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Superman: True Brit (Graphic Novels)

Superman: True Brit (Graphic Novels) - Kim Howard Johnson, John Cleese, John Byrne, Mark Farmer, Alex Bleyaert Noncanonical, and you know what that means: a free pass for the writers to do whatever they want, without having to worry how this particular issue affects the rest of the Superman universe. In 2004, Mark Millar et al did a fantastic job with Red Son, inventing a world where Kal-El touches down on a collective farm in the Cold War Ukraine, and grows up to become a Soviet Super Man. I had high hopes that True Brit would do great things with the premise of a British Superman. John Cleese is one of the guest authors, as the back cover clearly broadcasts, so I knew this one would be played for laughs. No problem. I like laughing. I am amenable to comedy and joking, and other assorted merriment. Unfortunately the stuff in here wasn’t that funny. Mostly it was jokey references to well-worn stereotypes of England: Superman uses his heat vision to warm his Mum’s tea. He represents Britain in the world cricket championship (against Australia) simultaneously playing all positions of the British national team. He flies around pushing London’s cross-town trains, trying to get them back on schedule (the joke seems to be that they’re never on time, but doesn’t every city outside of Switzerland and Japan have that same joke?) Most of the main characters have become Anglicized, many bearing the hyphenated names British seem to be fond of:Clark Kent becomes Colin Clark (whose mother is from Kent)Lois Lane becomes… well, still Lois Lane, but she‘s a minor character, American cousin of Colin Clark’s love interest, Louisa Layne-Ferret.Jimmy Olsen becomes Jimmy Bartholomew-Olsen.And Perry White becomes Peregrine Whyte-Badger.…and that’s pretty much the substance of this comic. There are no super-villains. No Lex Luthor. No Brainiac. No old enemies recently escaped from the Phantom Zone. This whole issue is devoted to piddling little side-jokes, with no big main story. In fact, the “bad guy” here is Colin Clark’s boss: Peregrine Whyte-Badger… who exists as a Rupert Murdoch-type media mogul, and who owns a slew of British tabloids. Clark and Jimmy chase celebrities around, trying to get topless photos of starlets, and the latest Hollywood gossip. It’s smirk-worthy, but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. The one bit of Anglicization I enjoyed was Superman’s suit. His blue tights become a giant Union Jack, and the “S” on his chest is enclosed in a BP-like shield, rather than the familiar triangle with two corners cut off. Other minor changes (his belt has holes in it, his boots look like pirate boots), aren’t necessarily English, but just give the look an unfamiliarity. It’s all very cute, but I can’t help from feeling that the Superman-as-a-Brit premise is underutilized. The Soviet Superman issue used the premise to explore the aggressive nature of the former Soviet Union… not that that topic required much exploring, but at least it was interesting. Couldn‘t something like this have been done, to good effect? True Brit would have been very different, and potentially very interesting, if penned by a Scottish or Irish separatist, but mainstream comics like Superman rarely tread into such real-life controversial waters. Too bad; that’s kept a lot of comics from being more topical. When Superman was originally conceived in the 1930’s, he stood for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. That’s a phrase you won’t hear in comics anymore. Partly, I think, because Superman now strives to appeal to more international markets, who might be put off by jingoistic phrases… but also because the “American Way” isn’t quite the snow-driven pure image it used to be. When DC Comics featured Superman fighting Hitler in the 1940’s, that was something the young readership could get behind. After World War II, things became murkier. By the Vietnam War, you could pretty much forget seeing Superman advancing U.S. national interests in the comics. A True Brit comic would have much the same problem: it would be neither funny nor inspiring to see Superman flying around to India, Egypt, or China to resurrect the fallen British Empire. Just articulating this makes clear that America, England and the old Soviet Union are not the sort of countries who need a Superman to fight for their interests to begin with. They are already Superpowers in their own right, so giving them Superman wouldn’t really change their rank on the world stage; it would only increase the quantitative difference between them and everybody else. That may have been fine, back when the U.S. stood as the standard-bearer for freedom, (relatively) free competition capitalism, and democracy against the fascists of the day. Later in the Cold War, the American Way still stood pround against the cold authoritarianism of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Lately, we seem to have lost our way though. Now we have tough-talking "you're either with us or against us" foreign policies; we have completely deserted of our own Bill of Rights by embracing the PATRIOT ACT and other authoritarian legislation; and we've abandoned whatever may have been attractive about capitalism by tranforming our system into one of crony capitalism, where a revolving door circulates men in high public office directly into the boardrooms of the most powerful corporations. Without any moral leadership or idealism, who would want to see the Man of Steel join team America or team Britain? My suggestion to the creators of these alternate Superman fantasies would be to write him into a nation who could really use him. Imagine a Cambodian Superman. He could farm the nation’s rice with super efficiency, help build infrastructure, stand up for the little guy against corruption and the Chinese mafia, and give Cambodia the sort of border security she hasn’t enjoyed since the height of the Angkor Empire. Now there’s a place where Superman could make a difference! He could give Cambodia parity with the superpowers. Imagine Cambodia being invited into the G8 (expanded to G9), as the Cambodian economy took off, free of the inefficiencies of corruption, and spurred on by innovations reverse-engineered from Kryptonian technology! I just picked Cambodia as an example. There are lots of developing nations who would use him. Superman is wasted on the developed world.Or is he? The other good use he could be put to is a return to his roots. No, not Krypton; a return to the ideological roots his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster started him off with: Truth, Justice and the American Way. That last one remains conveniently undefined, but one imagines it must have something to do with the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Such a Superman would be the worst nightmare of the corrupt military-industrial-media complex! Sticking up for the underclasses, Superman could expose incidents of crony capitalism. He could use his super vision and super hearing to disprove media lies and false reporting. He could prevent and expose false flag terrorism. He could have flown over Iraq at super-speed, scanning the country with his x-ray vision, coming back to declare “There are no weapons of mass destruction. This scare is just a lie to start a profitable war for a small group of wealthy men, and to advance a decades-long strategy of encircling China and establishing a power base in the oil-rich Middle East (which may or may not be a legitimate national interest, but should be presented to the public honestly).” After that, Dick Cheney would declare Superman a terrorist, and would institute martial law, for citizens’ protection. Now there’s an alternate Superman who might get readers thinking! As it is, the Superman I’ve read lately, including True Brit seems either pointless and irrelevant, or a propaganda tool decidedly opposed to Truth, Justice and the Founding Fathers’ “American Way”.Supes stirring up the war rage:Yay for the lower 48 states! (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii…) Rest of the world? What “rest of the world”?Here’s a partisan one: hanging out with GOP super-President Ronald Reagan…