Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's a sickle! It's a dictator! It's a kid with a famous name!

I’ve never really been interested in Superman. A friend says that Superman’s his favorite because of his unambiguity, but that’s exactly why I think he’s boring (Superman, not the friend). And by the time I started getting into comics – like, less than three years ago – there were and continue to be SO MANY heroes with SO MUCH MORE complexity. And complexity is what makes good stories.

But with a superhero’s age also comes variations on a theme, and my library system sent two of them to my place on the holds shelf, and let me tell you; they’re not bad.

Superman: Red Son
Mark Miller, Dave Johnson, Killian Plunkett
2003 (DC)

Superman lands on a collective work farm in Poland/the USSR instead of a Kansas cornfield in America during the Cold War. Becomes symbol of the people’s Communism instead of truth, justice, the American way. Bam. He’s still the same basic dude – he still uses his powers for good, which doesn’t look all that different than American good, which might be meant to say something about the universality of basic heroism. I can get behind that.

But it also means that he questions the party line more than I think he would if he had truly grown up getting all that drilled into him. It did create good tension between his ideals of purely representing the people and realizing well, shit, socialism needs a leader too. I liked how he made all the little compromises of a person in power until he became overprotective (like, think one-man 1984) gradually enough to be genuinely surprised when people rebelled. 
Also, Lois Lane marries Lex Luther, who is a famous US scientist who makes a Gollum-Superman for America to fight the Red Son, and the ending is a neat little Moibus strip that points to its beginning.

The art is colorful with bold lines. Yay.

Superman: Secret Identity
Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen
2004 (DC)

This series explores Superman’s emergence/discovery/shaping of his powers as a sort of going-through-puberty thing. It’s not an exact metaphor, but Clark (Kent) starts out as a regular kid who’s name has gotten him teased ragged about being Superman, because in this world superheroes are only in comics too.

And then one day Clark figures out he has powers. That part didn’t impress me, since it was literally a panel of Clark in the air going, “And then I could fly.” The end. However, what he does with that discovery…really isn’t all that surprising, as he attempts to do as much good as he can without anybody figuring him out. But he’s so human, and teenager-y about it, that it feels fresh. Bullies still push him around until he uses his superspeed to punch one out. Yeah! Plus he saves his crush from being crushed by a pole at a Halloween party that he wanted to make his coming-out party.

A last-second community emergency makes him re-think that, and he goes on to live life and keep his secret from everyone except his eventual wife, twin daughters, and a certain government scientist he’s been working with in disguise. The government scientist totally calls him out on that in the last pages, too, which I really enjoyed. I gotta say, Superman’s “disguise” has always been too much for my suspension of disbelief to, you know, suspend. He works at a top-notch investigative newspaper and dates one of its best reporters, and nobody ever finds out his secret before he tells him? Yeah, right. I bet the entire office has known for so long it’s just not worth mentioning anymore. There’s probably more tension about the “I’ll be my Pulitzer on it!” timing bets.

Anyway, so this turns out to be a pretty decent tour of Superman’s life and how heroism passes to the next generation but never truly changes form.

Batman is still cooler. But I did enjoy reading about the Man of Steel more than I have before. Back to the library with these. 

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