Heroes Never Rust #4 by Sean Ironman
It’s a Bird
In 1938, Bugs Bunny was first shown in Porky’s Hare Hunt. The March of Dimes was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat polio. The last reunion of the Blue and Gray commemorates the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In a broadcast address to the U.S., Winston Churchill called for American and Western Europe to prepare for armed resistance against Hitler, who earlier that year forced Austria to yield.
And, on April 18, Action Comics #1 was published—introducing the world to Superman.
In three quarters of a century, the Superman shield has become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. (I’ve read in multiple sources that it’s considered the second-most recognizable symbol, but I haven’t been able to find where that bit of information originated.) The six Superman films have brought in over $1.5 billion in ticket sales (adjusted for inflation). Besides the films, Superman has been featured on over a dozen television shows. (My personal favorites being Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Animated Series).
How difficult must it be to write a character that has been around for 75 years? And not just a character that was created 75 years ago, but one who has been featured in stories every month for 75 years. Superman writers have it tough. They have to craft new and interesting stories with the character on a monthly basis. I’ve wanted to write comics for many years, but I’ve never thought about writing Superman. What story is left to tell?
To be honest, I’ve liked few Superman comics. Sure, there are some highlights in there, like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, All-Star Superman, and Superman: Red Son (there should be some good ones in 75 years), but for the most part I haven’t been interested. Interestingly enough, however, I love Superman in film and TV: the Christopher Reeve films, the Fleischer cartoons, the 90s animated series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Occasionally, I step into a comic shop and I buy something different than usual, change things up. A few years ago, that something different was It’s a Bird.
Written by Steven T. Seagle with beautiful paints by Teddy Kristiansen (House of Secrets), this was the first Superman comic that I loved. While I enjoyed Seagle’s run on Uncanny X-Men, I never thought he had it in him to write something like this.
It’s a Bird is part memoir, part study of Superman. About ten years ago, Seagle wrote Superman for a few issues, and in this comic, he writes about being offered the chance to write Superman. Like me, he’s never been interested in writing the character. He doesn’t understand the character. He doesn’t seem to like that the character is all-powerful. What problems could he possibly have? But because the character is so important, he gives it a shot. That’s one side of the story—Seagle pondering about the different aspects of the character.
The other part of the story is Seagle’s family history with Huntington’s disease and his father wandering off. In between sections about Superman, Seagle searches for his father and experiences flashbacks to his childhood and the implications of Huntington’s disease on his family.
In between Seagle with his family and talking with his editor and others about Superman, there are snippets (only a page or two usually) covering a single aspect of the character—Costume, Fortress of Solitude, Courage, Justice, etc. These snippets show Seagle trying to understand the character in relation to ordinary people. For example, in one section, Seagle shows how important the idea of taking off glasses and changing to be someone all powerful, someone loved by all. The reader is given glimpses of regular people who can’t just change and become someone new. It highlights one of the reasons why Superman has become so popular, so accepted with an ever-changing audience.
With this approach, Seagle is able to deconstruct Superman and show what makes him such a great character. Many comics over the past twenty years have taken the approach to deconstruct the superhero concept, but most tend to go dark. The heroes aren’t very heroic. With It’s a Bird, Seagle is able to deconstruct the character while still showing what makes Superman heroic. It’s a deconstruction that’s driven not by trying destroy the concept, but by showing what works. It’s driven by love for the concept.
One of the aspects of Superman that I have always found interesting, something different from most comic book characters, is his ability to inspire. Superman existing in the DC Universe has a much greater affect than say Batman or Aquaman does, even though they all fight crime. Superman is the ideal American. Comes from a land far away, and even though he comes with different abilities that in one way set him apart from the rest of the community, he’s able to make the world a better place—He’s the ideal that we strive to be.
But this aspect of his character is very difficult to write about. It’s been absent from nearly all other entertainment venues other than comic books. Seagle is able to show the effect that a fictional character can have in the real world. Fiction can have just as much as an impact on the real world as anything else.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.