Saturday, June 17, 2006

It's A Better-Than-Usual Day to be The Man Of Steel

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!

It's Superman... and he fucking rocks.

For the first time since I was five, a copy of Superman #277 in my hand, the Last Son of Krypton is the main character in a world of wonder, all shiny and happy-ended. With an almost certain blockbuster film on the horizon, DC Comics is placing one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time back where he belongs: as their top priority.

In the mid-80's, with "grim-and-gritty" tales like Frank Miller's Batman opus The Dark Knight Returns starting to gain a foothold in comics, the DC creators of the day felt there wasn't a very compelling story to be told featuring a near-invincible hero. No challenges, they said. How do you threaten a Superman at all if he can move whole planets out of their orbits and travel through time?

DC's solution (beginning with John Byrne's Man of Steel series) was to give Superman a big, fat "do-over". By portraying Supes as not nearly as strong, fast, or invulnerable as he'd previously been, by putting limits on what Superman was capable of, there were, the wisdom was, no limits to the stories you could tell. Unfortunately, Superman (and Clark Kent) seem to behave as if he remembered a time when he could do anything, just like the readers did. The Man of Tomorrow seemed like he was having a hard time dealing with the weight of Today. He spent more time reflecting and questioning himself than he did bending steel in his bare hands and leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

With a newly mopey and less fantastic Superman to work with, the readers yawned. And went away, to buy Batman and Punisher and X-Men. Or worse for DC, away from comics altogether.

The powers-that-be have come to their senses these days. Grab Superman and Action Comics for the current goings-on with the Man of Steel, and pick up Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman for a "stand-alone" tale that isn't tied to all the other titles in the DC Universe, and gives us a Superman limited only by Morrison's overpowering imagination. This Superman gets to arm-wrestle Samson and Atlas at the same time. And that's just two pages out of the 60 or so that have come out so far.

and Action, co-written by All-World scripters Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, and illustrated by Pete Woods, show us a 21st Century Superman with a nod to the pre Man of Steel 20th. Ironically, they begin their bid (titled Up, Up, and Away, more on the coolness of that in a bit) to return Superman to his past greatness by upping the dramatic ante from his last revision[1]. (Johns and Busiek even take a tiny jab at the negative effects of the recent Superman malaise: In the opening pages of the first chapter to Up, Up, and Away, Jimmy Olsen bemoans that "no one even looks up in the sky anymore!")

With simplicity in both plot (Superman's back and better than ever!) and design (the chapters are subtitled after classic Superman phrases: Powers & Abilities, Speeding Bullet, Mild-Mannered Reporter) Johns, Busiek, and Woods give us the Superman that looks and acts like the greatest hero of them all without making wholesale changes to the work of the last 20 years. (Well, except to the stuff that made Clark Kent into Poor Li'l Superman.) The prose is succinct, and confident enough for the reader to leap full on into the fantastic. The pictures (which are the backbone of the medium) both augment the words and tell a story of their own: a 2-page spread early in the latest Superman (#653) gives the reader an incredible aerial view of Superman's sprawling Metropolis, set upon by the gigantic menace of Lex Luthor. All that stands between the villain and the destruction of a city is a little tiny speck of blue and red. And these days, that's all Metropolis needs.

Superman Returns. Hell, yeah.
[1] I won't spoil the surprises. READ THE COMICS!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home