Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Tedd Riccio is a comic book aficionado chock full of useful comic history knowledge. So why not tap into that knowledge for the betterment of you, the reader? Appearing weekly is a column by newly appointed Assistant Editor Tedd (just Tedd will be fine). This column is called “Hank McCoy (Before the Fur),” so be sure to keep your eyes open for his unique insights into comics.

I stick up for Superman in front of people. It’s true. I mean, okay, the guy isn’t Batman. He’ll never be Batman. And Batman is the MAN. There is no denying that.

But I’m a big fan of the current incarnation of Superman nonetheless. That would be the post-birthright Superman. I mean, the 80’s Superman had a little more depth than his previous incarnations- but even with all of his struggles and romantic complications, he was just too…perfect. I mean, ridiculously perfect. It was hard to imagine Superman struggling with…anything, other than Kryptonite. He made other superhero powers look like a joke, had a never-ending sense of willpower, and no temptation to ever do anything other than the “right” thing. I can’t think of one comic I read between 1980-1992 or 1993 that starred Superman and had me worried. I mean, why WOULD I worry about him? If there was a fight, he’d win because he was so powerful. If there was a feat of endurance and willpower, he’d stick it out. If there was an ethical dilemma, Superman would solve it in a satisfying way.

Such a character was…well…boring. It seemed that any conflict that entailed Superman was a foregone conclusion.

And then, he died. And that started a kind of “new tact” for exploring the character. I mean, in a fight in which it was clear that if he stayed, death was imminent, Superman still stayed and fought.

Basically, the new outlook on Superman could be summed up like this:

  1. Superman is a really great person.
  2. The world can chew up really great people and spit them out.

It isn’t easy to live the life Superman is living. It isn’t that he’s just so perfect that he never hesitates to do the right thing, or that he’s so untouchable that self-sacrifice doesn’t bother him. It’s that it does hurt sometimes to be that squeaky-clean goodie-two shoes. But he does it anyway- and not because he’s an idiot and doesn’t realize that he doesn’t need to be such a goodie two-shoes. But as Bruce Wayne himself puts it, in Hush: Deep down, Clark is essentially a good person. And deep down, I’m not.

I mean, think about Superman’s nemesis- again, a character I had little to no interest in for years. I mean, was Lex as cool as the Joker? Or Sinestro? Or Darkseid? He seemed like a joke in comparison. But Lex is wealthy and influential. And his greatest trick is that it’s almost never apparent, to anyone, that he’s a criminal psychopath. Lex does every thing wrong and reaps all of the rewards life has to offer. In fact, Lex does an admirable job of defaming Superman in front of his audience, often insinuating that he’s an alien threat.

I mean think about it for a minute- who would you rather be? Clark Kent or Lex Luthor? I mean, okay, you might say- Kent, I could totally kick ass. But would you rather spend your life running around, taking care of other people? Or have a cool million in the bank, be an A-list celebrity and bachelor, and do whatever you damn feel like to whoever you damn well please?

That is to say, no offense to anyone who would say Kent. God bless the altruists and all that. But my point is just this- Lex lies, cheats, and steals, and gets almost everything he wants. Superman is always trying to show the world that being a good person can change things, that it’s worth being Mr. Goodie Two-shoes. But the thing is- it isn’t a perfect world. And bad people like Lex get good things all the time. He shows Superman that the world ISN’T the perfect, golden, shiny happy place that he’s trying so hard to build. He takes the easy way out every day and gets rewarded while the “Supermen” in the world fight in the street to protect the “rights” of citizens- “rights” that the Lex’s of the world take advantage of.

So the question Kent really faces when he faces Lex is- is it worth it? Is it worth it to be such a “good” person? To protect a world that can sustain someone as bad, as me?

For the truly jaded anti-Superman fanatics out there, I’d recommend reading any of the most recent copies of Batman/Superman…or is it called World’s Finest? For some reason the title isn’t clear to this comic. But it’s the one with the Superman symbol superimposed on the Batman symbol. Or…the other way around.

Whatever.

I’m not saying you’ll necessary start liking Superman by the end of that read (because so many of you are on a mission not to like him, you know who you are, you have your reasons), but you’ll probably have a newfound respect for the capacity to tell dynamic stories with him. I really love the juxtaposition/parallels in this comic between its two heroes. The ongoing narrations really help you “feel” out who each one is and what they stand for.

Now I know, inevitably, when you start telling stories about Superman and Batman, most people want to see them fight. This has already happened, on another of occasions. And on a not so surprising number of occasions, I have to say- Batman has mopped the floor with Superman (A la Dark Knight Returns, Dark Knight Strikes Again, and Hush- although this list is far from complete). But the thing is, they really make a kick-ass team. And seeing them take stock of each other’s strengths (instead of criticizing each other’s weaknesses) is really compelling. Superman- “I look at Batman and all the tragedy in his life and how, somehow, he presses on. And if he can do the job, I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

Batman- “I think of Superman and, while he might be seen as na├»ve, it is as though he is an unstoppable force of good. And I’ll be damned if I will let him go down before I do.”

That is not to say they don’t come into conflict in the series. Batman’s the “cup is half empty” cautious but prepared approach doesn’t always match up with Superman’s “cup is half full” quest-for-truth-and-justice thing. But the balance between them is great. And there are a couple of things about them that will surprise you. I mean, Jeph Loeb’s run on this comic contains a scene that has easily entered into my top ten favorite moments in comic history- as Superman holds Lex by the throat and Lex coaxes Superman on to kill him, telling him that he’ll finally be defamed in the public eye for doing so, giving Lex exactly what he’s always wanted, Bruce Wayne suddenly tells Clark Kent that he will help him make it look like an accident if he wants to go through with killing Luthor.

Lex yells “You’re bluffing”.

To which Wayne replies: “No. I’m not.”

The dialogue is interspersed between narration in which Wayne states that while the Joker can be truly insane, Lex has willingly and consciously chosen to endanger the lives of millions of people time and again and does not deserve to live. This is Batman. I mean, in some ways ultimate-vengeance guy, but in other ways ultimate-war-on-crime guy. And he’s sitting here saying that in THIS instance, THIS ONE CASE, the ends justify the means and that Lex Luthor doesn’t deserve to live. And he’d be willing to grease the wheels and let it slide, if that’s what Clark wants to do.

I invite you to take that in for a few minutes.

Mindblowing, right?

This series is also host to a number of really cool cameos. Captain Atom, Power Girl, Katana, John Stewart, Starfire, Wonder Woman, Metallo, and even Gorilla Grodd are just a few. And the series’ second arc, the reintroduction of Supergirl, is excellent. I mean, the previous incarnations of Supergirl either a. didn’t make the impact on Clark Kent that they should have or b. were totally bizarre. In this case, the magnitude of the discovery of another Kryptonian is really explored in depth. I mean, I liked the most recent Supergirl as well…Matrix, I believe she was called. But the thing is, she was actually a synthetic form of life that a Kryptonian built…from a parallel Krypton…but she had merged with this other girl who was dying, so she was like two different people.

Oh, but then she turned out to be an Angel. Like with fiery wings and everything. And she was a Jedi who could use the “The Force.”

Okay, that last bit isn’t right. But I’m pretty sure everything else was canon. I can’t even remember though. Needless to say, a bizarre “cousin” for Superman. This series was a chance to reintroduce Kara Zor-El the right way.

One final note- the art in these books is excellent never fails to please. Really, stunning work. I hope this series is still on the racks down the road.

Oh…and Batzarro. That’s all I’m gonna say.

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