Saturday, October 03, 2009

Teaching Comics--Man of Steel by John Byrne

I'll say upfront that my pairing of Dark Knight Returns with Man of Steel may not have been the wisest choice.  If I had it to do over again (and I probably will), I'd teach Marvel's Civil War instead, or just forego surperheroes all together because they are really hard to do in a class when you're also trying to look at all of the other groovy things that happen in comics.  We could easily spend 15 weeks the appeal of superheroes in our society, on the difference between DC and Marvel heroes, on the difference between decidely good guys like Spider-man and not at all good guys (yet still heroic) guys like Deadpool, on whether the X-Men are metaphors for race or sexuality, on whether Wolverine's claws could slice through Superman's skin. Instead we spent only two and half weeks on superheroes and the rest of the time we'll look at memoirs and non-fiction narratives/journalism and race.  That meant choosing superhero books that were representative, but could also stand alone.

All that said, I also chose Man of Steel, precisely because it stands in sharp contrast to DKR and because it is a direct result of the same impulse that gives us DKR--namely, a desire of DC's part to re-boot marquee characters.  I thought the contrast would make for interesting class discussion.  I was wrong.  So so wrong.

The students, collectively, almost unanimously, *hated* Man of Steel.  They hated its lack of irony, they hated the unambiguous line drawn between good guys and bad guys, they hated Clark Kent's/Superman's old-fashioned manners and way of being in the world.  It was a disaster.  Where Bruce Wayne was adored for being so wracked with guilt and grief about his parents' deaths that he is driven to a psychopathic vendetta across the city, causing himself great physical and pyschological damage, Clark Kent was mocked for doing the right thing simply because it was right and he could.  He was simply too unbelievable for my students. 

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Maybe in the future Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's All Star Superman might be a better example of a Superman story to teach in comparison to Dark Knight. Like Dark Knight it is an envisioning of the end of its heroes career but it's certainly a more positive text, more of a reconstructive approach to superheroes to Dark Knight's deconstruction.