Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Comic musings for 1/4/2007

Yeah, I'm a little late. The wife and I went to visit her family in Atlanta for a little post-Christmas Yuletide celebrating. So do not let me tarry on the way to what appears to be a Superman-filled week-in-review.

Spoilers ho!

All Star Superman 6 -- Grant Morrison continues to show off his love and feel for DC's Silver Age while still mixing in hints of more recent events. In this issue, which appears to be a flashback of earlier days in the life of All Star Superboy, the Kent farm is visited by a group of strangers helping the family out with harvest. It turns out that they are actually members of the Superman Squad, the Unknown Superman, Klyzyzk Klzntplkz (a very Mxyzptlk-looking Superman of the fifth dimension), and the Superman from Morrison's own One Million. They are at the farm to help fight off the attack of a vicious monster, the Chronovore. Superboy, eager to prove himself, jumps into the battle despite the warning of the Superman Squad and loses perhaps the most precious three minutes of his life (what do Chronovores do? They eat time, of course). Reflections and sorrow lead to the silver age twist at the end that wrenches the point-of-view; this never really was a Superboy story.

Through it all, and this is by far the saddest of the All Star Superman stories thus far and yet one that has to be told, Morrison and especially Frank Quitely's art remind us of the carefree lightheartedness of DC's silver age. It's goofy and touching all at once, evoking the sense of wonder youngsters felt at reading those old stories. For me, it's nostalgia, and I am curious as to what younger readers feel as they read these stories since they have little to be nostalgic for. This series won the Eisner for best new series, and this story is a fine representative of why.

Superman 658 -- This final issue in what is described as "Camelot Falls Book One" also tends to evoke some silver age nostalgia, if only because it's another one of those "What if" stories that used to back-up the man stories in the Superman titles. Superman continues to absorb the vision given to him by Arion regarding his role in the destruction of humanity. It turns out there is some interesting evolutionary ideas in why Arion's actions, most of which is explained in the conversation that follows the vision's end. Arion believes that civilizations rise and fall in a natural cycle unless something steps in to stop the darkness. Arion tellsSuperman that he does indeed hinder the growth of darkness, but by doing so he thwarts evolutionary inertia and when civilization finally does fall, it will fall that much harder. Because the heroes not from Earth, like Superman and the Martian Manhunter, are currently keeping the evolutionary forces at bay, those forces build and build until they can remove their hindrance and thus devastating normal humanity to the point of destroying it. And so Arion warns Superman that he has to stop fighting, to give up, or else he destroys the Earth.

On its surface, it's a fascinating premise, and one that we have dealt with in much smaller terms: to save the victim, Superman must abandon it. In this case, the victim is the Earth itself. We know that something is going to have to come along to change the equation that Arion describes. If Superman no longer is fighting the darkness, there no longer is a Superman comic book. So either Superman continues to fight anyway, dooming the Earth, or Arion is lying. (Which possibility do you think is most likely?) But exploring a little more deply, the premise that Arion describes is full of holes. The darkness he describes could also be called entropy, and while it is a natural force, it doesn't "try" to do anything. Whether Superman fights or not, the universe and Earth in it, are going to entropy. The right thing for Superman to do is to try to make that fall as graceful as possible, not sit back and do nothing. Sure, Superman can't win this fight, but it's always about the battle and not the victory.

If Arion turns out to be wrong (or even somebody else), the book has gone to a strange place, because entropy always wins. And the reader has been told, indirectly, that their hero can never win. This is not a general reading of Superman, and it'll be interesting to discover how Busiek writes his way out of this. Horror novels and movies have their heroes in situations they cannot possibly win, and the story ends; characters are used for the life of that instantiation. But Superman must go on, and the story has made it pointless for him to. And, sadly, it took three issues to get there, when one or two could have done it. I honestly don't know where this is going next, but it'll be an interesting literary experiment to see what they do.

Superman Confidential 3 -- The creative center of this series has to be the art ofg Tim Sale. Sadly, at one and the same time, I loathe and enjoy his work. When his art is fully colored, it is fascinating; light and shadows are important and even his gimmicky faces show a tremendous range of emotion. When the panels are only colored in a single palette, like certain pages of this issue and the entire runs of the Batman miniseries he worked on with Jeph Loeb, it just makes me cringe. It looks horribly washed out and pretentious, and it just distracts me from what is going on in the story.

Speaking of which, the story here is not doing a lot for me. In what is reputedly the introduction of Kryptonite to the DC universe, it is disconcerting for the slab of Kryptonite to b doing the narration itself. I recently read a comparison of the kryptonite to the Loch-Nar in Heavy Metal, but the story doesn't do the inanimate narration bit very well. The Loch-Nar, at least, had mystical powers that allowed it to know the stories of the people it came in contact with, but kryptonite has no such ability..and yet seems to know far more than it should. At the same time, the interaction between Lois and Superman is fun, if not in the continuity that we would expect, but it is not enough to sustain the story. I keep hoping that perhaps it really isn't the kryptonite narrating, but if it isn't, I don't see how this is going to be resolved.

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