Superman Comic Books
Byrne is Dead... Long Live... YOD!By Neal Bailey
Of course, that title's sarcastic, but it's apt, because it brings to the forefront the schism, the choice, and ultimately, the discovery of this, the new continuity.
Here's the story of continuity, as I know it. It might not reflect your experience, but hopefully it will, the idea here being to discover and fully understand where the Man of Steel has been, where he is going, what he will be...
Many of you started reading Superman comics with the DEATH of the main character. Statistically speaking, it's pretty likely, unless you're very young or were so dissuaded by the plot point that you disappeared. It took place in the latter part of the first third of what has come to be known as the Byrne continuity, which is actually a bit of a misnomer, given that Marv Wolfman had as much if not more of a design role, as I've been led to understand, but the name was handed out mostly because of the original miniseries, Superman: The Man of Steel, which John Byrne both wrote and drew, at the time very masterfully.
It also established the beginnings of the weekly Superman comic, an idea toyed with in the early eighties in Action Comics Weekly, later implemented in the larger concept Superman titles. The basic idea at first being a new story every week where people could explore, and later it evolved into an ongoing, strongly continuity-based take on the Man of Steel, where his entire life, from beginning to end, was more or less mapped out linearly.
I LOVED these stories, grew up on them, and it's a large part of the reason why I've so fervently fought the slow decimation of said continuity.
THE DEATH OF CONTINUITY
But die they did, slowly but surely. No one really has stepped forward to indicate how, and the change was gradual, but it did occur. I've heard all kinds of things... Carlin leaving as the main editor, or being asked to leave. It's all fanboy hearsay, and the comic book industry protects its own, so the true story might never come out, really.
Bottom line, however, Carlin left, Berganza entered, all of the superteams left and/or were changed. We went from a group of people that had remained fairly steady for more or less a decade (Grummet, Stern, Guice, Bogdanove, Stern, Carlin, Rodier, Kesel, Jurgens, Kitson, Simonson, and later Stuart Immonen) to a largely new group of people. Some stayed on for a while, and some of the general story thematic elements stayed the same, but it soon became very clear that the direction was changing.
Fans bristled. And who could blame them? You go from a story every week (even throwing in MAN OF TOMORROW to fill the bye week) that was inter-related, linear, and related in both subtext and broader scope to four less connected titles that explored their own areas and creativity save for major events, like Emperor Joker or Our Worlds At War.
Bristles remained, but soon faded for many, given the sheer quality of some of the work put out. Visionaries like Loeb and Kelly, along with pivotal newcomer artists like Ed McGuinness and Doug Mahnke, brought in new fans and drew a sharp division among the fans. Those who were livid that their continuity was breaking up, and those who were just taking the stories for what they were.
I stood firmly on the side of keeping the continuity, and wrote as such. Great stories aside, I felt a tragic loss in the consistency of the character. Character consistency was a major issue, with characters acting one way in one issue, and the next, dramatically different. One had to either take an issue for what it was, or try and reconcile it with the other books and end up disappointed. It even plagued major events, where the crazed style of Joe Casey coupled next to the meat-and-potato Jeph Loeb approach led to an inconsistent brand of overall storytelling even in the wake of major events like Our Worlds At War.
That's not to say it was all bad. To the contrary, at times it was quite good. Forsaking continuity and just taking the stories in, it was one of the more creative times in Superman history, and many were quick to note this and latch on.
The idea was that weekly comic books were too hard for fans to latch onto and enjoy, especially when mired in continuity and introducing tertiary characters. We all see how right that was, particularly given 52. Right? Right? Guys? (crickets) But I digress.
Berganza led the books for half a decade, finally surrendering the books to Matt Idleson just recently, in the wake of the Infinite Crisis, handing the books off and instituting what appeared to be a new continuity. At least, it appeared to be. In Infinite Crisis, worlds expanded, collapsed, and finally we were left with a few Valhalla wall shards with changed elements, and two words in a panel:
I spoke to Geoff Johns just before issue 7 of Infinite Crisis hit the stands, and asked about continuity. He said that things would change, but refused to go into specifics. Most of the artists, in fact, kept buttoned lips and didn't touch upon just what Infinite Crisis meant.
But wait a second here... I'm getting ahead of myself. I forgot... BIRTHRIGHT.
Stop hissing, you cynics.
THE DEATH OF... SOME THINGS? BUT NOT OTHERS?
Superman: Birthright came right in the middle of all this, as most of you know. One part origin, one part blockbuster film re-imagining, and one part major event, it was billed as "THE NEW ORIGIN OF SUPERMAN!" by Mark Waid, then Eddie Berganza.
Again the rumor mill churned. Fans went mad. Questions were asked that could not be answered, bringing up the house of cards argument. For instance, if Krypton was alone in the universe, how the heck did Doomsday hitch a ride on a trade freighter and leave Krypton, where he was birthed, to bust the lip of the universe and eventually kill the Man of Steel?
Waid? No comment. Berganza? ALL WILL BE EXPLAINED, STAY TUNED!
Three years passed.
We were promised an explanation, multiple times. People said that Birthright was continuity on the record. People also said that Birthright was not continuity. Off the record, multiple creators indicated that Birthright was continuity, but they weren't going to use it. I won't name names, but it was at least three. I only feel safe saying that publicly now, in the wake of new revelations, knowing that revealing this right now probably won't make a dent in anything any more.
The one person I felt sorry for and no anger for at all, believe it or not, though I maligned what was said at the time, is Mark Waid. He wrote an incredible story, a fun story, and I ended up mostly panning it because of the context. Context is half of a comic, as anyone reading Infinite Crisis knows, and as a new origin, Birthright failed miserably to fit into continuity. The problem is, the crew kept insisting that it did, if we could only wrap our heads around it. It was OUR fault, because we fans were just too stupid to figure out the genius of the thing. Or whatever.
Either way, it monkeyed us off rightly.
BACK TO THE FUTURE OF THE DEATH OF CONTINUITY?
Daunted by the whole process of continuity and unsure of what to expect with another seeming continuity reboot roughly two years after the new beginning of the Man of Steel (officially, just not de facto), we get the NEW EARTH continuity.
In scattered interviews across the internet, people began making assertions about the current state of continuity. Yes, they indicated, Byrne was still intact, but things had changed. Just what things, we won't say, because we don't want to give away the story. But there was only one Zod, the other five are gone. All of the history has changed, but Supes still died, the world is not flat, and yet... look! A rabbit!
An already reeling group of fanboys who had devoted their hard earned cash to this character and its continuity for the better part of twenty years stepped back and uttered, through nacho breath, a collective "Huh?"
Here's one of the best quotes from that series of months, from Zona Negativa, interviewing Dan DiDio, who, if you don't know, is pretty much DC Jesus right now. He's the king daddy editor:
"There are several derivations of the Superman origin with the Byrne and Waid ones being the most recent. Coming out of Crisis we will be leaning towards "Birthright" since we will have re-established that our Superman is the Silver Age incarnation."
These fans, who were formerly saying, "Huh?" had now vomited their cheetos onto their pristine on-the-card Droids Boba Fett. And were crying.
Me? I got mad. Why? Because I had been trying to get to the bottom of this for three years, and I had failed. I had failed, and it was my damned JOB. I was a fan liason. Guys had been writing ME for half a decade asking me for insights into this problem. When I asked Mark Waid for an interview, he politely declined. I asked Dan DiDio for an interview in person, he nodded, said he would, then walked away and never came back to the booth.
I got mad, and I started shirking. I got to the point of where I didn't care. It's very easy, when given a lot of misinformation, disinformation, and information in general, to become cynical. It's almost like comic book creators take their fans for granted, and love toying with them and their co-dependent addiction to a serial medium that never moves in a linear fashion. Superman had now gone from a forward-thinking, almost literary endeavor to not knowing if Jimmy Olsen was dating Lucy Lane, or if Lucy had a daughter with Ron Troupe. It was a Silver Age vegetarian Superman who died at the hands of a monster who couldn't possibly exist logically speaking, who may or may not have died.
KHYRANA, THE GREATEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO ME
And hey, why not?
I've made a few mistaken reviews in my time. For instance, I recall calling Emperor Joker a one-off story that would probably be solved in four issues by an amateur, with a story likely foisted on him by an overbearing editor. Turns out that was Jeph Loeb, who became an all-time classic, and I couldn't be more glad at how wrong I was.
There are also reviews I still stand by. For instance, though I love Joe Casey's Majestic, I think he's one of the single worst Superman writers in the history of the character. I am not ashamed when I said his first issue of his first run remains the worst issue of Superman I have ever read (with close ties from Brain Azzarello in For Tomorrow).
Then there are those weird beasts, in the middle. Reviews where you are wrong on some points, but by the time you find out you're wrong, it's too late. The world has passed the review by. I make it a point to speak from my gut, to spout without thinking, and to react like one would in a comic book store talking with my friends. You guys.
It gets me a lot of heat sometimes, but it also makes you guys follow my reviews pretty closely, and I thank you for that. I get letters demanding corrections, I get people telling me to die in a fire. Heck, I've even gotten a few death threats in my day over things like Lana Lang. I tell you, it'd make me afraid to goof with continuity, much less take the bold step of creating a new universe.
I criticized Superman #661 pretty sternly. Point of fact, my first words about it were "God, that was awful." I can get to forgetting that the people who write these books are real, and exist, but that's less often the case as my own insecurity makes me believe there's no chance in hell they'll ever read what I write, so I unload with both guns. And then, even scarier, when I do meet them and know them, I still have to unload with both guns to maintain intellectual honesty. That's, you know, just between you and me, really hard and scary, particularly when you have someone you honestly admire in their other endeavors. Like Joe Casey with Majestic. Or now, Busiek and Astro City.
The story, involving Khyrana, was the tale of a character who leeched energy off her victims, in this case Superman and Wonder Woman. I wrote a number of stern criticisms, many of which I soon found out were incorrect, if explained. By...Kurt Busiek.
Whenever you get a letter from one of the creators, it's always a thrill. You're worried you're in trouble at first, which is odd, considering there's no punishment that can really be meted, it's just that feeling I used to get whenever I wrote a curse word into a theme for high school, even if it enhanced the work. The teacher would write a letter back sternly admonishing you, and even though you know in your heart that it damn well helped emphasize your point, you still felt wrong, even if you shot from the gut, which is my modus operandi when it comes to writing.
But he was cogent, polite, he wasn't trying to make me feel bad for being honest (other creators have, let me tell you). He pointed out that Khyrana wasn't taking sexual advantage of her victims, but rather leeching their vitality (something I had erred on by assumption with my knowledge of classical literature), that she wasn't just a one-off, that she didn't have to immediately kill her victims.
I even learned that in this continuity, Clark Kent isn't as prominent a personality as he was in Byrne. I mean, in Byrne, the dude was a three-time novelist and a Pulitzer prize winning journalist. I don't know about you, but if Bob Woodward, in public, ripped his shirt off and flew, I'd REMEMBER him.
So I wrote back, not necessarily expecting a reply, but offering to make the fair corrections mentioned above, and offering Kurt the Homepage as an avenue to maybe communicate with the fans who have questions about the issues at hand.
I stand by my gut rating. I didn't like the issue (sorry, Kurt!). In the end, though, I had no leg to stand on when it came to the continuity issues. Kurt also helped out in informing me that the hunt for Wonder Woman isn't worldwide, it's just limited to the small federal agency that Diana Prince, irony of ironies, is hooked up with. That makes the review corrected, my honesty maintained, and I managed to be totally, brutally honest without compromising myself because I felt bad at having mad a mistake. Kurt is awesome for that.
But like Quint, y'all know me, so I had to push the envelope a little bit. Kurt made the offer to answer questions after each issue, but with one caveat. He didn't want to be the "ARBITER OF CONTINUITY!" (quotes mine), forced to respond to what he considered to be asked and answered questions about continuity.
Like ten thousand other fans before me, I bristled. Enough was enough! I mean, there was Byrne, then there was Birthright, and we prepared to have no Byrne. Then it was Silver Age. Now it's neither? AND WHERE THE HELL WAS ELROY?
So I wrote back a long, long, realllllllllly long letter to Kurt, asking him, if he won't be the arbiter (which is fine, heck, I wouldn't want to be either), can he at very least, at VERY least, clue us in as to what the heck is going on so that we, the Superman Homepage editors, don't have to, as we have for the last four years, shrug our shoulders and elucidate, "DUUUUUH!" at anyone who asks us what the heck Superman's origin is.
He replied, and set the record straight, something we've been waiting for for more than half of my tenure as a reporter here.
THE REAL REASON YOU READ THIS FAR:
THERE IS NO ORIGIN
Oh, there is. I mean, it's out there, but we haven't seen it yet.
I bristled again. AHT! Interviews, buddy! Folks, bald folks with mucho power, have stated that Superman retains some of the elements of Byrne. The death. Many important, pivotal events. BUT, they're not like we remember them.
THAT is the critical disconnect that many of the creators failed to convey to us all. The press, the fans, everyone.
For instance, as Steve's column in the Big Blue Report #142 newsletter (republished here) pointed out after Kurt graciously offered permission to use his responses, a common criticism can be addressed as such:
Me, wearing a BYRNE FOREVER! shirt: Hey, Busiek! You think you're so hot! Riddle me this: If Pocket Universe Zod is no more, then how the heck did Superman find Warworld, and if he didn't find Warworld, then how did Coast City get destroyed? And if it didn't, then how did Hal become Parallax, which he was even in New Earth? Huh? And for that matter, why have you been hiding the descendents of Jesus? BAD FORM!
Kurt: You're missing the point, idiot.
Except he was cool enough not to call me an idiot. And he was articulate enough to show me how I had missed the point.
Get this. The house of cards argument, which is what we've been using to dispute Birthright and New Earth changes does not apply because the past is not defined. Yes, Superman died, but we don't know anything beyond that it happened at Doomsday's hands. ANYTHING that is necessary to establish a given element that is in current continuity, unless it has been explored in this last year, has yet to be explored.
Read that again, and think about it. So if Coast City is needed, some OTHER character, given that the Pocket Universe Zod is gone, filled that hole. Busiek joked about "Yod" or another character of similar power and ideology, but the basic idea is that the house of cards fails because the cards have simply changed. Like a continuity correcting itself. Fatalistic as it is, if that's the set policy, IT NOW MAKES SENSE.
Whether you LIKE it or not, that's another thing. I'm still thinking about it. BUT NOW WE FINALLY @$#%ING KNOW.
So to sum up, this is not the old, Byrne continuity with some changes to it, like, for instance, missing characters or events. It's simply a new continuity with SOME similar events as benefit the character and the direction of the current teams. Just like Byrne had a little bit of what came before in his version, but a new continuity nonetheless.
Busiek was quick to point out that as much has been stated in numerous interviews, but I read most major internet news sources combing for news about Superman and in particular continuity, so I'm guessing that if I didn't know these things, they're likely light bulbs for you, too. Arrogant of me? Hey, if it helps one guy or gal who didn't know along, fine by me.
Kurt has agreed to answer questions, as I've said, about each issue as it comes out, and we will be calling for said questions at the end of each review. The feature is called "QfK" (Questions for Kurt). STAY ISSUE FOCAL, ask a bunch of great questions, and now that continuity is settled (whether you like the direction or not) in an official manner from an official creator, perhaps we can leave the specter of Birthright and continuity behind, and perhaps enjoy what's to come!
Feel free to comment (please) THANKING Kurt for doing this for us (even if you disagree with the direction) and let the world know what YOU think.
Many other sites have embraced the new direction, but I think, given our status as THE home of Superman nuts, we've gotta hear exactly what you think before we take a slant of editorial direction to better service you.
And if you won't, I will say: THANK YOU, Kurt, for bringing better communication to fans and fan sites alike. I may not have liked Khyrana, but you've definitely psyched me up to like what's coming.