Tag Archives: Superman

The Eyes Have It

Would it be too diabolical a choice to words if I were to say, “The All-Star Superman cover is so great, it passes with flying colours”?

Nevertheless, I cannot stop taking a deep breath each time I see the cover of volume 1 of the collected All-Star Superman series by Frank Quitely (penciling) and Jamie Grant (colouring).

It struck me when I saw it first online, and again when I held the copy in my hand. So many reactions in mere moments:

  • The corner of the eye catches the soft sun which you know means the world is feeling benevolent today
  • Zip to Superman whose soft, heavy eyes draw you into a sense of Buddhist calm – yes, Buddha eyes
  • Clouds make you weightless, especially when you realize you are standing on them
  • And the city below, far below, means you’re soaring like an eagle, or a Kryptonian dog

So many ways to lead the reader to one single feeling – meditative bliss, I kid you not.

If I were exaggerating I would not have remembered this image for so many hours as I have. I would not have felt compelled to write about it. It is like the best snapshots you remember from a great holiday, which connect you to the feeling of freedom and being unchained.

I can try and take a more learned stand towards the image – the colours play a major role in initiating these feelings. The first thing to catch your eyes is, of course, the red of the cape. It literally explodes in your eyes, because you know your eyes and pupils grow bigger when you see it first. The next thing to catch you is the sun, as both the vanishing point of the picture and the way the title is composed lead you to this distant and diffused soft yellow sun, covered by a safety net of clouds. They are altogether reassuring, showing you that nothing looms on the horizon. All the while, not exactly foremost on your consciousness, is a beautiful blue. It’s dead centre in the picture, so you will never see any part of the whole image without a bit of beautiful blue in your sights. And yes, these are the three primary colours of printing.

But finally, there’re the eyes, the eyes that communicate safety and control. They look straight at you and hold you. You suddenly see a Superman who isn’t hurling and dashing through the sky to save mankind, but a Superman who is taking a moment to admire the heavens, just as you are.

Who invites you to sit beside him as time slows to a standstill.

The Back of Beyond, or, What’s a Hero Without a Past?

The beginning-middle-end structure has often been disregarded in fiction to explore events in a more unfettered and unpredictable manner. Like life, fiction has developed 20-20 hindsight, where events can be understood clearly only once they have occurred.

I’m not making myself clear am I? Let’s go to the beginning (note the point I just made).

I was watching a movie recently that showed the origin of one of the most famous comic book heroes of all time. This got me thinking about the crucial comic book trope of the back-story, or the story of how it all began, how our man became how he is today, what drives him, what makes him so different? It may sound like it is driven by an irrestible curiosity, but in my experience as a long-time reader of comic books I feel it is more about familiarity, an emotional bond between the reader and the character that makes us want to know more and more about him/her (more on this bond in a later post).

Few of us have taken to comic books at a late stage in our lives, and most of us have grown up with our comic book heroes. As children we have read the slim, periodical magazines with rapt attention, devouring with our eyes all the stories about Batman, Donald Duck, Superman and Archie. This bond is almost sacred, though we may not realize it as such, and such must have been the reaction in audiences even half a century ago when the ‘golden era’ of comic books introduced audiences to crimefighters whose entire identity was wrapped in mystery. There was an eagerness to get closer to the hero they worshipped, meaning that writers had to take readers back to the very origins of the men behind the masks like a peepshow.

Oh, and did we love it when they did.

It was lapped hungrily. The back story brought us closer to our heroes than ever before. We became like childhood friends and nothing beats that feeling. These origins became crucial to the point that they have been rehashed many times over, ad infinitum, often ad nauseum. Yet it is those characters that managed a strong back-story, thanks to some unabashedly genius writer, that have sustained themselves in public memory more than others. In a sense they have grown into a life of their own and writers-illustrators just feed the growing ego of the character.

So you have Spiderman, whose quandary of wanting a normal teenage life versus fighting his holy crusade against crime keeps taking us back to the story of Uncle Ben and his dictum that “With great power must come great responsibility”.
Superman is the last son of Krypton, both the unshakable force and immovable power and he too is a man compelled by his childhood as the last remaining survivor of one race who will always fight to defend the other that adopted him.
Wolverine too has his origin, something that is slightly different in the latest movie, as compared the version that I knew. In the world of mutants, Wolverine was actually not a mutant by birth, but a scientific military experiment. A soldier he was, not a mutant and cannot also find himself at ease with the mutants whom he has to now familiarize himself with. This conflict brands him as the unknown soldier, mysterious at the best of times and always haunted by nightmares even he cannot understand.

A task well begun is half done they say, and one can add that it is never too late to be ‘well begun’. The origins of Wolverine, Spiderman, Superman and scores of others are like the first day of the rest of their lives as one keeps revisiting those to understand motivations better, and allows for endless combinations of dilemmas and conflicts.

Superlaw – Writ of steel

Sometimes the most unmemorable of events can leave a lasting impression on popular culture. This thought comes from something I read recently that boggled my mind, and is exactly the kind of thing that makes me a lover of Comics History. For this insight I am thankful to the late Jules Feiffer, and his book ‘The Great Comic Book Heroes’.

In 1938 was born one of the most iconic comics characters, the man of steel, Superman. Probably the most enduring character created, the longest running, and which has never been out of print since its inception. He is the savior of our race, belonging to another planet, an alien, but not a foreigner, human yet superhuman, everything a child or flighty adult could want. And he did what comics need to do, sell lots and lots of copies (incidentally, a copy of Superman issue 1 recently sold for USD 1.5 million)

This success spawned dozens of imitators, all of whom sought to replicate the formula of success that they thought was embodied in the character. So we had more and more, more-than-human heroes with awesome powers – Captain Marvel, The Shield, Captain America and so on. But not many know how many of the unique characterizations of these characters were a result of courtrooms and lawsuits, and not just vivid imaginations.

The success of Superman necessitated the protection his identity from copycats. When the protector of the masses needs protection, he gets together with his lawyer. So legally competitors were prohibited from imitating the most obvious features. The mighty man who felt the pinch of this was Captain Marvel. A long legal battle, with judgments and appeals galore, was fought between National Comics Publications and Fawcett Publications over copyright infringement, and eventually National Comics Publications and Superman won sending Captain Marvel spiraling out of print for a long time.

Significant repercussions included the fact that publishers henceforth had the understanding not to dress their new characters with capes, not to import them from faraway planets. The next wave of comics for years thereafter resorted to twisted science labs and radioactive gamma rays to explain the germination of superheroes like Spiderman and the Marvel Comics family.

Normally lawyers embody the spirit of killjoys, but here let us give them credit for making comics more outrageous and more enjoyable for kids of all ages.