Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #189 by Drew Barth

The Space of Hope

What’s Superman supposed to be today? A character as old as him would have hundreds of interpretations by hundreds of different creators—from a messianic figure who should let a busload of kids die to protect his identity to the guy taking his dog for a walk around the moon—and while there’s no perfect interpretation, there’s the ones that get the closest to something unique in comics. Many of those best stories are the ones that look back to look forward and give a glimpse into the world that raised Clark Kent into Superman. Superman: Space Age by Mark Russell, Michael and Laura Allred, and Dave Sharpe is one such story that shows us more of where Superman begins. And potentially ends.

Superman: Space Age takes us back to the 60s, of Clark Kent working on the farm in Smallville with Pa and Ma Kent as the threat of the Cold War continually looms. It’s a restless kind of Clark that wants to do something good. But he doesn’t yet know what that is yet as a brash action of his nearly causes the US and USSR to launch their nukes. And it’s here, on the precipice of accidentally fucking up the planet, that he begins his time with his other father, Jor-El, in the form of a hologram in the recently discovered Fortress of Solitude. We’re given a different interpretation then of how Clark became Superman. If the Kents were able to give him the moral compass that would point him toward good, then it’s Jor-El that gives him the tools for that goodness.

But what does that goodness and hope look like in the 60s through the lens of now? Is it naivete, or something else? As a writer, Russell has excelled at crafting these kinds of stories—either in The Flintstones or Exit, Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles—and while the 60s in comics were where were seeing the results of the comics code and the birth of the Silver Age, he’s able to take that kind of spirit and craft a story of two times. The simplicity of the stories and complications of the time, tied together in a medium that communicates those feelings as they were happening creates this feeling of nostalgia while keeping us fully aware of the time in which we’re reading.

Like pop albums, it feels like there needs to be a Superman story every five to ten years that draws us back to the basics and makes us reevaluate why we loved the medium and what we can do with the building blocks established decades earlier. Superman: Space Age is the kind of comic that makes us want the goodness and hope these comics are capable of producing. Russell, Allred, and Sharpe stare cynicism down until it slinks back into an olive drab metaphor and revels in what these kinds of heroic characters can give us: that hopeful pinnacle we all deserve, something that can’t be done quick, but must be done right. 

Get excited. Get good.

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Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.