WHY THEY’LL NEVER LET ME WRITE SUPERMAN
Brief, Disconnected Notes On An American Mythology
I’m not a superhero fan. I had to learn the subgenre when I began
writing for the States. I’ve had to learn to read them. Now, I can
appreciate some of them. Not many, it has to be said… but some.
The one I always wanted to like was Superman.
Superman is a uniquely American icon, and the first true myth of
the electronic age. One special facet to it is that it began as a myth
told to children by children. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster were
youths when they created Superman, a far cry from today’s handful
of twentysomethings and carloads of middle-aged men who give
today’s children their superheroes.
(Perhaps this is why, to me, a strong adult atory told with Superman
would seem curiously inappropriate — and, conversely, the 20th
Century social nightmare given inky form that is The Batman seems
to me strangely inappropriate as figure of children’s tales.)
Superman, then, is the agent of modern fable — the most compelling
fable the 20th Century gave us. Soap opera is unworthy of him, and,
as has been proved many times, is not big enough to contain him and
the central concepts of his story. At the heart of myth and legend is
Romance. That is not the same as the weak, whiny demands of soap
opera that begin with “characterisation” and crap on with demands for
ever more levels of “conflict”, “jeopardy”, “ensemble writing”, “tight
continuity” and all the rest of that bollocks. These things are unimportant.
Many of them just completely get in the way of the job at hand.
SUPERMAN requires only the sweep and invention and vision that
myth demands, and the artistry and directness and clean hands that
SUPERMAN is about someone trying their best to save the world, one
day at a time; and it’s about that person’s love for that one whose intellect
and emotion and sheer bloody humanity completes him. It’s about
Superman, and it’s about Lois and Clark. And that’s all there is. That’s
the spine. That must be protected to the death, not lost in a cannonade
succession of continuing stories.
That’s what, in the continuing rush to top the last plotline, I see getting lost.
I understand, accept and even to an extent agree with what’s going on;
The SUPERMAN creators are trying to keep the books vital, keep them
moving, keep those sales spikes coming. But they seem to me to be
getting away from the sheer wonder of the Superman myth.
(The single title that does seem to be hewing to the line I’ve just
scratched in the sand is Mark Millar’s charming and energetic
What SUPERMAN must avoid is genericism. It must live up to its
billing. The comics must crackle with invention and mythic power.
They must always resolutely be of Now, be utterly modern — if not
utterly of Tomorrow. They must thrill and frighten and inspire and
give us furiously to think.
Crucially, they must not simply offer us a parade of costumes and
odd single name/titles. There must be stories where something
important is at stake. Something worth saving, be it the life of a
human, the soul of a city, the fate of a world, or the future of a child.
Mike Carlin always characterises the ongoing thrust of the Superman
titles as the “Never-Ending Battle”. Those battles must have stakes
beyond those of smacking about this month’s new costume with an
(Superman tackles natural disaster and human crime. It’s his belief
that nothing else falls within his purview. War and the politics of famine,
he feels, are part of human government, and so not his place. He will
not interfere in the growth of the human race, as much as it sometimes
breaks his heart.
He merely, obliviously, shows the human race, by example, how to be great.)
11 August 1998