Thursday, October 27, 2011

Graphic Blandishment featuring Superman Issue #1

My pet theory about the origin of the words "Graphic Novel", is that the word 'Graphic' came from Will Eisner's book, Graphic Storytelling, and the word 'Novel' came from DC Comics habit of refering to issue-length comic book stories as "Full-Length Novel". Feel free to quote me on Wikipedia.

This "Full-Length Novel" jazz reminded me of how the Charlie Brown TV specials would sometimes credit animators under the words "Graphic Blandishment" instead of "Animators"/"Animation By:". An average issue of a comic book - a novel? No,no,no,no,no. We need to wrap this baby in a card stock cover and add offbeat story content before calling it novel! Now, ain't that sumptin'! Oh, and quintuple the cover price. I think I would've just settled for calling an average comic a Novel and calling it a day. "Yes Mother, I finished reading the latest Little Dot novel!"

The library had a copy of SUPERMAN: KRYPTONITE NEVERMORE! by Dennis O'Neil and Curt Swan (and, I suspect, key plot assistance by editor Julius Schwartz). It's not very good, but I didn't hate it. The best moment happens early on, when Superman takes a bite out of a chunk of green K as if it were an oversize Cap'n Crunch Berry. The book collects stories that attempted to sharply redefine Superman, but rather than modify the approach to storytelling, they opt for taking away his often overused weakness, and take away the range of his powers. None of the foes from his rogues gallery appear. Instead, the only suspense comes from an eerie doppelganger/adumbration of Superman made from sand that's more powerfull than him, but that ends in a cop-out. It wasn't Superman the whole time! It was some befuddled chap from Quarmm. And with that all sorted out, Denny bids the books adieu, and this trickly experiment becomes the stuff of online blogs and back issue fodder.

It's as though Denny didn't have it all figured out, and his afterward in the book offers no insight into each of the stories in this collection, just that the top brass at DC was hoping he would trap lightning in a bottle again, the way he had done with Batman, but not like his revamp of Wonder Woman...or Green Lentern/Green Arrow (actually, the latter two have become cult fan-favorites, they were poorly recieved at the time and come off dated - an aquired taste). I thought he fared better writing Superman team-up stories in World's Finest and DC Comics presents, where the pressure was off and he was free to just tell stories. By comparison, the stories here read like they were re-written by the editor to fit the wants and needs. It doesn't read like an O'Neil's script, except for the small scenes with Morgan Edge, Clark's then-new boss at the GBS network.

What the comics in this collection did achieve was the staus quo Julius Schwartz used for Superman comics throughout his run as editor. Morgan Edge, Clark Kent: GBS news reporter, odd one-shot villains, unusual monsters, Superman's self-doubt, Batman cameos - all that stuff figures in the comics for the next 15 years! This experiment didn't wipe away Superman's powers and weakness for long, but it did set the pace of the comics themselves. For a while, anyway.. ;) If your library has it, check it out.


  1. That just might be the greatest definition of the term “Graphic Novel” that I’ve EVER SEEN!

    I’ve always felt that there was a conflict between Denny (and maybe even Julie, who seemed to be a very progressive type of editor back in the day) and “The Powers That Be at DC” over the direction for Superman.

    Denny tried, but the Powers won out… all the way until John Byrne came along. And, to a lesser extent, it may have happened then as well.

  2. Joe,

    Thank You!
    Feel free to quote my definition anywhere and everywhere on the web. :) I had a literature Professor in College, Christian Suggs, who liked to divide words/terms in half on the board to explain their meaning/how they were coined.

    I'm surprised nobody thought of it before! It certainly makes "Graphic Novel" seem real and not an imaginary buzzword!

    Denny seemed to have a good grasp of Superman, but he only tackled the character again in team-up stories, or with the Justice League. John Byrne claimed to have left because he found the Powers were flip-flopping about his take on Superman - leaving an unfinished story that other teams had to sort out. And that's the story of how the clone Supergirl - well, that's another story. ;)

    BTW, Dean Motter did an update of Denny's Superman tale in 2 issues of Superman Adventures in the late 90's - just picking the best bits of it and adding Lex Luthor into the mix. It's neat. Especially when rendered in the Bruce Timm style-design.