Before we get going, I just want to say that I can't demonstrate my points without getting spoilery in this column. So if you don't want to know who the impostor Superman is in the new Future's End comic, don't read this. For the rest of you, pray continue by clicking "read more", down and to the left.
I bought a copy of Futures End: Superman today because word on the street was that there was a new Superman in town, and I'm sucker enough to be interested in that. From a distance, it looked like Superman was wearing a motorcycle helmet. I thought it looked pretty cool, which makes me an even bigger sucker.
For the uninitiated, the Future's End hook is simply a jump five years into the future. Now, I can forgive the fact that DC has already done this a couple times in its very recent past. Wasn't Trinity a mysterious jump forward, and we were meant to be deeply curious about what happened to DC's biggest heavyweights? Or maybe that was the premise of 52, and Trinity was wall-to-wall Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Couldn't tell you, for sure. I know for a fact "One Year Later" was a similar schtick, except this one must be five times better since we're leaping five times further. Yes! The point is: A) lame. But B) I can forgive it, if the stories are tight.
What I can't forgive is hackery and bullshit. It took all of four pages before the inevitable happened:
This stuff drives me bananas. It drives me into a festering pile of over-ripe. Dole. Bananas.
We don't know who Crotch Rocket Superman is. That's supposed to be the winning element, see? It's the delicious anticipation of the reveal, the foreplay before the hips start rocking. The problem is, the rewarding tension is replaced with teeth-grinding resentment when the characters in the book speak and act awkwardly to preserve the Big Secret.
It's established in that very panel that Lois Lane outed the identity of Superman to the world in a Daily Planet column. So why does this woman call Superman "whazzizzname?" To protect that secret from the reader....for 2 MORE PAGES. Those people on the street knows exactly who is impersonating Superman. Dan Jurgens had her spout that implausible dreck to maintain my "suspense" for about 30 seconds, real time. Except by then I can't even focus on the rabbit coming out of the hat, because I'm pissed off about being jerked around with dialogue that violently yanks at the soul. That woman would never say that. So why is it in there?
I suppose it's fair here to touch upon the suspension of disbelief. If I can believe a man can subvert the laws of physics when exposed to yellow solar radiation, why not just roll over for an absent-minded street random? My answer to that is two-fold. Firstly, even fictional worlds should play by some internal logic, and forgetting the identity of a Superman impostor is infinitely harder to digest than defeating gravity. Particularly when it's parked directly next to a line demonstrating that his identity is scandalous public knowledge.
That's the second part. I accept that it's a show, but a good puppeteer always obscures the strings. When you drag out clunky dialogue like that, it doesn't just paint the strings neon. It's like pulling the strings off the puppet and flicking them at my eyes. Don't do that.
But this is par for the course in these time-shift stories. It's a continuous blitz of people talking and acting in ways that are desperately uncomfortable to read, and they all just happen to conspire toward dodging critical information the reader wants to know. Here's another even more more painful bit toward the end of the issue. This is Superman explaining to Crotch Rocket Superman that he has to disappear for awhile:
|Just in case you were wondering what you should be wondering about...."Who says? Where?" AAAARGH.|
It's one thing to create awkward dialogue, which is annoying and unnecessary. Unnecessary if you're good, I should qualify. It's quite another, more diabolical offense to break character over these crimes. Superman would never, ever, ever, ever say "or so he says." Basic knowledge of human interaction says that your conversation partner will want to know the identity of who "he" is. Disguising it that way is passive aggressive. Superman is a lot of things - passive aggressive isn't on the list.
Superman would probably be up front about where he was going and who was behind it. He's an up front guy. Barring that, I can only see Kal explaining that he can't say anything, for Billy's protection. Superman is never going to dangle a little gender clue and just bolt, though. It's not in his established nature. Are you seriously going to compromise a flagship character's behavior over this "mystery" nobody actually cares about? It's madness, and it has to stop.
If you have to step on your characters and place vague, weird dialogue in their mouths, you've built the scene wrong. That's called hack work. If you're an editor and you see that Superman is acting passive aggressively to protect The Big Secret, it's time to email the writer and have her try another runway. If none of the runways work, that means there's a problem with the story platform - it's too cute to live. Throw it the fuck away.
In the case of Crotch Rocket Superman I'm picking on Dan Jurgens, but he's absolutely not the only culprit. Pick up 10 of these Future's End books, and I bet 7 of them are guilty of the same types of crimes. DC! Stop it. Just....stop it. You're killing me with this nonsense. If you want a template for building stories out of natural consequences and consistent characters, go look up Valiant. They'll show you how it's done.