Stop the presses at the Daily Planet -- they're retooling the Man of Steel. He'll be less of a wimp, more like Reagan and Rambo, but still able to relate as a person. And, flash -- you'll no longer recognize the planet Krypton.
Superman comic sales are in a superslump, and the hero's publisher, DC Comics, is assembling a team of writers and artists to remake the legend.
"Superman is almost 50, and he's beginning to suffer from hardening of the arteries," said artist-author John Byrne, the first one hired for the team. "And DC Comics is hoping to inject new life into him."
Contacted yesterday, Byrne -- a free-lancer who draws the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four for DC's arch rival, Marvel Comics -- said he feels like he's been given the Bible, and told to jazz it up. "To be handed an American legend and say fix it is pretty scary," he said.
Initially, he said DC had "put a gag order on him," and he wasn't sure how much more he ought to say. But the temptation to speculate proved irresistible.
Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, "will be tougher, sort of like Jimmy Breslin," Byrne said, "halfway between a feature writer and an investigative reporter, with a daily column and a piece in the Sunday paper."
Kent's Daily Planet colleague Lois Lane will also be updated and upgraded ("a woman of the '80s") -- but the romance between Lane and Superman is off. "Romance is impractical" with someone who can change the course of rivers and bend steel, said Byrne. "Nobody's going to survive a romantic relationship with him."
They'll both write books on the side and make upwards of $80,000 a year in salaries alone. Super upwardly mobile.
Byrne is hoping his approach to Lois will attract 12-year-old girls as well as boys. "Superman is a hunk, so why shouldn't the girls read him?" To that end, his new Superman will have better-defined muscles. "He's kind of a wall wearing a cape. Now he will be a more graceful wall."
He'll also be a less-superpowerful one.
Currently, he can move the Earth out of orbit with one hand. But Bryne thinks that's entirely too godlike. "If you can do that, how do you top yourself?" asked the artist. In the future, he wants people to say, "Wow, this guy just picked up a building." He'll still fly, of course -- probably faster than a speeding bullet -- and handle any aliens or giant monsters that try to eat Metropolis.
And he'll become, not just a Republican, but "Super Republican," said Byrne. "If Reagan has done nothing else, he's gotten us to wave the flag again. Superman practically wears the flag. I'll be shamelessly exploiting that."
But while Superman may be a Reaganite, he won't be just "white bread." His core group of friends -- Jimmy Olson, Perry White, Lois -- will stay the same, but Byrne plans to introduce more Asian, black and Hispanic characters to the strip.
Peggy May, DC Comics publicity and special events manager, cautioned that Byrne has been hired as only one of the people working on one of the Superman books -- there are three titles altogether -- and that in an earlier interview, he had spoken out of turn, "which isn't appropriate when you're talking about a major mythic character like Superman."
The Steel One will be changed, she said, but DC doesn't know exactly how as yet. When pressed, she did agree that Clark Kent was a little too wimpy. "Well, don't you think he's too nice?" she asked.
The new story will be released under a new title -- no longer Superman -- but May doesn't know what that will be either. "It was anticipation of his 50th birthday in '88 that started the thinking about a new image."
DC Comics Editor Andrew Helfer will manage the revamp team, replacing 70-year-old Julius Schwarz, who's been involved with Superman since the '40s. The character was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the 1930s.
The new Superman is no big deal, said Jim Shooter, editor in chief of Marvel, who wrote Superman himself in the '60s. Editors were stricter then, Shooter said, but now "creative anarchy" reigns at DC Comics.
DC tried to change Superman once before in the '70s, he added. "Nobody noticed, so they dropped it. They got rid of kryptonite and scaled down the godlike powers to more human ones. But it didn't catch on."
In Byrne's version, the planet Krypton will be unrecognizable, and the legend of the Origin will change. Shooter doesn't think that's a good idea. "If you can pretty much walk up to any man, woman and child in America and they can rattle off a substantial portion of the Superman legend," he argued, "why tamper with it?"
But Bill Taylor, a local comic colorist and Superman fan, thinks the new image is important. "Nobody wants to watch a wimpy nebbish like Clark. They want a modern, yuppie hero."
DC Comics has been dumping supertypes left and right in the past decade or so, with sales down from about three-quarters of a million per title in the '60s to less than 100,000 today. Superdog has yipped his last. Supergirl died in a battle with the Anti-Monitor, the evil twin of the positive Monitor in a parallel universe. A special ray has rendered all kryptonite harmless, unless Superman runs into it in space. And all the infinite realities are being collapsed into one.
So if Superman gets a new superstructure, what's the harm?