Heroes Never Rust #66 by Sean Ironman
Man of Steel: Superman, A Man’s Son
One of the complaints that I hear about the superhero films made in the last few years is that they are origin stories. How many times must we get Spider-Man’s origin? Superman’s origin? I must admit that I have made the same complaints. Superman, after all, has been around since 1938. There is a reason why he has lasted so long, and it is not because he only has a great origin story. These characters have a lot of potential and have many great stories and ideas that can be adapted to film. Is the answer to stop crafting stories that deal with the character’s origin? No. A character’s past can be an important aspect of a story. When I am writing memoir, I may use an event multiple times. I find that different parts of one event are important at different times. The trick is to not write the same scene again and again and again. In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman: For All Season, Superman’s origin is given, but told through events that differ from the usual approach.
Superman is well known, especially his origin. Krypton explodes. Superman is sent, as a child, in a rocket ship to Earth. Ma and Pa Kent find the ship and raise him as their own. Some people may remember other characters such as Lana Lang, a love interest in Smallville. Loeb and Sale don’t repeat these events. Too many people know about them. And let’s face it, who is reading Superman comics? Well, people who read Superman comics. People who are familiar with comics, or perhaps familiar with the character from films. How many readers come to Superman: For All Seasons and have no knowledge of the character? I doubt very few, if any at all.
The comic skips Krypton and skips the Kents finding the rocket ship. The story even begins after Clark Kent has discovered his abilities. Where’s the tension and conflict in him discovering his abilities? For All Seasons is not about Superman finding his powers—it is about why Clark Kent must become Superman. The first issue, “Spring,” deals with Clark during his final months in Smallville. It is about a boy who must leave the only home he has ever known because he has the ability to be more than he is.
The first issue is narrated by Pa Kent. It wastes no time to reveal Superman. Narration opens with a close-up of the S on Superman’s chest. Pa Kent goes down the line of what Superman can do. Leap tall buildings. Change the course of rivers. Outrun a bullet. “Believe it or not, there was a time before all that. When he was just…a man’s son.” The page is laid out in three panels. In each one, the “camera” moves closer and closer to Superman’s chest, until the last panel is mostly yellow. But the next page is what sets the tone and focus of the issue. We get a large two-page layout consisting of two panels. Both are two-pages wide, with the top two-thirds consisting of a shot of Clark Kent in overalls just off his porch in Smallville and the final third of the spread being a close-up of Clark shouting for Pa Kent. Instead of a page showing off what Clark is capable of, or even focusing on Clark, the panels leave so much room for the background, for Smallville. In the largest panel, Clark is far to the right and far from the camera. The porch takes up most of the panel. We see boots, a barrel, a porch swing with pillows and a blanket. We see the family dog and chickens, and there’s a red barn a few yards away. The second panel is mainly the yellow sky darkening in the evening. Clark is out on the very right, calling for his father. The focus is not on Clark but on what made Clark Superman (and I don’t mean his superpowers).
Clark Kent leads a comfortable life, for the most part. His family has a nice little farm, he has friends and a girlfriend, he knows the town people, and they are kind to him. Clark can spend his whole life in Smallville and lead a happy life. But that wouldn’t be best for the rest of the world. Clark can help people. He saves a man from a tornado and Pa Kent reflects back on it. “There are so few things a person can be really sure of. But, I believe, in the wild trouble of that moment…our son…became a man.” After, Clark looks out at the destruction and says, “I could have done more,” and Pa Kent thinks back that thinking he could have done more will continue to haunt him. They raised him right, and now they have to let him go out into the world. Superman: For All Seasons is more about a father having to let his child leave home than Superman battling some supervillain. It’s one of my favorite Superman stories. Pa Kent says it best on the final page of the first issue, “At the end of the day, I’m not sure we’re all that different from any other parents. We worry about our son. That he’s eating right. That he’s making friends. That he’ll stay out of harm’s way. Even if he is Superman.” By focusing on Pa Kent’s reflections and staying away from the obvious points of Superman’s youth (the discovery of his powers), Superman: For All Seasons allows an entry point for the reader. Haven’t we all felt we’ve had to move on, move away from our family and friends, from the place we are safe, so that we may have chance to reach our own potential?
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.