I go back and forth on Tom Crippen’s “Post-Human Review” column in TCJ. I think Gary Groth referred to it as not only the best super-hero column ever, but the best super-hero column possible, and I think that that’s about right — not that it *is* the platonic super-hero column, but that it’s what Gary would think a platonic super-hero column should be. It’s smart and thoughtful and there’s a definite appreciation of super-heroes. But there’s also a fair bit of contempt, and it’s all wrapped up in nostalgia; super-heroes tend to be seen as a metaphor for lost youth, especially lost male youth. Basically, super-heroes are converted into personal agonistic male drama — also known as art comics. It’s done really well (better by far, for example, than Paul Karasik does it in his coda to his Fletcher Hanks volume). And, as I said, it’s done with real affection for super-heroes. Except for Crippen’s foray into literary fiction (which I identified with a shudder in about the first paragraph) I read it in every issue. But still, it makes my teeth hurt a little.
Anyway, in the most recent issue, Crippen talks about Superman. He writes:
got an e-mail with the subject line “Be Superman in Bed.” I knew what they meant. You could say “Play Pool Like Superman”; I would understand that too. Superman would play pool as fast and as well as possible, and everything would be a blur that stood in for the idea of a performance of that sort. Superman is an abstraction that exists because of other abstractions. He exists because of ideas like most, fastest, best. There is some simple grid of measurement underlying our sense of the universe, and Superman exists to represent its top mark. Without him the universe is not the same place; it just doesn’t look the same, we don’t feel at home.
My immediate reaction to this is, “what you mean ‘we,’ white man?” I may or may not feel at home in the universe, but my status as alienated other or stable patriarch doesn’t depend on the handful of mediocre Mort Weisinger titles I read as a child. Crippen’s made a common mistake in pop-culture criticism; just because the pop culture detritus has something to say doesn’t mean that the culture and the pop detritus are one.
It’s too bad that Crippen feels the need to make Superman responsible for all our sins, because when he actually analyzes the character, he’s fascinating. Connecting Superman’s multiple identities and factory-like feats to modernity is pretty brilliant. And the idea of superness as the abstract, mysterious technological quality of modern existence is also nicely done.
So, yeah, still on the fence here. I like Crippen’s ideas and his writing. But I just don’t think it’s necessary to make Superman some sort of central figure in a universal agonized male coming-of-age drama in order to talk about him.