Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Super Lad

After I turned in the first draft of my looong outline for my Legion of Super-Heroes mega-arc a few years back, I was called to a meeting with the editor and Dan DiDio.  They asked for a rewrite—not because they didn’t like the story, but because they wanted me to add a part that would introduce a new Super character, a Superboy of sorts. 

And here’s one reason why:  the Siegel and Shuster estates were suing over the original Superboy, and were likely to prevail.  A new Super young man, cleanly owned by DC, was needed.  The clone-cousin and Prime hadn’t really worked out. 

Also, a Super in the LSH would certainly drive sales.

So, I started working on it.  If you read the extra looooong revised series outline, you saw how the character would be introduced. 

But, I thought this might be of interest.  It’s a document I wrote early on in the process: 


Here are some thoughts regarding Super Lad:



First of all, remember that I'm wicked old....

To me, Superman should be the greatest of all heroes, and by extension all "Super" characters should be cut from the same cloth.

Back in antedeluvian days, I thought a lot about what kind of person Superman and all Super characters must be.  Having that kind of power and not abusing it, ever, in any way, takes a special kind of being.  I wouldn't have been up to the task when I was a teenager--which is when I was doing the thinking.  Would you?  



Since the days when Stan made "heroes with flaws" the rage, I've seen Superman and other Super characters be portrayed as wrong-headed, stupid, selfish, nasty, vengeful, unnecessarily violent, inept, ineffective, foolish, weak, pathetic and in many ways, failures and losers.



My main problem with that is not some moralistic crap, not some cranky, old-guy problem with the disrespectful whippersnappers who threw down an icon, an ideal, and pissed all over it.  Nope.  My problem is that, as a writer with a brain, analyzing that garbage, I conclude that it just doesn't work character-wise.  If a Super were anything but a noble being with an iron will and tremendous self control, impervious to the failings bad writers nonetheless foisted upon him or her, the Super would have been a villain.  Period.  And all the rest of the heroes, all the world for that matter, would have had nothing on their minds, and nothing else worthy of devoting their efforts to than destroying the Super.  Period.



What DC allows numbskull lightweights to do to THE hero icon, Superman and other Supers is somebody else's call.  However, if we are permitted--in fact, we were asked--to add a Super, Super Lad, to the pantheon--then I propose that we make him the noble-spirited young man he ought to be.



I see him as a genuine good guy.  Someone who does the right thing, who has tremendous willpower and courage, who is smart and reasonable.  Smart about using his powers, as he learns how.  The nicest, best guy you ever met.  NOBLE, in the best senses of the word.  Not that he can't make mistakes, not that he doesn't have humanity--but he's the best of humankind, one of the few survivors of his particular kind, determined, therefore, to give a good account of himself. 



Elliot S! Maggin once wrote an imaginary story in which Kal-el did not become Superman.  Since that didn't occur, he was chosen as the Green Lantern of his sector because he among all beings there had the greatest courage, greatest will and noblest spirit.  Right on.  That was ES!M's finest hour.



Stan taught me this: magnify your heroes.  He meant it in the archaic sense--to glorify, to increase, to make great.  Super Lad should become THE Super.  The standard by which all others are judged.



As for what he should look like....

The key costume elements to me are these:

 

- The "S."  Prominent.  And on his chest, though not necessarily dead center.

 

- The CAPE.  There must be a cape.

 

- Full coverage.  Only head and hands exposed.  This isn't a summer suit....

 

- A belt.  With a buckle.  (!)

    
- Timelessness.  This costume must be iconic.  NOTHING trendy.

 

- Colors.  Red and blue with a little yellow.  Primaries.  Only. 

The key physical features to me are these:

 

- A strong, young man's physique.  NOT overbuilt, NOT Hercules.  Strong-looking but slim.  Like Ditko's early Spider-man.  An ATTAINABLE build.  He's Kryptonian.  He doesn't have to be absurdly musclebound.

 

- Handsome.  A really, really good looking guy.  No lantern jaw, no jock sensibility.  Just an amazingly good looking guy. 

 

- Haircut: timeless.  A haircut that wouldn't look out of place in almost any era.  I wouldn't mind something pretty close to Superman's.  Nothing dated or trendy.  No mullet, no crew cut, no high-and-tight, no long hair, no Pet Detective, no spike-y do, no dreads, no curls, no mop.  Timeless.

 

- Smart and serious-looking.  With all due respect, Kitson's Supergirl looked like a ditzy blonde.  Super Lad must look like a serious young man. 



That's it for now.


Part of the conceit was creating a character that could work outside the LSH context, and whose origin could be stated almost as succinctly as Superman’s.  Forget the complexities of my storyline.  It’s simple—“…brought from a distant world in the distant past to save our planet….”  Adding a time travel element to the space travel bit used for Superman…a little Buck Rogers twist.  It would have worked, I think. 

When things started to get contentious with DC, they took the introduction of Super Lad away from me.  I think it was because they were sufficiently annoyed by my complaints that they didn’t want me being the one to get the benefit of the licensing participations and character creation incentives.

So much for the retirement plan.

ILLOS:




11 comments:

kintounkal said...

I really like that design for Superlad and the way his cape is shaped like Superman's emblem. That's clever. I also completely agree that Super characters have often been portrayed poorly in recent years. I still find it crazy that Will Pfeifer's plot for Amazons Attack! involved Wonder Girl and Supergirl crashing Air Force One and injuring the President.

Your contentions with DC remind me of Chuck Dixon's very candid comments upon being fired from Robin back in 2008. At Comic Book Resources, he compared your reign at Marvel and the current one at DC. Although Dixon wrote a couple things that could be viewed as backhanded compliments, he was far more critical of Dan DiDio. For instance, Dixon stated Jim "did provide leadership at Marvel and didn’t change the company’s direction five times in one day" while describing DiDio as a "a directionless gladhander with a ouija board".

Dougie said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your Legion posts but this was the one I enjoyed most. You are a gentleman, Mr. Shooter and it saddens me that someone with your understanding and respect for the superhero is not at the helm of one of the "Big Two".

Defiant1 said...

My biggest gripe about super-heroes now is that they are no longer heroes. They are more often than not, super-losers. A hero is more than a "lucky" adventurous person like Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker. If he's constantly hanging off a ledge relying on fate to save him, he's still a loser. A hero has providence and sapience. It is the essence of who he is at the core of his being. Super-heroes can be role models and an inspiration... or they can be like everyone else and just a bigger bully. A super bully isn't very inspiring to me.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I'm sorry Super Lad didn't work out for you.

I love your argument against making superheroes superflawed. Powers alone don't make anyone a hero. The real power of a Super is self-control. Take that away, and the Super is a villain: e.g., the protagonist (not "hero"!) of Till Death Do Us Part.

Super Lad would have stood out in the darkness of modern not-so-comic comics. And I missed Superboy in the Legion. Super Lad would have filled in for him and Mon-El.

I wouldn't have worried about Super Lad being a one-dimensional paragon. His background insured he'd make mistakes. He's an alien out of time. Not unlike Captain America, another noble soul struggling to adjust in a different world. But at least Cap was back in his own country. Super Lad, on the other hand, is a Kryptonian. Even if he mastered Interlac, he'd lack the Earth background of the original Superboy and would have a lot to learn about the cultures of Earth and all the other members of the United Planets. He might even have some Kryptonian prejudices to overcome. Fortunately, he'd learn quickly. He is SUPER Lad, after all. But not Omnipotent Lad.

I've long thought that so much could have been done with Supergirl as a fish out of water. No teenager who suddenly moved to a foreign country would have adjust as well as "Linda Lee" did, passing instantly as a native.

Unlke Kara, Super Lad wouldn't have to pretend to be from Earth, Winath, or whatever, but he'd still have a hard time navigating. The reader could bond with him and explore the 30th century through his eyes. So much potential ...

Sadly, given how Elliot S! Maggin's innocent Superboy-Prime was corrupted into a killer by others, Super Lad would have gotten the dark treatment if he ever fell out of your hands. And/or - shudder - a reboot this fall.

Are the drawings of Super Lad yours, I mean, "Paul Creddick's"?

Your Buck Rogers twist reminds me of one of Jerry Siegel's unpublished origins of Superman:

In this version, the infant Superman arrives here from the future via a time machine, sent to 1935 by “the last man on earth.”

That origin even involved cultural - specifically linguistic - differences:

Most poignant: in a nod to Siegel’s own immigrant parents, the boy speaks a language that Sam and Molly don’t understand, leading them to speculate that he came from “a foreign country.”

Imagine Super Lad's first attempts to communicate with the Legion. What if some universal translator device doesn't work?

Once Super Lad became accustomed to the Legion's time, he'd have to learn a whole new set of lessons if he ever came to the present.

That would have worked for me.

Thanks for sharing!

Dear Defiant1,

You get it! A "lucky" person who benefits from deus ex machina miracles may be a protagonist, but he's no hero. A hero has volition. He chooses. Correctly.

Ed said...

Love your cape ideas, Jim!

Bosch Fawstin said...

What Marc said: " I love your argument against making superheroes superflawed."

And that Super Lad design is Excellent. I Love the cape design, particularly how the S Dominates it and fits within it Perfectly.

Rashad said...

well said sir. i really wanted to read more of that run.

JediJones said...

I've often found myself arguing the same points Jim makes about Superman's physique. Some people still criticize Christopher Reeve being cast in the movie role because he wasn't a huge bodybuilder type. And others think Superman should be drawn like a bodybuilder in the comics.

I always argue that since his strength is based on his molecular reaction to the sun, why does he need to have muscles at all? A real bodybuilder obviously still couldn't demonstrate a fraction of Superman's strength, so muscles must have very little to do with Superman's power. Obviously the Phantom Zone villains and Supergirl have similar strength and don't have a bodybuilder physique either.

An overly bulky body also undermines his Clark Kent disguise. On the other hand, it might make sense to build up some muscles for a possible edge over other Kryptonian supers who might otherwise be an even match.

Defiant1, allow me to take it upon myself to defend the heroism of Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. This is a good job for me since my handle is inspired by those characters. I'd have to say both of them were a lot more than "lucky." Not to mention Superman was far luckier than either of them by virtue of escaping the destruction of his home planet and being given his powers free of charge on Earth. To judge a hero you need to see what they do with the luck they're dealt.

While the baseline of Indiana Jones' character is the lone gunslinger type who's seeking personal fortune and glory, in most of his adventures he ends up rising to the level of a real hero. Temple of Doom is his most "superheroic" portrayal. In that one, he goes back into the heart of the enemy's lair to rescue the Indian village's children at great peril for no possible personal gain to himself. He later gives up the artifact he was searching for as a gesture of goodwill to the villagers. In Last Crusade, he braves the Nazis in order to rescue his father. In Raiders, it's admittedly a gray area as to whether his relentless pursuit of the Ark is for his own glory or because he wants to save the world from the Nazis. I'm not going to try to make a point out of Crystal Skull since his motivations there were pretty haphazard as I recall.

There are certainly some comedic moments where Indy gets out of a jam due to dumb luck, but that wasn't the norm. His aggressive chase to capture the truck carrying the ark wasn't like that. Neither was his bold move to cut the rope bridge and fight his way up the cliffside.

As for Luke Skywalker, I'm not sure if his gift of the Force was good luck or bad luck, since it made him a vulnerable of Darth Vader and the Emperor. In a way his career benefitted from dumb luck when his family was killed, since it made his choice to leave home and join the Rebels much easier. Nevertheless it was his choice to put his life at risk in the assault on the Death Star. It was his willingness to learn about the Force from Obi-Wan that gave him the ability to win the battle there. Then, in the sequels, it was completely Luke's choice to refuse the temptations of the Dark Side, putting his life at risk each time that he did.

I think these two characters are really good examples of heroes, especially Luke Skywalker. It can certainly be argued that Indiana Jones was more of an antihero, just as Han Solo was. But, like Han, he typically redeems himself in the end and became just as much of a square as the other heroes.

mensajes claro said...

Love your cape ideas, Jim!

laptops said...

I love your argument against making superheroes superflawed.

movistar mensajes said...

Love your cape ideas, Jim!