With Man of Steel finally debuting this weekend, I’m going to make this week “Superman Week” in my tiny corner of the Internet. I got a few blog pieces on the big blue boy scout I want to write with the review of the movie coming sometime this weekend – no promises as to when exactly as I don’t know when I’ll see it. The 10-year old in me is screaming that I rush out to a midnight show, preferably IMAX 3D. The sensible adult is saying to wait for the weekend. It’s a battle the adult is having a hell of a time trying to win.
But before we get there, I wanted to put a spotlight on some of the better written Superman comics of the last decade. Yes, Superman remains, first and foremost, a creature of the graphic page. And even if that graphic page has now moved to the digital era with electronic comic books and graphic novels you can buy for your iPad, Kindle, nook or tablet, the work remains primarily focused on those glossy books you can still buy from your local mega-bookstore or online purveyor of choice. (Pour a 40 for ye old comic book shoppe).
I’ll avoid most of the controversies surrounding “The New 52” relaunch by DC Comics and focus on four of the more intriguing and interesting Superman stories of the last 10 years. These should be known to Superman fans and will likely have some sort of influence in both Man of Steel and the sequels that will follow. Now I’ll give you the general release date for the stories, but all of these are easily available in trade paperbacks or on electronic format as e-novels.
Superman: Red Son (2003). Written by Mark Millar. Art by Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson and Walder Wong. I’ll be the first to admit that Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted) is an acquired taste. That said, this “Elseworlds” story starts with a simple “What if”: “What if Kal-El’s ship had landed in Russia and not America?” The story reimagines the Cold War with Superman as Josef Stalin’s favorite son. America, desperate for an answer, turns to its greatest scientist, Lex Luthor. The conflict between Superman and Luthor moves from beyond that of a hero and a villain and towards one between two powerful men who fight for their ideal. Caught in the middle are an ambassador from the Amazons, Luthor’s wife, Lois, and a young Russian boy who saw his parents gunned down by Stalin’s men grows up to be Superman’s revolutionary opposite. But what makes it interesting is how the story takes Superman from a symbol for good to a despot desperate for peace and order, using the harsh Soviet tactics to bring about his goals. Is his goodness innate? Or is it a result of the Midwestern upbringing he got from the Kents?
Superman: For Tomorrow (2004-05). Written by Brian Azzarello. Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. This is a really esoteric story that tries to get at a simple truth regarding Superman: he’s an outsider with the power to reshape the future as he sees fit. This is put to the test when a strange event causes thousands of people across the globe to vanish – including Lois Lane. Superman, unable to stop it and unable to help those lost, turns inward and seeks a priest of all people to help him understand. He’s forced to come to terms with his failures and his inability to convince people to abandon their paths towards evil. So what can Superman be when he’s no longer a symbol that people look up to? What could drive his own allies to turn against him? Where does the one meant to inspire hope turn to for his own hope?
All-Star Superman (2005-08). Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. Lex Luthor finally triumps and he poisons Superman with too much solar energy. This means Superman has a few weeks to live, during which his powers and abilities will increase. The series gives Superman (and Clark Kent) the chance to say his goodbyes in unique ways. Morrison channels the Silver Age and even some Golden Age elements of the character in this story. My favorite part is when bumbling Clark Kent is interviewing Luthor as he escapes prison during a riot. All of Kent’s apparent bumbling an obvious ploy to protect the man who’d try to kill him if he knew the truth. If For Tomorrow is esoteric, then this may be a bit helter skelter for some. All the same, Morrison manages to capture both the wonder and the innocence that are at the heart of these stories.
Superman: Last Son of Krypton (2006-08). Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner. Art by Adam Kubert and Gary Frank. This one is an interesting collection because it features Johns collaborating with director Richard Donner of Superman: The Movie fame. In some circles, it’s even considered the true sequel to Superman and Superman II – as opposed to the one with Richard Pryor, Solar Man or Kid Supey. The story is about a young boy who crash lands on Earth – a young Kryptonian boy. Superman and Lois take him in as their own after rescuing him from the authorities. But the secret of Christopher Kent’s true identity will challenge Superman in a way few can. Because for all his limitless powers, there may be things that even he can’t solve. And it puts in contrast Superman’s desire to be human and to be Kryptonian.
So there you go. Four easy recommendations to get this week started. I’ll see what else I can touch upon tomorrow. How about some mythology?