20 March 2013

Look! Up in the sky!

Been trying to read more superhero comics this year--in this, I am ably aided by my husband, who's got a bit of a comics habit. It hasn't all been successful; for instance, I finally read The Dark Knight Returns, and all I could think was, "Man, that Batman is one dour SOB." And I continue to be really, really bad at evaluating the art in all but the most superficial of ways (tho the hubs, a comics artist himself, helps with that too. We're a great team!). Still and all, it smacks of genre snobbery on my part to not write about my comics reads. Thus, thoughts on four different Superman titles.

First up, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Alan Moore/Curt Swan). I'm gonna admit, I read this a year ago, so I had to reskim. This one came out in 1986, a response to the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, which rebooted 50 years of sprawling continuity. (I say this like I've read it. I mean, it's on the shelf in the other room . . . but I figure my audience is mostly non-initiates like myself, so apologies if this reads like DC For Total F-Bombing Idiots for some of you.) Anyway, with the character being reinvented, they had a chance to write a "last" Superman story, and even without my having much of a handle on the Silver Age cast, it's pretty satisfying. Even though Moore does kill off most everybody--but I think that's just his deal, right? The trade I read also has a Superman & Swamp Thing story that I confess to not remembering at all, and "For the Man Who Has Everything," a fantastic story addressing the central tragedy of Superman's existence: he has outlived his entire species and his very planet. (I saw a version of this on an episode of Justice League Unlimited, which show is the source of most of my DC-universe knowledge. Also sometimes Nathan Fillion does voices!)

My two favorites, Superman and Captain Marvel, meet for the first time in Superman/Shazam: First Thunder (Judd Winick/Joshua Middleton). This one's slight, but inoffensive, delivering exactly what it says on the tin: DC's two most charming, aw-shucks superheroes teaming up. The Man of Steel and the Big Red Cheese!! Loved Marvel's fanboying at getting to fight alongside Superman, and the latter's marching right down to the Rock of Eternity and asking Shazam "What is wrong with you!? He's a child!" A valid point, Supes. Oh, and there's a parallel meeting between Dr. Sivana and Lex Luthor--rife with mutual loathing--that made me smile. Not a huge fan of the way Middleton renders the title duo's faces, though--weirdly round, with a childish effect.

All Star Superman (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely--two Scots!) is top-notch. I looooved that Quitely took the time to make Clark Kent physically different from Superman--the latter is confident in his body, the former hunched and apologetic. And the story is appropriately epic, beginning with Supes flying INTO THE SUN. The two hardest things about the character are his immense power and his unambiguous morality, but Morrison realizes that these are also the BEST and COOLEST things about him.

And then there's Red Son (Mark Millar/Dave Johnson), a delightful what-if wherein baby Kal-El crashes to Earth not in small-town Kansas, but on a collective farm in the Ukraine. He grows up to become "the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact." As befits alternate history, it's packed with cameos--Russian Batman in an earflap hat!!!!--and giddy, gleeful fun. Probably my favorite of the bunch.

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