A man of steel for a new generation

That is the back matter advert for the new Superman graphic novel, Superman:Earth One.

The book was OK.  JMS, the writer, is a good writer although he tended to wordiness in this book.  The artist, Shane Davis, also did a good job.  What interested me more than the story though were the tweaks that have been made to Superman to make him palatable for a new generation.

Now – first off I want to say that a well told Superman story doesn’t need to muck around with the components of Superman to make him better.  There is a certain train of thought that says that Superman is hard to write for because he is too perfect.  He is too powerful and he always does right.  He has few flaws to use for a writer to create a drama around.

But the best superman stories I’ve read lately (Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Supe and All-Star Supe) have both accepted those and made them strengths of their story.

However, you have to admit that Superman was a depression era hero and designed to appeal then.  His strength is that he has lasting appeal, but if he were created today what would you do differently.    Another odd thing is that Supes has been recreated several times in the pages of his monthly comic.  The most successful might have been John Byrne’s re-imagining in the late eighties.  The most drastic might have been electric blue Superman from the late nineties.  The current incarnation helmed by Geoff Johns has undone a lot of what Byrne did by bringing back a lot of the elements that were considered too corny in the grim and gritty eighties.

If you were to redesign Superman today.  What elements would you keep?  What would you jettison?  What new ideas would you introduce.  Here are lists of many of the elements that make up Supes (not comprehensive):

Powers

  • Strength
  • Flight
  • Super-speed
  • Invulnerability
  • Super-Hearing
  • Heat vision
  • X-ray vision
  • Super-breath (freezing or gale force winds)
  • Super-ventriloquism
  • Super intelligence

Super-Power limits

  • How strong is strong, how fast is fast, how invulnerable is invulnerable?
  • Can Supes live in space?
  • Can he fly interstellar distances?
  • Can he move planets?
  • Can he travel through time?
  • Can he ignore physics when dramatically appropriate?  (lifting something like a car/plane from a single point without it breaking, getting hit by a train and having the train stop dead, etc.)

Vulnerabilities

  • Kryptonite (Green, red, gold, others?)
  • Magic
  • Darkness (e.g. if he gains his power from the sun and stores it like a battery, does his powers drain after a time?)
  • Red Sunlight

Costume

  • Primary colours (red, blue and yellow)
  • Triangular S emblem
  • Big boots, underwear on the outside, big yellow belt, long cape, no mark or gloves

Secret Identity

  • Mild mannered Clark Kent
  • Reporter for the Daily Planet
  • Is the identity a charade or a real aspect of his character?

Origin

  • Escaped as a child on a rocket from an exploding Krypton
  • Found by farmers in Smallville Kansas and raised as their own
  • Moved to Metropolis and got a job

Childhood

  • When did he develop powers?  Was there a Superboy?
  • Did he assume a secret identity as bumbling as a child?
  • Did he encounter Lex Luthor in Smallville?
  • Did he encounter the Legion of Superheroes as a youth?
  • Did either of his adoptive parents die during his childhood?

Sense of Belonging

  • Does he see himself as an orphan in a strange land?
  • Does he see himself as an alien?
  • Does he see himself as human with wondrous abilities?
  • Can he relate to other humans despite the differences?
  • Does he see himself as American?

Other Kryptonians (do they exist?)

  • Zod and other Phantom Zone Prisoners
  • Supergirl
  • Krypto (or even the horse and the cat and the monkey)
  • The bottle City of Kandor and its occupants
  • Other survivors not on Krypton when it blew
  • Or is he the only survivor?

Main Rogues Gallery

  • Lex Luthor
  • Brainiac
  • Zod
  • Doomsday
  • Bizarro
  • Darkseid
  • Metallo
  • Parasite
  • Cats in trees

How old is he during the adventures being told?

Is he the only Superhero or one of many on Earth?

Does he stop crimes and criminals (and their super variants) only?  Does he get involved in wars, stop terrorrists on foreign soil?  Do the governments of the world cooperate with him or see his as a potential threat?

Moral and ethical Code

  • Does he lie? (Secret Identity being the exception?)
  • Will he kill?
  • Will he act opposed to the police or American government?
  • If faced with the dilemma of saving Lois Lane vs. a school bus or children which does he save?
  • Is he religious?
  • Does he support any political party?

Friends:

  • Lois Lana, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White
  • Other Superheroes
  • Childhood Friends (Lana Lang, Pete Ross)
  • Do any know his secret identity or origin?
  • What kind of relationship is he in with Lois?
  • Do they have a child (adoptive or otherwise?)

Adventure Types:

  • Normal Criminals, Conspiracies and Criminal empires?
  • Mad Scientists
  • Aliens
  • Insterstellar Adventures
  • Super-villains
  • Natural Disasters
  • Changing the World
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