On 'Hipster Superman' And Other Wildly, Weirdly Successful Press Releases

Superman sketches

Superman's hair, which gets a certain Bieber-y quality between the two sketches on the left, has started quite the foofaraw. DC Comics hide caption

toggle caption DC Comics

So, yes, all right, fine: Let's you and I talk "Hipster Superman."

Resigned sigh.

Yes, I know, I saw the media foofaraw on Monday, too: Blah blah blah hoodie blah low-cut jeans blah moody blah blah Twilight blah.

Good heavens! Will Superman ever be the same?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, with a lot more Es and Ss.

On Monday morning, a New York Post item about a new one-off graphic novel focusing on Superman's early years touched off a mainstream media firestorm. Outlet after outlet took the bait; many seized the opportunity to make with the hacky hipster jokes, viz: "Will the Fortress of Solitude be a Williamsburg food co-op?"

Ha! Take THAT, 2006!

What got lost — what always tends to get lost, whenever major media outlets turn their attention to superhero comics — is context. For example:

1. This is a one-off story that stands on its own; its connection to the ongoing Superman titles — the "canon" that we nerds so prize — is tenuous at best.

2. This is only the latest iteration of the most-told tale in comics — that of Superman's origin. It's a story that exists in a continual state of reinterpolation: In 2009's Superman: Secret Origin, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank retold it in six issues; in 2005's magnificent All-Star Superman, Grant Morrisson and Frank Quitely managed to bust it out in just 4 panels and 8 words: "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple."

But this has been going on for decades, and every time, the cultural touchstones of Clark's youth edge closer and closer to the present day. Over the years, phonebooths made way for smartphones. "Dese-and-dose" gangsters morphed gradually into technological terrorists.

And snap-brim fedoras slowly became, yes, hoodies.

The Paul F. Tompkins "Freak Wharf" Effect

Now, about that super-hoodie. The book in question, Superman: Earth-One, is about a 20-year-old. It's told from the point of view of a 20-year-old who is concerned about things a 20-year-old in today's world would be concerned about. That, in fact, is sort of the point.

It's written by J. Michael Straczynski.

Who is, it's only fair to note ... not a 20-year-old.

Of course, this is superhero comics. Middle-aged guys have written teen or 20-something characters in superhero books for about as long as superheroes have been around.

In the '60s, for example, characters like Rick Jones, Johnny Storm, Snapper Carr and the Teen Titans spoke a kind of laughably heightened Daddy-O teenspeak that no actual teens ever spoke. Reading it today, you can practically hear those balding, cigar-chomping bullpen scribes delighting in their creations: "Check that joe riding his jet-propelled surfboard ... and dig his beat!"

There's no such egregiously tin-eared lingo in Superman: Earth-One — which is, for all the hype, not a bad Superman story at all.

I'm not a fan of the Straczyzinski's current Man-of-Steel-on-Walkabout storyline in the regular Superman title, but S:EO has a satisfying, self-contained quality. Sure, those flashbacks of Superman's Earth-dad Jonathan Kent imparting fatherly wisdom feel hokey and homespun — but then, they're supposed to.

The hoodie? The low-cut jeans? The Bieber-ized (Tom Brady-ized?) hair? Those all seem contributions of the artist, Shane Davis, whose linework is heavily detailed in a way that opens the book up instead of weighing it down, and who can deliver a super-pose, when the situation demands it, that seems at once fresh and iconic.

But it's the iconography of young Clark that's getting the most negative attention. And as simplistic and dated as the whole "hip = hoodie" thing is, I found I couldn't really hold it against the book.

I mean, it could have been a porkpie hat, you know what I'm saying?

Simma Down Na, New York Post

A larger question, of course, is: Why?  Why are the New York Posts of the world so perpetually eager to seize upon internecine non-developments involving comic book characters their readers don't care very much about?

And do reporters who write about Captain America dying, or Archie Andrews getting married, or Wonder Woman going all Leather Tuscadero actually believe these to be permanent developments worthy of note? Really?

Because, I mean: Cap will always come back, Archie will always be single, and Wonder Woman is gonna come to her damn fool senses about that Member's Only jacket any day now.


Mainstream comics characters don't change, overmuch. Like Superman's origin, they get reinterpreted, reiterated, updated, but they don't — they won't, they can't — change.

It's their greatest attribute, and their greatest failing. It's why people like me look to them, and get frustrated with them, and then — eventually, inevitably — look to them again.

But that's us. We care because it's too late for us. We're already caught up in the loop of eternal return. We're stuck.

So here's a question for you, non-comics reader:

Is some part of you curious about what's going in the comics? Enough to grow concerned about the relative skinniness of Clark Kent's jeans?

Or — as I strongly suspect — are these media eruptions simply variations of the oft-written "They're Making a Change to That Thing You Dimly Remember From Childhood Shock Horror!" story that the media has seized upon since Lincoln Logs went plastic?



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