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Superman's Other Powers and Straczynski's Inventive Pen

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DC Comics announced early in the week that J. Michael Straczynski (the mastermind behind Babylon 5 and one of the best runs of The Amazing Spider-Man and Thor in recent memory) will be taking over writing duties on Superman and Wonder Woman comics in July. He's taking over for them on issue #701 and #601, respectively and he's been brought in to commemorate that landmark.

When they announced the news, they posted an essay about the Man of Steel by Straczynski (you can read it here) that has had me thinking a lot about Superman.

You see, I've always been a Batman sort of guy. In fact, I've got every issue of Batman going back 25 years or more and counting in both directions. I always looked at Superman as sort of an over-glorified boy scout and not worth my time and devotion. Sure, I'd read his comics now and then, and certainly when he crossed paths with Batman, but he was never my primary focus.

I always looked at Batman as the more liberal of the two, he was always giving to every charity in the book and believed in an equality of justice and wealth that I could really get behind. And he was just a human. He was frail, had vulnerabilities. Unless someone had some Kryptonite around, Superman was invincible.

But Superman, ideologically speaking, always seemed to me much more conservative. He was a red-stater through and through. When Joker killed Jason Todd (the second Robin) and became the Ambassador from Iran with complete diplomatic immunity, it was Superman who arrived under Ronald Reagan's orders to make sure that Batman kept his hands off of the Joker, even though he'd murdered half of the dynamic duo in cold blood.

When Lex Luthor became president (during the 2000 election, as a metaphorical proxy for George W. Bush), Superman even followed his orders until he went crazy and tried to take over the world and kill him.

But reading that essay by Straczynski had me thinking about what we all want to be. The best of us. The best part of us. That unyielding optimism that cuts right through any amount of cynicism.

Staczynski says that Superman's "S" symbol is actually Kryptonian for "No Limits," and I believe him. Superman is all of the hope that we want. Sure, he's taking orders from some pretty despicable people, and sometimes the choices he makes aren't easy, but he's there, hoping for the best for everyone, even his enemies.

And there's a vulnerability in that, which I hadn't really realized before.

When you see that "S", or hear even a few bars of his theme song by John Williams, or that single frame of him, fallen after his fight with Doomsday in front of a tattered American flag, you get the chills. You look up to him. But more than looking up to him, you look into yourself and see something that could be better.

In fact, Superman, in some cases, could be a much more effective tool for an effort in advancing patriotism and civic pride than any number of miniature American flags. Maybe Superman could help heal the red-blue divide so prevalent in This Divided State, a documentary I produced in 2005.

I suppose my broader point is that if Straczynski can shed that much light on the character and change my perspective of him with one essay, I can't wait to see what he'll do with an extended run of him in the comics.

Trust that I'll be adding this to my hold with all the hope and optimism that Superman embodies.


Bryan Young is the producer of Killer at Large and edits the comic book news website Big Shiny Robot!