The comic book world – heck, the world in general – noticed something interesting in 1992. That was the year that DC Comics decided to kill off Superman, who died in an epic fight with the bizarre creature Doomsday in the streets of Metropolis.
Now, Superman had died before. Just a few short years earlier, in 1986, the Superman that fans had known since his debut in Action Comics in June 1938 died – in a manner of speaking – when DC decided to reboot the character and jettison a lot of Superman history.
Over the decades, Superman and his alter ego, Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, had gone through a lot of changes. Kryptonite had come and gone and come again. Clark and Lois married. Heck, Clark even – in the early 1970s – had gone to work in TV, for a Metropolis station owned by the conglomerate that owned the Planet.
But the death of Superman in 1992 drew attention from the world’s news media. I was sitting in a journalism awards ceremony a few months later and heard a clever real life newspaper headline – “Superman rests in crypt tonight” – recognized.
So the world at large paid attention to that development and many others since, including the more recent death of Captain America, the “coming out” of the original Green Lantern and other happenings.
Of course, these comic book developments are common and are frequently undone. Captain America’s sidekick Bucky stayed dead only for so many decades.
So when news broke the other day that Clark Kent had quit his job at the Daily Planet, I rolled my eyes.
Not just because it was another case of the media paying attention to the latest deviation in the quickly-approaching-a-century history of comic books.
But because it seemed like just another cheap stunt to shake things up in comics, an entertainment that does pretty well at movie theaters but struggles in its original print medium sometimes.
But I was also shaking my head because this wasn’t the Clark who had covered every major event since the dawn of World War II, the guy who wore a fedora and raced to the scene of a catastrophe – with a layover to quickly change into red-and-blue tights and take care of the problem.
This wasn’t even the “groovy” Clark who reported on the air for TV in the 1970s.
No, this was the recently rebooted Clark, just 27 years old and a veteran of five whole years in journalism.
This Clark was frustrated by the focus of the Planet and girlfriend-no-more Lois Lane on the trivial: Entertainment and celebrities and fringe players looking to be famous for no good reason.
So that Clark decided, rather than write stories so meaningful that Perry White couldn’t NOT put them on 1-A, to call it quits.
It’ll be interesting to see how long this change lasts – I predict a year, tops – before he goes back to the Planet.
Or maybe DC will do something truly surprising and truly reboot Superman, totally reinventing the character.
I somehow doubt that’ll happen, though.
After all, there’s a reason Superman adopted the identity of Clark Kent. It’s because Clark and other reporters are where the action is. They quickly recognize problems that need to be addressed – particularly in Superman’s early career as a social crusader – and define them as a job for Superman or fodder for a well-written news article.
Want to surprise us, truly surprise us, DC? Either kill Clark Kent – more effectively than you killed Superman two decades ago – and truly shake up the Super status quo or get Clark the hell back to work.
And get off my lawn while you’re at it.