The Berganza Era: Was It Really That Bad?A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Michael Bailey
Here's a quick comic collecting truth; for every book that a reader likes and thinks is all that and a bag of chips with ranch dressing on the side, another reader will hate with the fire of a thousand suns. There's just not getting around it. Put ten comic fans in a room together and aside from a rather distasteful odor, you'll have an argument inside of ten minutes. It's just one of those things that can't be avoided.
Which is a fancy way of saying that I disagreed with most of what Josh Green wrote in his Silver Soapbox concerning Eddie Berganza and his tenure as editor of the Superman line of comic books.
I understand Mr. Green's frustration. I've been reading the Superman books for nearly twenty years now, and there were many points during the past six years where I wanted to throw my hands to the heavens and ask God "why" as a flock of doves took flight behind me. Like all fans, I have my own opinions on what I like and dislike about the Man of Steel and how he is treated by certain writers and artists. I am flexible, though, and my thoughts and feelings come from a strong sense that the best way to handle Superman or any other comic book character is to craft stories that are entertaining, engaging and fun to read.
Mr. Green's chief complaint was that Superman and the characters around him did not grow and had, as he put it, an "...indifference to bring Superman's story to a new or different level. There were barely any changes made to Superman's status quo for the entirety of Berganza's reign. Superman went through the motions, fighting battles that he had already fought. Whenever anything monumental happened to Superman, the status quo immediately was restored." He gives Pa Kent and the change in Superman's symbol as proof of his argument. Pa Kent did disappear during Our Worlds at War. He did return several months later. Superman also adopted a black background to his shield, which lasted exactly one year. One of these was meant to be a short-lived sub-plot to add a sense of drama to the series, and the other was Superman's way of honoring those who had died during the war with Imperiex and the old symbol was returned at the end of a particularly emotional storyline.
(Also the timing of September 11th cannot be denied. I know that Berganza and his crew had no way of knowing that the terrorist attacks were going to occur, but there is something neat about Superman, who to many is a symbol of America, wearing black after his nation suffers such a heavy blow.)
Mr. Green gave these two examples and left out the one event that rocked Superman's world and led to some of the most interesting and though provoking Superman tales ever published.
Over the course of almost four years, Superman had to live with the fact that his greatest enemy was the leader of the free world and, what's worse, there was nothing he could do about it at the time. Superman and his wife knew what Luthor was, as did some of the other heroes in the DCU, but they had no evidence, and they couldn't simply say, "He's a bad guy, don't elect him," without proof. Then when Lois finally came upon some very damaging evidence about Luthor's role in the destruction of Topeka, Kansas, she couldn't use it because of her earlier agreement with him when he resurrected the Daily Planet. So Clark took him on, and a plot was hatched with Perry White to bring Luthor down. Everything came to a head when an asteroid was making its way towards Earth, and Luthor blamed the impending impact on Superman. With the help of Batman, Superman took down Luthor, but at the expense of his personal life as Clark Kent, who was brought back to the Daily Planet but in a diminished capacity.
But according to Mr. Green the status quo was immediately restored even though the ramifications of President Luthor are still being felt at the Daily Planet.
Another problem Mr. Green had was the recycling of Krypto the Super Dog, which he thought "...was the only significant change to Superman's status quo." He goes on to write, "Krypto was not the same faithful companion of Superman that would always do his master's bidding. This new Krypto brutally attacked his enemies and destroyed Lois and Clark's residence. Clark did not know what to do with his new pet, so he brought him to the Fortress of Solitude. There Krypto would find his place in the world, far away from anyone who he could possibly harm. What was the point of bringing back a character only to leave him in exile? It was great to see this classic character return, but the effort proved fruitless. Krypto was eventually placed in Superboy's care in the pages of Teen Titans."
So they brought back Krypto, but he wasn't the fun loving dog of the Pre-Crisis DC Multiverse. Good. Krypto acted like a dog. A dog with the powers of Superman who was still an animal and given to primal instincts. He wasn't the super intelligent dog that played with Superboy, chased comets and acted as a stunt dog in movies. Anyone who has ever owned a dog, large or small, knows that they can be pretty destructive without training and that they can be fiercely protective of their owners. What Mr. Green calls a brutal attack I call a really great scene where Jeph Loeb drove the point home that this wasn't the same Krypto of old, which is a good thing because if he had brought Krypto back without changing him in some fashion then he would be accused, as he often is, of trying to bring back the Silver Age.
The next argument Mr. Green tries to make is that Eddie Berganza's major influence wasn't the comic books of old but of Superman: The Animated Series and points to the B-13 technological makeover of Metropolis and Lois calling Clark "Smallville" to prove his point. Okay, Lois called Clark "Smallville." As far as I can tell this was the only major influence of Bruce Timm's animated series. Jeph Loeb pulled more influences from the Christopher Reeve movies than the cartoon, including references to Brad Wilson (the young jerk from Superman: The Movie and later the older, drunker jerk from Superman III) and dialogue which nearly quoted those films. As for the B-13 technology..., well... I think that had less to do with Bruce Timm's artistic style than Berganza and crew wanting to make Metropolis a city of the future. Personally I didn't like the concept because I always thought Superman worked best in a somewhat realistic setting, but that's me. I'm a little bit old-school.
Now there was a lot of things about Berganza's run that I didn't like or agree with. The art chores were, with few exceptions, pretty awful. Some of the writers did nothing for me. Joe Casey, Steven Seagle, Brian Azzarello and especially Chuck Austen spring to mind. The whole Zod (the leader of a foreign country Zod, not the guy that Jim Lee drew) storyline was pretty flawed, and I really didn't care at all for anything concerning the "For Tomorrow" story arc even if it had Jim Lee and Scott Willaims art work. The thing is, these down sides were more than made up for by Jeph Loeb, Gail Simone, some of Joe Kelly's run and Greg Rucka. There's a comic book published today (late as it can be) that stars Superman and Batman, and Supergirl (a.k.a. Kara Zor-El) is back and to me is an intriguing character. For every bad move Berganza countered with an equally good one.
And that's the thing. Any lengthy run by an editor is going to have its ups and downs. That is just the nature of comic books. For every Ruin, there has to be a Mongul. For every "Wrath of Gog" and "Critical Condition" there must be an "Our Worlds at War" or a "The Supergirl from Krypton." That's another comic collecting truth. Comics are like the weather in Georgia; if you don't like it, just wait. I firmly believe that every decision Berganza made was in the best interest of the character and the reader. He faced enormous pressure, both in terms of sales and from the loud mouthed Internet crowd. There were successes and failures but through it all, I have the feeling that the main editorial thrust was to propel the character forward.
In the end, Mr. Green is more than entitled to his opinions no matter how narrow and wrong I think they are. This is just one of those disagreements that comic fans have. Mr. Green had his say and I've had mine. Like him, I am looking forward to the next chapter in the Man of Steel comic book life but for different reasons.
Personally I'm a little bit sad to see Berganza go. The three titles were just getting good again, and I firmly believe that Greg Rucka is one of the best Superman writers ever, but times change. DC wants to move one year ahead and have a clean sweep of it. This is their right. It's their bat and ball so they get to say what park they play in. So let's get behind the new regime not because Eddie Berganza is running it but because it is an exciting time to be a Superman fan.