Saturday, April 11, 2009

Missing In Action: The Super Books! Part I - The Long Prologue!

Superman is the most iconic superhero. He is the blueprint for all superheroes in the genre. Creators and writers either follow this blueprint or rebel against it, but either way, it is the starting point. This is how it is and there is no escaping it or denying it. Superman is and always will be.

When a character of this magnitude has been continuously published for just over 70 years it can become a daunting task for any writer or editor to come up with fresh, innovative, and compelling new stories. The height of this challenge, however, seems to be what attracts writers and artists to Superman, and generally, those writers and artists are of a high enough caliber that they can be entrusted with such a overwhelming legacy. The confluence of these forces combine to bring the character to new heights whilst reaffirming what is so wonderfully indelible about him in the first place. Sometimes, not.

For a case study in the former, one need only read the work of writer Grant Morrison of the last few years. In that time, Mr. Morrison has been responsible for two landmark works involving the Man of Steel, namely, All-Star Superman with artist Frank Quitely, and Superman Beyond with artist Doug Manhke, a story that was essentially a chapter in the DCU mega-event book Final Crisis, also written by Morrison.

While both of these books are written in very different styles, they both present a Superman who is the absolute ideal of the word "hero". He believes in truth, justice and fairness and operates from a perspective that assumes the best in humanity. He perseveres with a selflessness that is beyond human, it's super-human. This we see, when all the dust settles and all the punches have been thrown, is truly his greatest superpower.

Is it presumptuous and unnecessarily aggrandizing of Mr. Morrison's work to call these stories, published only within the last two years, landmark? No. Should I back up my statement with endless paragraphs containing comprehensive breakdowns and analysis of exactly what makes them "landmark"? No. This is not that thesis, and many other writers and reviewers have done this to some degree already. I bring up these works only as extremely recent examples of what can be accomplished with a 70 year old property. These serve to show that not everything good has already been invented.

As for an example of what happens when the pursuit of innovation and inventiveness can go off the rails one need only look at the current disheveled mess of DC's Super Books in the wake of last years' crossover story New Krypton. I prefer to think of New Krypton in classic comic parlance as...


...The Idea That Sounded Really Good At The Time But Now Not So Much!


Taking place in the three monthly books that make up the Superman corner of the DCU - Action Comics, Superman, and Supergirl - the story is this: Kandor, the infamous tiny city in a bottle is brought back to full size, along with its bazillion or so Kryptonian inhabitants, here on Earth. These lovable aliens get the famous yellow sun treatment and start flying around, killing humpback whales and frying police officers. Humanity recoils at the horror that they are not all like Superman and imminent war between races looms large. In theory and in pitch this all sounds absolutely thrilling and dramatic with the potential to pose serious questions about what a truly insane idea it was for us humans to trust this all-powerful alien in blue tights and red cape in the first place. In practice, not so much.













The initial ten-issue arc of New Krypton instead feels like one long drawn out prologue. Very little drama ever really takes place and every character involved feels one-note. Superman pouts a lot about being torn between his feelings for the people and race he thought he had lost forever and his adopted home of Earth. Supergirl pouts a lot about being torn between her feelings for her parents and Earth. Supergirls' mother, Alura, furrows her brow disdainfully (a lot!) at Superman and his soft spot for humans. The collected members of the JLA and the JSA furrow their collective brows at Superman for his inability to control the rampaging Kryptonians, since that was, apparently, his job to do. (Hey, just because he's Kryptonian doesn't mean he knows every Kryptonian, ok? What's next? Alan Scott going to ask Superman where the best Kryptonian restaurant in Metropolis is?)

Along the way we get about three pages each (or less) of Lex Luthor, Braniac, 
General Lane, Agent Liberty, The Guardian, Metallo, Reactron, Superwoman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, Cat Grant, Ma and Posthumous Pa Kent, as well as too many pages devoted to the re-
introduction of The Creature Commandos. If you look closely in a few panels on the Kent farm, you'll even see the kitchen sink. There really is a scene in which a Kryptonian does make a show of the dead carcass of a humpback whale he has just killed. Apparently this is to show the disconnect between cultures. Indeed. There are some major plot points sprinkled throughout but these could have been handled more deftly in less issues. The overall story structure feels padded and hollow, every page whispering "just wait 'til next year, this will all be worth it."

The series culminates, predictably, with the formation of - wait for it! - New Krypton! Superman takes about five issues to decide to leave Earth to spend time in another comic, The World of New Krypton, in hopes to bring about peace between the two planets. The stage, at long last, was set.
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Next In Part II: Where In The World Is The Man Of Tomorrow?

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