Superman in “War of the Brain Worlds”

Look, I don’t have a lot to say about this one. This one time, a story was just casually mentioning adventures that Superman had that we didn’t get to read about. One of those adventures, detailed only in this single panel, was the War of the Brain Worlds. That is a better name than 90% of movies released in the last decade. Someone needs to tell this story, please.

Superman’s Lawyer, An Idea I Like

Hey everybody, meet Douglas Giddings, Superman’s lawyer.

I’m not going to pretend that Douglas Giddings is an important part of the Superman Mythos and that his not being in the supporting cast is hurting things and he must be brought back, but I think he’s a neat idea and I could probably get a quick Superman Thoughts thing out of him.

Giddings made only one appearance, in the pre-Crisis era when it felt like the books were trying to use up their spare ideas before the 80s reboot of Superman. A backup story in Action Comics #581 gives us a day in the life of Superman’s lawyer. Like Jimmy Olsen, Giddings has been given a special watch by Superman. While Jimmy’s watch allows the kid to get in touch with Superman, Giddings’s watch tells him when Superman is coming to meet about legal matters. They talk about things like television stations using the rights to Superman’s image, to advertisers trying to mooch off his reputation. Then crimes happen and Superman races away to save the day, with Giddings riding his motorcycle there to capture footage of the events. The story implies that Giddings has been working behind the scenes with Superman for a long time, even if we never heard about it and never will again.

I like the idea that, when Clark made the move from vigilante to respectable superhero, he lawyered up to keep everything above board. Maybe there’s some story in which Superman saved Giddings, who then volunteered to help the hero out. We’ll never know, but I think there’s some ground that could be covered there, if someone ever wanted to.

(Fact: Nobody but me wants to.)

Lois Lane and Perry White are Alright

If there are any two members of Superman’s supporting cast who I don’t think need a lot of thinking to make them work, it’s Lois Lane and Perry White. I think that, though they are underused by the comics, at least the place they occupy is the place where they ought to be. Lois Lane is an intrepid reporter who cares more about truth and justice than her own safety. Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet newspaper is a stubborn crusader for justice who seethes with anger towards injustice. These two are the reason that Clark Kent, who could easily have a job basically anywhere he wants, wants to work for the Daily Planet.

A common take these days is that Perry is more of a father figure to Lois than her own father. I consider this the correct take. I’ll get more into General Sam Lane and the rest of the Lane family in some future post, but Perry definitely sees a lot of himself in Lois Lane and nurtures her career for that reason. I have not read a lot of YA fiction just yet, so I can’t be sure how they stack up to the usual fare, but I will unequivocally recommend the Lois Lane novels by Gwenda Bond as a great look into the dynamics of Lois’s relationship with her father versus that with Perry. I think they should be required reading for people writing those characters.

Now, Perry definitely wants his paper to be doing the right thing, to go after the bad guys and make the world better, but he also has to worry about sales and advertisers and whatnot (I think it’s best for his character if this pressure is forced upon him by higher-ups like Franklin Stern or Morgan Edge, characters I will cover in the future). He’s an idealist, but is upset by the realities of his job.

Then Superman and Clark Kent come along. Clark gives Perry a second Lois, basically. Yet another reporter doing the kind of work that Perry wants to do. Superman gives Perry something even better: sales. When Superman gives exclusive interviews to the Planet staff, I read that as his way of helping out the paper that puts so much focus on investigative reporting in Metropolis. If an audience wants to read about Superman, Superman is going to direct that audience to the paper that most deserves it.

And Lois Lane is absolutely the only acceptable romantic interest for Clark. Anyone who prefers Wonder Woman or some other even dumber choice just needs to give up.

The State of Superman’s Villains

I admit that, even though I want Superman to be about more than just confrontations with supervillains, I’m jealous of the superhero franchises with better rogues galleries.

Sure, Superman’s got some big name villains. Lex Luthor is pretty much known to even the common folk as an classic example of an arch-nemesis. Brainiac has had an impact on the culture at large, though I’m confident that not everyone who calls someone a “brainiac” realizes they’re invoking a Superman villain (and a similar situation exists with Bizarro, if we’re counting him as a villain). General Zod probably just juts into the public consciousness, coming second only to Luthor for villains in the Superman movies. Any Superman villains beyond that point, I’d say, are not known to the public. That’s not to say that there aren’t some more good ones, just that Average Joe Aversageson will not be familiar with them.

When I look at other heroes, especially Batman and Spider-Man, I see casts of villains that are much more esteemed. And I’m jealous. Superman deserves that.

Why does Batman have better villains than Superman? I credit one specific reason: The 60s Batman show with Adam West. Even if there was a reaction against the campiness of that show, it managed to bring an awful lot of Batman’s villains into the public consciousness, which cycled back into the comics by making writers explore those famous villains and really flesh them out. Compare that with the 50s Adventures of Superman show, which brought none of Superman’s villains to the screen. 90% of the antagonists on that show were generic mobsters and got no characterization at all that would make them memorable. There were no repeating villains either. Even when they’d reuse an actor to play a villain, they’d be playing some new generic mobster, instead of the one they’d played before. This show, which had many things I enjoyed, and which ran in syndication for an eternity, did zero work towards introducing Superman’s villains to the world. And that is why Superman’s villains aren’t up to snuff today. I have spoken.

And so, in addition to discussing Superman’s supporting cast, I will be taking frequent looks at his villains and discussing how to make them work. One simple rule is that I will only work with existing villains. I don’t think creating new Superman villains is necessary, and it only further dilutes the existing ones, especially when writers make the mistake of trying to inflate the importance of the new villains. That’s a thing that, even to this very day, is still working against my goals.

Anyway, tune in next week for discussion of a villain, same Pat-Time, same Pat-Website.

Superman Need Not Always Be Punching

One of the things I want from Superman stories, and superhero stuff in general, is for them to not always be about beating up the bad guys. Honestly, that can happen. You can use superheroes for interesting sci-fi premises that are about ideas other than violence and villainy. The Silver Age Superman books for were great for that stuff. We can have that again. We need to have that again.

I’m not just saying that we need stories where the heroes resort to non-violent means to bring down the villains. We do need that, of course, Lois and Clark should be bringing down as many criminals with their writing as they do with their punches. But also, I want stories that aren’t about villains who need to be stopped by violence or otherwise. I know we all like to blame people, but sometimes bad things happen that aren’t directly caused by people who we then need to punish.

I think that comics writers hear that kind of thing and assume that with no villain, there is no conflict, but there’s a lot to learn from watching things like the Twilight Zone or better episodes of Star Trek. Superhero comics, I think, would do well to move into that kind of conceptual space, instead of everything being a punching contest. I don’t know that I have more to say on the topic than that.

Anyway. With that said, I will now proceed to make myself look like a hypocrite by spending a lot of time in future weeks talking about how we can improve the villains in Superman comics. Oh well.