[This another column that deals with current comics, certainly, but also some older comics. Close enough! Sadly, I still can’t find this on the old site, so here’s the original. This was published on 3 April 2009. I left the bit in at the end that is about what Greg would be doing at ECCC, because it’s fun, not because anyone has a working time machine and can go back and visit. So sad. Enjoy!]
Yeah, the alertnerd thing about “nerd sacred cows” again. Brian and Brad have already kind of taken a swing at it, but I thought I’d weigh in too.
Part of it is just that it’s an easy column topic — Julie and I are still trying to unpack from our move, I’m setting up my students’ booth at Emerald City Comic-Con in a few hours, and our friend Rin is flying in tonight to stay the weekend with us. Plus, I am still kind of wrestling with the problem of transporting 26 kids from two different schools to the Seattle Convention Center and back over the next two days. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for the usual column research and writing, so when this “Scott and Jean” meme hit the net I was all over it.
Anyway, I thought of two. The first is a nerdy, in-story thing; the second is a general fan-behavior thing.
We’ll do the nerdy one first. Like most comics critics who’ve really thought about this, my first impulse was to say I don’t have any plot or premise-related ideas that are inviolable. “I just want a good story,” like everyone else.
There were things I figured probably should stay the way they were. For a long time I would have thought Bucky staying dead was bulletproof.
But Ed Brubaker made us all eat crow on that one.
Bruce Wayne stays Batman? I suppose I have a fairly strong preference for that, but on the other hand I enjoyed Prodigal all those years ago, it worked okay for me.
If that had turned out to be the new status quo I think I’d have accepted it.
As for the postulate that started the whole thing? I haven’t been following the X-Men in any kind of serious way for years, not since the original X-Factor launched. Scott and Jean isn’t really a thing for me. Really if I had a horse in that race it would have been “Jean should have stayed dead and Scott should be living in semi-retirement in Alaska with Madelyne and his family,” but that ship sailed long ago. And the current status of Scott being with Emma Frost amuses me.
Or it did when I was following Astonishing X-Men, the only X-book I was keeping up with, but “Ghost Boxes” priced that one right off the pull list for me.
In other words, this is one of those things where if you can think of an exception then it doesn’t work. If I had a nerd sacred cow that was violated by a story I ended up enjoying, well, then that couldn’t really be a sacred cow, could it? So I was going to give up.
And then I thought of the obvious one. It’s so far beyond repair at this point that I should just let it go, but you know, it never fails to irritate me when it’s done wrong and I am always pleased when it’s done right. That seems to meet the Alert Nerd definition as postulated.
What sacred cow am I referring to, you ask? Probably the most famous comic-book premise of them all. Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter.
Which is to say, Clark Kent should be mild-mannered. He should be bookish and nerdy and kind of a doofus. Period. The end.
I don’t care how he dresses, I don’t care if he works for television or a great metropolitan newspaper — in fact, I don’t even care if he’s a reporter. I’m okay with him being married to Lois Lane, even … but damn it, the world at large should perceive Clark Kent as a weakling and a dork.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Certainly, I believe that a long-running character like Superman, and thus his secret identity, has to evolve and change with the times. That’s how pop culture works. Lord knows there have been many, many iterations of Superman and Clark over the last eighty years.
But Clark as the nerd and Superman as the jock is a wonderful bit of business that Siegel and Shuster built into the character at the beginning and it still works.
See, it’s not the glasses that are the disguise. It’s the character. It should be impossible for people in Metropolis to picture Clark Kent doing the things Superman does.
The trouble is that John Byrne grew up on the George Reeves version, where there was no differentiation at all between Superman’s and Clark’s character (something that annoyed me a great deal, even when I was eight.) So Byrne built that into his 1986 revamp, he gave us Clark Kent as a George Reeves-style man of action. As a result, nerdy Clark has pretty much left the building.
There are those that say it’s outdated, but I would simply point them towards Elliot Maggin’s brilliant Superman novel Miracle Monday. Or Superman: Birthright from Waid and Yu. Or even the wonderful bits that Greg Rucka did in his brief run on Superman a few years back. I thought it was genius that Rucka realized that General Sam Lane would regard his son-in-law as a worthless pantywaist … and Lois couldn’t correct him, and Clark just had to take it. That was the most secret identity fun we’ve seen on a Superman title since the Steve Lombard days back in the 1970’s. (Incidentally, that’s an example of what I mean when I say a marriage doesn’t kill stories for a character, it just opens up different ones.)
I made it a point to thank Mr. Rucka for bringing back nerdy Clark when I saw him at a signing around that time, and he lit up. “How can you NOT have Clark Kent as a schlub??” Clearly, he felt as strongly about this as I do.
It’s not that you can’t do it or it doesn’t work. It works fine. But for whatever reason, in recent years Superman writers never really take that ball and run with it. For a brief shining moment there, I thought it looked like Geoff Johns was undertaking some solid rebuilding with the Clark Kent identity and the Daily Planet supporting cast in general … and then we get Superman off Earth for a year over on New Krypton.
Look, Superman without Clark isn’t really Superman, and Clark without the nerdiness isn’t really Clark. That’s my in-story sacred cow.
The second one is an irritating fan quirk I’ve talked about many, many times in this space. But I’m hyper-aware of it, having just completed a move, and it bears repeating.
If you keep books you don’t reread, you’re an idiot.
Lest you think I am making this as a sneering pronouncement from on high, I assure you I am not. I’ve been guilty of this quite a few times. There’s nothing like packing for a move to make you ask yourself, “Why do I even own this? What was I thinking?”
I’m still embarrassed at hanging in with Deathstroke the Terminator for the entire run.
At the time I was kind of into the Titans (though they were seriously off the rails too) and the first few issues were fun, but it got old quick.
And I’m really kind of appalled at how much of the infamous Clone Saga I have here.
Yes, even the tie-ins.
There’s a lot of this stuff I had forgotten, and looking at it now I’m pretty sure there will be no need to revisit it. So why hang on to it?
I was going to go through all these longboxes and have a purge, but the move was on us before I could do it. But as I sit here typing this, looking at the six-foot high stack of comic boxes filling the room that I have yet to unpack, I assure you, the purge is coming. My students, and probably some local library, are about to have a big payday.
At least my aide (and massive X-Men fangirl) Rachel took all the X-Men paperbacks I was going to get rid of.
I felt kind of guilty giving her some of that stuff, but she was thrilled, and hey, one fan’s discard is another fan’s … well, future discard, probably. It was Liefeld. But at least it’s not taking up space HERE any more. (I did throw in a couple of good ones because I felt so shamed at giving her all those 90’s X-Men books, though.)
The point is, none of it would have been here if I’d obeyed the “don’t keep stuff you don’t reread” rule. Comics are too expensive to be a completist about it any longer. If I don’t like it, it’s not staying. Period.
So those are my two. Clark Kent should really be Clark Kent … and those of us who are buying comics “just to keep up,” or to “not break up a run,” should knock it the hell off. Trust my aching back on that last one.
Speaking of Rachel, she will be joining us at Emerald City again this year (dressed as Rogue, she says; truly, the Dork Side is strong in this one. I feel so proud.) She’ll be rolling out her own new ‘zine, Midnight, and I bet you could get her to part with a copy if you asked her. I did the stitching on it last night for her and I have to say, it looks very cool.
(Amanda last year, Rachel this year … I’m telling you, in about five years these students of mine are going to be setting the comics world on fire if they stay with it.)
Come and see us if you’re in town. We’ll be in Artist’s Alley at J-13 and J-14, a couple of seats down from Tony Harris. I might look a bit harried from chasing after my young charges, but do say hello anyway.
And if I don’t see you at the show this weekend, well, I’ll see you next week.