Thanks for summarizing Byrne’s plot. I wish you had reviewed it, but maybe it’s best that you didn’t because we readers can then give our own evaluations without being influenced.
I wasn’t terribly fond of much of Byrne’s published revamp, but in some ways I prefer it to this unused plot:
1. The “searing radiation”: This element is confusing and unnecessary. Could Lara have been poisoned by it? Maybe not, since Kal-El wasn’t. Did it mutate them, just as cosmic rays changed the Fantastic Four? Whatever changes affected Lara — if any — obviously weren’t enough to enable her to survive the crash … despite Jor-El’s prediction that the “additional factor […] that will help them [plural!] survive.” Maybe Byrne meant to introduce the “additional factor” in some later issue.
2. Lara dying on Earth. Byrne has mentioned this in an earlier proposal. This serves no purpose I can see other than to differentiate this origin from the classic one in which Jor-El and Lara die as a couple. I recall Byrne saying that Lara’s death would serve a purpose: she’d die from kryptonite and thereby prove that it was fatal. Maybe he came up with that after he turned in this plot.
3. Martha’s “pregnancy”: IIRC, in the published revamp, Martha had a cover story: she was pregnant when the Kents were snowed in (sorry if I got this wrong). No cover story here.
4. Jonathan’s death: In the late 30s version of the origin, the passing of both Kents marks Clark’s manhood. This death just seems random. I guess Martha has to survive to sew Clark’s costume.
5. The raid reminds me of Spider-Man’s origin: in both case, a failure to act led to terrible consequences. Would Byrne’s Superman have been perpetually haunted by this incident? Was this a conscious attempt to Marvelize Superman, to give him a psychological weak point? I don’t like the idea of associating Superman with failure.
6. The subway rescue is large in scale, but not as spectacular as the space plane rescue in the published revamp.
It’s still a decent done-in-one, though. I’m sure I’d have loved Byrne’s art, and the conclusion cracked me up: “Sorry, the caped man says, he’s already given his story to someone else, Clark Kent.” And I’m relieved to see that teenage Clark didn’t become a football star which I’ve long thought was out of character. (Maybe he did off-panel.)
I wonder how readers who have read the New 52 relaunches of the Superman titles would react to this plot.
I remember hearing rumor that claimed John Byrne wanted Lara to give birth or Kal-El on Earth (and thus make him a native of Earth in a roundabout fashion) and this pitch confirms it. It would have been interesting to see the fan reaction if this agreement went through. Would other DC characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern (among others) have gotten a similar “reboot”?
Byrne wrote his plot for the potential first Marvel issue of Superman without being asked. I wouldn’t have accepted his plot. I have significant, fundamental problems with it. His take on Superman was just that, his take, not at all what Marvel would have done under my watch.
There would have been a relaunch of all the characters, and some things, of necessity, would have been changed. The reboots would have not been “similar” to what Byrne proposed for Superman.
Could you briefly describe the “significant, fundamental problems” you have with the plot? I’m interested in your take on its mechanics.
Maybe I’m so tired of structureless and/or incomprehensible “stories” that I’m relieved to see a comprehensive story with structure, even if it has elements that just … exist without much impact: e.g.,
– Lara’s death (she might as well have died on Krypton and the story would still be the same)
– Jonathan’s death (no visible effects on Clark; cf. the impact of Uncle Ben’s murder on Peter Parker)
Also, what sorts of things about the DC characters would have to change in the revamps beyond simply restarting continuity from zero? Did you think some elements in their concepts and backstories were dated and/or somehow out of sync with 1980s Marvel standards?
For those familiar with Byrne’s published revamp:
By coincidence, I happen to have The Man of Steel #1 (1986) and Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 by my side right now for reasons unrelated to this post and it occurred to me that both Superman and Spider-Man publicly debut saving spacecraft.
Briefly, Marc, it’s a history, not a story. More documentary than drama.
If Marvel had relaunched the DC titles we would have made them work together as a universe. We would have started with the core concepts, everything that was good about/important to the characters and started from there. Changes and updates would have been made carefully and only as necessary.
Byrne didn’t do that in this plot.
It’s interesting to see what Byrne’s plot consisted of. It’s the opposite of decompression, for sure.
That said, I saw a lot of problems with it even before reading the comments section and Jim’s remarks.
While there is room for criticism of Byrne’s choices, both here and what he actually had published later on, I must say this:
Imagine having the kahunas to actually tackle a project like this!
Even back in the mid-80s or so when it happened, Supes had been around for something like fifty years. Now it’s closer to eighty.
And he’s the first superhero, a cultural icon and even the mildest changes ever made to him have caused people to trample baby seals in outrage, and use chihuahuas as boomerangs!
(Okay, maybe not, but close to it.)
Yet Byrne did it. He laid his kahunas on the table, knowing a lot of people were standing around with machetes, and said, “Here it is, here’s my take, it’s probably not perfect but nothing is, and this is the best I can do with it.”
I was briefly contemplating a post saying, “Byrne’s plot sucked, here’s how I’d do it.”
But really…. as I thought about doing that… it overwhelmed me a bit. Even though it’s just Jim and his followers.
I mean, to redo anything and call it Superman… that’s just huge.
One would almost be better off using those changes on an all-new, different character, rather than one as iconic as Supes.
Are there plot holes in Byrne’s plot? Sure. But I trust Jim and John would have hashed them out before anything was drawn, had it ever happened.
The biggest problem with that for me as Jim alluded to is wondering what happens to Lara’s body? It adds an unnecessarily creepy and alien note to the Superman myth to think that his Kryptonian mother is buried somewhere on earth. You’d have to be reminded of it many times because he would naturally want to visit her grave. It also makes the Kents a little too aware of his alien origins. On an emotional level, it badly mars the joyous moment of Kal-El’s arrival on earth and the Kents’ discovery of him. Perhaps even worse, it would have been too tempting for later writers to build a plot around some villain exhuming her body or dissecting it. She probably would have ended up as one of those “Blackest Night” zombies.