Superman Fact 4: The supporting cast should be small(ish)

Posted: August 16, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve had this one in my back pocket for a while now, because I’m lazy and don’t always feel like searching Google Image for pictures of Ron Troupe. But I wanted to toss this out now before the DC Reboot comes along and suddenly we get to see what George Perez considers essential components of a good Superman comic.

Anyway, here’s the thing: Superman doesn’t need a lot of people to talk to. He’s already got PLENTY. And yet one of the worst choices writers make is to add new characters to the lineup.

Seriously. Don’t do it! As Clark Kent ALONE, he’s got Lois – his wife/colleague/confidante (ed: or whatever she’ll be post-reboot); Jimmy – his buddy; Perry – his boss; and Ma and Pa (depending on your timeline) – his parents. That’s already a pretty significant cast.

Add to that the people he interacts with regularly as Superman. That’s pretty much whoever in the Justice League is useful to a story, periodic visits to STAR Labs, plus occasional Supergirl/Superboy/Steel appearances.

Hell, even Lex should be a significant fixture (even if he’s not the main antagonist). 

So we’re looking at, what, a dozen regular supporting cast members?* How deeply do you

Ron Troupe, seen here not deserving all the crap I'm laying at his door

really want to get into these characters? What does, say, a barely-connected side plot featuring Ron Troupe and Lucy Lane’s relationship, or Perry White undergoing chemo, tell you about the hero of the story, Superman?

This was the major problem with the Superman comics of the 90’s. With a Superman comic coming out every single week, writers tended to spend way too much time on supporting cast drama just to pad out the books.

(Which is why the post-death-of-Superman “Funeral for a Friend” story was able to last for three months without the presence of the book’s starring character. Did you want to know how the Kents, Lois, Jimmy, Bibbo, Guardian, Project Cadmus, Cat Grant, Gangbuster, Supergirl, Lex Luthor II, Team Luthor, and the people of Metropolis dealt with Superman’s death? Well, if you were a Superman reader in the early 90’s, that was pretty much all you got to read for a quarter of a year. )

It’s not that writers can’t try out a new character. But the odds aren’t great that they’ll become a welcome fixture, rather than an inorganic distraction. Not every character’s got the mileage of a John Henry Irons. You may be Greg Rucka, and end up cramming in the no-nonsense, sexually aggressive, danger-addicted Latina police officer Renee Montoya Lupe Leocadio-Escudero.

Rucka, being Greg Rucka and having just spun his Detective Comics run into the acclaimed Gotham Central, maybe decided to add a bit of precinct-flair to Adventures of Superman by demoting Clark Kent to the Metropolis PD beat, taking him away from the established supporting cast in favor of a bunch of cops and barely-drawn reporter colleagues.

(This is also around the time Mr. Mxysptlyk became a regular fixture in the book. It was a pretty schizophrenic run.)

Do you see? DO YOU SEE HOW ANNOYED HE'S GETTING?

Suddenly part of every Adventures issue had Superman consulting on cases and new villains with Lt. Lupe. And if she’d been written as being particularly useful to Superman, or able to offer a psychological insight he might not have considered, maybe it would’ve been a nice change of pace.

But we’re first introduced to her as she wades into the middle of a gunfight and doesn’t care when she gets clipped on the ear; then she starts trying to order Superman around at a crime scene; and an issue later, she’s nakedly propositioning Superman in her bedroom. Off-putting doesn’t begin to describe this character.

I have no problem with Superman occasionally checking in with the police, but getting into chain of command squabbles with the new top cop (particularly one who comes off as a bit unstable) diminishes both characters. Superman has More Important Things To Do. And getting into a pissing contest about whose collar this is just makes the supporting cop character look like an asshole.

And then there was Father Leone, the cool-dude priest Superman unburdened himself to for a year in Brian Azzarrello and Jim Lee’s “For Tomorrow” arc. We’ll just say that I am not a fan of depressed Superman trying to figure out What It All Means with a stranger who suddenly becomes his most important human contact, and move on.**

Meanwhile, if people want to read about Superman hanging out with other heroes? That’s what Justice League is for.

And if they want to read about Superman hanging out with cops discussing cases? Or chatting about strange new technology with scientists?

Well…it sounds like they might actually want to read Batman, or The Flash. Those settings make sense to those specific characters, as detectives and scientists.***

Superman exists either in the middle of exciting adventures, or inside the Daily Planet as Clark JUST BEFORE his exciting adventures begin. Either way, they’re HIS stories, or a handful of closely-tied supporting cast members. The moment Ron Troupe has any lines more important than “Where’s Lois? In Perry’s office, I think…” then we’re already getting away from being a good Superman story – because we get further away from it being Superman’s story.

Aww.

*OK, look, maybe also Krypto. I know, I know. I’m usually not a fan of surplus Kryptonians

running around (so you can just guess how much I liked the recent New Krypton and War of the Supermen stories), but…it’s a cute white dog in a red cape who can fly. We can have fun sometimes.

*Though now that I think about it, I would pay good money for a Nick Spencer-written one-shot that starred Jimmy Olsen trying to have a night out with a depressed priest and a violent, half-crazed cop.

**Which isn’t to dismiss how nice it is to see Superman help out at STAR Labs just because he had a free afternoon, I always liked that from the animated series.

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Comments
  1. […] Superman: For Tomorrow – If there’s one interpretation of Superman I am just not down with, it’s the Sad Crying Alien. The guy who mopes around, constantly reminding himself of how Alone and Different he is despite having a quite varied and IN SOME CASES RELATED BY BLOOD supporting cast. This is one of them, despite some undeniably Super-Hero-Ideal-style art by Jim Lee. […]

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