Denny O’Neil, Brian Michael Bendis, and Changes
In memoriam of legendary comics writer Denny O’Neil, I re-read the “Kryptonite Nevermore!” hardcover over the weekend. Also know as the Sandman Saga. After reading it I started thinking about how much and how little Superman has changed in the comics over the years and how fans react.
When news hit that Bendis was nearing the end of his Superman run,I saw people in various Superman Facebook groups celebrate his departure. Saying that his changes, namely aging up Jon Kent and revealing the secret identity to the world, were horrible. These same people complained about a break-up of Lois & Clark even though this was clearly not something Bendis was doing. I frequently read calls to bring back creators like Dan Jurgens. Probably forgetting Jurgens was a primary architect ofElectric Superman and of course the Super Mullet (Tarzan Hair). Changes I don’t think are looked back on with fondness by most fans.
But why do we hate changes to Superman? Probably the most consistent thing about him over the last 82 years has been change! Are we so stuck on the Superman we remember from our youth that we can’t handle a different take? Fans seem to love alternate—often violent—versions like Injustice and Red Son. How do those takes end up on lists of favorite Superman stories, but an attempt to explore truth through identity is a step too far? I myself was guilty of being resistant to change for a time during the New 52 era. Armored costume and no trunks? Relationship with Wonder Woman? No thanks. I lapsed as a reader during that time. Coming back towards the end of the New 52, I realized I had missed creators doing good work trying to tell their best Superman stories. There were new and interesting ideas being explored and some great comics. Don’t worry I’ve got them all now.
This brings me back to “Kryptonite Nevermore!” The changes to Clark throughout would make him unrecognizable to readers of today. No Kryptonite, television news anchor, powers cut in half. Plus the racist stereotypes. None of these changes would be permanent and none of them are considered definitive, yet this story is a classic. It’s revered by fans and makes lists of top Superman stories. Could this be because of it’s age? Because of the talent involved? Do current Superman readers not care about major changes in the Pre-Crisis era, but want Superman now to not budge an inch from Action Comics circa #750?
For me there is a certain core of Superman that a writer needs to get right. Superman’s goal is to save everyone. He is the best of us, the ideal to strive towards. There is a right and wrong in the universe. From there I like when the status quo is shaken up. I know that in twenty years the best ideas will stick and the rest will be interesting at the time. Who knew that the Lois & Clark marriage would be the biggest change to stick in decades?
As for Bendis, I’m happy he’s sticking around for a least a little while longer:
It’s sooooo far away. Kind of a non headline. Don’t even worry about it today.— BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (@BRIANMBENDIS) June 10, 2020
I’m excited to see what happens with an older Jon in the Legion of Super Heroes. I think it opens up more stories than the much younger Jon did. I think that the world knowing Clark is Superman can also open up more stories. It’s been done before, but not in such a positive way. Bendis promised to be additive and these are two ways he’s done that. At least he doesn’t have to worry about film portrayals which divides fans like nothing else. But that’s an article for a different day.