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  1. #1
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    Default How much do you have to know about Superman to "get Superman".

    For a question that has plagued the Superman fanbase for as long as I can remember there don't seem to be any real parameters surrounding it. As much as people squeal about it, the question is always answered in vague terms. How about instead of vague platitudes how about we set some real boundaries for what it means to understand this character.
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    Astonishing Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Quantity of knowledge and level of understanding don’t have a clear relationship in this regard imo. If by “get” you mean understand the basic concept. He has different sides to him so exposure to different incarnations help, but you can read one comic and instantly understand who he is and what he represents, or read 10 and never dig between the lines enough to take much from it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogotazo View Post
    Quantity of knowledge and level of understanding don’t have a clear relationship in this regard imo. If by “get” you mean understand the basic concept. He has different sides to him so exposure to different incarnations help, but you can read one comic and instantly understand who he is and what he represents, or read 10 and never dig between the lines enough to take much from it.
    No I mean a deep understanding of the character. Enough to be considered an authority on the topic and character and to be able to with confidence say what is and is not correct when it comes to the handling of the character.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The World View Post
    No I mean a deep understanding of the character. Enough to be considered an authority on the topic and character and to be able to with confidence say what is and is not correct when it comes to the handling of the character.
    God. Or Jerry Siegal somehow alive. Anything else is just a statement about what eras and interpretations you like or dislike.

    You think he's Superman and Clark is just a disguise. Fine. So you like the older Golden/ Silver age and you don't like the Bryne era. Think he's really Clark? You prefer the Post Crisis era.

    I'd certainly say there are people who have a vast knowledge. But a deep understanding simply means they know how different writers have presented him. I'm with you until you say "What is not correct" because that just gets into the fact that he's a fictional character and his presentation changes. Based on the early Golden Age, one could have rightly argued that his Silver Age presentation was not "correct".

    To give an example outside of Superman, the movie "Excalibur" directed by the legendary John Boorman is often criticized by Arthurian purists because it deviates in many details from the ancient classic versions but I consider it the most enjoyable and amazingly good take ever done with almost every single line being quotable and wonderful.

    I don't think there's any valid answer to your question because knowledge is a wonderful thing but what is or is not "correct" is nothing but preference.
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    Quote Originally Posted by The World View Post
    No I mean a deep understanding of the character. Enough to be considered an authority on the topic and character and to be able to with confidence say what is and is not correct when it comes to the handling of the character.
    In that case then I’d have to say the majority of his most celebrated stories and runs. We would have to make a definitive list I suppose.

  6. #6
    Extraordinary Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The World View Post
    No I mean a deep understanding of the character. Enough to be considered an authority on the topic and character and to be able to with confidence say what is and is not correct when it comes to the handling of the character.
    Well....this is still tricky, as the character has seen so many different versions over the years. Even when taking different continuities out of it, the ebb and flow of decades influences how Superman is handled.

    This is why all those "Must Read" lists exist; stories that are critically acclaimed like that end up influencing a property far beyond their own pages and color everything that comes afterwards, so you can knock those out and get a diluted taste of the whole shebang.

    But to answer as definitely as I can.....

    You need to read the original Golden Age stories. I'd say the first.....three years or so, including Action itself, the dailies, and the original Superman title. This is the deepest core of the character, and I think to fully understand Superman you need to see that ground floor raw potential and the early version of Superman who got to act without the limitation of social niceties. This timeframe should also get you from "social champion fighting for the little guy" into "American champion fighting foreign threats" as well as early super villains like Ultra-Humanite and (I think) the beta-test version of Lex.

    The Silver Age.....its hard to narrow it down to a manageable amount, because the Silver Age covered so much ground over such a big stretch of time. And Im not as well read on the Silver Age as I am other eras. Honestly, I dunno what I would recommend for a fully inclusive crash course here. I think you need to do Kara's debut and the development of Clark as Superboy, as well as the debut of the Legion. These end up being big parts of Clark and impact his world view a lot. But the villains also grow a lot, the Phantom Zone gets developed......there's just so much here I'm a little paralyzed trying to narrow it down.

    The Bronze Age....you could probably just nail down the classics like "Whatever Happened To....." and "For the Man Who Has Everything" to get the basics. The Bronze Age largely just refined the foundation the Silver Age put down, and the Crisis reboot means a lot of stuff, like Clark being a news anchor, ends up being a flash in the pan you can easily ignore. If you're strapped for cash or time, you could likely hit these major Bronze Age stories and get a lot of what the Silver Age was trying to say as well, though in a slightly altered form.

    As for the modern stuff.....I think the Triangle Era from Exile through the Wedding Album will set you straight and establish a workable understanding of Clark Kent, though a reader would have to understand the larger continuity changes to understand the sudden shift in approach and characterization in the Clark-Superman dynamic. I personally suggesting writing off all of Byrne's work, as a lot of the nuances on his "Clark first" approach died shortly after he left the books and the stuff that stuck around was done better by Stern, Jurgens, etc, anyway.

    Morrison's Action Comics run should be on the list as it boils a lot of these various eras and approaches down and fits them into a working narrative. All-Star is an absolute must for anyone who wants to see the soul of Superman, and I daresay you could probably read that alone and walk away with a fair grasp on the character, if not the deeper, subtler traits.

    Tomasi's Superman #7 also does a great job establishing Clark as a family man and showing how that dynamic functions, though Tomasi is still a little too Norman Rockwell for my tastes, and ignores the mountain of history that tells us Clark struggles with family.

    And you might as well toss in the Fleischer cartoons for general vibe and approach, the Justice League Action episode "Under a Red Sun" for how Clark is still a badass even without powers, and Man of Steel for how to properly capture the scope of his abilities and the damage he's capable of.
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  7. #7
    Astonishing Member Powerboy's Avatar
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    I would certainly tend to default first to the creator of a character so everything written by Jerry Siegel would be of major priority. Siegel also once stated that he loved the Fleisher cartoons because they were pretty much the character as he originally conceived him.
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  8. #8
    RIP, Norm... Kuwagaton's Avatar
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    The idea of "getting the character" is one I've seen for many years online, but I think it's an impossible thing to determine. Frankly, the best I can figure is if you can put "I like" and "Superman" in the same sentence. Knowledge of this or that thing don't really mean much if they don't mean anything to you, do they?

    The cool thing about a lot of DC characters is that they aren't one thing. Like if someone has been reading Batman for decades, wrote some of his comics personally, and produced one of his movies, no one is gonna go up to them like, "yeah but what do you know about the Finger, man?!" Meanwhile Marvel, if you can't appreciate Stan Lee on Spider-Man or Claremont for X-Men, you're missing out in the sense that those are the true, unbreakable backbones innervating the properties.

  9. #9
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    I think to get a true understanding of the character you need to draw from a variety of consistent but not necessarily 100% compatible sources.

    So you could read a dozen Silver-Age issues and come away with contradictory ideas about Superman because Weisinger wasn't looking for more than surface consistency. Clark is always a reporter working at the Planet for Perry along with Jimmy and Lois, but whether Superman loves Lois or finds her annoying varies depending on what that issue needs to advance its plot. I'm not saying that you can't get a good understanding of the character in the Silver Age, just that unless you read a ton of it or someone takes the time to choose very specific issues you can easily find random issues that don't fit the overall picture.

    Or you could watch every episode of Smallville and come away with a good understanding of the character presented, but that understanding doesn't apply to other incarnations. There are some things Tom Welling does that would be perfectly in character for Chris Reeve's Superman as well as Henry Cavill's. There are some things in the show that would be at odds with those portrayals. And you can switch it around with other actors, writers or even editors. Read every issue that Elliot S! Maggin wrote and you have a solid character, but not necessarily the definitive Superman. Even Jerry Siegel who created Superman and got to return for some great issues in the Silver Age doesn't necessarily get the whole idea across in his stories. Siegel probably has the best claim to it, but even he needs other people to fill in some gaps in the concept.

    Unlike Ascended I won't try to pinpoint specific eras or issues that are "must reads", but rather say that if you have read stories spread over the whole 80 years of Superman (including more than a single story from each of the "family" book) plus two or more extended versions in other media (Radio, TV, Movies) you have solid ground to claim expert status. If you have only read one era and/or only seen media made in the last 10 years might not give you as much credence (and that applies to people who saw all the Chris Reeve movies but then "outgrew" Superman and only came back in 2013 or who haven't looked at Superman since Byrne took over, etc...)

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuwagaton View Post
    The idea of "getting the character" is one I've seen for many years online, but I think it's an impossible thing to determine. Frankly, the best I can figure is if you can put "I like" and "Superman" in the same sentence. Knowledge of this or that thing don't really mean much if they don't mean anything to you, do they?

    The cool thing about a lot of DC characters is that they aren't one thing. Like if someone has been reading Batman for decades, wrote some of his comics personally, and produced one of his movies, no one is gonna go up to them like, "yeah but what do you know about the Finger, man?!" Meanwhile Marvel, if you can't appreciate Stan Lee on Spider-Man or Claremont for X-Men, you're missing out in the sense that those are the true, unbreakable backbones innervating the properties.
    See I would ask that Batman writer about Finger or Denny O'Neil or even Adam West. The writer doesn't have to like any of it, but I'd wonder if you can "get" a character that you have no references for. You can create a great loner vigilante, but if you have no idea that doesn't come from your own head I'm not sure you are writing Batman and not "Punisher without a gun".

  11. #11
    RIP, Norm... Kuwagaton's Avatar
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    Sure, if you list off a number of key figures it only makes sense that someone who has interest in the property will have taken the time to look into associated products. But Finger is just one reference. How much you know about him and his stories doesn't qualify your comprehension of the character. Siegel is a comparable reference for Superman and likewise, it's very hard to know the comic character without knowing a little something about Siegel. But there isn't really a quantifiable takeaway. What if Chuck Austen knows ten times more about Siegel than you and had regular dinner dates with Mark Waid? If he knows more about Superman history than Grant Morrison, is he a better Superman writer?

  12. #12
    Extraordinary Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuwagaton View Post
    The idea of "getting the character" is one I've seen for many years online, but I think it's an impossible thing to determine. Frankly, the best I can figure is if you can put "I like" and "Superman" in the same sentence. Knowledge of this or that thing don't really mean much if they don't mean anything to you, do they?
    Well, that's all you need to be a fan. If you enjoy something, you're a fan, easy as that. I've never understood that "not a real fan" mentality.

    But you can be a fan of something and not really have a full grasp on the deeper layers of it. I think that's what the OP is asking; how much do you have to know to be able to say you have a firm grasp on the entire concept.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuwagaton View Post
    Sure, if you list off a number of key figures it only makes sense that someone who has interest in the property will have taken the time to look into associated products. But Finger is just one reference. How much you know about him and his stories doesn't qualify your comprehension of the character. Siegel is a comparable reference for Superman and likewise, it's very hard to know the comic character without knowing a little something about Siegel. But there isn't really a quantifiable takeaway. What if Chuck Austen knows ten times more about Siegel than you and had regular dinner dates with Mark Waid? If he knows more about Superman history than Grant Morrison, is he a better Superman writer?
    it's not that knowing more necessarily makes Austen a better Superman writer, it's that knowing less makes him a worse one. A bad writer is a bad writer no matter how much he knows about a subject. But even the best writer can't expound on a subject he knows little to nothing about.

  14. #14
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    But we have no idea if someone knows less or more. Even if they try to explain how much they know because expressions can fall short.

    If we're trying to find a baseline to validate that someone knows what they're talking about, I think it's a pretty easy and unremarkable minimum to find.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    Well, that's all you need to be a fan. If you enjoy something, you're a fan, easy as that. I've never understood that "not a real fan" mentality.

    But you can be a fan of something and not really have a full grasp on the deeper layers of it. I think that's what the OP is asking; how much do you have to know to be able to say you have a firm grasp on the entire concept.

    To have a grasp on Superman, you can just go around Google for like a half hour. But I'm going by this:

    Quote Originally Posted by The World View Post
    No I mean a deep understanding of the character. Enough to be considered an authority on the topic and character and to be able to with confidence say what is and is not correct when it comes to the handling of the character.
    to be an authority on the character of Superman is... I don't even know. No offense, but for one thing, there is no possible way to deem what should or shouldn't be done regarding the bronze age by reading a few Alan Moore stories and ignoring developments like WGBS. I know you said the basics, Ascended, but that's not really different from being unaware. My personal start of the era is Oct. 1970, and it ended (with more certainty) with cover dates for Sept. 1986. That's about 500 Superman stories of at least 17 page length if we're pretty generous. At less than 1% of those, no matter how many characters they threw into a handful of stories, you're rather in the dark about what was going on, especially if you had for some reason disregarded details like the place Clark even worked for almost that full time. You might as well just read one random story that you love from that era and say the same thing you would if you'd read an Alan Moore collection.

    Post crisis, almost any development will tell you that you have to go back to Byrne to really understand. You can create one of those crazy web diagrams like a detective on tv, and if someone doesn't know how to follow it back to Byrne, they don't really get it, do they?

    But... those sort of things really aren't the end-all be-all for the impression of someone who can't be bothered to pore over comics all day. If you know what you like about Superman, you get Superman.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuwagaton View Post
    But we have no idea if someone knows less or more. Even if they try to explain how much they know because expressions can fall short.

    If we're trying to find a baseline to validate that someone knows what they're talking about, I think it's a pretty easy and unremarkable minimum to find.




    To have a grasp on Superman, you can just go around Google for like a half hour. But I'm going by this:



    to be an authority on the character of Superman is... I don't even know. No offense, but for one thing, there is no possible way to deem what should or shouldn't be done regarding the bronze age by reading a few Alan Moore stories and ignoring developments like WGBS. I know you said the basics, Ascended, but that's not really different from being unaware. My personal start of the era is Oct. 1970, and it ended (with more certainty) with cover dates for Sept. 1986. That's about 500 Superman stories of at least 17 page length if we're pretty generous. At less than 1% of those, no matter how many characters they threw into a handful of stories, you're rather in the dark about what was going on, especially if you had for some reason disregarded details like the place Clark even worked for almost that full time. You might as well just read one random story that you love from that era and say the same thing you would if you'd read an Alan Moore collection.

    Post crisis, almost any development will tell you that you have to go back to Byrne to really understand. You can create one of those crazy web diagrams like a detective on tv, and if someone doesn't know how to follow it back to Byrne, they don't really get it, do they?

    But... those sort of things really aren't the end-all be-all for the impression of someone who can't be bothered to pore over comics all day. If you know what you like about Superman, you get Superman.
    But the problem with that is I can watch one episode or even story-arc of say Doctor Who in the Pertwee era and enjoy the main character. I could tell you why I liked him. But if I walked into a Doctor Who fan meeting and proclaimed that "I get Doctor Who" but held that the character wasn't anything like Tom Baker, David Tennet, or Matt Smith ... do I really have a valid point? Or am I someone who needs to be shown a wider perspective of what the character is in order to "get" that he is more than a British secret agent with cool sci-fi opponents.

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