Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Nothing I’ve read about Man of Steel, even from those who appear to
love it, has swayed me from avoiding the movie until I can watch it
for free via my local library system.  Actually, I’m not even sure
I’ll watch it then.

Superman is one of the greatest characters in comics and, arguably,
the greatest super-hero of them all.  But that was then and this is
now.  Then he was a brightly-clad inspiration who spoke to all of
our better natures.  Now he is just another dark brawler, reduced
in spirit, more kin to the worst of our natures than the very best
of them. 

This is where someone out there will get all offended and proclaim
“He hasn’t seen the movie yet!” Correct, but I don’t need to have
seen the movie to recognize and comment on the debasing of
Superman.  That tragedy is all around us.

There are some very fine people in my birth town of Cleveland, Ohio
who have tried to honor Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators
of Superman.  Yet, even with the best groups and organizations who
have attempted this, the emphasis is overwhelmingly focused on the
corporate-owned creation and not his creators. 

The corporation savagely abused Siegel and Shuster and their heirs.
They sicced the most predatory of lawyers on the heirs while many
mewling fan-zombies applauded their despicable actions.  Neither DC
nor the lawyers nor those walking dead of heart understand the core
message of Superman. 

I have been invited on many occasions to take part in the various
local celebrations of Superman’s 75th anniversary.  I’ve declined
them all.  Show me a celebration of Siegel and Shuster, show me a
condemnation of DC’s heinous treatment of those men and their kin,
show me a lament for the debasing of their creation...and then I’ll
gladly be a part of the “festivities.”

Twenty-five years ago, I tried to honor Siegel and Shuster through
my involvement with Neverending Battle Inc.  That was ever my key
interest in that Cleveland organization.  To this day, despite what
ever else happened to me and others as a result of my involvement,
I’m proud NEB kept Siegel and Shuster from being the forgotten men
of that celebration and that the group managed to put on one of the
best conventions I’ve ever attended.

Everyone in the organization had their own reasons for being part
of NEB. A few were like me.  Some were Cleveland boosters.  A few
thought it would be their ticket to comics careers.  Two of them,
the worst two, were more interested in Superman as a stepping stone
to their hoped-for future careers as event promoters.  They didn’t
give a damn about the stated goals of NEB.

One of those men is now dead, the other has been reported to be in
a distant city.  Both were connected with the Cleveland elite and,
when NEB came crashing down around us, they were protected as the
local media laid all the blame on a board of trustees duped by the
two men.  The joyous birth of my son Ed was followed by an enormous
shit storm of condemnations and threats and financial loss so great
it still pains me to think about it.

This is not a plea for any kind of sympathy.  There was a time very
early on when I could have walked away from Neverending Battle and
spared myself much anguish.  I chose to believe those two men who
had already proven untrustworthy because I really wanted Cleveland
to celebrate Siegel and Shuster and because I arrogantly, foolishly
believed I could keep them in line.  That’s on me and no one else.
I ignored that these men were scorpions.

The damned Cleveland Plain Dealer published my business address and
phone number in their deceptive articles about the collapse of NEB.
While I was dealing with a failing business, failing to a certain
extent because I had paid for well over $50,000 in merchandise for
NEB to sell and for which I would never be compensated, I started
getting dozens of angry phone calls each day.

I learned that services the trustees and I were told were donated
by various companies and individuals were not and had never been
intended to be donations.  We were lied to and now those creditors
were demanding payment.

I learned that money collected at the International Superman Expo,
funds I calculated to be in the neighborhood of $150,000 had been
dispersed illegally to those two men and their cronies.  All that
remained in the organization accounts was enough to hire a lawyer
to handle the bankruptcy and dissolution of NEB. 

I learned of other questionable occurrences and deals done and made
behind our backs and in the shadows.  One recipient of these deals
bragged openly about his crooked score, though I’m pleased to note
he later ran into considerable trouble with the authorities in his
related endeavors. 

I lost a few friends in the aftermath of NEB.  I also received an
incredible nasty phone call from one of the celebrity guests.  She
had profited greatly from the Expo, but, because she didn’t want to
stay at the hotel that had donated rooms for her and others, ended
up having to pay her own hotel bill.  That bill could not have been
for more than a pittance of the tens of thousands of dollars that
she made at the show.  After haranguing me for a good 30 minutes,
she hung up when she finally realized her bullying wouldn’t get me
to personally to pay her bill.  Even if I’d wanted to pay her bill
- and I can’t imagine a world in which I would want to appease such
an awful woman - I couldn’t afford it and it would have set a very
bad precedent with other NEB creditors.  

Digression. The hotel in question would try to collect all of the
NEB hotel bills from me because I was the only NEB person available
to them.  They hired a sleazy lawyer to harass and then sue me.  My
own sleazy lawyer dropped the ball on this one.  I had to enlist a
second attorney to get the lawsuit dismissed. 

I never cared about the nasty celebrity, but other lost friendships
pained me greatly.  Over the years, I have been able to repair some
of those friendships as people realized I was one of NEB’s biggest
victims.  One man who lost as much money as I did never blamed me
and I remain eternally grateful for his friendship.

Cleveland had come to the International Superman Expo and some of
NEB’s other events and had a great time.  But the city’s movers and
shakers almost never opened their wallets or made time to help out
the organization.  I had signed on to the Board of Trustees on the
promise that other more connected Clevelanders would soon sign on
to add the clout needed to get things done in the city.  I waited
too long for that to happen.  It never did.

The next year was a struggle.  I lost my business, but I survived
due to the support of my wife Barbara and my true friends.  I took
some small comfort from having honored Siegel and Shuster, from my
part in a really great convention and from my being able to rescue
some treasured items to return them to their proper owners.  Small
comfort, but comfort nonetheless. 


The June 21 issue of Entertainment Weekly cover-features “75 Years
of Superman.” The biggest image on the cover is an incredibly
powerful image of the Man of Steel in flight as drawn by Curt Swan
and inked by Murphy Anderson.  The artists are not credited inside
the issue. “Comic-Book Superman” is copyrighted DC Entertainment as
if a corporation had the hands, heart and integrity to create such
a powerful image.

I’ve only skimmed the Superman material, but one sidebar caught my
attention.  It’s a “close-up” of DC Entertainment co-publisher Jim
Lee.  Asked to name “the best thing about drawing Superman,” Lee’s
response is disgustingly juvenile:

“All the incredible wreckage and rubble and destruction that a tiny
little figure can create on a page.”

It’s a child’s delight in breaking someone else’s toys and this is
one of three men charged with the care of Superman and other great
creations.  He doesn’t understand Superman.  DC Entertainment does
not understand Superman.  The arrogant and shallow makers of Man of
don’t understand Superman.  

Why would I celebrate their Superman?


I have not hesitated to read spoilers about this movie.  Frankly,
when I watch movies or television shows, I can spot what’s coming
a good 70% of the time.  So it doesn't "spoil: the movie for me if
someone tells me DC’s new dark Superman fails to save many
millions of people from horrible deaths or that he kills the villain. 

Mass slaughter and destruction are Hollywood’s substitutes for
characterization, for entertainment, for inspiration...and the same is
increasingly true of super-hero comic books.  There are blessed
exceptions, but many of our current generation of comics creators
don't "feel" super-heroes and don't understand super-heroes and
don't seem to like super-heroes much.  They are poor imitations
attempting to destroy what they can never be and dismiss what
they can never achieve.  I can only hope their time passes.

I will always respect “my” Superman and I say that for the benefit
of the ignorant trolls who will try to frame my comments in their
irrelevant “he’s lost in the past” canards.  You see, part of the
greatness of Superman is that he can be updated again and again and
for generation after generation.  Part of the greatest of the Man
of Steel is that he can be as big an inspiration today as when he
was created.  Part of the greatness of this last son of the doomed
planet Krypton is that he can speak to all times...if his handlers
understand the character and the intent of his creators.

But they don’t and I doubt they ever will.  The current handlers of
this mythic creation are just creatures of mindless entertainments
and soulless corporations.  They are less real than Superman.

Overcoming them may well be Superman’s greatest challenge.

Siegel and Shuster created a legendary hero.  Any celebration must
start with them and continue with the determination that theirs is
the Superman that matters.
© 2013 Tony Isabella


  1. Thank you, Tony. I've realized that the Superman I know is nowhere to be found anymore. It hit me when I was filling in back issues around 2000 and picked up a copy of Under a Yellow Sun - the difference in those books after only 6 years was so great it didn't even feel like I was reading the same character.

    Today I've gone back to Pre-Crisis Superman for my Supes fix. If DC ever remembers how to write Superman, I'll take another look at new stuff. I'm afraid that just doesn't seem too likely in the near future however.

  2. Geez Tony, I had no idea all that stuff with NEB had gone down, nor that it had come down so hard on your head. It is the No Good Deed credo multiplied by a billion. I will decline to offer sympathy, per your request, but I admire your ability to survive that experience with your humor and grace intact. I have no idea if I could do as well in that sort of situation (very probably not).

  3. Well Spoken Tony. The superhero myth is delicate and has all but been shattered by today's comics and movies. "gritty" and "real" was never what these things were about. When you watch two and a half hours of super beings destroy everything we humans have built in their personal little war - the horror of the situation starts to set in and you start to think about how many people are dying in this destruction. Innocent people. If this shit happened in our real life I think people would never go outside - we'd spend all our time cowering in fear in the dark afraid that the supergods would smote us down.
    Is this Superman? Not even close. What happened to fun?
    And Jim Lee can draw pretty - but he is and always will be an idiot.

  4. Your Superman points are spot on. Modern comics with their annual mega events over 60 comics and 12 titles are lost on me. The 90's comic kings are alive and kicking and ruining the medium for me. The last great comic I read was Kingdom Come and it is for the very reasons you've stated - Superman as an idea and ideal, his ability to rise above, his power as a symbol. Everyone wants heroes to be "like us," human and flawed. Well it all blurs together when everyone of them is presented like that.

    Thank you for such a great entry.

  5. I saw Man of Steel the other day and was appalled. The people who made this movie have no understanding of what made the character of Superman appealing and iconic. Instead of finding a way to update that character for modern audiences, they have Pa Kent suggesting Clark should have "maybe" let his classmates die rather than risk exposing his powers. And later, Clark does, in fact, stand by and let his adoptive father get killed by a tornado, rather than use his powers to save him. WTF? Who in their right mind thought this would make for a Superman anyone could root for?

    And in the end, this Superman kills General Zod with his bare hands, rather than finding some other way to deal with the villain.

    I deeply regret spending money on this film.

  6. The people who made the movie followed the example before them. This was an excellent portrayal of the John Byrne Superman. It almost makes me cry that this is what Superman has become, but it certainly can't all be laid at the feet of the movie people.

  7. Just watching clips on movie review shows turned me off on Man of Steel. Ed Priz convinced me that watching it would be a bad idea (and if the other tony's right, there's yet another reason for me to not like John Byrne). This shouldn't have been Dark Knight with a cape, but then we're talking about DC/WB. I agree with Christopher that Kingdom Come was the last great superhero comic. Even back in the early '90s, when the Grim 'N' Gritty orthodoxy was barely getting established, I was planning to base my villains on the new breed of superheroes and (I quote my younger self) "destroy the superhero universe" in the story I was then planning as a comic and am now novelizing.

    Speaking of said undrawn comics novelization: back then I toyed with throwing in a satirical villain named "Jim Rhee, King of Marvel-DC". I had to laugh sadly at how the real Jim Lee has come to resemble my satire...

  8. I think we have a disconnect here. I think the movie is using the A team action rules. You can shoot off guns everywhere, but no one gets hurt. I don't think Superman disregarded the safety of people, I think (aside from Krypton) no one died here. I totally agree that Pa Kent had his soul stolen. But I don't think we have the kind of death count that people are thinking of.

  9. We've lost our heroic heroes. In that vein, any update on your impressions of CW's Arrow, as the body count grows?

  10. I enjoy ARROW. Though in the past, for convenience sake, I have referred to Oliver Queen as a hero, he really isn't a hero. What he is...is an incredibly fascinating and layered protagonist, a description that could apply to several other characters on the show.

    There's room for both truly heroic super-heroes in comics and comics movies...and flawed protagonists. But, as I see it, Superman must be one of the standard bearers for the truly heroic heroes.

  11. I saw Man of Steel, and while it was interesting, it wasn't great. They made the following mistakes:

    They had Zod kill Jor-El before Krypton exploded. This was to establish Zod as the villain of the piece, but any true fan knows Zod was already in the Phantom Zone when Krypton exploded, and didn't escape, according to the books, until much, much later.

    Jonathan Kent sacrificing himself in a tornado?!? Lame. Martha Kent is not supposed to be a widow, a la May Parker, and right away you realize they were ripping off Spider-Man, though last year's film fudged Uncle Ben's death just as badly.

    Christopher Nolan already established in his Bat-trilogy that he doesn't care about the source material. Thanks to those who reminded that when Zod was killed in the books a while back, it was in a pocket universe created by John Byrne, enabling Zod to be brought back into canon much later. Proof once again that the current administration doesn't care about older readers/fans.

  12. I liked the movie, or at least parts of it ... But don't love it. And a Superman movie should inspire feelings of loving it. I might pick up the DVD if it passes by cheap, say 2 bucks, or I might not. Over the past days the Superman movie has caused an itch which viewpoints like yours help scratching - your words (and that of others) help crystalize why I don't love the movie...

    My Superman is of the '70s and '80s. I read it for a while after the Byrne reboot, but had long and truly left when he (Superman) got killed. I've followed bits and pieces since, but it's like grabbing hold of a ghost. Perhaps I'm stuck in the past too........ but so what.


  13. Well done (as usual), Tony! Even if I disagree with some things, the overall message is spot-on. (Thanks to Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, who recommended your post in her blog about the film.) A few points:

    --I had no idea all that had happened with NEB (I don't think you even went into it in your CBG columns)--holy crap! Sounds tailor-made for AMERICAN GREED. I hope it was cathartic getting it out here at least, and that you take comfort in karma; those responsible will get what they deserve.

    --Good catch on the Swanderson art on EW's cover; I thought it was someone else. EW is usually okay at crediting artists (the other "comic book Supermen" in the main article are, in fact, given credits, including Curt Swan). The fault I think lies with the company supplying the art; sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. And if you think the comics are bad, you should see the *storyboard aritsts*--I don't think even one has been credited in the last three years I've been reading the mag!

    As you know, unfortunately, with "work for hire", the corporation is considered to actually be the author/artist so the credit is "legally" and "technically" accurate (though not ethically--which applies to a lot of things!) Remember, we live in a nation where a corporation has the "right" to "free speech" too! :-)

    As for the film, I concur. And so did Bru-Hed, if you're interested: http://wednesdaysheroes.com/brus-reviews-man-of-steel/

    The stupid thing is that Superman didn't HAVE to kill Zod (a "sleeper hold" puts the victim to SLEEP), NOR let his Dad die (two words: super speed! Clark coulda carried him to safety literally in the blink of an eye and no one would've been the wiser.)

    I just wonder, though, for the 75th "festivities", if you could have spoken for no other reason than to give credit where due and be a voice for S & S. Kind of as an "infiltrator" rather than a "conciliator". Just thinkin'.

    Hope to see you in San Diego!!

    Mike Pascale