The Status Quo
I watched a video essay about Die Hard the other day. Part of the video’s thesis was the character of John McClane can’t grow because we as an audience need him to be the same so we can get our Die Hard movies. He can never actually fix his marriage. Batman can never get over the death of his parents. “Human growth stagnates a franchise.” It reminds me of what writers and producers blamed the end of Lois & Clark on. From the sadly offline Lois & Clark reference site:
Brad Kern, former writer for Lois and Clark (the final season only) and currently a writer/producer under fire from fans of Charmed, defended splitting up a married couple by stating, “In one season-finale episode Lois found out Clark’s secret, and he asked her to marry him. The fans wanted that, they got it. But suddenly they’re married, she knows the secret and the fans went away. I think that cost us one whole season on ‘Lois & Clark.’ So I learned a lot from that, and have applied it to ‘Charmed.’”
I disagree with this statement strongly. There were many reasons Lois & Clark got cancelled, but finally getting them together was not one of them. In fact there are many status quo changes in the history of Superman that have stuck around and become the new status quo.
As a longtime comics reader I roll my eyes every time a big name character dies. Because we know it won’t last. Creators and readers want to see these characters again! These multinational corporations would never throw away a property like Superman. I wonder what Death of the Justice League has in store for us this week. It’s the same with other large status quo changes. As mentioned in the video Batman has to punch people in the face because of his unresolved trauma, that won’t change. But sometimes a big one comes that sticks.
I think the first big status quo change for the Man of Tomorrow is the introduction of Supergirl. Clark is no longer the last survivor of Krypton. It gave Superman a family member close by and leaned into the paternal Clark. It allowed Clark’s character to grow and change. Different than a new power or weakness or villain, stories that were common through the gold and silver ages. Bringing back Kara Zor-El after Bryne said no more Kryptonians shows how impactful this change was.
The next big status quo change that comes to mind—especially after talking about Lois & Clark—is the wedding. Gone was the 50 year love triangle. Clark and Lois actually got married. She learned his secret. It didn’t ruin Superman comics, but actually gave a new dimension and growth to them over the years. This change proved so popular that even after they tried to undo it with the New 52, it came back! It’s been more than 30 years since Lois found out his secret and they were engaged. It’s become such an ingrained part of the mythos that the newest Superman television show is based around it. Maybe the biggest and most lasting changes are ones that writers try to jettison, but come back?
The other big change that has spilled into the television world is the son of Superman, Jon Kent. Superman & Lois takes it a step further with him having two sons, but the basic premise is there. For a character that was an eternal bachelor for his first 50 years now having children is a major status quo shift.
We can go a step further with Jon Kent too. Bendis gave Jon’s status quo a push when he decided to age him up. It let him do Legion stories and has led to Jon being Superman and not just Superboy. This isn’t “a give him electric powers” for six months; the character has grown! He’s matured!
The Adventures of Superman when he was a boy didn’t have much of a change on Superman at first. They were self contained. Until they started introducing new ideas into Superboy (like Bizarro) that worked their way into Superman stories. But then like a planet exploding Byrne said “no more Superboy.” Superboy has come and gone and changed quite a bit over the decades. The idea is too go to fully go away, although Clark as Superboy might be a thing of the past.
All status quo changes are controversial until they become the status quo. I think some readers miss young Jon Kent and his Super Sons adventures with Damien Wayne (which we can still get more of). Another Bendis change in the comics is Clark revealing his identity to the world. It’s tough to say how long this will last. It hasn’t rolled over into any other media—although the Supergirl television show did end with this. Clark has had his identity revealed in the past and it’s always been rolled back. It seems like the current team isn’t in any hurry to undo this one though.
That’s a big part of what it all comes down to though. Creators want to tell stories about “their” Superman. Often times that means the status quo version they are most familiar with. The current World’s Finest title has a “classic” Superman without Jon, with a secret identity. But it definitely has aspects that were added after 1938.
With 80 years of continuous comic publication not to mention television, radio, and film it would be tough to point to an aspect of the character of Superman that hasn’t changed. The one thing that can’t? His never-ending battle.