Robot 6

Supurbia #1 and the over-analogued superhero industry

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen—specifically Alan Moore’s side of it—was Topic A in comics circle for a few weeks after DC announced Before Watchmen a while back (10 years, in blog time). During that time, one of the many “arguments” anonymous online commenters were making against Moore’s expression that he wishes DC wasn’t doing Before Watchmen was that since the work featured characters somewhat inspired by the DC-owned Charlton characters, he should therefore be cool with DC continuing to exploit them.

Moore and Watchmen and that argument were all quite present in my mind while reading Supurbia #1, or Grace Randolph’s Supurbia, as it appears on the cover of the issue. The premise is “superhero Desperate Housewives,” and that premise is so strong in the first issue you can practically hear that very pitch ringing in your ears as you read.

The super-people are all obvious and, in the first issue at least, barely-extrapolated-from analogues of DC (and two Marvel) superheroes: Sovereign, the caped demigod in constant Superman Is A Dick-mode; Night Fox, billionaire playboy with an underground cave lair; Batu, warrior woman from an ancient culture of warrior women; Cosmic Champion, current member of the Cosmic Corps who inherited his mantle; and patriotic super-soldier Marine Omega and his grown-up sidekick, Bulldog.

It may simply be symptomatic of my having been reading superhero comic books for too long now, but when by the time writer Grace Randolph and her artist partner Russell Dauterman introduced the third obvious analogue, I started sighing. Moore didn’t invent the use of analogues, of course—Marvel and DC were using thinly veiled versions of one another’s characters to comment on them for fans’ sakes at least as far back as the last Silver Age—but Watchmen sure made the strategy more present for the generation of comics creators and readers that followed that work.

So when I see Sovereign flying off on a splash page of Supurbia, I can’t help not only thinking of Superman, but also of Supreme, The Samaritan, Mr. Majestic, Apollo, The Sentry, The Saint, The Homelander, The Plutonian (from another Boom book!) and a dozen others.

“Analogue” books have become so numerous at this point that not only do the analogues in them allude to their source material and inspiration (usually intentionally, so as to comment on them, while having a layer of legal cover), they also evoke all the other comics to use analogues of the same characters.

I wonder if the messy cloud of suggestions that can arise in a reader’s head whenever a new comic uses a Basically Superman or Pretty Much Batman character now cancels out the advantage of using such characters in the first place—can a comic comment on some aspect of Superman by using a Superman analogue now, or has that just become another meaningless trope of super-comics, an empty gesture, a once-potent ritual that a reader may now regard as simply a habit of the makers of the genre, rather than a creative choice?

Does having this Batman-esque character hook up with his sidekick say anything about homoerotic undertones in the original Batman comics, or does it simply repeat the observations and jokes of Bratpack, The Authority and The Pro and so on?

I don’t know if Randolph does have a great, sweeping statement to make about superhero archetypes or their relationship to the world in Supurbia. As the title no doubt tips you off, it’s entertainment, not literature. Supurbia is something light and fun, not dark and serious.

The above-mentioned superheroes all live with their wives or partners (and, in Practically Wonder Woman and Kinda Steve Trevor’s case, their kids) on the same street in an innocent-looking suburban development, a Super-Wisteria Lane, with their secret headquarters underground. The normalcy, even the banality of the above-ground setting is the security they count on.

There are a bunch of conflicts introduced in this issue, about one per household—Batu favors her daughter to the point of neglecting her son, Night Fox is cheating on his wife with his sidekick, etc.—but the big ones include Sovereign’s shacking up with a reformed (or is it “reformed”…?) supervillainess, Marine Omega suffering from a mysterious illness, and the touchy-about-being-called-a-sidekick Bulldog’s new, nosy former fangirl wife.

The focus is on the spouses, not the heroes—each of the spouses gets introduced with a few color-coded narration boxes—and this is apparently their story. And so far at least, it’s a fine, diverting story.

The art by Dauterman is a real treat,  and, for me, even more of a selling point than the concept (Note: The cover is by Ale Garza, not Dauterman, so don’t judge the book by it). The figures are smooth and free of any extraneous details—there’s just a touch of cartoony exaggeration to most of them, underlining particular essential character traits about many of them.

It’s not exactly Watchmen. Nor is it Astro City or The Pro. Or Promethea or WorldWatch. But it’s hard not to think of all those comics—and a dozen or so others, some better, many worse—while reading it. That’s not necessarily a failing of Randolph and Dauterman’s work with the book, which is fairly top-notch (if it suffers from anything its from broadness and obviousness), but rather a failing with the medium and industry as it stands a generation after Watchmen.

Simply put, too many creators have had too many high-concept ideas about Superman and his super-friends.

That, or there are too few truly good superheroes with mass appeal; superheroes have been too narrowly defined as riffs on Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and three or four other Golden Age heroes.

Or I’ve simply read too damn many comics to be able to divorce a book like this from all the other books to be founded upon the same character-generation technique.

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Comments

22 Comments

The art’s by Russell Dauterman, not Gabriel. Gabriel’s the colorist. At least according to CBR’s preview: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview&id=11653

Has BOOM ever put out a book that isn’t just a regurgitation of concepts we’ve seen a million times? They’re imitators, not innovators. They’re giving a segment of fans what they want…the same stories they’ve read before, only in a (somewhat) new package.

The inside of the cover says Russell Dauterman penciled the interiors as well. I’m sorry, but for the person that wrote this article, how the hell do you get that wrong?

J. Caleb is the enemy of fun… as always.

Great book. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a fun read!

Yeah, it’s pretty obvious at this point that CBR has some kind of agenda against SUPURBIA. They didn’t cover it, even when it became a top news story, and now this petty “editorial” that doesn’t even get the most basic facts right?

What is this, Fox News?

When Watchmen used those archetypes, it was to say something about the broader archetypes beyond the Charlton characters they were specifically referencing. The Comedian wasn’t just the Peacemaker; he was a comment on every gun-wielding might-makes-right tough guy costumed hero. Nite Owl wasn’t just Blue Beetle; he represented Batman and every other costumed hero with lots of gadgets and a secret headquarters. Moore and Gibbons knew the history of costumed heroes deeply enough that they were able to draw out recurring and ongoing themes that we’ve seen again and again. The Superman homages and the heroes in this comic are shallow: you’re meant to see the immediate homage and nothing deeper, nothing more meaningful. It’s too bad.

Conspiracy, CBR’s Kelly Thompson gave Supurbia #1 four out of five stars, which kind of shoots a hole in your “anti-Supurbia agenda” theory.

Good post. I find myself thoroughly in agreement: this game has just been played too many times to be interesting any more.

NEXT!

JT,

Thanks for pointing that out. My apologies to the artists whose names I mixed up and to any confused readers. I fixed it…I think. Do let me know if I missed any references to the artist.

“Perplexed” (if that is your real name, and I’m pretty sure it’s not…What is this, Dear Abby?),

You get it wrong by citing the name right next to the correct name instead of the correct one. It was a dumb mistake, but it’s not like I put down Harriet Tubman or Gandalf The Grey or something.

“Conspiracy!”,

Okay, I’m totally violating my own rule of not responding to people who don’t even have real names here but yes, yes you are completely correct. This IS Fox News.

Yeah it’s a conspiracy.

Option B is that it’s an overhyped, below-mediocre indie book getting a lot of press but won’t last more than 12 issues.

Just out of the two sample pages listed here:

Wife: “HEY SUPERMAN!”
Husband: “You don’t have to yell, I can hear you at a whisper.”

Wife: “Here’s your lunch!”
Husband: “I don’t eat.”

These two are MARRIED? Or does the writer just have to include the expository dialogue by making her characters retarded?

It doesnt need to last 12 issues.

Cause its a 4 issue mini series.

FYI, to whom it may concern: please take a look at our posting guidelines and what we don’t allow, especially this one:

“Posting multiple times in the same thread under different user names.”

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Comments have been deleted.

J, I think you’re looking at Watchmen over this when a better “analogue” would be Squadron Supreme. It’s a shame the Desperate Housewives or Real Housewives tag was used so much because it’s none of that.

It’s the new Authority.

By this point, they shouldn’t have to use analogs. They should be able to use Superman, Batman, etc. themselves. When Siegel, Schuster, Kane, Finger, and so on created these characters, the maximum duration of copyright under US law was 56 years. During those 56 years, National/DC had exclusive rights to the characters, as they gradually became a part of our culture. What should have happened is that in 1995, Superman would have entered the Public Domain. Batman would have followed in 1996. That didn’t happen because Congress overstepped its Constitutional mandate and ignored the purpose of copyright (to incentivize creation of NEW works) and retroactively extended the copyright on existing works. If copyright law still worked like it was supposed to, writers would be as free to use Batman and Superman in their stories as they are to use Robin Hood and Paul Bunyan.

Jason A Quest, exactly, this is why analogues are used so often. I would love to see stories told using licensed characters, treated as though they were public domain. We might be able to get beyond deconstructing superheroes.

Good article. I’m very much in agreement with you. I think I’ve lost a lot of interest in these superhero analogue stories for awhile now. What’s supposed to be a witty commentary on the genre just ends up becoming derivative to me.

Supurbia just sounds kind of dull. Congrats to those who enjoy it, but…a Superman that’s a dick? There’s an entire fucking site about that and countless stories about it too. Batman and Robin are gay for each other? So mind-blowing I almost forgot someone posited that idea around the same time Leave It To Beaver was relatively new to television.

It’s sad too, because if it hadn’t shoved some boring analogues down my throat and dealt with superheroines and their private lives, I would’ve read it.

Yup, this is exactly why I have no interest in this book. If I want to read a half-hearted story about a pseudo-Wonder Woman, Superman, or Batman I’ll read a DCnU book.

“When Watchmen used those archetypes, it was to say something about the broader archetypes beyond the Charlton characters they were specifically referencing.”

This is exactly correct. And it did so brilliantly. To bring up “Watchmen” in a way that makes it somehow comparable to this book is utterly absurd. But Newsarama wants to promote the Watchmen prequel and has tried to undermine Moore’s legitimate criticism in various ways. This has to be the most ridiculous attempt at that, however. If Newsarama can’t tell the difference between Watchmen and Superbia, then you guys need to pack it up and call it a day.

FYI, this isn’t Newsarama.

” Has BOOM ever put out a book that isn’t just a regurgitation of concepts we’ve seen a million times? They’re imitators, not innovators. They’re giving a segment of fans what they want…the same stories they’ve read before, only in a (somewhat) new package. ”

Okay, so what are these brand new concepts that BOOM lacks? Keep in mind that your answer can’t include anything I can compare to any previous story.

Nathan Fox had a pitch like this. A lot of the concept art is on his website. His ideas were a little more scandalous and over-the-top.

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