Andrew’s Superman

Well, no…obviously he’s not Superman, why what an idea, Lois…

But he has done another Pop-Drama post, here, that’s all about a possible reinvention of this seemingly un-reinventable character, the one, the only, it’s a bird it’s a plane.

Which is good, because I’ve had a thought in that direction myself.  How to put some drama back into Superman?  Andrew grabs firmly onto the Morrisonesque, the saviour, the symbol.  Me?  I’ve gone to astronomy instead.

And continuity.  You know, there are a lot of things I miss about the Superman of my youth, and chief among them is Kryptonian Exceptionalism.  Not that I miss all the crazy stuff they used to put in there like:  Kryptonian aspirin, it cures a super-headache!  But I do miss the “one and only” stuff, the super-iconicity that you can still get even in quite lousy movies featuring the Man of Steel.  Here’s this guy, and he can do things you and I can’t imagine, he’s a streak of strangeness across the sky.  Sent from the satellite of the red sun, where they scoff at Earthmen for being so primitive that we don’t even have X-ray vision yet, I mean c’mon, what kind of shoddy excuse for a planet is this?  Jor-El sends his son across the gulf of space to escape planetary cataclysm, knowing that when he gets here he’ll have powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.  But you have to wonder:  how does he know that, eh?

What makes him so sure?

And why does it work?

And what’s so special about Superman anyway.

WARNING TO READERS: it gets geeky from here.  And it goes on for quite a long time.

…So, roll the clock forward a few decades and suddenly there’s all this stuff, alien races galore, slightly “harder” SF (which just means more previously-exotic knowledge being streamed into general science education, but you can read all about that in a week or two hint hint), and you can’t go back to the days of the one-and-only.  Because this isn’t the world of the Thirties and Forties anymore, this is a world with a Superman in it, and in this world the slum-smashing, building-scaling, you’re-not-fighting-a-woman-now Superman is as out of place as…well, the world he comes from.  Which means he starts to not add up, slightly.  For one thing, red giant stars are common in the universe, and satellites around them are common too.  So, say you had an Earthlike planet orbiting about as far away from its star as Jupiter is from Sol — and why such a planet would be habitable isn’t super-simple to explain, but you could say it had some weird internal heat-process going on, Krypton had those “fire-falls” and such…if Krypton had actually been the moon of a giant planet like Jupiter you could chalk it up to tidal forces, but oh well…

…But say you had such a planet, and it was life-supporting, and the life was all kind of photosynthetic:  sucking up the low intensity of light from its star, which at that point would be a “yellow” star pretty much like our own.  Okay, then the star begins to expand, and get cooler, which means redder.  So the amount of luminosity the planet gets goes way up, which is good…but the spectrum-peak of the sun’s output slides way down.  So Kryptonian life gets a boost of energy, but can’t process it as efficiently since their adapatation is to the “yellow” spectrum peak (it’s actually a green spectrum-peak, but never mind that now)…and of course if you were to figure life in the yellow-sun days was pretty rough way out there at the Jovian-scale orbit, you might expect all the Kryptonian organisms to be using the energy they derived from their sun, like a LOT, just to survive.  And if you figured that, you’d probably also figure it’d be an evolutionary habit they’d have no reason to break.  Hence you might expect to see the fauna (not to mention the flora!) get very charismatic as soon as light starts getting dumped in buckets all over the planet, instead of trickles.  Even if it’s red light;  all it means is that Kryptonians could only go “Superman”, could only develop a huge energy-surplus in their tissues despite their high energy-use, if it was a yellow sun they were under.  And the inherited “heavy use” of the absorbed energy could still explain why Superman can blow through his energy surplus so quickly under certain kinds of extreme stress/special irradiation…

But I don’t want to go down this road too far, since I’ve promised Nathan a very chewy bit of unapologetically geeky fan-fix along these same lines, for his blog.  Suffice it to say:  okay, that would make sense for Kryptonian life, to develop an adaptation like that.  Stars like our own spend ten billion years “yellow”, about ten million years as red giants…then they turn into white dwarfs, and sit around waiting for the universe to end.  So this is all demonstrably a long enough time for ecosystems to evolve, and it gives the Kryptonian civilization itself, which I think we’ve been told at some point was 500,000 years old — not the species, the civilization was 500,000 years old! — more than enough time to a) never ever have known a different stellar environment than one with a big red sun in it, and b) be reasonably sure their world will just go on and on, and on and on, pretty much as it is until some incredibly distant time.  And this pretty much accounts for everything in the Superman story, except for just a couple of things.  Except they’re big things.

The first one is:  then what in the hell’s so special about Superman?  Red giants are common;  why would just this one produce such phenomenally universe-beating adaptations?  Hell, having two of them would make it even weirder…you know how many red suns are out there in the Milky Way?  Why wouldn’t the place be teeming with potential Supermen?

And here’s the second:  given that the Kryptonians were, for whatever reason, super-asskickers under a yellow sun…well then, why in the world weren’t they?  Asskickers, that is:  I mean, how hard would it have been for them to whip up a massive galactic empire?  Alternatively, if it would’ve been so easy, then why didn’t the Guardians of the Universe slap a big-ass cordon around their solar system, to make sure they never got out of it?

Or weren’t they, after all, that special.

But damn it, they must be special!


So, okay…red giants worked well enough in 1938, maybe even in 1958, 1978…but now they’re not quite special enough to do the job.  So how about a red supergiant instead?  Red supergiants (you may know them as the stars that go supernova) have a far shorter lifespan than ordinary stars, way too short for ecosystems to form…no one would even look for people around them, astronomically it’d be a crazy waste of time.  Or, even better, how about a red hypergiant? Much like a supergiant, but bigger:  hypergiants are stars that are pushing the limits of how much crap a star can have in it before it flies into pieces — the odds of finding people around a hypergiant would really be next-to-nothing, they don’t even last five million years from start to finish, heck it’d probably be a shock even to find a planet around one.  Hypergiants, at least we can hypothesize, would make for a very scary stellar neighbourhood — little bits of star flying around at significant fractions of the speed of light, you wouldn’t want to fly any ships around in it!  Even if (somehow — but this is comics, it’s all about the “somehow”) a planet were to form, and an ecosystem were to develop, intelligent life were to evolve (somehow…), one thing you just wouldn’t get out of any of it would be a race of star-travellers!  Because that’s just crazy.

Hmm, again…

So if Krypton was a planet orbiting a red hypergiant, that’s a pretty big “somehow”…which bodes well for us, because we’re going to need all the somehows we can get to explain how life evolved on it, and even why in the hell that life would have any sort of energy-sucking adaptation…because it sure wouldn’t need it, in that environment!

And so that’s a somehow too far, for my purposes here today.  We’ve made the Kryptonians special only at the cost of making them so massively unlikely we’d need a somehow that was Very Special to account for anything about them…but most of all what needs to be accounted for is why in the hell anyone living around the most short-lived (and in the case of the hypergiant, most super-volatile) of stars would ever be the slightest bit complacent about their world coming to an end in some gigantic catastrophe!  In the old red giant model, it’s fine:  the Kryptonians are a latecoming species on their world, born at just the right time to flourish and become great…ironically in their star’s senility.  That late-born magical child they said you were too old to have:  a wonder.  Of course the big debate on Krypton would then be, “did we come along nearer the beginning of the red giant phase, or nearer the end of it?”  Because 500,000 years is a long time, and if the Kryptonians were anything at all like us they must’ve spent about another million or so as prehistoric…and if they spent more time than that, it’s getting up to a significant chunk of their star’s life expectancy as a red giant.  15%?  20%?

But there’s still wiggle room, and no one likes a doomsayer, Jor-El.  You can imagine all the bushwah flung around throughout the ages of the Kryptonian civilization, probably a lot to do with how “Rao wouldn’t let it happen” (hey, isn’t that the name of their sun, too?) or how the unbelievers must be stoned to death…lots of bad, self-serving, self-congratulating science for the proud Kryptonians who compete so well in their mad, wild, charmed world…

Well, it’s not too bad, eh?

Unfortunately, though, there are two problems with it.  The first being that red giant stars are not fucking SPECIAL!! And the other is…well, why does Krypton even blow up, then?  In a supergiant or hypergiant system, we can believe it might:  those stars go through some relatively rapid changes, one can imagine tidal stresses becoming a factor, perhaps.  Massive ejections of stellar material or something.  Somehow.  But the good old red giant’s a placid beast by comparison…and besides, we’ve been over this.

But then it can’t be a super- or hypergiant either, and we’ve been over that too!

But it has to be one or the other, and worse than that it pretty much has to be both, and it even needs a great big fat Somehow to make any of it work…!

So what’s the solution?

Happily, there is one, and it doesn’t involve rewriting all the broad strokes of DC’s published internal “history”, either.  Just one small part of it.  And it wouldn’t even be the first time:  why did you know that, so far from being the one, the original, the one-and-only, Superman’s been relegated to the status of Pretty Strong Guy who Came Late To The Party?  Not only doesn’t he have any justification for being the Best anymore, he doesn’t even get to be the First.

So…it just came to me one night…

Why not make him the Last?

“The Man of Tomorrow”, they called him way back when.  Let’s make it literally true, and restore some of that old Red Giant glamour.  The late-arising race, the wonder children.  Want to know why the Guardians didn’t slap a big cordon around this scary bunch of overachievers?  It’s because there weren’t any Guardians around anymore, to do it.  And there weren’t any yellow stars for the Kryptonians to conveniently go to, anyway.  Night falls on the universe, and most of the stars have long since moved off the Main Sequence.  No alien races, no Legion, no Space Cabby, no Starman…no nothing, it’s all just too far out there, past the fences of time-travel.  Even the Time-Trapper’s not around.  As far as anyone would know (if they were there, which they’re not), the universe is already as good as dead.  Galaxies slipping back over the edge of the Hubble Volume, fading from the night sky.  It’s the end of everything.

Except for the star Rao, and its lone satellite Krypton, waiting there on the edge of the dark, completely self-involved.

Well…not completely.  One thing the Kryptonians can do, is look at stuff:  they’re the luckiest practitioners of telescopy there ever were, as all the light from all the events that ever happened is theirs to catch, sort, catalogue.  Seeing out for billions of light-years, they observe all…uh, that is until the things they’re observing fade out, vanquished by cosmological expansion.  There is, as it happens, a cut-off point past which the Kryptonians can see no more, and it’s always advancing on the past.  In the records of their observatories, events are marked down which are now (bizarrely) too recent to be witnessed with any telescope…and Krypton’s long-ago Dark Ages mark the point at which they stop knowing their deep history, which is our far future, at the same time.

But our past…that, they still know quite a bit about.

Is it Bob Haney enough for you yet?  I must confess, it’s hard balancing science with bullshit this way…hold on, I feel another one coming over me…

Rao, as the last of the great stars, has a peculiar chemical makeup:  lots of elements that in our day are rare, run through it in profusion.  Since this is comics, some of them are elements we ourselves know nothing of:  futuristic, way-out stuff.  So therefore, Rao is weird:  it’s very big, bigger even than a hypergiant, but it holds its form and it keeps on going.  Somehow.  It isn’t on the Main Sequence;  it’s on a whole other kind of sequence, the sequence of the Last Generation Of Comic-Book Universe Stars.  Krypton, its planet, is full of all this stuff too, since of course it was part of Rao’s solar nebula (as we still call those things)…not “just” radioactive, but pulsing with unimaginable impulses, Krypton doesn’t have anything so simple as a nickel-iron core.  Its rocks and plants and animals and people aren’t just made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.  Krypton’s got a lot of things going on, things in every science we just can’t conceive of.  Except, that is, for astronomy.

Which they used to worry about:  were they born at the beginning of Rao’s red giant phase, or more toward its end?  15-20% of a red giant’s ten million years (it’s big and it’s dim and it’s cool, but crazy Rao’s also stable, so that says “red giant life-cycle” to any casual observer…besides, everyone knows life wouldn’t have time to evolve around a star with a super- or hypergiant’s evolutionary history) is a heck of a lot of time, you know!  Ages ago on Krypton, there was serious millenial panic that lasted a thousand years, and tore up everything…until they were released from fear by an advanced analysis of their unique star.  Rao, the Eternal — in functional terms, it might just go on and on, limitlessly.  The last of the universe’s civilizations might also be its longest-lived ever.

What a relief!

But unfortunately, planets aren’t stars…and the same thing that makes Rao “eternal” makes Krypton a doomed world.  Deep in its core, exotic materials interact and fluctuate, begin to separate into strata over time.  Eventually, according to Jor-El’s research, an extremely energetic layer of anti-gravitic metal (“Negative Metal”?) will form around the core, crushing it as it explodes off all the rest of the planet into cosmic debris.  Let’s say he knows this because he discovers the Phantom Zone, which exists throughout all time and space:  but Krypton is its farthest point of extension in time.  In fact he can get a pretty good date for the planet’s destruction out of his Phantom Zone analysis.  Gee, too bad you can’t use the Phantom Zone to escape into the past!  But although the materials exist on Krypton to fashion a machine that can open a portal to it, once you’re inside there would seem to be no way out into a time that doesn’t also possess such a machine, and the exotic power-source necessary to drive it.  Whoops!  So logically, what you’d want to do is figure out some way of making a time machine, send some people out in it to some other region of space, have them set up a Phantom Zone portal, then you all go into it and get pulled out again back in the past.  Unfortunately, if no one even believes you that the planet’s going to blow up, you won’t be able to do that, so.  Might as well load your infant son in a time-travelling rocket ship and send him off, then…to that funny litle place you can just still make out in your telescope, where he’ll have powers and abilities blah blah blah.


So here’s what results from that:  as the elements in Krypton stratify out, the crust turns to Kryptonite and the Negative Metal starts to sheathe the core…then boom.  Powered by that explosion, and the tremendous radiative force of Kryptonite, little Kal-El’s rocket ship hops over the fences of time-travel, to land in Smallville several billion years before the star Rao even condenses from its cold cloud, and out he pops with his personal future a mystery:  as what hasn’t been seen, hasn’t been set.  Dragged along in his wake, a few tons of the deadly green glowing stuff, which sort of lands all around the planet at random.  And that’s all the Kryptonite there is or will ever be:  not just the rarest substance on Earth, but the rarest substance in all the universe.

Anyone care to guess what the second rarest substance in the universe is?

Must remember to save some stuff for Nate…meanwhile, now that the long preamble’s over, let’s get to the new Pop-Drama Superman.  Which for me needs that “specialness”, that “either First or Last” business…and a set of superpowers resulting therefrom that’s practically unchallengable.  Sure, some other species under a red sun might develop amazing energy-sucking capabilities too…somehow…but they weren’t from the last red sun, the Sun at the end of the Universe!  And that makes a big difference:  bigger and cooler and much more ancient, my proposed Rao would’ve operated for a lot longer as a red star, giving Kryptonian organisms much more than a mere three or six million years to improve their energy-absorbing adaptations through competition, and the species that came to tame that planet were the most efficient energy-absorbers of all (it says here)…retaining their sensitivity to the particular spectral distribution Kryptonian life started out with in the “yellow” days, their general sensitivity to light just went way up, perhaps to take better advantage of their star’s very occasional variabilities.  So:  super-duper powers for Clark Kent.

But additionally, a unique cosmological status:  as Superman’s personal timeline is the only one that goes “back” all the way to the end of time.  Other folks in the DCU might have time machines, but they can’t step into them and rocket back to their own past, to change anything but the past;  Superman’s past, on the other hand, is the future itself.  And along with that dazzling fact, one even more dazzling:  his past is the only route “back” to Krypton, the very last world of intelligent life, the very last home of all universal history.  If you were Lex Luthor, you’d say “screw making Kryptonite-powered machines, I want to go there!”  If, that is, you ever figured it all out.  Which there’s no reason to think you would, except you happen to be Lex Luthor, and so that means if anyone’s ever going to figure it out, it’s probably just down to you and Brainiac-5.  And maybe Brainy already knows the story, somehow…

But enough with hints.  Here we have a Superman very much like our own, disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, with co-workers Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and fitting into the general sweep of the existing DCU quite smoothly.  Lana and Lex, Ma and Pa, Pete Ross, Smallville, Lori Lemaris, Patty and Violet and Shermy…the whole shebang.  Fortress of Solitude, Legion of Super-Heroes, JLA, World’s Finest, even CoIE if desired, basically just all the stuff you would ever want to stick in there is fine.  Only, a couple of things would be different:  one major one being that Krypton returns to its “Amazing World Of Krypton” portrayal, and another one being that Doomsday never existed…or if he did, he had a completely different origin.  Also, the story of the space-travellers Kryp and Tonn is apocryphal as it obviously must be even without my changes, though I wouldn’t rule out the idea that it hints at a real historical occurrence, since many folk-stories do.  (That Kryptonian schoolteacher was like one of their fundamentalists!  She wasn’t supposed to be telling those kids that story!  The Science Council probably put her in the Phantom Zone when they found out!)  But outside of that, it doesn’t really matter all that much what gets stuck into this Superman of mine, so long as it pays attention to the loose handful of things I’m attempting to stick onto it.

Which are, in no particular order:

1. What’s Superman’s hobby? Superman’s biggest hobby is collecting Kryptonite, the amazing, world-transforming power source that powers a great deal of advanced Kryptonian technology, and that also happens to be the only thing that can kill him.  Which seems only fair:  uranium kills us, after all!

2. What replaces the justification for Clark Kent being a reporter, now that it obviously wouldn’t help his crimefighting efforts? Madeley and I have discussed this before, in his “Delineated” posts.  Clark Kent is a reporter, and not just a reporter but a freakish throwback of a reporter, because there are some things Superman can’t do.  He can’t expose corruption, topple governments, smash vast conspiracies, or act politically.  But Clark Kent can do all these things, because he’s not only a very good writer and researcher, but he’s also secretly Superman.  Perry White doesn’t even know what to do with the guy, he seems to have imbibed a lot of old crap about the intrepid investigative reporter with the press pass stuck in his hatband, he’s just a big dumb cluck of a farmboy who happens to be able to write — Clark Kent’s dangerously naive, and should’ve been killed about a hundred times by now, but he always turns in the story, and he sells papers.  He just happens to trip over his own big dumb cluck feet every time somebody shoots at him.  Guy is to crooks what Scud missiles are to Patriots.  Huge problem for Perry!  Like it wasn’t bad enough when he just had to deal with Lois Lane, but at least Lois understands what the words “stupid” and “dangerous” mean.  She doesn’t care, but at least she gets it.  Clark Kent just seems to lead such a charmed life that he’s got no concept of getting in over his head — he’s an awful coward, but he doesn’t see things coming, so he just goes mildly along writing articles about Intergang and such.  So then certain other people seem to take this blithe attitude on board, Jimmy Olsen for example seems almost to idolize Kent, but Jimmy’s life is far from being charmed…despite the outstanding pictures he gets, Perry was all set to fire Jimmy until Superman showed up and gave him that signal-watch, promising he’d keep an eye on him.  And Perry feels like he was a bit railroaded there, but Superman or no Superman he can’t really blame anyone but himself for letting Jimmy stay on.  That damn Kent’s infected him too, he sometimes thinks:  he looks at Cat Walker and wishes he could fire her, strip her useless (but popular!) gossip-column garbage out of his paper, and fill it with more…well, more what?  More 40s-movie intrepid-style newshound stuff like Lois and Jimmy and Kent bring in?  It’s ridiculous, he catches himself looking at Steve Lombard thinking “why do I tolerate this clown?”, and then he remembers that any paper in town would love to have Lombard in their sports section, for Christ’s sake what’s happening to Perry, he’s becoming a Hollywood parody of a newspaper editor, next thing you know he’ll be chomping on stogies and keeping a fifth of Scotch in his desk drawer, slamming down his receiver all day on one of those old-style telephones…

And then there’s the other justification for Clark Kent working as a reporter, specifically a reporter at the Daily Planet…because Lois Lane works there.  Lois Lane, who does everything he does only without the benefit of having bulletproof skin and X-ray vision and super-hearing, and all for the same reason:  that business about truth and justice.  Clark Kent is a Lois Lane fan, in part because he knows that she’s actually a better reporter than he is;  he wanted to work at the Daily Planet because he admires her.  Then he gets there and he can’t really understand her:  she does interviews with people like Lex Luthor, and seems somewhat sympathetic to his point of view about Superman keeping technological advances from the world.  She seems suspicious of Superman, he’s just another story to her.  Everything’s a story to her, and she’s brash and she’s cutting and she’s all that stuff, but she’s kind to animals and blah blah blah, and she’s still uncompromising and he still admires her, and wants to know what makes her the way she is.  She gets the Superman interview because he wants to convince her he’s good and Luthor’s bad;  the more she’s attracted to him the more rigid her objectivity about him as a public figure, the more committed her critical weighing of his actions.  Is Clark Kent occasionally playing this for all it’s worth?  Hey…if it were me, I might do a little of that myself, you know?  Yes:  it’s time to mainstream a little superdickery.  Not much!  But just a little.  Lois Lane likes Superman, but holds his feet to the fire when she feels it’s necessary — cannot be said to fully trust him, because wow, yes let’s all trust and adore the Superman what a marvellous plan!  Not that he doesn’t think it’s an admirably principled stand.  But would he snicker a little when someone at the Planet mockingly called her “Superman’s Girlfriend”?  Sure he would.  Might he not, as Clark Kent, rattle her cage a bit both by writing gushing Superman pieces, and borderline anti-Superman pieces?  Yes, he might.  And then as Clark Kent he can get close to her, as Superman he can be all handsome around her as he saves her from falling to her death…oh, Superman, what a game you’re playing, are you sure you want to go down this road?  You know it isn’t exactly the most ethical thing you’ve ever done…oh, but come on, this is a unique situation, there aren’t any ethical codes set up for this, and besides he’s just got to know what makes that woman tick…! He’s fascinated by her.  Hmph, “fascinated”, oh Superman, if only you could admit to yourself that you’re falling for her a little bit, come on wake up, man

Don’t worry, he’ll straighten up and fly right soon enough…remember, he’s just a farmboy, he’s got a big secret, he’s fairly young yet and he’s feeling a bit at sea in big-city life…he’ll figure it out, he just has to figure it out, that’s all.  And besides, it’s still not nearly as icky as “Superman Returns”…

3. What’s Luthor’s deal, is it gonna be that baldness thing? You know, I actually like the baldness thing, so maybe.  But not mainly.  The thing about Luthor is that he’s a scientific genius, so a thing that really interests him is Kryptonite…and where it comes from, and how, and why, and what the hell it even is.  He puts a lot of this together in a hurry, Superman clashes with him more than a few times before he ever grants Lois her interview…so it’s Luthor that tells the world Superman’s an alien, Luthor who explains from his prison cell all the very acute stuff he’s deduced about who and what Superman must be…Luthor who’s studied Kryptonite the most extensively and perceptively of anyone on Earth, Luthor who explains all that it could do to help mankind, and how Superman’s secretly scooping it all up.  The one thing they got right in “Superman Returns”:  Superman really won’t share.  He’ll stop some earthquakes and expose some government corruption, but he knows perfectly well he’s choosing not to do everything he could:  heck, compensating for that is a big part of what the “mild-mannered reporter” identity is all about, after all!  And to tell the truth, the split identity is indeed reflective of a certain amount of cognitive dissonance our man suffers.  And that’s important stuff:  shouldn’t he give STAR Labs a tiny piece of Kryptonite to experiment with?  Shouldn’t he try not to indulge himself by rattling Lois’ cage?  I mean there’s no instruction manual for any of this stuff, he has to figure it out as he goes…and so this particular underwear-on-the-outside psychodrama is all about finding your place, standing on your own feet, being your own man blah blah blah…in slightly less cliched terms, about developing one’s own ethical code.

Well, sure!  You didn’t think these things came ready-made, did you Lois?  You can’t buy ethics off the rack, after all…though it seems many people try.  “Luthor must be bad in order for me to be or because I am so good…Lois must see that!”  No, actually, that isn’t the way it works:  that isn’t a mature ethical posture, and it won’t stand up to much.  It won’t lead to “doing good”:  because it’s neither truth, nor justice, and it certainly ought not to be the American way.

And isn’t that realization what’s really missing from Superman?

Doesn’t that “big blue Boy Scout” thing just get goddamn old, after a while?  Prescriptive, idealized, perfect ethics that you receive just by standing there because you’re so awesome:  never needing to perform any but the most minimal and formalized and safe actions to maintain your status as moral exemplar — a Scout is brave and clean and reverent, and that’s all there is to the story, now shut up and pose for the camera.  Well, that’s not what Siegel and Shuster’s Superman was all about, it’s not what I’m about, and I trust it’s not what any of you are about — also, it’s not what any of the Superman stories I’ve ever liked have been about — so let’s jettison the thing with a big fat raspberry, and pay it no more mind.  Boy Scout and Emo Whiner:  we need to get rid of them both.  Both caricatures of superhero ethicity.

Because they just won’t go with what’s on tap:  Krypton can’t be found, and it worries Lex Luthor, the pre-eminent expert on All Things Superman.  He’s found a way to synthesize small amounts of Kryptonite, though it’s at very high cost…but don’t think he’s planning to share it with anyone!  In fact that’s why he’s a super-crook, you see:  he always needs more money, to make more Kryptonite.  It isn’t necessarily about having a beef with Superman — it’s about having power.  It’s about being special.  And in many ways, Luthor is a reasonable man:  but his tragedy is that he’s an opportunist, and he knows it, and that’s what makes him dangerous even though he is in many ways a reasonable man.  People always argue that Luthor’s character is motivated by jealousy, and in a way that’s true, but that makes it sound a lot simpler than it is…maybe it’s true anyway that Luthor might’ve been a great man if Superman had never come to Earth, but to Luthor himself the feeling is more like he would not have been a great man without his nemesis, and that’s true as well.  Doing whatever he wanted to do would’ve been easy for Luthor, without Superman around;  maybe too easy for him to have bothered with it.  After all, what does he really want? To live in sybaritic luxury?  But that’d be barely an afternoon’s work, for him.  Couple of patents, boom.  There you go.  To be respected?  Obviously, his intellect is respected.  To indulge his scientific curiosity?  He indulges it each day, whether he’s in a laboratory or a prison cell.  In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but the two-eyed man is bored…and there is no way for him even to explain to those around him the difference between having one eye and having two.  So he sighs, and he closes one eye;  what else is there for him to do?

And so Superman, Kryptonite, Krypton…these words are like rain in the desert, to him.  In my version of the story, Jor-El never tells us the name of his home planet, and Superman never utters it.  Instead, it’s Luthor himself who names it:  mystery, occlusion, secret…as he opens his other eye.  He longs to know what the Kryptonians really called themselves, longs to know what they knew.  If he were Clark Kent he’d put his genius in the service of mankind, but he doesn’t have that sort of imagination, before Superman comes into his life he is aspirationally inert…and then suddenly, one day, he isn’t.

And it totally pisses him off!  Oh, Superman is so special, eh?  My specialness is just a byproduct of his, eh?  Well screw Superman, I’ll have the bastard in little pieces on slides under a microscope by the time I’m done, I’ll have every bit of his magic specialness out of him.  The hell with him.

Of course, he’s doomed to failure, because Luthor has no idea what and who Superman really is, where he comes from, why he’s there.  Or anyway…

…Not yet, he doesn’t.

So, I dunno…I guess five thousand words on this is enough?  Yeesh, I had no idea it’d take so long.  Not sure I’ve succeeded in daylighting the theme enough, may have to return to it…

Oh, no.  “Andrew’s Superman Returns”?

But that’d just be confusing

36 responses to “Andrew’s Superman

  1. Or to put it a bit more succinctly: Superman’s from the future, Luthor resents feeling “saved” by him, Lois is a professional at her job damnit, Clark is a deceptively hapless-seeming shit-disturber, Perry White is harried, Kryptonite is valuable.

    Huh. Coulda just said that.

  2. Me, Superman? *You* might think that, *I* couldn’t possibly comment…

    Actually, a lot of this would work very well with my stuff, and could fit in quite well with it. Partly because I was in part inspired by Red Son, and the ending (which Morrison gave Millar) is very similar to your premise – it turns out Superman is the last descendant of humanity, sent back in time millions of years after our sun becomes a red giant. And the El in Jor-El? It stands for Luthor…

    But this is brilliant, much better than mine…

  3. I was going to point that out about Red Son too.

    One traditional Superman-element that you can’t have with this is Kandor. Well, actually, there are a few; can you have the Phantom Zone and its prisoners? Supergirl? Krypto? You probably wouldn’t want to try.

    Anyway, I like all this.

    One thing that I’m not sure how you’d fit into all this is Daxam. I will stipulate that Daxam is a huge pain in the butt for anyone who feels like stopping and thinking about the DCU for two seconds, because what do you do with the place? You don’t want another fully-populated Krypton just hanging around, but there it is.

    Did you read that Sandman story – it was in one of the later post-series collections, I forget what it was called – but it featured a bunch of gods and goddesses and cosmic beings and stars hanging out with the Endless circa the birth of the universe, and here’s why Sol is the way it is and Oa is the way it is… and here’s Morpheus’s brother Destruction having a little chat with Rao, and Rao is becoming more and more interested in what he has to say…

    As for why Superman’s so good… this goes back to that long conversation we had in the comments to that one “Seven Soldiers of Steve” post, but it’s mostly because of the Kents’ influence, right? Plus Batman’s influence, and Lois and Jimmy and Perry’s influence, and (but only partly!) Luthor’s influence, and the responsibility of Supergirl, and probably just his own personality. Similarly, Luthor’s evil not because of Superman, but because he doesn’t know himself very well, and doesn’t realize that he will always justify any self-serving action he takes by blaming someone else. That’s another discussion we’ve had before: who’s smarter, Superman or Luthor? And I think the answer to it comes out of Dungeons & Dragons: Luthor has a higher INT but Superman has a higher WIS. (Of course, there’s also the famous “super-intelligence”, but that seems to be only narrowly useful.)

    Why hasn’t DC ever made anything of the fact that Kryptonite and Green Lantern energy are both green? Couldn’t they, shouldn’t they, be the same thing, somehow? And they’ve got a relatively prominent green-energy-powered superheroine who doesn’t seem to get her powers from either of these sources (Beatriz da Costa, aka Fire, aka Green Fury, Green Flame, formerly of Justice League International and the Global Guardians, last seen with Checkmate)! Silliness.

  4. Ah, Matthew, yes, Daxam…I did think of that, actually. It would just need the tiniest of tweaks. Absurd to think the Daxamites and the Kryptonians are not related genetically, I mean how weird is it that Kryptonite would be the essential ingredient of the cure for lead poisoning? Kryptonite, of all things! Lex Luthor looks out into deep space to find Krypton, Superman’s home, where his enemy comes from…and it’s not there.

    He’s looking in the wrong place, and for the wrong thing!

    I’ve read one issue of Red Son, and didn’t like it much — people tell me when you read it as a whole, it’s a lot better. I don’t think I quite care for the exact ending you describe (musta missed those details when I was railing against the idea that the Sun would go “supernova”), but having Superman come from the future really does work, for a lot of things. So, happy to copy it to that extent! But I’d rather have that Sandman story, I don’t remember where I read it but I really liked it. I do remember that conversation of ours…I think in the end you do have to say Luthor’s got something creative going on with his smartitude that Superman can’t touch, but Luthor never uses his brains on a really tough problem, all he does is try to figure out how to beat Superman. He could probably figure out how to resize Kandor in about two minutes, but no it’s always about the robots and the deathtraps, and those things aren’t really the smart stuff he does well. And, hmm, Kandor, I hadn’t thought of Kandor…I think you’re right, that’d need more than a tweak. Supergirl and Krypto I’m fine with, I don’t really care too much about Krypto (aww!) but Supergirl I’ve got a whole thing for…and you can definitely have the Phantom Zone and its inmates! Since that’s what the Kryptonians would’ve been using the PZ for once Jor-El discovered it, but before he’d analyzed the chart of its extent in un-space. Then, after that…well, I figure when Jor-El thinks of a plan, he thinks of a whole plan, so basically Kal-El’s rocket was a prototype for a rocket he might’ve used to send a whole bunch of adult Kryptonians (not their real name!) back to the ancient universe, using the planetwide Kryptonite explosion as fuel…with the Kryptonite trailing along behind the spacecraft then being used by them to power an aperture into the Phantom Zone once they got where they were going. Then it wouldn’t really matter if all the inmates get out, you see, because they’d be pretty drastically outnumbered. If anyone had listened to him, the population would’ve filed into the Phantom Zone some hours before the planet exploded, leaving the expeditionary force to launch just as everything was going boom. As things worked out, though…it’s all just the same, criminals in the PZ, Krypton destroyed, theoretically no one should be able to escape from the place.

    I think james would love the Kryptonite/Green Energy connection…hmm, think I better revisit that a bit, didn’t we talk about that in the Hulk/LSH thing too…? GREEN stuff. Oh wait, now I remember…

    And Andrew: Hooray, an Urquhart joke! Those are the best. I should see if I can rent all of those…yeah, I don’t know if it’s possible at this point to fully escape the Morrisonian vision of Superman, it’s become quite thoroughly worked-in, at least for me. He’s riffed on every part of the traditional Superman story by this point, so everyone who likes Morrison and essays this Pop-Drama installment will likely be connected under the skin by the themes he keeps returning to, and the tactics he likes to use. I wouldn’t’ve tried that particular Haneyism up top if it weren’t for his willingness to pound on Krypto-Heaven, for example…

    Man, I was dying to get that one out, though! I just like thinking about it. So thanks for changing your blogging schedule!

  5. Red Son is a mixture of the incredibly obvious and the very clever. Bits of it seem recycled from that Superman 2000 proposal by Morrison, Millar, Waid and Peyer, while the ending (by far the best bit) comes from Morrison. The bits that are new to it are by-the-numbers Elseworlds. It’s the thing of Millar’s I’ve been most impressed by (other than stuff that he officially co-wrote with Morrison, like Aztek or Big Dave) but that’s setting the bar *VERY* low indeed.

  6. Absurd to think the Daxamites and the Kryptonians are not related genetically, I mean how weird is it that Kryptonite would be the essential ingredient of the cure for lead poisoning? Kryptonite, of all things!

    It’s like DC is setting up a situation where Kryptonite and lead are the opposite of each other, like matter and anti-matter or something. Well, what if they extended that? Could you make Superman invulnerable to Kryptonite if you gave him some kind of lead-based serum? I don’t know if I’d want that to work, but I think there could be a story there anyway.

  7. I love the idea that Lex knows, deep down inside, that he wouldn’t be a better man without Superman there. But, man, Lex is such a problematic character. When I was a little kid, it was enough that he was an evil scientist bent on destroying Superman. After awhile, that didn’t work for me.

    Free-floating evil scientists are kind of dumb (not like super-heroes). Fun, but hard to justify for more than one appearance. Hell, even Victor Frankenstein and his descendents can’t go further than that one experiment over and over. I liked the evil businessman who people don’t know is evil Lex, but that only gets you so far. Eventually, a Superman who can’t bring down an evil business man because he can’t prove he’s evil (!) is ineffectual. The current Luthor, evil scientist occasionally used by the government, isn’t too interesting.

    I like Lex Luthor, though. His personality comes through in other media, from Gene Hackman to the voice actor from Superman Adventures/ JL(U). Morrison found a great way to use evil scientist Lex in All-Star, but only as a last antagonist. He’s a great villain to build up to, to end with, but there’s something about him that doesn’t quite work.

    I agree that Boy Scout Superman is kind of lame, but I feel he should stay that way in the JLA. Let him work out his kinks in his own titles, but he should be the character younger super-heroes look up to. Filling page after page with other characters saying how great he is won’t fly, of course, but his actions should inspire/ lead other characters.

  8. I always focus on the wrong thing, but let me just say I love the Perry White characterization – the guy who closes his door, sits down at his desk, and thinks “How the hell did I end up with employees like this? Is it my problem? Aren’t I a good manager? I wish I could fire them all, but they’re just too good at their jobs…” A man who takes time to take stock of his life and is always ill-at-ease with what he comes up with. And I love instead of the Perry White who’s like the last surviving old-timey newspaper editor, maybe when he started in the business he was a totally lean, totally progressive dude, early adopter of internet technology and everything, but years of being in charge of the Planet staff has sort of ground him down into that stereotype. The REASON he doesn’t want you calling him “Chief” is because THAT’S JUST RUBBING IT IN, don’t you see, Jimmy?

    Sorry, I used to work at a newspaper, too.

    Anyway, onto Superman … I think acknowledging that “there are no rules” for him is the best way to deal with the problem of why Superman doesn’t just fix everything. Superman is constantly re-evaluating himself and his purpose, and that’s what makes him great, I always think, but also what keeps him from being more effective; Barry Allen gets superspeed and he makes himself a Flash costume and starts fighting crime without a second thought, but young Clark Kent is thinking “Okay, do I … do I just walk into the UN and start making demands? No, that can’t be right…”

    And with him needling Lois – I think that works really well too, because it shows that he *is* only human, he has feelings too, and maybe that’s why he doesn’t just fix it all. “Well, I’m hardly perfect myself, am I? Who am I to impose my will” etc.

    Then there’s Morrison’s “I’m a scientist’s son” bit. Of course, if he really were he wouldn’t get involved AT ALL, so it’s interesting to wonder if he doesn’t almost feel *guilty* sometimes when he changes the course of human events.

    I don’t see where people get off saying Superman has no moral ambiguity; there’s more shades of gray to him than Batman, they’re just dressed in brighter colors.

  9. And let’s not forget that Morrison may have gotten the idea of the Man Of The Future from good old Jerry Siegel himself, who threw that idea out as far back as 1934.

    Here’s a link if you haven’t heard:

    Personally, I miss the more morally complex Lex Luthor of the Silver and Bronze Ages who was the selfless hero of Lexor or mourned when his vendetta against Superman may have led to Lincoln’s assassination or who, in an Elliot S! Maggin story, chose to save an innocent boy’s life instead of escaping from Superman.

    Much more interesting character in my book.

  10. Wow. Outgeeked.

    The key elements here are positively delicious. Putting Krypton out in the post-stellar future, where it could have been eternal but for a cruel turn of fate. Knockout.

    Likewise, Perry White doing his level best with a newspaper, in the fading days of newspapers … whereupon it gets supercharged by Lois Lane landing scoop after reckless scoop, the acme of the crusading reporter of long ago. While that amiable straight-arrow Kent is quitely, systematically setting out the plain facts of human worth and injustice in a way nobody can ignore. And the freckled kid just walks into the most extreme occurrences of a world that’s turning … super. I love the way you have it that it’s getting out of what he thinks is control, but damned if he’s not going to stay on that tiger and ride.

    That is how the Daily Planet can be the stable background of the stories, and their dynamic too.

    Awright. The time I considered writing Superman fanfic, I was drawing on my own experience. In ’57-58, my father got an academic fellowship with the Rand Corporation, when they were trying to employ game theory to manage the nuclear balance of terror. Took his family to the States for a couple of years. He wasn’t quite Jor-El to me, but he was an adult taking responsibility for something huge, fantastic and scary. It made a structural impression on what I tried to do with my life.

    So my Superboy is my contemporary. Atomic energy destroyed his home planet, and he’s determined to see we don’t use atomic energy to destroy ours. He can’t ensure that by power alone, so he has to get to grips with the human condition from the inside; that’s why he goes on being Clark Kent.

    My Lex Luthor, meanwhile, is a caricature of Edward Teller, nuclear scientist and nuclear weapons ideologue. In my fic he escapes from Hungary to the US in the Uprising, gets FBI clearance on his flawless anti-communist credentials, masters particle physics in no time because he is a prodigy, is part of the H-bomb development effort … and then gets kicked out, because one of his unauthorized experiments with the meteorite-remnant mineral he calls “kryptonite” blows up and kills a bunch of people with radiation poisoning. He has the classic mad scientist setup: This discovery was so crucial that I had to work alone. Klaus Fuchs! Even Los Alamos was infiltrated by Soviet agents. The fools … did they think world dominance can be won without sacrifices? Then, once he’s on the outside, disgraced, he turns his genius to robbery and extortion, to fund his secret nuclear laboratories. And Superman, of course, is his obsession.

    So Kent and Luthor are set up as the humanistic and militaristic sides of the question of the Atomic Age. A slow battle of wits would follow. Except that I was distracted by Superboy taking his first interstellar flight without reckoning on time-dilation and winding up 1000 years in the future, and then there’s the time his host at a swanky Gotham City fundraiser shoots Clark Kent point-blank in the chest. “You know, you took a big risk there.” “No, I merely confirmed my deductions.” And stuff.

    How would I have ended this? I never thought. But think the arc could go: (1) The Clark Kent and Lois Lane stories keep making a difference. Steadily, there’s more truth out in the world, paranoias are debunked, human values are attested, optimism wins. (2) Superman fields all the threats of a world turned super, one after another. Luthor is the one enemy who persists and keeps pace with him, but in the end Luthor is faced with a world without enemies, in which doing good with science is the only practical thing. (3) In the course of his adventures, Superman’s powers increase exponentially, until they are too much for Earthly concerns. (4) Lois learns Clark’s secret and becomes his trusted ally, but eventually finds someone else. (5) And finally, Superman’s work is done, and he goes into suspended animation for the next 100,000 years, confident that Earth will have evolved into a second Krypton where he will truly be at home.

    In the end, the whole thing would be about all our big anxieties. As I see them.

    Now, thanks for the cosmological horizon links. That’s for me to think about sometime, I’m not good at reading those diagrams yet.

    The second rarest material in the universe … hmmm, maybe it will come to me.

  11. The second rarest is… love. Wait, no, that’s the fifth element. Shit. Wait! I know! Unobtanium! Right?

    What I like here is that you’ve turned Superman into an actual science-hero, like all his Silver Age compatriots.

  12. Oh, I do like that, Jonathan…Luthor’s the last one to leave the villain party, Lois marries someone else…Luthor discovers Kryptonite! It’s got a lovely feel, a worthy addition.

    Sorry I lost the article I yanked the expansion diagram from…and I’m not enitely sure I agree with the opposing article, but it’s nice to have the controversy out there. The matter of cosmological horizons is a spooky one, and I tweaked it a little because I had a sequence in mind: somehow Luthor finds out Superman’s secret (by this point people like Batman and the JLA already know, probably), and manoeuvres him into a time machine…”back” over the fences of time they fly, out into the heat-death wilderness, to Krypton where Luthor hopes to find out — of course! — his own future. The only problem is, the Krypton he’s arrived at can’t see his future any longer…in order to find it out, he’d have to search back through Krypton’s astronomical records, and maybe they don’t have the most detailed records of that little planet anyway, maybe Jor-El came across it as a young man, saw perhaps back to 1935 or so…to know about what happens after, Luthor has to find an earlier researcher who was also interested in Earth, and so it’s all spotty and complicated and archaeological…he has to dig into Krypton’s past to see his future. A little like the All-Star scenes with the future Supermen, it’s cryptic stuff…and then he has to go, because the planet’s going to explode, and he almost stays because he thinks he’s finally found something…and then Superman saves him, throws him back in the time machine.

    Thought that might be nice.

  13. And Bill, hey thanks! Okay, I guess I’ll give you a hint, here it is:

    There is a huge single chunk of this substance on Earth. Uh…actually there may be two identical huge chunks of it, I’m not quite sure…

  14. Oh, and Marc: thanks for the Siegel link! Still a man ahead of his time. I wish he’d finished “The Starling”.

    My perfect Maggin Luthor is actually the one from his “Last Son Of Krypton”…

  15. Finally, Justin: yeah, I love Perry! Missed the “don’t call me Chief” bit, thanks for filling that in…he’s the only sane man at the Daily Planet…

    Wish I’d thought of that image of Clark wondering whether he ought to go to the UN, too! Batman’s got no shades of grey to him, naturally: ain’t he black and white?

  16. Batman’s got no shades of grey to him, naturally: ain’t he black and white?

    No, of course not. He might seem that way from the perspective of Superman stories, but he’s just as complex as Superman in his own way. Let’s not be overly reductionistic about this.

  17. Very tempting to just make Daxam the planet that orbits a sun called Rao…the only problem being that it wouldn’t fit the stellar requirements. Then after visiting Krypton, from the state of their archival knowledge Luthor could figure out how far off in time it is…knowing that, he could extrapolate backwards and find Daxam, do something nasty to them that gives them all the sensitivity to lead. Their power levels would have to be lower than Superman’s, maybe with Mon-El being a sort of mutant freak who processes energy at a much higher level. How could they then possibly survive such an extreme sensitivity to such a common element? Doesn’t matter: as we know, Superman would save Mon-El by chucking him in the Phantom Zone, entirely unaware that by doing so he’d save his future…as a thousand years later, Brainiac-5 cures him with synthetic Kryptonite. Never did understand why the other Daxamites wouldn’t be allowed to benefit from that cure…

    Slight problem of how the other Daxamites survive into the 30th century. It sure wouldn’t be easy.

    But then again, as neat as it is, it works just as well to have the Daxamites be the very distant forebears of the Kryptonians, and tweak them ever so slightly in a different way.

  18. Irony for Luthor to make lead poisonous to them, when lead’s what Superman uses to protect himself from Kryptonite…

    GAH! No, no, no. Must stop thinking about it this way!

  19. Well, Daxamites go about their everyday lives without being affected by lead, so we can conclude that you just don’t see lead around that much on Daxam. Maybe it doesn’t occur there naturally, or maybe they got rid of it all, or something.

    The anti-lead serum wasn’t always based on Kryptonite; that was a later ingredient that happened after Mon-El started developing an immunity to the serum. (Note: the original serum was created by Saturn Girl, who used her power of “super-thought-casting” to diagnose the correct remedy. I say that this is a lot like having Bouncing Boy use his power of super-bouncing to diagnose the correct remedy.)

    In the reboot they solved a lot of problems with Daxam by having them be xenophobic isolationist jerks. Who cares how powerful they are if they all refuse to leave their planet? And then in the threeboot, Daxamites were long extinct, after a war with Trom. Easy to see how that one went.

    I think the other Daxamites didn’t get the cure because it’s too hard to mass-produce and distribute, and they didn’t seem to be suffering without it anyway.

    Anyway. You can use Daxam for a lot of neat stuff with Luthor and Krypton and what have you, but in the end you still have to decide: do you have a planet of these guys around, or not, and if you do then what do you do with them?

  20. The biggest problem with the Daxamites is the lead — to keep them on their planet, my favourite solution is to make them kind of timid, then you can have Mon-El’s occasional sobriquet “Valor” acquire an extra layer of meaning. And go in just whatever direction with it, to the land of the Silver Age pun or the land of making everything Link Up and Make Sense. And indeed that’s a big part of my big geeky Thing for Nathan. But in this formulation it doesn’t really matter what Daxam is, except for the lead…which if nothing else makes them appallingly easy people to wipe out. Might as well have Daxam genetics make their way to “ancient” Krypton in a few million years…maybe a descendent of Mon-El’s can be the originator of the “Kryp and Tonn” myth…Krypton, which no one’s ever found, which is this big fat mystery…one day somebody finds it and realizes what it is, tries to explain to them what it is “this is Krypton! You’re Kryptonians!” (gestures) “KRYP-ton!”

    Hmm…and that would mean the freaky thing Lex Luthor discovers when he travels “back” along Superman’s timeline, that blows his mind…is that they call the planet Krypton after all.

    Which would be impossible.

    Or, maybe that’s how he realizes Krypton lies in the future in the first place? He discovers they used the name he invented for them.

    Okay, that actually kind of works…so then whatever happens to the Daxamites, in the end there’s only the descendents of Mon-El, and Superman really did save his own future, all-unknowing.

    I think I can work with that.

  21. Oh, except I can’t! Because red giant stars are still common!

    So either Mon-El must have had some sort of comic-book-style lab accident (or something), or that’s it for him! And the Daxamites can’t be very special at all! Unless they are much less a “Kryptonian type” than has ever been seen before — I think I’d have to make brand-new Daxamites, if I wanted ’em.

    Oh, well…back to the drawing-board…

  22. So I guess our sample space is

    1. All red-sun planets are pretty much the same.
    2. All red-sun planets are pretty much the same, except Krypton, which is special. Daxam is not special, and if that means we can’t have Mon-El, then so be it.
    3. All red-sun planets are pretty much the same, except Krypton and Daxam, which are independently special.
    4. All red-sun planets are pretty much the same, except Krypton and Daxam, which are special and somehow related to each other.
    5. Many or all red-sun planets are special.

    But I kind of like

    6. Red-sun planets are wild-ass places, each one of which has a different surprise for us, in much the same way that red Kryptonite always affects Superman differently.

  23. For a reasonably wide range of “pretty much the same”, it’s 1. and 2. we’re looking at — if the whole exercise is to explain why Krypton is independently special, it’s self-defeating to make Daxam special in the same way, without adding anything special to it, and especially so in the case of Krypton and Daxam being somehow related. Mon-El can still be made “special” by the lab-accident route — I can think of a couple different ways to do that, even if they’re a tad clunky — and the link between Daxam and Krypton can still be had, but the Daxamites as a race can’t be special in the same way Kryptonians are.

    I’ll admit 6. is appealing, though!

  24. The Daxam Problem could be solved with a little evil tweaking. Here’s what ya do.

    1. Daxam is a backwater. Not just in location, but in culture. It’s a subsistence agriculture level of technology. Daxam in our era is roughly like the Earth circa 1000 BCE. Space travel is out of the question. The Daxamites have no concept of space itself. Moreover, nobody else in the galaxy capable of space travel gives a rat’s ass about Daxam. It doesn’t have rare elements, it’s not well located, and it’s not a threat to anybody. It’s just kinda there.

    2. Daxam is nothing like Krypton. The sun is red, sure, but all of the crazy stuff suggested by Plok above isn’t there. It’s a very strange world, and Daxamite biology is very odd, but not in a compelling way.

    3. By 3000 CE, the time of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Daxam has advanced to the point of very light interstellar contact. They learn about the LSH, Superman, and the idea of superheroes.

    4. They also run afoul of the Dominators. The Dominators, curious about the newly spacefaring Daxamites, to see what kind of threat they may someday present. They kidnap three and take them to another world to study.

    5. The lab world has a yellow sun.

    6. The captured Daxamites on the Dominator lab world become super-powered very quickly. They aren’t Superman-level powered immediately, so the Dominators are able to kill one of the Daxamites early on. The other two escape and tear the place apart.

    7. The Dominators are horrified. A planet of potential Supermen? Who will hate the Dominators? The Dominators dispatch their entire warfleet to Daxam.

    8. The two superpowered lab rats chase the fleet to save their world.

    9. But back in the Daxam system, under a red sun, they lose their powers gradually. Despite inflicting huge losses on the fleet, they are unable to stop the Dominators.

    10. Daxam is destroyed. One of the two remaining Daxamites dies himself in the battle.

    11. The only one left steals a Dominator ship and escapes to United Planets space. He finds a yellow sun, powers back up, and goes looking for allies.

    Problem solved. The Daxamites aren’t running wild as Supermen across space because nobody, including them, knows they could. When somebody figures it out, the entire race is killed before getting powered up, save one: Lar Gand. Gand, due to his battlefield fury and fearlessness, is known to the Dominators, the Durlans, the Khund, and even the Warlords of Okaara by a one-word sobriquet: Valor.

  25. Not bad at all, Harvey! However it’s that “powers under a yellow sun” bit that still presents a problem…why is Daxamite biology so weird as to cast them in this quasi-Kryptonian mould, or is it that it isn’t weird for creatures under a red sun to develop an adaptation that lets them wring power from solar radiation…that gives them superpowers under a yellow sun but then will also cause those powers to be “driven out” when back under a red one. Oh, well…I’m actually not going to touch that bit here, so I shouldn’t bring it up, but still: if it’s normal to possess such an adaptation, then you can still say the Kryptonians have it only more so, but the problem then becomes why is the adaptation restricted to Daxamites and Kryptonians?

    Unless it isn’t, and energy-adaptations like that are as common as red giants themselves…which would mean that it’s only the “superpoweredness” that results from it that’s rare. Which is fine too, but still would need a mechanism.


  26. Okay, how about this:

    Daxam’s only special because it has no lead in its crust. Very bizarre! But this could account for why they develop the energy-absorbing adaptation in what is basically the Kryptonian manner, instead of some other way…and why energy-adaptations like this are rare on planets orbiting red giants.

    Recall that we start out saying life on a planet at a Jovian remove from its (yellow) star would be pretty rough — to have complex organic life emerge in such a cold and energy-poor environment would be tough enough, but humanoid life just doesn’t seem to be in the cards at all. Therefore, the energy-absorbing ability: to drive those processes the Jovian distance would ordinarily militate against.

    HOWEVER! Just what are those processes? At the very least, we have to start out with life that needs to take advantage of the resources around it, and those resources would be minerals. There aren’t exactly any potatoes on a world like this! (Comic-book science, work with me here folks…)

    So what the energy absorbed from the distant yellow sun is being used for at first, is to drive life-processes that take up minerals from the environment in order to grow. But if a lot of the minerals lying around are, um, “radio-insulators”, can we say that? If there’s lots of lead and stuff, it inhibits the absorption of energy, as well as the exchange of energy within the body of whatever life-form you’d expect to get.

    But if Daxam is really really mineral-poor as well as energy-poor, there’d be a lot fewer of these inhibitory substances around.

    COMIC-BOOK SCIENCE! Maybe these adaptations are common, but they don’t ususally work to produce life…and when by chance they do, that life becomes part of the fossil record in a hurry. But Daxam’s the exception — because it’s as insanely exotic-mineral-poor as Krypton will be insanely exotic-mineral-rich.

    So flash-forward a few billion years, to when the sun expands and goes red: lots more energy, even if it’s not the optimal spectral output, and the whole ecosystem gets a big boost, and by that time there are lots of potatoes for the Daxamites to eat anyway…things are fine, but still very metal-poor. Then you get Mon-El arriving under a yellow sun, and getting a “superpower” boost in the general Kryptonian style, though not nearly to the same degree since his planetary ecosphere hasn’t had another couple billion years under a metastable hypergiant from the end of time to evolve the energy-absorption faculty any further. But then WHAMMO! Bit of lead comes along and his system sucks it right up, and it interferes with the energy-flows in his body.

    Superman throws him in the PZ, Brainiac-5 eventually realizes that his condition can be overcome with a mild dosage of the super-radiative Kryptonite…uh, included in amongst whatever other magic ingredients the original pre-Kryptonite serum had, that wore off.

    But now the problem is…how to explain why the Kryptonian adaptation didn’t work the same way as the Daxamite one? So okay, how about this, although it’s getting a tad too time-loopy for me…millions of years later, a descendent of Mon-El arrives on the very early Krypton, in Rao’s yellow phase, where he finds a very small group of humanoids essentially confined to a metal-poor peninsula or something, maybe even living underground in the rock. This is the “Kryp-Tonn” moment: since Brainiac-5’s cure has become permanent in Mon-El’s descendents he can go outside, travel, help the tribe. His spaceship’s wrecked; he becomes the tribe’s headman and takes a wife. Eventually Brainy’s cure spreads through his people, enabling them to have a chance at survival.

    So how’s that? And Lex Luthor still gets to be shocked that the Kryptonians call themselves by the name he made up for them in jail, and that gives him his clue to the nature of Krypton, and then maybe he can, oh I don’t know, arrange for them all to be killed or something, except Mon-El’s already in the PZ so he doesn’t destroy Superman and Krypton after all.

    Whew! That was sorta trying, actually…

    • Forgot to say this: the bigger and redder a star ends up, generally the lower the metallicity it has. So Daxam’s got to be really metal-poor even by those standards.

      But as a big Somehow thing, I think it’s mild enough to live with…

  27. Oh, one thing I pointed out once… somewhere…

    You know how Saturn Girl was the first one to invent the anti-lead serum for Mon-El? And you know how they used to believe that the various known elemental metals corresponded to the planets, where gold was the sun and silver was the moon and so on? Well: lead was Saturn.

    You have to imagine they did that on purpose.

  28. Pingback: Andrew’s Superman Returns « A Trout In The Milk·

  29. I came up with this notion on another post about Superman, but I’d like to post it here. Superman’s powers come from a space dragon that uses a virus to enhance the abilities of a creature. They are still powered by a type of solar energy, based on the mutation of the dragon and the virus. So how is it that Daxamites and Kryptonians affected by Lead and Kryptonite? If the powers are derived mentally, then lead and kryptonite are also mentally derived.

    This kind of pans out in different stories. In Kingdom Come, Superman figures out Magic and is therefore invulnerable to magic. The white martians nearly killed Superman using their mental powers to make him think he’s dying of kryptonite. The main reason why Superman is vulnerable to kryptonite is mental. He feels guilt for surviving the end of his world. Kryptonite is a reminder that he’s the only one alive. It is psychosomatic.

    I bring this up because Dev-em was a Titan kid in the V4 Legion. He admired Mon-el to the point where he developed the powers of a Daxamite. He even suffered lead poisoning. Why is lead considered the Daxamite vulnerability? They’re an isolationist group. Lead is on most planets and most atmospheres around the universe. They developed a lead vulnerability because they didn’t want their people to travel away from Daxam.

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