In its boldest move since killing the character off a few years ago, DC Comics has decided to give Superman not only a new set of powers, but also an entirely new look. Gone is the traditional red, blue, and yellow colors. Gone is the billowing cape. Gone even is that cool little curl of hair that made Supes so hard to pinpoint as being Clark Kent. In another attempt to bring classic core characters up-to-date, Superman has been almost completely overhauled. What's my verdict on the changes? No, sir; I don't like it.
This isn't the first time DC has gone to work on the Big Blue Cheese. Back in 1986, his origin was freshened up after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, courtesy of Mr. John Byrne. This slight revision kept the core of the character, but left him a little less omnipotent than before, got rid of all those confusing Superboy stories (he never existed), and cut down on some of the Super-silliness (Legion of Super-Pets, anyone?). However, the character remained basically the same and was, in fact, a much stronger, more three-dimensional character after the revision. Fans complained initially, but soon came to like the new Supes.
However, as sales lagged in 1992, DC decided to try something a little drastic with Superman; they decided to kill him. In an epic battle with the rampaging Doomsday, Superman lost his life. Soon, four imposter Supermen showed up in Metropolis, each claiming to be the real deal. Soon, a resurrected Superman appeared (with long, Billy Ray Cyrus hair) and set straight all the nonsense. Afterwards, to make a long story short, Superman saved the world a few times and eventually got married to long-time co-worker Lois Lane.
Now, we're faced with DC's most drastic change to the character since his creation back in 1938. Now, due to tinkering with his ever-so-testy Kryptonian powers, Superman is a being of pure energy. With intense concentration, he can assume solid form. Once he does so, however, he is entirely powerless. Hence, if Clark Kent stubs his toe on the way to the bathroom early in the morning, he will now feel it and curse up a storm like the rest of us. Hence, Superman is placed in the position of learning how to use his powers all over again, while maintaining a relationship with his wife.
I have to admit, the new Superman costume does look pretty snazzy. It's color scheme is dynamic and the energy effects lead to some exciting visuals. Also, the concept of Superman as a being of pure energy is intriguing. It's been done before, but the Superman writers seems to be handling it rather masterfully. Plus, we're treated to Superman getting used to his new energy state. Whereas before he could just pick up a Neon and throw it across the street, he now has to concentrate in order to become just solid enough to hurl the mini-car. So, what's my beef? Pure and simple, it's tradition.
Superman is Superman. No matter how cool of an idea a writer or editor might have for the character, they have to remain true to the vision set forth by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster back in the Roosevelt administration. Although Superman's costume might have looked a little dated beside the Liefeld-inspired headgear and huge guns, it was a classic. Few costumes, with the notable exceptions of Spider-Man's and Batman's, are as clearly identified with the characters who wear them. Then, there are the powers. Whatever happened to "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?" Well, now he's faster than a T1 connection, more powerful than a Conair hair dryer, and able to fry eggs with a single ZAP. It just isn't the same!
DC has already tried these revamps with their other characters. Batman had his back broken and was replaced by a punk in a high-tech suit with a bad attitude. The fans didn't like it and Bruce Wayne was back in the cowl in no time flat. Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, went mad and eventually power-hungry, only to be replaced by a new Green Lantern -- Kyle Rayner. This time, the fans were a little more accepting after some initial anger. Of course, this cooresponds with the fact that the Green Lantern storyline was relatively well-written. Take note, though, DC doesn't have the monopoly on mucking up their established heroes. Spider-Man recently found out that a clone of himself, created back in a 1979 issue, was still alive, after he thought he'd thrown it in a furnace to die. Then, he found out that the clone, calling itself the Scarlet Spider and wearing a hooded sweatshirt for a costume was the real Spider-Man and he was actually the clone. Thus, the Scarlet Spider, who turned out to the the real Peter Parker, took the name Ben Reilly and a horrendous new costume and supporting cast were introduced. Fans nearly threw up on their precious copies of Amazing Spider-Man #300 in reaction to this travesty. Marvel immediately back-peddled and revealed that the supposed clone (formerly the supposed real Spidey) was really the real Spidey after all. Confused? So was everybody else. Meanwhile, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are trapped in a "Heroes Reborn" pocket universe. Let's not even go there.
Of course, we can always count on good old capitalism to bring things under control. Luckily, Superman has been licensed out to so many projects -- toys, cartoons, television, movies -- that they can't afford to alter the character too drastically. Eventually, ABC will come calling, asking how they're supposed to foot to bill to make Dean Cain a being of pure energy. We can rest assured that these changes will, barring unforeseen circumstances, only be temporary. The question is, how long will we have to deal with them?
It just isn't a good idea to play around with tradition like the editors and writers of Superman are doing. Superman was around before the majority of the guys who are doing this to him were. If they want to tell a story about a superhero made purely of energy, why can't they do it with an entirely new hero? If the story and art is good, the fans will pay attention. Superman is just too much of a cultural icon to be fooling around with. I don't want my kids to be initiated into the world of superheroes with the following: "Look, up in the sky! It's a lightning bolt! It's an atmospheric phenomenon! It's some guy called Superman." It just isn't right.