I will admit it: I have read very few actual Superman comics. Some, but few. I have opinions about Superman informed by other media and talking to actual fans, so this lineup comes from trusting people, and from the fact that not having read a lot (which is getting fixed slowly) doesn’t stop me from having opinions.
Supers are: aliens in America; incredibly powerful; motivated by their own morality; champions of the oppressed.
1. SUPERMAN is Clark Kent, adopted son of farmers from Smallville, Kansas, and last son of Krypton, a planet brought to extinction by the actions of the people living on it. Growing up on a farm, later learning about his birth planet, led Clark to become somewhat of an environmentalist (Thanks, Plok.) As a reporter in Metropolis, Clark spends his days writing about things that will have a world wide impact, and Superman spends his time fighting a wide variety of world-threatening villains. He’s based in Metropolis, but he isn’t of Metropolis. He’ll defend his home, but he’s Big Picture, involved in saving the world as often as not. Threaten Metropolis, Smallville, his homeland, however, and he’ll break it all out.
Superman has an obscene amount of power, but he’s not interesting if he’s punching things. Rather, his most important power comes not from the sun, but from the S on his chest. Superman is not the first superhero in a world that has had the Justice Society since the 40s, but he is the strongest symbol. His most effective enemies attack the symbol before they attack the man. Although too many stories about reputation get boring. As Rob tells me: “Any story that starts with ‘Can Superman…’ will never be worth reading, because the answer is yes, and who cares. If the story’s premise is ‘Should Superman…’ then we’re getting somewhere.” Clark has this enormous power and the only thing that tells him what he can o can’t do with it is… himself and his own conscience. And like many people, his conscience comes from his parents.
Clark is in his mid-thirties. Superman has been active for fifteen years.
2. SUPERGIRL is Kara Zor-El, and again I’m looking at Plok’s idea that she’s not actually all that related to Kal. She’s a Kryptonian teenager who somehow got lost in time and space and eventually ended up in Metropolis, where she is an alien in every sense of the word: she doesn’t even speak the language. Superman finds her and supervises her immersion into the culture, but there is no pre-established family connection between them and no natural trust. Kara’s integration into Metropolitan culture is eased by a friendship she strikes up with Siobhan Smythe, an Irish immigrant with a gift for language who helps Kara’s introduction into English. Early on, she develops the beginnings of a friendship with Cassandra Cain, Black Bat, who doesn’t need to speak Kryptonian to understand Kara or make herself understood.
Kara is an immigrant. She wants to go home, and has a hard time discovering this is impossible. In the meantime, she’s having to cope with acceptance in the superhero community she doesn’t really understand, and the reality of Metropolis on the street level. While her ‘cousin’ is distracted by the Big Picture, Kara sees the reality of living in the city as an immigrant, and needs to learn how someone with god-like power can use that power to make a real difference. She’s also a scientist, and that affects her outlook, and will be useful in later stories.
This is a YOUNG READERS title, written with teenagers in mind.
3. SUPERBOY is
Conner Taylor, Conner Levitt a thirteen year old boy living with his mothers in Metropolis, who is beginning to realize he has superpowers that bear a remarkable resemblance to the city’s protector. On investigation, they discover that during the IVF cycle that produced him, his mother’s egg was co-opted and used for an experiment. Conner is the product of this: a cloning experiment carried out in the very early days of Superman’s appearance. He is a true clone of Superman, but one that was raised by parents who had no idea what had happened. Now he has to make his own decisions about who he is and what he wants to do. Supergirl is about struggling to find your place in a scary new world. Superboy is about finding your own identity in a busy city.
–ETA: More on Superboy after more conversations with Rob: —
Conner – who signs his name Con L – is, in a parallel with Clark, a web-savvy blogger, and the book contains pages from his social media presence as part of the storytelling. With the blessing and encouragement from his Moms, he eschews the idea of a secret identity, and is open with his identity as a teenager with superpowers, but no costume.
This is a YOUNG READERS title, written with children aged 10-13 in mind.
4. THE DAILY PLANET stars Lois Lane, with a back up cast that includes Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and occasionally her boyfriend Clark Kent (but never Superman). And it is the story of what goes down in Metropolis that isn’t to do with Kryptonians. The Planet isn’t’ a vehicle for any particular stance on capes, but Lois wants to cover the effect that their presence has on the city. It covers city politics, non-powered crime, and most of all involves a whole lot of investigative reporting. You don’t have to have superpowers to fight for what’s right. Sometimes all you need is a typewriter.
— ETA: More on The Daily Planet after conversations with Becca–
One of the major characters is Sydney, a staffer on the paper and a friend of Lois, who develops a crush on a columnist before coming to the realization that he sucks.
5. ACTION COMICS is a double-sized anthology that comes out bimonthly, and contains at least two stories written by different creative teams. Superman and/or Supergirl, Superboy, or Lois Lane usually occupy the main story, the second features someone else based in Metropolis, such as Black Lightning or Guardian, maybe a Lex Luthor centered story, or another superhero from another location. The theme tying these particular stories together comes from Action Comics’ first ever page: “Champion of the Oppressed.” These aren’t people standing up to invaders and criminals, but to bullies. The S, remember, stands for hope.
Next time: BATS.