By Mark O. Stack
Grant Morrison once wrote a book telling readers not to bother asking, “Who puts the air in the Batmobile’s tires?” The answer for a time was… Harold, a genius inventor with a disability whom Batman kept as what could charitably be called an “indentured servant.” But the thing is, the answer to that simple question just invites trouble that it’s sometimes best not to think about. I’d also tell that to anyone who asked, “What does the journalism the Daily Planet publishes actually look like?”
When shown serious answers to this question (not the great piss-takes seen in books like Fraction/Lieber’s Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen), the results tend to be underwhelming at best – or confounding at worst. The journalism published by the Daily Planet as shown in Superman vol. 2 #79 (written and drawn by Dan Jurgens with finishes by Brett Breeding) is, to use a scientific term, buck wild. The issue shares the entirety of Daily Planet reporter Ronald Troupe’s news story on the Cyborg Superman that arrived on the scene after the fateful Death of Superman storyline, alongside “silent” panels of sequential art that shows his words in action.
Now, first of all, you may be wondering if I’m qualified to discuss the journalism presented in this issue! Well, I studied journalism at San Diego State University – I did not finish my degree, but noted Superman-writer J. Michael Straczynski did.
In fact, Straczynski wrote many articles for that school’s newspaper, The Daily Aztec, and he went on to have a successful career in the field of journalism before moving into comics. His experience in the field of journalism is, from my position, unassailable. The man also wrote a sequence in his graphic novel Superman: Earth One where Perry White tries to give an example of active versus passive voice and ends up using the passive voice for both examples without a hint that the mix-up is meant to be a joke at the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet’s expense. So if he’s qualified as can be and still wrote that, then Dan Jurgens was always going to be in trouble with this one.
My point is simple: even people with the most practical experience in the field mess up the journalism when it comes time to put it in a Superman comic. And here we have Superman vol. 2 #79 – this baby is an all journalism issue which means there’s a lot here that would probably not be publishable by a newspaper of the Daily Planet’s implied caliber.
We follow Troupe as he writes about how he’s inspired by the legacy of Clark Kent’s body of work, and seeking to honor his legacy by filling his position. Troupe tells us that he came to this realization and asked Mr. White about it while they were clearing out Clark’s apartment – after his apparent death in the surprisingly misleadingly-titled Death of Superman story. Ron then segues this into a discussion of the current status quo in Metropolis: four new figures have arrived on the scene in a bid to replace Superman in much the same way he’s seeking to replace Clark Kent. It’s a nice transition, and the personal component is no doubt a compelling in to an examination of these alleged “Supermen.” But spending ten paragraphs to get there? I dare say, Mr. Troupe buried his lede.
Troupe’s story ends up being about how and why he pursued a story before becoming the story, rather than an actual report of events. His article, while not good, is a better example of magazine feature journalism than anything a traditional newspaper of this era would typically publish… before it then turns into an account of his action hero prowess. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that Troupe routinely makes unforced errors, like the naming of subjects such as “Lana Lang,” “Pete Ross,” or “Oberon” in his story, without ever providing an explanation of who they are to his readers in the Daily Planet. That’s a solid example of how this story’s status as an artifact within the world of DC Comics is undercut by its existence as prose within a Superman comic, written for audiences familiar with DC Comics’ library of characters.
It’s also worth noting that he ends his story about the revealed identity of a new Superman by asking the reader to question whether or not he’ll personally make a suitable replacement for Clark Kent as a reporter. That’s a monstrous bit of self-indulgent ego for a journalist to engage in!
But this really becomes nonsensical once Troupe is dodging attacks from Secret Service agents in his attempt to use a device to test whether the “Cyborg Superman” is the genuine article. At the end of the article Troupe is able to reveal to his readers that this device he’s using indicated that he actually was dealing with the Super-Man himself. How is that not the lede? Why did Ronald Troupe write this as a sprawling column about his personal journey in tribute to his fallen comrade, “investigate journalist” Clark Kent, when a fact-based article about the incident and the identity of the “cyborg Superman” would be more in line with the work of the man he sought to praise and replace?
None of this would necessarily be a problem if this was a piece accompanying the fact-based report of Superman’s apparent return from the dead as a cyborg – but the final page of this comic reveals this long, meandering story to be on the front-page under the headline: “SUPERMAN IS BACK!” This being considered front-page material is a damning indictment of the editorial standards of the Daily Planet, and more than enough reason for readers to never again ask about what journalism within the DC universe actually looks like.
Written and Pencilled by Dan Jurgens
Coloured by Glenn Whitmore
Inked by Brett Breeding
Lettered by John Constanza
Mark O. Stack is a comics writer and educator from New Jersey. His current output includes Young Offenders!, The Scent of May Rain, and other titles released under his Weekend Warrior Comics imprint. You can find him on Twitter here!
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This is wonderful. Maybe Perry works in the William Shawn mould as some kind of pro-literary/anti-tabloid gesture? I’m not going to be able to flick past any newspaper in the background anymore without checking for the 5 Ws or the inverted pyramid- thanks mark!