It’s time to talk about the grand poobah. The big-wig. The Big Blue Cheese. The butter on the loaf of bread that is known as DC comics. Superman. When I talked about Batman I said that it wasn’t that hard to write a good Batman story, but that it WAS hard to write a great Batman story. However, I think that writing a great Superman story these days is almost impossible. It can be done, but they’re rare. The reasons for this are many: The character is a throwback to an earlier, simpler time; the character is too powerful; they should have never had Clark and Lois marry; The fact that they had a TV show on the air for 10 years about Superman but NEVER ACTUALLY CALLED HIM SUPERMAN etc.
He’s also not a character that I’ve ever really liked. But like Rihanna running back to Chris Brown after the 2009 Grammys, I go back time and time again, in hopes that he’ll change. He has not.
Superman – For Tomorrow Vol. 1 & 2
After Jim Lee worked his magic with Batman: Hush, and helped relaunch Batman back into the upper echelon of DC characters (and sales), the Powers-That-Be at DC decided it was the same to do the same for Superman. They brought Lee back, and had Brian Azzarello do the scripts. They called it For Tomorrow, and although I just read I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what it was about. It was that forgettable. It’s not that it was bad (although it kind of was), it was that it was boring. And a story about a man who can tear a galaxy in half with his bare hands can be many things, but it should never be boring. And although Lee may be the preeminent superhero artist of his generation, even his talents weren’t enough to save this turkey.
Superman – ‘Til Death Do Us Part
Superman – Braniac, Superman & The Legion Of Super-Heroes, Secret Origin
A few years ago, Geoff Johns performed the impossible: he made me care about Superman. He had a brief, but memorable run on the book, and for a while I thought I was hooked. However, upon rereading I realized that artist Gary Frank had just as much (or more) to do with my newfound love of the character as Johns did, and found that the books that Johns wrote without Frank were decent, but nothing that I needed to keep. My appreciation of the books that the two of them did together has grown however, and are essential for any Superman fan. Geoff Johns shows that there isn’t an emotional character moment that he doesn’t know how to exploit, and the art is about as good as you will ever get in a superhero comic. Ever.
Superman – Last Son, Escape From Bizarro World, New Krypton Vol. 1 & 2
Although I generally like Geoff Johns, and do think he did a fine job with these arcs, the absence of Gary Frank put these on the fence for me. I realized that although there was nothing in them that I could point to and say “This sucks”, the stories didn’t really grab me. The idea of Clark and Lois adopting an abandoned Kryptonian child seemed so forced and gimmicky, and the addition of General Zod to the mix did nothing to change my mind. Superman works best when he’s the last Kryptonian in the galaxy. Take that away, and you’re taking away a fundamental part of the character. And although I think Eric Powell is one of the finest artists of his generation, even he wasn’t enough to really make Bizarro World anything other than just a decent Superman arc.
After Johns left the book, James Robinson took over. And since I sang his praises in my previous Starman post, I shouldn’t be afraid to say how disappointed I’ve been in his recent DC comics. In fact, there’s nothing in his recent work that even hints at some of the brilliance shown in his Starman run, and while getting rid of the non-Frank Geoff Johns books was hard, getting rid of the Robinson ones was not.
Superman – Superman Adventures Vol. 1, 2, & 3
These are small digest-sized collections of the Mark Millar-penned comic adaptations of the much-missed cartoon, Superman: The Animated Series. For some inexplicable reason, these are out of print, but are very much worth your time and money if you can track them down. They are short, stand-alone Superman stories that are so good that it makes you want to see the Superman movie that Mark Millar has been claiming for years that he’s got hiding under his belt. That DC hasn’t put out the entire series out in a deluxe hardcover is a mystery.
Superman – All-Star Superman Vol. 1 & 2.
They’re probably the most critically acclaimed Superman stories of the modern era, and for good reason. Not since Alan Moore’s Supreme has there been a book that captures the wonder, silliness, and magic of Silver Age Superman comics as well as All-Star Superman did. Although Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely have their Superman do some pretty amazing things in these stories, probably the most impressive feat of all was to get me to give a damn about this character again. Some amazing stuff here, and if you miss the absolute goofiness of the comics you read as a kid, this is a pretty safe bet.
Next up: More Superman!