged and is now a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  That might be good for the Legion and the issues dealing with his aging were enjoyable, but it takes him off the table in the present.  While Lois and Clark will probably miss him, he’s not going to be part of the ongoing continuity. All of the stories of Clark and Lois raising their super powered son are no longer a thing.  At first I was onboard with the aging, but now that it was all a plot to get him to the future makes me feel like I was duped.

The marriage?  It’s still there, but Lois was away for a few issues and when she came back Bendis had her living in her own place.  They were still married, but it seems like Superman spent most of the Bendis issues away from Lois. Lois being one of the driving forces of Event: Leviathan was great, but she wasn’t much of a presence in Superman, so it suddenly felt like Bendis was trying to have his cake and eat it too.  They were still married, but they didn’t seem to be as much of a team as they were in Superman: Lois and Clark and the Rebirth issues.

And now Clark Kent as the secret identity is being taken away.  

“On some level, this is what DC brought me here for.”   

I have no proof of this and I could be wrong, but it now seems like when the Powers That Be at DC knew Bendis wanted to write Superman that they used that as their chance to once again strip Superman of the Clark Kent identity and all of the lip service Bendis gave to the character was just a smoke screen.

Do the Powers That Be at DC have something against Superman?  Maybe. It sure feels like it most of the time, but, again, I have no proof, so it remains a theory and nothing more.

Which leads me to Thoughts 1 and 3.

I was lied to.

At least, that’s how it feels.  DC didn’t have the guts to undo Clark Kent again right away.  Oh no. They let us think that it was still going to be a thing for a year and then hit us with this paradigm shift and because Bendis is behind it, we should be happy for it.  It feels like I’m talking about some vast conspiracy.  I’m probably wrong. But this feels like a huge slap in the face.  I defended Bendis again and again. I told people he liked Clark Kent, so he wasn’t going to pull a Daredevil and out Superman to the world.

And yet…here we are.

So, I’m done.  I’m dropping the titles.  I’m doing what I told myself I would do if I didn’t like what was happening in the books.  I know where the door is and I am going to use it. As of this moment I am no longer buying Superman or Action.  If DC publishes a Superman book that has what I want, I’ll buy it. If they issue a trade or omnibus from an era I like, I’ll buy it, but until Clark Kent is back as the secret identity in a meaningful way, I’m out as far as the regular titles are concerned.

It’s been a great three plus years of reading Superman.  It was a good run. I guess it had to end at some point. I hope that those that are enjoying the current run and don’t have the same feeling as I do continue to read and enjoy the comics. I am not calling for a boycott.  I’m not asking anyone to join me. I’m not here to yuk someone else’s yum.  

I’m also not quitting Superman.  He remains my favorite character.  I have hundreds, if not thousands, of stories that I haven’t read yet and I always have the books that I loved.  They aren’t going anywhere. I’ll continue to podcast about the Man of Steel and his world. I just can’t support a regime that isn’t giving me what I want to read.  I don’t owe them anything. It’s not in me anymore. I’m not so invested in the current DCU that I feel like I have to stay and I’m not going to support people that told me one thing and then, a year later, did the opposite. 

This doesn’t make me less of a Superman fan.  It just means I am a more discerning one. 

I’m just done.  

If you feel the same way, you can join me.  If you don’t, then don’t. But this is what I’m doing.

And I feel pretty good about it.

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8 Responses to I QUIT or MY THOUGHTS ON DC AND BENDIS TAKING AWAY CLARK KENT AS A SECRET IDENTITY

  1. I believe that you’ve hit on the very issue (aside from price) that caused me to stop buying new comics. I just wasn’t enjoying them, regardless of who the publisher was. There are so many stories out there that I haven’t read and I’m relatively certain that I’ll enjoy (like the complete run of The Thing from Marvel, which I recently finished), that there’s no reason for me to take the gamble on new issues or even collections. Like you, I really hope that the current readers are enjoying what’s going on, but it’s not for me. I’d rather just try and complete my every appearance of Quasars collection than get frustrated with the current stuff. It’s better for my mental health. 🙂

  2. Well-stated. I think I have a good idea of how you feel, here. I started reading comics in about 1959 or 1960, and read every Superman title I could find up to the early days of the Byrne era, and that was when I left for the first time. I came back with Action Comics #1000 and gave Bendis’ Man of Steel</I/b> miniseries a shot. I wasn’t crazy about that, but I though I needed to give Bendis a fair shot. I read Superman and Action for about a year, but felt dissatisfied with the books and also felt as if I never actually got a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This style of storytelling clashes with my Silver Age sensibilities, so I decided I was done, again, because I am clearly not the target audience. I’m sad about that, but less sad (and far less angry) than I was when I quit after John Byrne, because I realize that each generation of Superman fans will have its own favorite version, and this is just not mine. I hope that, either DC will someday bring back a version I like, or that there will be enough fans of the newer version to keep Superman “evergreen”.
    As I think of it, I can just take a trip in my Time Bubble back to my beloved Silver Age, whenever I like. They understand me there.

  3. Sorry about all the bold-italic at the end, there. I must have screwed up the html.

  4. Shane Anderson says:

    You lasted longer than I did when it comes to Bendis. I’m in much the same boat as you… I strongly disliked New 52 Superman, but loved Lois and Clark and Rebirth Superman’s family dynamic with Clark, Lois and Jon. Those were the best Superman comics in years, and I loved them. I could see very quickly that Bendis was undoing all of that by taking Jon out of the picture and putting some distance between Lois and Clark as a married couple. I bought his Man of Steel series and made it four issues into both Superman and Action before I’d had enough. Seems like I was absolutely right to jump ship, given what’s been happening since I left.

    I agree with you. If they publish good Superman comics that I enjoy, I’m on board. If not, I’m not spending my money on books I don’t like. I do get tired of DC jerking all of us around and somewhere I wonder when I’ll just get tired of it and abandon them completely, apart from back issues and classic reprints. I love those Golden Age Superman omnibuses, and I hope they keep being published.

  5. Bradley Null says:

    I have been struggling with my disappointment since the New 52 – I ran out of hobby money as it happened and that was the actual reason I had to quit buying. However when the hobby funds were back- I didn’t return to DC other then the CW shows- I found “From Crisis to Crisis”, and you because that was MY boundaries when it came to DC- If I’m honest however I’ve noticed that I’m a fan of the good stories put out in defiance of WB/DC, I’ve never liked the company – I started complaining about the loss of the multiverse- I left because complaining needed to NOT be part of my escape fiction-

  6. Well said Mike. All the good will DC earned with Rebirth has slowly been pissed away. I stayed on the Superman books for Bendis’ run up until a few months ago, but I just didn’t care for his disassembling of what was working, just to do his own “take”. I know DC hired him for that, but they honestly shouldn’t have. If it aint’ broke, don’t fix it.

    Taking away Clark Kent destroys the initial wish fulfillment aspect of the character, perhaps the aspect most important to his bespectacled, mild-mannered co-creator. Without Clark Kent…Superman is just another guy in a cape. An alien no human can readily identify with… or not as closely as before. Way to go DC.

    Chris

  7. Kenny Kraly Jr. says:

    I’m not reading the Superman books again because of this storyline I’m not reading the books at least for right now because I haven’t liked what Bendis has done with the character of Superman and removing things we loved from the Rebirth run like Jon Kent and ageing him up which was a bad change in Bendis run. Don’t hate this change coming I just wished it was handled better.

  8. Collin S. says:

    I walked away pretty much right after Bendis’ initial “Man of Steel” miniseries, myself. The way he characterized Superman reminded me too much of how Superman was characterized during the pre-Flashpoint period that made you walk away in the first place.

    Now me, I liked the New 52. Loved it even. I’d always been a big Golden Age fan, a big Bronze Age fan, and I felt like the New 52 was at least partly an attempt to get some of the Golden Age attitude and Bronze Age scale back at once (don’t @ me). Some of it worked amazingly well, and some of it… well, some of it definitely didn’t, you’re definitely right about that. Either way, I was peeved when DC announced they were going to kill off “my Superman” and replace him with another one. That said, when I actually read Rebirth, I found to my delight that I really liked the Superman there. He maintained the backbone and the occasional impulsiveness that I felt the New 52 had given back to the character, and I could tell that it was gone from the first Bendis issue. But, you know, I stuck it out for the first six just in case. And then I quit.

    It’s honestly been really frustrating. Now the only Superman comics I get are Bronze Age back issues, Up In The Sky, and Jimmy and Lois’ solo series. It saves money, but I’m back in this space of feeling like DC doesn’t have any interest at all in a Superman who acts remotely like my favorite super-hero.

    So… I feel like we’re a year or two away from another reboot. Clark Kent, reporter, is at the core of Superman as a character. The last time DC publicly outted Clark as Superman, all of four whole years ago, there was a pretty immediate soft reboot to first render the outing pointless, and then undo it.

    DC’s been flip-flopping and dithering about Superman for years. It’s obvious they don’t have many writers who really know what to do with him. I hope they can figure him out, because they’re losing fans. Not Superman fans, but DC fans.

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