The Bad Boy With Toys

Toyman is one of Superman’s longest serving villains. But what’s he good for?

Of course, Toyman is an archetypal supervillain. He’s the kind of criminal who has a specific theme (toys) and uses them for all manner of crimes, be it robbing banks or breaking out of prison or just straight up seeking to “show them all!” He’s ideal for appearances where he’s not the main threat, but just to add a bit of action. He’s a good cameo character. You want to start the story with a fight scene that isn’t tied to the main plot? Have Superman foiling a giant cymbal monkey sent by Toyman. Or have him capturing Toyman’s radio-controlled submarine that is smuggling stolen gold. Or have him burning up the paper stealth bombers that Toyman had sent to attack city hall. The options are endless.

But can you build actual plots about a colourful criminal while staying true to my insistence that all the characters should represent something appropriate to Superman missions? Well, obviously, if you’re starting with Truth and Justice you don’t even need to go further. Criminals are threats to Justice. But criminals aren’t just a threat to others, but to everyone else. Over the years, Toyman has been depicted as mostly-harmless old fool who can be easily reformed and live a life of goodness and as a ruthless remorseless killer who could never be reformed. I’d want that pendulum to stop somewhere in the middle. Let’s have a Toyman whose arc is about determining if criminals can and should be welcomed back into society, and if they’d want to. Worth noting: On the currently-running Supergirl show, Toyman’s son Winn is a character and has to deal with the fact his father was a crazy supervillain. That’s good. Let’s keep that up.

Also, he’s often been depicted as a friend and partner of the Prankster. Supervillain friendships are great, so let’s have more of that as well.

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.

Superman Needs A Good Videogame

I think, even more so than a good movie, a good game would really bring some people into the Superman franchise. With my constant jealousness of the Batman franchise, I saw the semi-recent success of his Arkham games and wanted that for Superman.

It’s worth knowing that Superman has famously never had much in the way of good games and, in fact, has some of the very worst games out there. Thus, if we finally gave him a good game, we’d not only be introducing new people to the franchise, but we’d be remedying that unfortunate state.

I will point out, to begin, that I don’t think we currently have the technology to make the Superman game I’d consider ideal. If you can’t give me a non-scaled-down, fully destructible version of Metropolis with millions of distinct npc civilians, well then what’s the point? But if we can’t meet that unrealistic expectation, what do I propose?

Why, we make a game starring Jimmy Olsen, of course!

Jimmy can be a fighter. Not on the level of Batman, obviously, but if you give him a fighting style that focuses heavily on disarming opponents and Judo-style moves and all that, you’ve got as much to work with for a game. Throw in temporary super-power-ups like Elastic Lad and Werewolf forms, and photograph-taking missions, and you’ve got a way to introduce all the elements of the franchise to that massive gaming audience. And you don’t even have to piss anyone off by making Superman “weaker” than he’s supposed to be.

A very similar argument could be made for making a game starring Lois Lane. In fact, it’d probably be better. But I’m still nervous about how they’d mess it up. If you mess up a Jimmy Olsen game, who cares? If you mess up a Lois Lane game, that’d hurt.