I wrote a post about how DC’s Superman was very white in 1983. I’m now reading Action Comics in 1983 by Marv Wolfman (mostly) and it feels like the complete opposite. It’s epic, bleeds science fiction and is really a joy to read. It’s fascinating that both these titles came out side by side.
Cary Bates’ style was bringing Superman back to his radio, early TV days and Wolfman progressed him. Bates regularly calls him the “Action Ace” and the “Metropolis Marvel.” He often used little narrative boxes that forces you to read it with one of those old radio voices. On the other hand, Wolfman gave Superman bite, put him in a diverse world of aliens and intergalactic mayhem. It’s really night and day.
It’s interesting to think about this after knowing DC would have the Crisis event and reboot Superman with John Byrne. It shows they really didn’t know what to do with the character. They appeased two parties where one wanted to keep it’s very white and conservative version and the other screamed for an upgrade. And you see that in the letters section.
Wolfman defines Action Comics
Wolfman’s reinterpretation of Braniac defined Superman in Action Comics in 1983. It was a great story but after it ended we got back to basics’ Superman in issue #547. But the question at this point is, ‘what is Superman supposed to be?’ An intergalactic hero of universal proportions or the protector and miracle of the whitest city in America?
It’s easy to reinterpret the time in today’s lenses. I’m not intending to say that Bates and Paul Kupperberg’s stories are bad. They’re fun and entertaining. I’m merely pointing out something that’s interesting and very obviously striking. Something that might not have been noticed at all during the time. And as I move to 1984 I’m curious with what’s in store. Does the publisher and editors double down on Wolfman? Or do they continue the compromise the will inevitably lead to a Crisis and a reboot? Stay tuned.