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.

R.I.P. BILL SCHELLY

Back in the early 2000’s I was shopping at Oxford Comics in Atlanta, GA and stumbled across a copy of a book titled The Golden Age of Comic Book Fandom.  Oxford had a great selection of non-fiction books about comics, but this one stood out.  I finished reading The Comic Book Book and All In Color For a Dime, which collected articles and essays from the early days of comic book fandom, and was eager to learn more about the era those articles and essays were written in.  Here was a history of those early days, so it seemed like the thing to buy.  I devoured the book in a day or so and was fascinated by the stories of my cultural ancestors.  See, I am one of those people that believes in knowing where you came from.  I considered myself a “serious” comic book fan with an interest in the history of the medium and that history extended to the fans that actually started this whole fandom thing.

The book was written by a man named Bill Schelly.  On a subsequent trip to Oxford I picked up another book by Bill called The Comic Fandom Reader, which contained samplings of stories and articles from comic book fanzines of the 1960’s.  It was another fantastic read and even though the bits of business printed in The Comic Fandom Reader weren’t all written by Bill, his name stuck in my mind.  This is why sometime in 2001 I was excited to see a solicitation for a book written by Bill called Sense of Wonder: A Life in Comic Book Fandom.  I ordered it and when it arrived eagerly read the whole book in a day.

It was (and is) a fantastic book.  Bill talked about his family and growing up in the sixties and becoming a comic book fan.  Through his writing I felt connected to Bill, especially since we had something in common; we both started seriously collecting comics because of Superman.  The book also detailed how he became involved in the comic book fandom of the 1960’s and the fanzines he produced.  I had recently started this website called Views From The Longbox, where I wrote essays similar to those I read in The Comic Book Book, so I felt like I was a kind of descendant of Bill and the other men and women that channeled their love of comics into articles, essays, and comic strips that they then made copies of and sent to like minded people.

Flash forward to 2016.  By this point I have nearly a decade of podcasting under my belt and one of the shows I was part of was called Radio K.A.L. Live, which was part of The Superman Homepage.  Steve Younis, the webmaster of The Homepage, messaged me that we were going to be doing another interview, this time with a man named Bill Schelly.  I think my reaction was, “REALLY?  We’re going to interview Bill Schelly?”  I was so excited.  Here was my chance to talk to a man that I respected.  A man that, as I previously alluded to, felt was one of my fore bearers in discussing comic books.

The interview went great and I connected with Bill on Facebook and two years later interviewed him on Views From The Longbox about a new edition of Sense of Wonder.  He had recently updated and expanded the book and was making the rounds of comic book websites and podcasts to promote it and I was lucky enough to be one of them.  He sent me a preview copy and right before the interview I read it.  The first edition ended with Bill in his early twenties.  This edition expanded on the previous chapters and then went forward through Bill’s life.  I learned about the comic shop he briefly co-owned, his life as a gay man in the late seventies and early eighties, the birth of his children, and more.

The interview (more of a conversation really) went very well.  We had a good rapport in the first interview for Radio K.A.L. Live and at the end Bill said it was nice to have a new friend in comics fandom.  I was hoping one day to meet the man face to face and shake hands with him.

Sadly, I’ll never get that chance.

I am glad I was able to interview him on two occasions and tell him how much his books meant to me.  History is important.  I am part of a community that discusses comic books and other pop culture nonsense through audio and video and occasionally in print.  We don’t agree about everything, but we’re all connected and through this community I have made friends literally all over the world.  Bill Schelly was part of the dawn of that community.  He was there when you communicated through snail mail, over the phone, and at conventions.  He created his fanzines before the advent of desktop publishing and when making copies was a laborious and often messy process.  He was part of a group that built the foundations of what we take part in today and he continued to write books about the giants of the comic book world.

It’s up to us to continue that legacy.

Rest in peace, Bill.  Thanks for calling me your friend.

If you are interested in reading the books I mentioned above as well as Bill’s other works, click on this link.  There isn’t a bad book in the bunch.

SUPERMAN EXILE OMNIBUS or PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF RAO AND ALL THAT IS HOLY, LET THIS HAPPEN!

Last year DC Comics solicited a hardcover collection titled Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Volume 1.  It was going to reprint Superman (Vol. 2) issues 23-27 and Adventures of Superman issues 445-450.  To say I was excited about this is an understatement. That collection would have not only collected some of my favorite Superman comics but it would have also picked up where the Superman: The Man of Steel line of trades had left off.

Then the hardcover was cancelled.

To be fair it was “resolicted” with a later release date, but that is what DC does to collected editions that, for a variety of reasons, won’t be coming out.  Maybe there was a last minute glitch.  Maybe the pre-order sales weren’t what DC wanted.  No matter the reason, the book was not to be and I was actually depressed over it.

Not “oh woe is me, my life is awful” depressed but bummed out in a major way.

Because of that, the Amazon listing for a Superman: Exile Omnibus has me excited but in a very cautious way.

I mean I have to keep my emotions in check.  They let me down before.

Maybe putting the Man of Tomorrow in hardcover was a bad idea.

Maybe a softcover would have been a better idea.

Putting those issues and the Exile arc into hardcover is, to paraphrase the movie High Fidelity, like asking for $40, getting turned down and then asking for $100 instead.

So I am not going to get too excited.

Or get my hopes up.

At all.

Oh who am I kidding?  I am so freaking excited for this I just might bust!

There are two reasons for this, the first being personal.  Exile was a watershed moment for me as a Superman fan, reader and collector.  It was the storyline that made getting the next issue non-negotiable.  That story was when I became emotionally involved with the comics I was collecting.  Others have talked about the idea that collectors have their own Golden Age of comics and this was mine.  I am more nostalgic about that era of Superman than any other in my three decades of buying the comic book adventures of the Man of Steel.

So there’s that.

The second reason is that Exile is one of the single most important storylines of the Post Crisis era because without Exile you would never have gotten The Death and Return of Superman.

I’ve made this argument before but it bears repeating.  Before Exile the Superman titles were connected but still separate. Before it went weekly Action Comics was a team-up book that only tied into the other two Superman titles during company wide crossovers or when DC was trying to explain how the Legion could be inspired by Superboy when Superboy didn’t exist anymore.  After John Byrne left the series the titles started getting more and more intertwined and Exile was the first time that an extended storyline bounced between both books.

After Exile the books went in their own directions but that connected feeling started creeping in more and more and by the fall of 1990 the Triangle Numbering System was a thing,  You had three and then four creative teams, each with their own ideas and takes on the main and supporting characters, but there was an ongoing narrative that led to the four separate titles acting ostensibly as a weekly comic book.  This led to bigger stories like Time and Time AgainReturn of the Krypton Man and Panic in the Sky.

The reasons for Superman dying and then coming back are many and have more to do with a television series than anything else but the mechanics of that epic and the idea that you could tell an extended story over several titles for nearly a year was only plausible because Exile  proved that it could work.

That’s why it deserves an omnibus.

And that’s why I’m excited.

And that’s why this needs to happen.

So please…if you have any desire to see this book happen pre-order it.  And spread the word.  We need to show DC that this is something we want to buy.

The creative teams involved deserve it.  We deserve it.

Let’s make it happen.

If not us, who?

If not now, when?

I mean you could argue we could wait until it is solicited in Previews, but let’s get a jump on that.