DC Comics Presents: The Writing Assignment!
First off…why does Superman ever use doors? He can just Kool-Aid Man his way into every single building ever constructed. Ever.
Note that in this composition, New 52 Superman is teamed up with our own protagonist, who seems critical. They are apparently after Magpie, a Batman villain who is like a low rent, more psychotic Catwoman from the 80’s No joke, Margaret Pye, a museum curator, becomes Magpie to steal all the pretty things she wants. She is as brutal with Henchmen as the Joker, but has a theft oriented mentality like Catwoman. However…she is just a lady from the 80’s, with Henchmen. Henchmen that have a weak union.
So…our own hero could clean their clocks pretty handily.
For that matter, so could Superman.
So…what exactly is our hero bringing to the table in this team up? Sure, she is massively super strong, nigh invulnerable, and flies poorly. Her generic superpowers are pretty impressive…but generic. Anything she can do, Superman can do better.
That’s the problem in EVERY single issue of DC Comics Presents, which makes me believe that it represents an excellent assignment for writers concerned with plot development. First, let’s look at Wikipedia’s overview of the book, DC Comics Presents:
“DC Comics Presents was a comic book series published by DC Comics from 1978 to 1986 which ran for 97 issues and 4 annuals and featured team-ups between Superman and a wide variety of other characters of the DC Universe.”
So…whoever Superman is teamed up with has to make a legitimate showing of coolness, since the book is basically a try out. This can’t be “oh…there’s some kryptonite.” There has to be a problem that NEEDS the other character to bring some useful idea, fact, skill or power to the table, with Superman as their partner. Think about that one, here, people. Superman. The same guy who in the first film featuring him, has a bad day, and travels through time to correct it. THAT Superman.
The first two issues team him up with the Flash. The flash is infinitesmally faster than Supes…but that’s it. That is all that he is coming to the party with, people. The plotline involves aliens extorting them by blackmailing them with the entire Earth in the balance, and putting them on either side of a race to the end of time, in order to prevent the alien war from continuing. The sheer complexity of the plot drives it…but let’s face it…Flash is A List.
The third issue brings Adam Strange to the table. He’s an archaeologist with a jetpack and a laser. That’s it. A similarly complex plot makes the story work, in a way that again, is really a stretch not of Superman’s powers, but the idea that he needs to know when those powers might be useful at all.
Other team up books existed at the time. Brave and the Bold, with Batman as the partner, for instance. The thing is though….Batman is a mean detective in a Dracula suit. If Black lightning comes to the table with the power to chuck lightning bolts at people, Bats is pretty stoked. It’s a thing he doesn’t usually have in his corner.
Superman says, “So what @#$%@? I have laser like heat vision.”
There’s a DC Comics Presents issue where he teams up with SGT. Rock. Let’s be explicitly clear on this one…Superman teams up with a WWII US Army Sergeant, and Rock is actually a useful part of the story. The same Superman that you needed a complex plot device to keep him out of Europe, because if you didn’t, he would END WWII.
For that reason, I have decided that writing a same DC Comics Presents story, that is readable and about 20 pages long, is an incredibly challenging task in plot development. As an assignment, it has few equals. The prompt would be something like this:
Step 1: Choose a character to team up with Superman. Anyone. It doesn’t really matter.
Step 2: Stick rigidly to the 22 page limit of a comic from the time period.
Step 3: Conceive of a problem that would first bring the two characters together. They won’t know each other.
Step 4: Figure out why Superman can just use power X to end the comic right there.
Step 5: Figure out what in the #$%# is so unique about the partner, that they:
A: Have the key to solving the problem, and
B: Need to explain it to, and/or have Superman help them do it.
You see, it can’t just be, “Person X is the magic chosen one, and that solves all,” because then, ironically…you don’t need Superman.
Step 6: You need to come up with a plausible reason that this is a one time occurrence.
Furthermore…you can’t use kryptonite or Red Sun lamps.
Wow…that is a hard problem. Hugely so.
You wind up with mysteries, with horror stories, and complicated secret identity protecting rigamaroles. Things that need an expert that Superman wouldn’t be, or special knowledge of a setting, or radical changes to setting and storyline. It’s a real test of the writer’s imagination.
Weirdly…Aquaman’s ability to actually talk to fish makes him kind of useful in these sorts of stories. Superman just can’t do that…but Aquaman is nowhere near as useful as the Big Red S. So…you need to say, come up with an ocean/environmental problem, that takes the two of them in concert to solve.
It is an incredible test of creativity in plotline.
About the art…I wanted our hero to look bored, and a bit upset…since she really is bringing nothing to the table. The debris was a @#$% hassle to do, which I think is a big part of why our hero doesn’t Kool-Aid walls very often. Supes is in full New 52 regalia, in part because I think that DC could profit from this kind of thinking again. I get a Superman/Batman book once a month, but I can’t tell you for the life of me what New 52 Batman is bringing in terms of real superheroing. He’s a rich guy, that is pretty good at mystery solving, and violating civil rights. Bottom line…Superman doesn’t need much money, and certainly isn’t doing much thinking these days.
It made me wonder about the upcoming Superman/Batman movie. As I understand it, Superman does extreme property damage in “Man of Steel,” which I didn’t see. So…how is this team up film going to go? Penguin escapes from prison, Batman starts looking for him, and Superman levels half of Metropolis to eventually find him, and put him back in jail? Or give him the ol’ Zod treatment? Certainly, the movie guys may need to think this out.
Similarly, there is a Superman/Wonder Woman book that is similarly uninteresting, for the same reason. New 52 Wonder Woman is incredibly effective, basically on par with Superman. The book only has them dealing with Armageddon scale threats in the least intelligent way possible. “A bunch of Phantom Zone criminals are out! Let’s go @#$% ’em up, Diana!” Huge battle ensues. “Oh No! Doomsday!” Huge battle ensues.
Singularly uninteresting. And both books, having only one team up option (unlike DC Comics Presents) remain just as uninteresting, all the time. Sigh.
This is New 52 Superman’s Third or Fourth appearance in Adequacy. Each time, I make him look kind of like a jerk…which says something about the direction of the character, at DC. Superman is supposed to be the friendly guy, that saves everyone…that gets cats from trees and so forth. I’m supposed to feel good, and positive after reading the book. He’s supposed to be the guy that teams up with Red Tornado (not a great Superhero), shakes hands with him at the end of the comic, and makes everyone feel generally good. Including the reader.
Please take notes on that, DC Editorial. Please.
Next Issue: My Smog Check, My Victory!