Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blog From Another Universe #6: Superman Forever, from Siegel and Shuster Publications

The 75th anniversary of the first Superman comic is not until 2013, but owners Siegel and Shuster Publications have already announced plans for their own celebrations.

As well as Zach Snyder’s Superman Beyond - the long-anticipated follow-up to Wes Anderson’s 2005 billion-dollar blockbuster Superman Returns - 2013 will also see the release of Superman Forever, a 500-page hardback tribute to the Man of Steel, with the greatest names in comics writing and drawing their own Superman stories.

Names already announced for the tribute comic range from Art Spiegleman and Stan Lee to Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin to Kevin Hezunga and Los Bros Hernandez to Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, and dozens of other top creators.

In a statement released earlier this week, S&S Publications said the project was not just a celebration of the character’s long history, it was also a commemoration of the thirty year history of S&S, which was established in 1983.

The company came into existence after the landmark ruling in the early 1980s that all rights to the Superman character belonged to their creators – Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The result of the case, which the Siegel and Shuster families took to the Supreme Court after the massive success of the 1978 Superman movie, took everybody by surprise, with DC losing all the rights to its major (and minor) characters in one case after another.

Nobody seemed more surprised than the families of Siegel and Shuster, who signed a short-term one-year deal with DC for the continued publication of Superman comics. Decades later, those last DC Superman comics still feel full of sadness and whimsy, with the year-long Crisis On Krypton story by Marv Wolfman and George Perez giving Superman a properly farewell from the DC universe.

When the year-long deal was up, the Siegel and Shuster families revealed their plans – a new publisher that would deal only in Superman. Retaining all movie, television and comic book rights, S&S Publications was born.

Concerned with flooding the market with Superman comics, S&S maintained a strict publishing schedule – two monthly books starring the Man of Steel, with a number of one offs, short mini-series and special projects. The monthly comics launched in late 1983 with John Byrne’s Action Comics #1, followed the next month by Howard Chaykin’s Superman #1.

The new company enlisted the editorial talents of Karen Berger, whose eye for sharp stories and sharper creators led to a series of well-picked self-contained books, with longer stories in the main titles that were more epic in scale.

Over the years, this has resulted in a number of high quality stories that have remained in print, and continue to generate sales for S&S. These range from Wolfman and Ordway’s three-year-long Exile storyline in the late eighties to Frank Miller’s epic The Man Of Steel Strikes Back in 1986 (and its 2001 sequel The Man Of Tomorrow Returns).

In 1987, soon after writing ‘Whatever Happened to the Dark Knight?’, the last Batman story for DC - and still riding the success of his work on Watchmen for Ditko Inc - Alan Moore was invited by S&S to produce any kind of Superman comic he fancied, and ultimately responded with Superman: Supreme in 1991, an affectionate pastiche of the character’s long and tumultuous history.

Moore’s work on Superman reached a climax with the Death of Superman in 1995, with Kal-El reborn as a transcendent figure of glory and compassion. He also introduced a new supporting cast that replaced those the company no longer had access to. While they could publish a Superboy comic, there could be no appearance by the Legion of Super-Heroes, but Moore created an all-new backstory for Superman in the Supreme stories, one that has been used fairly consistently since.

One slightly sad side-effect of the creations going back to the creators is that there has been no Justice League comics since 1981. Several attempts at bringing all the trademark owners together for a special Justice League comic have all failed, largely due to the incredible complexity of the deal. (The thought of somebody like Grant Morrison – who made the Avengers the biggest Marvel book of the nineties – doing a Justice League story remains an impossible dream.)

Fortunately for Superman, he still got to see his best friend. The World’s Finest annuals, set up in a co-publication deal with KFR Comics has allowed Superman and Batman to have team-up adventures together, with the rarity of these team-ups continually attracting some of comic’s biggest names, right from the first issue’s For The Man Who Has Everything by Moore and Gibbons, and up to last year’s Crisis on Bongo World by Bagge and Lee.

After losing its heroes, DC stayed in business by publishing creator owned work, but became a minor publisher without its main characters. In comparison, S&S had guarded its Superman trademark carefully, and built on the iconic recognition to create one of the biggest comic companies in the business, while staying true to its founding principles of creator rights, with all new characters created for new Superman comics belonging to the creators who came up with them.

And this has produced some incredible comics – It’s amusing to read old issues of Amazing Heroes at the time that Superman was off the shelves for a couple of months, between owners, and see the fear in the letter columns, concerns from fanboys about their monthly fix, terrified that there might be no more Superman comics. The fear seems so silly in the light of what has happened since, with a revitalisation of Superman that has brought the world’s greatest superhero into the 21st century.


Blogs From a Regular Universe will resume next week....


Islington Comic Forum said...

These Blogs From Another Universe are really, really, really, really, really good.

More please.

Islington Comic Forum said...

My half-hearted pitch for a future entry:
A world where (for whatever reasons) the public just don't buy remakes, reboots, reimaginings etc.
Don't buy as: they don't like it/don't get it and so: won't pay money to read them.
So you can only tell one story of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four whatever - and when that story is done: no more.
And once a character is dead: that's it.
And once they're too old: they die. etc etc etc.

Tam said...

Just to mention that anyone who reads this really ought to follow the link above to the terrific Islington comic forum blog. I did and then spent hours reading all his succinct but perceptive and entertaining reviews. (My favourite one was Miller and Darrow's Hard Boiled : 'Where's Wally' for sociopaths)

Islington Comic Forum said...

Oops. Only just seen this now. But (obviously) Thank you very much Tam - you just totally made my day!