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Comic Characters Revised : At 48, Superman Has Slowed Down Just a Bit

Times Staff Writer

Clark Kent is being de-wimpified and Superman is being de-superized--and fans of both seem to be delighted.

That’s the word from specialized Southland comic book dealers after the latest incarnation of Kent-Superman went on sale last weekend.

“It’s had an enormous effect on sales,” said Bob Hennessey of Santa Monica’s Hi De Ho Comics & Fantasy. “It’s been out now for about four days and it has sold 736 copies, just about eight times what it normally sells in a month.”

Marian Costa, co-proprietor of Another World Comics & Books in Eagle Rock and Tom Pederzani of the American Comic Book Co. in Studio City agreed that the latest version of the original American super-hero is doing quite well.

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The revised characters appear in the first of a six-part mini-series entitled “The Man of Steel,” distributed first to direct-sales shops like Hi De Ho, which cater to collectors. The same comic book, with a different cover, will hit the convenience stores and candy shops where youngsters do their buying later this week.

And although all of the characters are somewhat different, they aren’t all that different. Superman is still a refugee from the planet Krypton, still can fly with no visible means of support, bullets bouncing visibly off his bulging chest. And Clark Kent (who, as everyone should know by now, is really Superman in civvies) is still a newspaperman with eyeglasses, but now he’s a columnist instead of a mere reporter. Moreover, he’s no longer the mild-mannered Clark Kent of yesteryear, but a pretty savvy, aggressive newshawk.

Lois Lane also has been promoted to columnist. What’s more, she no longer swoons at the mere sight of Superman, but is an independent-minded newshen who may even develop a yen for the former wimp Kent, the jerk who had a quirk about phone booths.

The reason for all this, as one might guess, is that the old Superman just wasn’t selling very well. “Superman had become a stale character,” Hennessey said Tuesday. “Really boring,” Pederzani added. “Too godlike,” concluded Costa.

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In their view, Superman had evolved over 48 years of existence into a creature who was, well, just too super .

For instance, the 1938 Superman looked as if he was straining a bit when he lifted an old sedan over his head. He couldn’t fly, but was able to leap a piddling 100 yards.

But in his later, more fantastic years, he became extravagantly extra-human, easily flinging whole galaxies across the universe and effortlessly zipping around at well beyond the speed of light.

Nothing--not even Lois Lane’s melting gaze--could touch him physically or emotionally.

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“He had accumulated too many powers,” said Hennessey thoughtfully. “I personally think that the change was long overdue, and that it’s important to make Superman more vulnerable. Otherwise there can be no tension in the stories.”

The new version is being written and drawn by John Byrne, who jumped over from the rival Marvel Comics to DC Comics.

Tool for Speculation

So far, the new Superman has succeeded largely with collectors, many gambling on the long-shot that the latest model Superman may eventually become as valuable as “Action Comics No. 1,” which now fetches something like $18,500 for a mint copy.

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Pederzani doubts it because he has heard that at least 700,000 copies already are in print.

Costa is undecided. “You never know what is going to catch the public’s imagination,” she mused. “Sometimes there is a magic that takes over. It’ll take three to six months before we know.”


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