‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Superman, by Stan Lee and John Buscema 5.25
I’m a big fan of Superman. My take on Superman is the “big blue boy scout” that was incarnated to perfection by Christoper Reeve and rather well by Brandon Routh. I like that there is a hero who considers others above himself because he believes that he serves a higher purpose; he has clear values and a determination to live up to those values. There are plenty of darker heroes, and it’s nice to at least have on beacon of light amongst them.
Stan Lee’s Superman is virtually unrecognizable. This is a bold move by the comic book legend, given the omnipresence of this super icon in pop culture. The problem comes in the choices that he’s made: Salden is a law bringer on a planet whose name Lee advises us we would never be able to pronounce. After his spouse is murdered by an escaped convict seeking revenge on Salden, our hero follows the criminal back to Earth through a space-time bender.
Trapped on Earth, Salden discovers that the gravitational change makes him ultra-powerful, into a sort of… you guessed it: Super Man! he’s super strong, extremely fast and he has a flight harness from back home to carry him everywhere. Otherwise, unlike the original Superman, he has no powers of note. He doesn’t even seem to have any form of invulnerability, although, that is not explicitly established – he sticks to hand-to-hand combat here.
The worst of it is that this “Superman” is very self-absorbed, far from the selfless goodie we know and love. After arriving on Earth, he picks the name Clark Kent, does one circus show to make enough money to rent an apartment, meets Lois Lane (who is an agent here and wants to represent him) and only helps humanity because a war could prevent his getting back home. His whole logic is flawed from start to finish and he’s essentially an @$$hole.
This Superman is essentially a powerful thug, passing as a hero.
The dialogues are totally unnatural, juvenile, even – especially when pertaining to the relationship between Salden and his spouse, Lyella. My goodness… it’s cringe-worthy, if not stomach-churning, stuff. And the plot development is naïve (the motivations don’t make much sense, repercussions don’t either, …etc.). None of it feels super well thought out, with his enemy, Gorrok, kidnapping the Chinese president and tying him to a clock tower.
Seriously. (Yeah, he should have tied him to a train track, instead.)
Frankly, I despise Superman’s new look, which uses the same colour scheme, but darker. For some inexplicable reason, he has a completely different costume than the rest of the law givers on his planet. And the only reason he has an “S” (two of them, in fact) on his uniform is because of his name. I sort of like the idea of an “S”-shaped scar on his face, but it’s rendered poorly here. And Stan’s decision of blonde hair smacks of laziness.
As does the art. I was stunned by how dated this comic looked, like something from the ’60s – at best, early ’70s. It looks rushed, lacking detail and precision, and the paneling is really rudimentary. Frankly, I find that it looks cheap, and that Superman doesn’t look like world a class character. This feels like an old school, second-tier comic book. If that’s what Stan was going for, fine, but it’s so unsophisticated that it’s hard to appreciate.
Shuster and Siegel are surely spinning in their graves.
On the street: Once again written by Michael Uslan and Stan Lee, this “On the street” segment takes us to a boardroom meeting at Fly By Night Comics, where the publisher is trying to get his team to sign Superman to a contract so that he may publish comic books. When they realize that, being an alien, he has no rights, they publish them anyway, making a fortune – that is, until Lois Lane storms in threatening to sue them and/or sic Superman on them. It’s a droll piece, but it contributes very little to the new mythos.
Next week: Green Lantern!