(Or Why I think Irish comics don’t need a Superman)

BY David Ferguson

Trying to come up with something to write this week was a bit of a tough one but I ended up coming up two or three ideas that I thought might work. But being as it is the comic book topic of he moment, I decided that it had to be something to do with the Man of Steel, Superman. Monkey see, monkey write and all that. But as this is for Irish Comicbook News, I had to come up with an Irish angle. Hence the title “Why I think Irish comics don’t need a Superman”. I think I must highlight that this is “in my opinion” and that I don’t hate the character (I do tend to pick the odd run by favourite writers and artists) but I don’t think I “get” him really in as far as if I was offered him to write him, I would probably go with “no”. I could, maybe, come up with one story where he visits Ireland and faces all the magic here with exciting results but it would have to be red pants Superman. I think I don’t “get” him for many of the reasons that I don’t think Irish comics need him. And so I finally start getting to the point of this piece.

For a start, there’s his power set. I could joke that the problem just has to do with the fact that his powers wouldn’t work over here as the it rains twice a year in Ireland. Once for 260 days and the second time for 100. I think it is the opposite in fact. A character with his powers is too powerful to just cover Ireland. I’d say he’d be done by midday, Monday, January 1st and could move into semi retirement and that wouldn’t make a very long or very interesting story. I suppose a good writer (not me obviously) could make the magic weakness work but there are only so many magic stories you can do for a character I feel is more suited to science fiction. Magic foes or not, I still think he’d be running the place pretty quickly which gets me on to the next point. He is a bit of an authority figure and, given our history, we don’t do well with authority figures. With a history of hostile invasion forces, from the vikings to dreadful American popular music, we would more likely to see Kal-El as something to rebel against.

Behind the power set is the man himself. He is called the Big Blue Boy-scout (I’m taking that as a compliment on the characters good morals). Take a look at the best known Irish heroes CuChulainn and Fionn MacCumhaill. They are far from being boy-scouts. CuChulainn was prone to what would a modern readership would call “beserker rages” and racked up quite a body count in his relatively short career as a hero (see the Celtic Warrior graphic novel for details). Superman doesn’t kill and keeps his anger in control. Even with my lack of investment in the character, I think this is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. He will find a way around it and if he doesn’t, it is the fault of the writer and not the man from Krypton. He’s no Fionn MacCumhaill either. Fionn was fond of feasting, merriment, fooling opponents and wasn’t averse to chasing after the ladies even if said lady was with someone else. I think Superman would object to such moral lapses. A lot of Irish heroes seem to share these shades of gray. Their tales are influenced by the complicated politics and history of this island. Many of tales were altered to paint a picture of Ireland at the time.

Imagine 1938, he crashes in the wilds of Wicklow. Glendalough maybe. I’m picking Wicklow because I’m the writer type person who is from Wicklow. I’m picking Glendalough as every American tourist knows Glendalough even if they don’t know how to pronounce it. “Do you know the way to Glen-da-looo?” I have a witness. It was asked quite often. Anyway, the spaceship lands in the lake and he is rescued by some local farmers. He is raised in the time of World War 2 and rationing that lasted to the 1960s. Raised on the stories of CuChulainn and Fionn MacCumhaill too. Dirt poor. Like a young Patrick Kavanagh, he heads to the Big Smoke to be a writer. Maybe he even falls in with Kavanagh (who was quite fond of the drink). He decides to be a hero and tackles the odd small time miscreant. He probably gives them a bit of a thumping in the process. I’d imagine he’d realise quite quickly that he’d need to go further afield to do more good. He could join the UN Peacekeepers like a lot of Irish people (and my grandfather) did and see the world. I think he’d be a different Superman though. (I am completely sure DC will call me to write this as a four part Else-worlds series except that they don’t do those anymore).

So what I’m saying in the end is that if we did have a Superman, which I don’t think we need, he would be a very different character. He wouldn’t be Superman. There is one part of the Superman story that is an Irish one though. A man who leaves his birthplace only to find his place in a New World. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?