Thursday, October 13, 2011

Visions of Superman

So last week, I wrote a confusing bit about the difference between a reboot and a reinvention, inspired by Dresden Codak's popular images. Since then, Aaron Diaz has done up a Legion of Doom and a Bat-Family version.

In discussing these renderings with fellow Internet Comic Nerds (Metafilter Local #108296, Go Fight'n Beans!), it's pretty evident that many of these reboots are entirely new characters. A reboot needs to happen from the same starting place as the original - turning Wonder Woman into literally a living statue (although DC is now doing away with that idea) or Superman into a shape-shifter, while neat, are not reboots. I'd totally read a comic based on those characters, mind you, and I do think that they can say something about the core themes presented by the originals, the same way Gruenwald's run Squadron Supreme is a meditation on the Justice League's role in the world.

That and it's just plain fun to reinvent and reboot iconic characters like Superman. By doing so, we get a better understanding of the main character and discover, contrary to popular opinion, that some of the old warhorses of superhero comics are not boring at all. One recent twist we've seen on Superman is in Action Comics. Morrison wants to bring Superman back to his social justice roots, so we start to see Superman as a sort of socialist, maybe even communist (Marx, not Stalin) figure.

Thing is, when it comes to Superman-as-Communist, most re-imaginings are much more hammer than sickle, which doesn't make sense to me. Sure, Superman in his workboots lifting heavy things, lending his union brothers a hand, is a cool image, but shouldn't Superman, who was raised on a farm, who is powered by sunlight, be much closer to the agrarian end of things?

Superman does not make stuff. He is not industry. He does not create new societies or build things in his image. No, Superman tends to things. He makes sure that humanity has what it needs to grow of its own accord. He removes blight and vermin when he sees it, but he does not reshape society to completely prevent it.

Superman is a farmer and humanity is his crop. For the most part, he stays out of the way to let us do the growing. If he were a more industrial figure, he'd be building and reshaping society, smelting a more efficient order by the sweat of his brow and the heat of his laser vision. He could end hunger and crime and mass-produce a sort of utopia, but he does not, just like the farmer in the field does not kill an under-performing plant. Instead, he tends to the crop and tries to see what is causing the poor yield. He has faith that the plant, humanity, will grow the best it can given the opportunity.

A traditional farm is a vast ecology, one complete with crops and animals, just as the Earth is. For a chilling Fortean twist, pause for a moment to consider whose farm the Earth is. "The Earth is a farm. We are someone else's property," wrote Charles Fort. Does that mean, at some point, Superman will harvest us? Will humanity be lead to the slaughter? That certainly puts Lex Luthor's feelings on the man in perspective. Maybe that explains why Luthor is kept around - he's about as close to a talking pig as Superman-as-Farmer would get. Certainly, he'd be worth more at market than the rest of us.

But who is buying?