It seems like modern Superman fans have it pretty hard today. If anyone out there feels similarly, I’m sure you can relate to something I’ve had to contend with: having to defend Superman to a world that seems to appreciate anti-heroes and goofy assassins more than true heroes (I’m sorry guys, Deadpool is NOT a better character than Superman), and having to remind people that the Man of Steel today is actually equipped with well-defined pathos. Basically, having to defend Superman at all, sucks. A lot.
Hopefully, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will go a long way in convincing people everywhere that Superman’s best days are far from over. Even in comic book stores, it seems like truly good Superman comics are kind of hard to come by on the new release rack, and the sales would seemingly reflect that. While I thoroughly enjoyed Grant Morrison’s recently concluded run on Action Comics, I understand that it’s not for everyone, and it didn’t go quite as far as I would have liked in convincing even other comics fans that Superman was a character to follow.
So, when an issue comes along that has very high potential to be a go-to for the Man of Steel in monthly comics, that’s a feat that definitely deserves both recognition and reward. That issue came out this week, in the form of Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel’s Action Comics #19. I’ve been a fan of Diggle’s for a long time, and while I was sad to see Mr. Morrison leave, I was optimistic about what the future would hold for the title with Diggle at the helm. Although I’ve been critical in the past of Mr. Daniel’s writing on the Batman titles, I’ve never been critical of his artwork. I think he’s one of the best artists in comics today.
So, when hearing about the news surrounding Diggle’s departure from the title, I naturally became worried. Diggle cited “professional reasons” for leaving the title, and though I may be assuming too much, I think it’s safe to say that this falls on the shoulders of editorial interference on the part of DC. More on that in a second.
I went into Action #19 with a bittersweet feeling in my heart. By the time I finished the issue, that feeling grew tenfold faster than a speeding bullet. Unlike the main Superman title and a few one-off appearances in other corners of the DCU, Action #19 felt like the best of Grant Morrison’s early issues of the title, showcasing the fact that this is a younger, brasher Man of Steel who has very little reservations about getting physical if he has to. Mr. Diggle made the modern, New 52 characterization of Superman very clear in the monologue of the first few pages, where he tells us that he’s here to “protect, not to provoke,” and for me this just culminated in chills when Superman says that he never throws the first punch, but he always throws the last.
This is all accompanied by blockbuster visuals provided by Mr. Daniel, who makes even the most bombastically action-packed scenes of Michael Bay’s Transformers films seem tame by comparison. Not only was this the Man of Steel, this was also a man of power. That sense of awe had been missing from Superman in the comics over the last several months, and even the action of Ivan Reis and Jim Lee’s Justice League pencils didn’t help to give as much scale to Superman’s power as Daniel has managed to do in the first few pages of Action #19.
Then, of course, reality sets in. Not only is this just the briefest glimpse of what the run could be, but this is a full third of what was promised to us months ago to be an ongoing endeavor. After all of the publicity from DC and the Superman 75th anniversary interviews Diggle participated in, the whole thing will be over in just a couple of short months.
“Creative differences” is not a new phrase for comics fans, especially for Superman fans in the very recent past. Since the dawn of the New 52 in September of 2011, we’ve pretty consistently heard of creative casualties surrounding creators who’ve worked on the Superman character since the relaunch. George Pérez was the first casualty, the man who began the new volume of Superman when the New 52 first launched.
Pérez gave us probably our greatest glimpse at the frustrating process of working on Superman in an interview with ComicsAlliance, where he said, “Unfortunately when you are writing major characters, you sometimes have to make a lot of compromises and I was made certain promises, and unfortunately not through any fault of Dan DiDio, he was no longer the last word, lot of people making decisions, going against each other, contradicting, again in mid story.”
He continued, “ I had to keep rewriting things because another person changed their mind, and that was a lot tougher…They wanted me to recreate what I did through Wonder Woman, but …I couldn’t do it anymore. I did have to tell [Keith Giffen] I can’t wait to get off Superman. It was not the experience I wanted it to be.”
Unfortunately, the editorial decisions wouldn’t be any kinder to Keith Giffen or collaborator Dan Jurgens, as that team wouldn’t last more than a single story arc. Because of these past difficulties relating to the same character, and other similar instances happening with other characters (like Joshua Hale Fialkov’s departure from Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns over those pesky “creative differences”), I think it’s safe to assume that editorial has struck again, creatively choking Diggle and forcing him to feel he had to go. DC’s not commenting about it and both Diggle and Daniel have chosen to remain relatively silent, so until we hear the whole story, I think DC needs to take a hard look at how they treat certain creators, and yes, even how they treat Superman.
We don’t seem to be hearing many complaints about this kind of interference in the Batman office, and I think I know why. In an episode of Kevin Smith’s “Fatman on Batman” podcast, Batman writer Scott Snyder rather appropriately stated that DC “needs him” on the Bat titles to ensure their success. Because of this, I’d think it likely that Snyder is allowed a greater degree of creative freedom in Gotham’s corner of the DCU because A) his early stories (i.e. The Black Mirror) sold well, B) Batman is safer due to his near-universal popularity, and C) greater freedom has likely been a large factor in the Batman title’s high level of commercial success.
If anyone from DC editorial (or higher) floats across this article, maybe you guys should ask yourselves a few things. Are the Superman titles better because of your hard-lined mandates for the character? Or, would a writer like Mr. Diggle, obviously capable given what we’ve seen in his other work as well as his first issue of Action, thrive creatively and commercially if you loosened the leash a little bit more? Are your mandates so imperative that you’re willing to sacrifice potentially higher sales and critical attention that could be yours by, God forbid, letting a team tell a story that might actually resonate with people?
Or, if you editors really are fans, then are you actively doing Superman himself (not the brand, but the man) any favors by potentially limiting his audience in his 75th anniversary year? Trust me, if comics fans (your audience, by the way) hear that Superman comics right now are “same ol’, same ol’” then I can promise you: they’ll put down that issue of Superman or Action and go straight for the latest in a long line of Deadpool gimmicks (right now that’s Deadpool Killustrated). For me, that’s a travesty.
I am a colossal Superman fan, and a comics retailer. This week, I took a great deal of pride in being able to show people an issue of Action Comics that told a new story and could introduce people to a whole new side of Superman that’s been missing from the entire DC Universe line. Because of this one issue, I feel like I not only know the New 52’s Superman a whole lot better, but that I actually like him more and may even prefer him to previous incarnations. Because Diggle has basically been forced off of the book, the tragedy here isn’t as much for him as much as it is for Superman himself.
Yes, the commercially safe Superman Unchained is coming, and will likely be successful (and quite good) with Mr. Snyder’s and Mr. Lee’s names attached to it, but Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel may have been the team to bring Superman back to a level of quality that the Man of Steel hasn’t enjoyed in either of his main titles for quite a while. Even though I feel for Mr. Diggle, I feel more for Superman, and am truly saddened that the company he calls home isn’t treating their flagship character with a greater degree of reverence, and a lot more respect.
Screw convincing other fans to like him, I thought that DC Comics itself liked Superman more than that. Through their actions, though, apparently I was very wrong.
…I just wish DC would let him do it.