Comics

Wednesday Mini-Book Review: The Krypton Companion

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The Wednesday mini-book review series continues for a fourth straight week–collect them all.

The Krypton Companion, edited by Michael Eury (TwoMorrows, 2006). You used to be able to find this sort of inspired and maniacally detailed fan archeology only in the pages of mimeographed fanzines, only obtainable if you were personally connected somehow to their creators. As progress, wealth, and aging fans coming into their own continue to spread their multitudinous benefits, we now have entire beautifully designed and copiously illustrated books celebrating our love and memories for the Man of Steel's post-Golden Age, pre-modern (John Byrne reboot) years.

To be sure, if you have no idea what the words "John Byrne reboot" signify than this book is not for you. And yes, this sort of fanatical fan takeover of the world of and market for comic books that this book exemplified has been in many ways detrimental to the market health of the industry as a whole (though, after a pretty horrendous '90s, I think a lot of the standard DC/Marvel superhero fare is looking much better nowadays).

But as an old fan nostagiac himself (though not about this particular material–I don't think I'd read more than 10 issues of the 1958-1986 era Superman covered here until a few years ago myself, though the Mort Weisinger-era mania had always been a fascinating legend to me, largely through the amused and appreciative cartoon criticism and history of Fred Hembeck) I got more kicks out of this book of interviews with and essays about the writers, artists, and editors who made Superman what he was/is than out of any given 30 issues of an actual Superman comic, any 3 episodes of Smallville, or an infinite number of Superman Returns.

Historians of American culture owe Eury and his indefatigible publisher TwoMorrows (whose Alter Ego zine I've previously praised) a debt of gratitude for their relentless interviewing and documenting a part of American cultural life that's still an engine of enormous wealth-creation for our proud American megaconglomerates (if not for the comic creators who made him), and still a modern myth of great entertainment value in all its glory and absurdity, all its workmanlike repetition and fershlugginer imagination, all its Lois Lanes and Kryptos and Legion of Superheroes.

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  1. Superman is an intrinsically boring character, so what Weisinger did was the best one could hope for: If Superman is boring, at least surround him with things that aren’t. So, we got Brainiac, Kandor, a whole spectrum of Kryptonite, “Superman is a Dick” covers and wild sci-fi plots written by the likes of Otto Binder, who had helped make Captain Marvel so much more entertaining than Superman during the Golden Age.

  2. progress, wealth, and aging fans coming into their own continue to spread their multitudinous benefits

    I’ll take this to mean a grudging if not Freudian-slip-of-an-acknowledgement of we Boomers, without whom Pop Culture as a whole is merely a whining shell of discontent.

  3. I agree that it is a great thing that availibility of just about any form of art, popular or not, has increased so much lately. But the Superman comics pre-Byrne were really, really bad. I can only see people being into them like some folks are into kitchsy art…Its so bad its got a strange appeal. Byrne’s Fantastic Four run remains in my opinion the best comic run ever.

  4. Weisinger was friends with Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage. Doc Savage was one of the inspirations for Superman. Among the “new elements” Weisinger introduced was Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in the arctic, which was amazingly similar to Doc Savage’s Fortress of Solitude in the arctic, which had appeared in the Doc Savage pulp tales about five years before Supes got his own version.

  5. Remember the quote Sam Moskowitz attributed to Mort Weisinger: “Superman is invulnerable. Even bad scripts can’t kill him.”

    This fanboy phenomenon isn’t actually new. By the early 1970s Alan Light’s tabloid Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom was shipping weekly to a sizeable list, and I purchased The Comic Reader, a descendant of early ditto-zines such as On The Drawing Board, monthly at the same store that sold me my comics. Before the 70s were out, the fanzine publisher’s quandry was whether to stick with black-and-white offset printing, with perhaps a color cover, or to branch into a 4-color format.

    There’s sad news, though. Dr. Jerry Bails, founder of Alter Ego and one of the early great comics fans, passed away last month.

    Kevin

  6. My favorite speculation on Superman:

    The original Superman appeared 1937-38. [To lazy to look up the exact date]. This means that the infant Kal-El arrived ca. 1920.

    The question is: What if Kal-El had been from the African part of Krypton and arrived in Mississippi instead of Kansas? I bet black folks would have got to the front of the bus a lot sooner.

  7. Aresen, are you familiar with Icon?

    If Kal-El had been replaced by a Super Soul Brother, that babe would have come from Vathlo Island.

    Kevin

  8. Kevin

    Hadn’t heard of ICON before. Interesting. I guess my snarky comment had been anticipated by others.

    I couldn’t get the Vathlo Island link to work. I presume, from context, that it was home to black Kryptonese. I’m not much of a superhero fan, but like most of my generation, I read the comics as a kid. The Lois Lane plotline bored me. I was more intrigued by Pete Ross.

  9. Is it just me, or is the nerds to not nerds ratio much higher with liberterians than any other political affilation?

  10. Sure, any 3 episodes of Smallville now are boring, but that’s because it slid downhill from the dripping-with-irony-and-allusions Gough & Millar conception it started with — Superboy done in the style of Shanghai Noon. If only it’d been a limited series, it could’ve wrapped up in fine style in 3 or 4 years.

  11. Jonathan C. Hohensee:

    Probably.

    So which are you: numerator or denominator?

  12. John Byrne’s Boomer/yuppiezation of Supes was one of the worst things that could have ever happened to the character, bar none. And Byrne has revealed himself to be a completely unclassy troll. Check out his Wikipedia page and syncophant page sometime–what does it mean about America that the premier comic symbol was once taken over by this guy?

  13. I’ll take this to mean a grudging if not Freudian-slip-of-an-acknowledgement of we Boomers, without whom Pop Culture as a whole is merely a whining shell of discontent.

    Li’l typo there, Boomer. Glad to help:

    I’ll take this to mean a grudging if not Freudian-slip-of-an-acknowledgement of we Boomers, whose contribution to Pop Culture as a whole is to add a whining shell of discontent.

  14. Is it just me, or is the nerds to not nerds ratio much higher with liberterians than any other political affilation?

    Never been to an actual political convention, have you, Hohensee? Amongst activists of all stripes, this ration approaches unity.

    The sole exception being the chicks who are attracted to the rich, musky scent of power. The political party on the upswing will have an astonishing number of hot women at its events. Its the best way to tell who really has the tide running their way, in fact.

  15. shouldn’t it be mini book-review or mini book review? or are all your reviews of tiny little volumes?

  16. hey the planet KRYPTON exploded years ago thats why JOR-EL sent his one and only son KAL-EL to earth and we got SUPERMAN and SUPERGIRL and the city of KANDOR and how about the super pets

  17. The black Kryptonians of Vathlo must have been descendants of settlers from some other world, because dark skin develops to protect against UV rays. Since Krypton’s sun was red, its sunlight was much milder, so if anything Kryptonians needed white skin to absorb more energy and store it in their cells.

    Thus there was no “African part of Krypton.” They did have a rainbow people, a race with auras like living rainbows. This hints that Kryptonians rid themselves of excess solar energy by “rainbowing” rather than by tanning.

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