The Gamma-ization Of Superman

I have been meaning to write this post for some time after numerous discussions withNSR, but never got around to it. However, Cane Caldo’s latest post, The Judgement of Freaks, finally convinced me to get something down on electronic paper. Cane’s post exams Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans and their nature and how it interacts with the market. The part that interested me was this:

But if we talk about the collective of fans, a great many of whom are strange and ill-formed, then I must say that it does have to be this way. What these strange and ill-formed SF&F fans want is a structure of the superficial. The less substantive the better, for under it they can do a couple things.

  1. Transform their crippling weirdness into a minor flaw which is subsumed under the temporarily-irrelevant category of real life.
  2. Practice a wide assortment of perversions disguised as make believe.

That’s why there are so many freaks in the comicbook store. That’s why there are so many freaks at the Star Trek conventions. That’s why there are so many freaks at Renaissance festivals, comic conventions, anime conventions…there are a lot of freak conventions.

I have no idea how much experience Cane has with this sort of folk. I’ve always had the impression he was a jock in high-school, and not the nerd type. Unfortunately, I was the nerd type, and so I am all too familiar with these freaks. And freaks they are.

Oh, not all of them. I’ve been to comic shops and conventions and Ren fairs and the like. Not everyone there is a freak. But plenty are. Perhaps even a majority at many of these events/places. The thing is, this didn’t always use to be the case.

Years ago comics used to be much more “mainstream,” for want of a better term. But somewhere along the way that changed. Both the fans and the writers started to shift in their overall make-up, and it shows. This structure of the superficial became more predominant, and then finally dominant. Depth is out of the question in most places, and what “depth” you do get is typical SJW political drivel for the most part. The exceptions are just that, exceptions.

From my perspective comics started as a form of light fantasy entertainment. Superpowers sort of took the place of magic, and allowed for fun and interesting characters and stories. But then as the fandom and writers changed, this shifted. Light fantasy morphed into what I can only think is escapism. People created weirder and weirder characters and situations because they themselves were weirder and weirder. As for the existing characters, they were transformed in varying ways, few of them good.

Superman provides an excellent example of this. As originally conceived and as the character was written in the golden and silver age, Superman fits many of the qualities that are often in these parts called “Alpha.” I mean, really, he is the Alpha. Strong, confident, dominant and admired/envied by everyone. And of course women throw themselves at him.

But over time the character of Superman has changed. Some of this might owe to the Comics Code, put in place in the mid 50s, which made things “tamer.” However, I think that only helped lay the groundwork- it didn’t actually lead to the character changing. Instead, it was a new generation of writers (and the fans with them) that transformed the character.

An interesting fact that NSR told me is that DC Comics originally figured they had only a 3-5 year run with most of their readers, who happened to be young boys. After that the boys would start getting interested in girls and their interest in comics would wane. Apparently that influenced the business model. However, at some point super-fans showed up and started to make noises about continuity and the need to collect every comic and the like. Over time these fans became writers, and they started to change the character.

I mention this because it seems to me that the super-fans, if we can call them that, evidently didn’t get caught up in the whole “chasing girls” thing. This to me suggests that they were “out there”, perhaps in a socio-sexual way. Enter Vox’s Socio-Sexual Hierarchy. I don’t subscribe to it in full, but I think there are some useful descriptions there. Here is the description of Gamma:

The introspective, the unusual, the unattractive, and all too often the bitter. Gammas are often intelligent, usually unsuccessful with women, and not uncommonly all but invisible to them, the gamma alternates between placing women on pedestals and hating the entire sex. This mostly depends upon whether an attractive woman happened to notice his existence or not that day. Too introspective for their own good, gammas are the men who obsess over individual women for extended periods of time and supply the ranks of stalkers, psycho-jealous ex-boyfriends, and the authors of excruciatingly romantic rhyming doggerel. In the unlikely event they are at the party, they are probably in the corner muttering darkly about the behavior of everyone else there… sometimes to themselves. Gammas tend to have have a worship/hate relationship with women, the current direction of which is directly tied to their present situation. However, they are sexual rejects, not social rejects.

What I suspect is that over time many of the writers in the comics world started to fit this description. Their own nature as “Gammas” influenced their writing. They projected some of their own nature onto the characters they were writing. This is something you can see in the character of Superman. Some examples of the changes:

  • Superman was always an alien, but he still fit in while on Earth. During his Gammization, however, two things happened. Some writers had him basically disregard his Kryptonian heritage- an example of deliberately denying pride in one’s ancestry. Other writers went to the other extreme, and emphasized his alien nature. They made him feel as if he was an outcast/outsider- which is just how many of them happened to feel.
  • The way that Superman interacted with women, especially as Clark Kent, changed. In the beginning Clark was always mild-mannered, but his bumbling nature with women was also a disguise. Superman actually enjoyed pretending to be the fool who didn’t “get” women. It was all a joke to him. But over time that disguise sort of disappeared, and he lost his humor at playing people. Instead he was confused and conflicted with how he should interact with women. This can be seen in the original Superman movie from the 70s.
  • After 1986, Superman was often displaced within his own comics. Other characters would be the ones taking all the action, and he would just stand there. Along with this came a huge decrease in his power. While Superman certainly had some “power creep” in the early days, he was almost neutered once the Gammas took over the writing.

There is more, but those examples in particular stand out. Putting all of it together, we have seen Superman as a character be twisted by a wave of writers less masculine , and more freakish, than the ones who came before. Of course, he isn’t the only character so affected. And it is important to note that many comics writers from the start were freaks who wanted ways to live out their perversions- see the character of Wonder Woman, for example.

Unfortunately, I see this trend only continuing. So those of us who enjoy the old comics- the light fantasy and not the shallow escapism and perversions of today, are sort of out of luck. At least we have the old ones to enjoy.

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9 Comments

Filed under Alpha, Beta, Blue Pill, Masculinity, Men, Red Pill

9 responses to “The Gamma-ization Of Superman

  1. cynicinchief

    You saw this a lot in the old radio characters. The Shadow was a wealthy socialite Alpha with a woman always nearby (Margot Lane). He exuded masculinity but kept it under control unless someone innocent about was threatened, then he’d use his hypnotic powers to make himself invisible and investigate.

    Similarly, the Green Hornet was a newspaper editor who would outsmart and beat up bad guys, then escape the police who thought he was a bad guy. He was more of a Sigma (like Alpha, but rogue and independent), but had that similar quality of restrained power kept undercover.

    Those heros, the human Alphas who used their exotic skills for justice and order have been wiped out in todays media. Even the 2011 Green Hornet movie turned him into a impulsive layabout who can’t get the girl he wants.

  2. Lost Patrol

    This was interesting. To the extent that I was aware of super heroes changing over time I put it down to rise of the amorphous, ubiquitous, and all powerful PC culture. I did not consider it being driven so much by the proclivities of the authors, as by the societal changes affecting those authors.

    I haven’t seen (because I purposely avoided it), but I have heard that super heroes we’ve known for decades have in some cases changed to the point of being a different race or gender from the original.

  3. Neguy

    Interesting. I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger. I still occasionally enjoy a mindless read just for the diversion. I didn’t meet many of the con going SF types until I was an adult. They were definitely far weirder than I had anticipated. I had always thought of SF as a somewhat geeky/nerdy pursuit. But this was definitely next level. There’s always I think been something of a distinction between a science fiction fan (i.e., someone who attends cons, but who may not even read SF) and a science fiction reader. That’s less true today but was more stark back in the day.

  4. My one nitpick of disagreement is your comment on Superman’s “power creep”. My – admittedly very limited – read of the situation is that Superman started out LESS powerful, and then slowly amped up his power level until he became god-like. Early Superman couldn’t fly, and he could be killed by an artillery shell. Later Superman survived nuclear blasts – see Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”.

    Now, the one big addition was kryptonite. Kryptonite was never a weakness of Superman’s originally. It was added to a radio show about Superman, presumably to create dramatic cliffhangers. All right.

    The problem arose when a foolish editor – very much not coincidentally, a woman – thought Superman was too powerful and introduced it to the comics. So Superman was effectively neutered and the rest is history.

  5. (The problem in the later years – and gain, my info here is limited, and may be wrong – is that Superman was so powerful that when he was on a team excuses needed to be made for why he couldn’t just solve every problem himself. As a result they’d often just come up with excuses to sideline him entirely so they could actually get on with the story. TVtropes even has a name for this – “Worf Has the Flu”.)

  6. Leiff

    Instead he was confused and conflicted with how he should interact with women. This can be seen in the original Superman movie from the 70s.

    I don’t remember the first movie being this way, in fact the opposite. Superman was very confident and had the amused mastery thing down with Lois. Yes he freaked when she died, but other than that he was always leaving her wanting more.

    Margot Kidder was an attractive woman, but I’m still mystified as to how the movie Lois Lane character would be anyone’s idea of “the one”. A pushy, self-centered, career gal wins over every other woman in the world?

  7. malcolmthecynic – My one nitpick of disagreement is your comment on Superman’s “power creep”. My – admittedly very limited – read of the situation is that Superman started out LESS powerful, and then slowly amped up his power level until he became god-like. Early Superman couldn’t fly, and he could be killed by an artillery shell. Later Superman survived nuclear blasts – see Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”.

    Now, the one big addition was kryptonite. Kryptonite was never a weakness of Superman’s originally. It was added to a radio show about Superman, presumably to create dramatic cliffhangers. All right.

    Both Kryptonite and flying almost made it into the comics in 1940, well before appearing on radio. This article explains how the story was killed before publication – http://www.superman.nu/k-metal-from-krypton/about-k-metal.php

    Kryptonite would have worked very differently. The story also would have had Superman revealing his secret ID to Lois Lane, changing the series permanently, instead of being stuck in an endless status quo for decades.

    Side note: I wonder how many fans liked the idea that Superman never quite got the girl (sure, they dated, but they never locked it down in marriage) because it made them feel better about their own woman troubles?

    The problem arose when a foolish editor – very much not coincidentally, a woman – thought Superman was too powerful and introduced it to the comics. So Superman was effectively neutered and the rest is history.

    Which editor was this?

  8. DG – After 1986, Superman was often displaced within his own comics. Other characters would be the ones taking all the action, and he would just stand there. Along with this came a huge decrease in his power. While Superman certainly had some “power creep” in the early days, he was almost neutered once the Gammas took over the writing.

    A little context here… in 1986, the entire Superman line of comics was revamped and started over from the beginning by writer/artist John Byrne and writer Marv Wolfman, with Byrne in charge. A hard reboot, you could call it. Not only was Superman knocked way down in power,* but Lex Luthor was changed dramatically, from a mad scientist to a corrupt businessman, in the mold of “Donald Trump, Ted Turner, Howard Hughes and maybe Satan himself!”

    Pre-1986 could be considered many things, but I don’t think “gamma” was one of them. Yes, he obsessively hated Superman, but this was either because Superman kept stopping his plans, or from a personal incident in their pasts (depending on which era of comics you read). Even Superman had to respect his abilities.

    The post-86 version of Luthor was primarily developed by Marv Wolfman, who made Lex a ruthless, manipulative bastard, with a beloved public persona… but he was still very obviously powerful and confident in his abilities. The original pitch even had Lois Lane as Luthor’s mistress.

    Byrne didn’t like Lois living with Lex (and in fairness, it sounds pretty ridiculous), but he didn’t do much of anything to improve on Luthor himself. If anything, he made the character worse. Byrne’s version of Luthor was a petty, snarking, bully. It seemed more like a gamma’s idea of an alpha, with Luthor having all female employees walk around in miniskirts and pressuring them into sleeping with him.

    By itself, that could be like a valid portrayal of a corrupt businessman…. but not one who built an corporate empire, and can go head-to-head with Superman. Forcing women employees to service him is gamma… an alpha would have women falling all over him instead.

    * Part of this seems to have a non-gamma origin, as one editor suggested that John Byrne wanted to “do everything first,” essentially retelling the story of Superman from the beginning, re-introducing everyone and and everything as if the readers were seeing it all for the first time.

    That said, there was a lot of gamma to it, such as believing that no one could relate to a character as powerful as Superman. This, while many other characters were being amped-up at the same time. Plus the “guest-star in his own book” nonsense, among other things.

    So one could say that Superman and the franchise “got ’86-ed.” (rim shot)

    Links, in Byrne’s own words – “Who Created The ‘New’ Lex Luthor?” http://www.byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=2&T1=Questions+about+Comic+Book+Projects#31

    and “Donald Trump = Lex Luthor” http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=50791&PN=1&TPN=1

  9. The editor was named Dorothy Woolfolk. A proto-kryptonite was used a couple times, but not as a real part of Superman lore.

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