Morgan Edge Can Just Be Some Jerk

Morgan Edge was introduced in the 70s as the new boss of Superman and friends but then after a while it was revealed he was a servant of Darkseid, a big bad alien supervillain. But here’s the thing: After that reveal, they did a further reveal in which we learned that that Morgan Edge had been a clone and there was a real Morgan Edge who could come back and be the new boss of Superman and friends and who stuck around for the better part of a decade in that role. But why, one might ask, did they bother with that second reveal?

That question is most likely to be posed by people who are only familiar with other iterations of Edge. For example, in the “post-Crisis” era the story was almost identical: Edge was a businessman who had ties to Darkseid, Superman stopped him and the even went further into supervillainy. On shows like Smallville and Supergirl, he’s just a generic businessman with ties to the mob. To people who know Morgan only from these depictions, he’s bound to seem like a boring character.

And I want to be clear, I like it when Superman opposes criminal businessmen. That’s my ideal setup. The list of villains I’d use in a Superman run easily has a dozen of them. But Morgan Edge isn’t one of them, because in the 70s and 80s, after the clone reveal, Morgan Edge stopped being a villain and became a supporting cast member. Someone on the creative staff realized that Edge added an element to the setup. He was a capitalist jerk, but he could also have some depth. We got to learn about his life, and he could present viewpoints that weren’t the same as everyone else, but which didn’t need to end in a fight scene. They did the clone thing so that they could have him around again.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s just that I wish they’d bring him back for that purpose. I’ve said that journalism would play a bigger role in the Superman books if I were in charge and I think it’d be great to have the WGBS news team out there as supporting cast members outside of the main Planet cast, and Edge would be a part of that. That’s it.

I suppose that really this is just me continuing my exclamation that superhero comics need to put more effort into their supporting casts. Is that so much to ask?

Bill Henderson: Superman’s Cop in Black and White

I don’t have any big point to this one, it’s just something I find mildly interesting: Of all the recurring characters in the canon of Superman, none has been reinterpreted as either black or white more often than Bill Henderson.

Why is that? I suppose it starts with a noble effort to add diversity to the franchise. The cast that dates back to the 40s and 50s is very white, but the characters are also very iconic. While we’ve recently had movies where Perry is black and Jimmy has been black on Supergirl’s show and in at least one comics miniseries I can think of. But Bill here has consistently all over the place and that has got to be because he’s the least iconic of that cast. As you can see from how jerks on the internet reacted to the Perry and Jimmy iterations I just mentioned, it can be considered a risk to make a traditionally white character black. But nobody cares about Bill Henderson.

He’s just Clark’s police officer friend. The franchise in general has drifted away from stories in which Clark would consult with a police officer, and even when he gets them there are others, like Maggie Sawyer, who can fill the role. So if you’re back in the 90s and you’re making a show about Superman and want a good role for a black character, you can do it with Bill! Of course, in the case of the cartoon he occurred very rarely. And in Lois and Clark he had two appearances played by different black actors before being replaced by Richard Belzer. (For the record, I am ignoring appearances that Henderson has made in Black Lightning’s comics and shows, but I believe he’s been black and white in those as well. Just because some other superhero is going to steal Superman’s cast doesn’t mean I need to pay attention.)

It’s also interesting (to me) to note that there was a period in the comics in which we had TWO Hendersons. Bill Henderson was the traditional white one and he’d been promoted to Commissioner. But then there was a new inspector, Mike Henderson, who was black. The two even spoke to one another in at least one issue. Honestly, as someone who would scale Superman’s adventures such that interacting with people in the city would come back, I’d take two Hendersons without complaint.

But the bottom line is this: There’s only yet been one time that I’ve seen Henderson’s ethnic makeup matter to a story, and that was in Superman Smashes the Klan. That was a very good book.

Superman’s Doorman, Frank

Back in the 70s and 80s, the doorman at 344 Clinton St. (Clark Kent’s apartment building) was a minor recurring character in the Superman titles. He was named Frank. He was never a major player, but his recurring presence added an element of verisimilitude that made Metropolis seem like a real place. But then, when the franchise was revamped in 1986, Frank was dropped. Even on the occasions when a doorman was seen, it wasn’t him. I contend that this is a shame.

What I’m here to address, however, is the matter of Frank’s name. On the Internet, one can find him listed as Frank Morris or as Frank Johnson. Well how did the Internet mess that up? Well, it’s a mistake that comes from the comics. For a long time Frank was never given a surname. The earliest I can find of him having one is Superman #360, which was June 1981. He was Frank Morris there. It was a single off-hand reference in a story that wasn’t even about Frank. That was upended by Superman Family #215 (February 1982) in which Frank gives his full name as Franklin Pierce Jackson. That story is actually about Frank reveals that he’s a retired baseball player who was keeping his identity quiet for personal reasons. So maybe he was using Frank Morris as an alias? Well, maybe, but we only ever learned the Morris surname from a narrative caption, not a character in the story, so you think it’d be a fact given from an omniscient viewpoint. No, clearly Morris was never an alias, it was just that the writer of the Superman Family story didn’t know about the Morris naming. The latter story even has Clark explicitly note that he’d never bothered to learn Frank’s name. Anyway, the Jackson name is the one that stuck (It was used in Superman #413 in 1985, for example). So I’d say Jackson is pretty clearly the one that counts.

So why did they get rid of a nice guy like Frank? Well, I have my suspicions, which I can not prove, that maybe it was an overcorrection for fear of being perceived as racist. “The one black guy in here is the doorman?” they might have thought. Well, sure. If Frank Jackson was the only representative of black people in the franchise, I’d agree that was unfortunate. But I’d also say that the solution isn’t to cut Frank out, it’s to add more roles for black people (and that is better in the books now than it was back in Frank’s day). After all, I don’t think there’s shame in being a doorman. Working class people deserve to be represented in stories as well as anyone else. I for one, would be happy to see Frank back at his post.

Also, it’s worth noting that the era that ignored Frank Jackson was also the era that introduced Franklin Stern as the publisher of the Daily Planet. I’m not going to pretend I know why, but it seems like the name “Franklin” was very popular for token black characters. I’d guess it’s a name that they thought sounded black, but not so black as to scare anybody. You had Franklin from Peanuts, and Roosevelt Franklin from Sesame Street, and the latter led to Franklin Delano Bluth. Anyway, Superman has outdone them all by having two Black Franklins. Take that, everybody else.

Black Women of the Daily Planet

Hey, here’s another one of the classic characters who have appeared in various Superman comics over the years:

Oh wait, my mistake. As those names suggest, this is four different characters. Remember how I talked a bit about the attempts to make the Daily Planet cast more diverse back when I discussed Ron Troupe? Well that’s not the end of it by any means. There has been, since the 70s at least, frequent attempts to add a black woman to the cast of reporters appearing in the Superman franchise. I consider this a good thing. I don’t think, however, they’ve gone about it quite right so far.

Melba Manton, on the left, was the first. When she came into play they pushed her as a real potential addition to the cast. She not only got an active role in Superman and Lois Lane stories, she even got to headline the occasional story of her own. The next two can not make that claim. Fran Johnson and Jackee Winters, appearing in the 90s and the 2010s respectively. They were not characters. They were set dressing. The only thing of note which Johnson ever did was appear as a bridesmaid in the wedding of Lois and Clark. Winters doesn’t even have that. It actually took years for me to find one instance of Jackee’s name being spoken so that I could find out who the woman always standing around Planet briefings was.

Finally, in spite of my including her here, Robinson Goode, the currently-appearing Black-Woman-of-the-Daily-Planet is actually an active participant in the story, but it’s helpful to show the contrast. I won’t get into specifics, for spoiler reasons, but she seems to actually have a purpose beyond being furniture in the Planet offices. That’s nice. Interestingly, Goode is also the first of them to not be introduced as a friend or ally of Lois. She’s come into the Planet at a time when Lois isn’t even working there. That is probably to her benefit, but we’ll see how things play out in the long run.

These four are not the only examples by any means. On the animated series of the 90s there was a television reporter called Angela Chen (half black, half Asian) who was used more than the bad examples, but still never got to really shine. I’m confident there’s also another example in the comics of the early 2000s but I can’t be bothered to research it right now, as I think I’ve enough evidence for this post’s scope.

So what’s the problem with having more than one black woman working at the Daily Planet? Well, obviously that wouldn’t be a problem, but each of these women come in as a new addition in spite of the others, not alongside them. Even Goode, who has only been around for a couple months, seems to have completely erased Winters from the timeline. The problem as I see it, is that every new writer who comes onto the book and wants to add a black woman to the cast, does so as if they’re the first to do it. Whether they lack knowledge of the earlier women, or they just want to put their own stamp on things, the result of this is that none of these characters have ever made it to the big leagues.

There are “iconic” supporting cast members in the Superman franchise. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White are this for the franchise. The secondary tier of supporting cast members (among the reporters, I mean) include Ron Troupe, Steve Lombard, and Cat Grant. If, say, the writers from the 1990s to the 2010s had foregone their desire to create a new character and used, say, Melba Mantan, she would now be alongside that secondary tier. Instead what we have is a handful of characters who have made no real impact. It could be better.

What would I, the guy obsessed with perfecting the franchise, do with all this? Well, the only way to actually get one to stick is to use them prominently for a while as much as possible. Someone, an editor or something, really needs to pick one and commit finally. Just don’t abandon them when the next one comes along.

Bibbo Is The Boss

Today’s topic is Bibbo Bibbowski. Bibbo is usually depicted as one of Superman’s biggest fans. When Bibbo first became a fan of Superman, he did so because Superman was the strongest. That was what Bibbo valued: strength. Thus, things weren’t always great for Bibbo when stronger villains came along to beat up Superman.

But, like Jimmy Olsen, Bibbo’s arc is one of being improved by learning from Superman. Over time Bibbo came to realize that it isn’t Superman’s strength that makes him great. It’s what he does with it. We live in a society where, unfortunately, people with power don’t often enough use that power for the benefit of others. Superman needs to show why that’s the wrong way to use one’s powers, whatever they happen to be. And Bibbo can be a great example of that in the stories.

In the original comics where he appeared, Bibbo was very poor until he won the lottery and went on to buy a bar down by the docks. This gave some of the characters a place to hang out apart from the Daily Planet, which is great. In other media he has occasionally be depicted as owning the bar without starting off poor, but I like the idea that he has suffered and come through. I also like that he is nearly always depicted as a “low-class” sort. He’s been a punch-drunk alcoholic boxer, a dumb dock-worker, and an lowlife informant for Lois Lane. I like that he can be all these things and still be, ultimately, a good guy. It’s a good message to send that you don’t have to be a hoity-toity type to be a friend of Superman.