I have a theory explaining why good old Superman is so disliked nowadays. Almost everyone says that Supes is a boring boy scout wearing his underwear on the wrong side of his pants. I dare to disagree. Superman is the archetype of a spandex clad super hero. My theory is that he is so good while at the same time being so powerful that it makes people uncomfortable. We have grown too cynical and we well know that we could never be as good as Superman. That is why so many people claim they associate more with a broody spoiled sociopath who beats up poor people at night in order to deal with a childhood trauma. Yeah, a much better role model than a farmer boy who moved to the big city and tries to stay good.
Until now I have never read any comics about man of steel. When I think about Superman I picture Bruce Timm’s and Paul Dini’s Justice League and Max Fleischer’s cartoons (current movies have a lot of place for improvement when it comes to Superman’s portrayal, although I like Henry Cavill very much). I figured it is about damn time to read what people call the ultimate Superman book.
The tale concocted for us by Grant Morrison boils the man of tomorrow down to his basics. Each issue is a separate story with connected by the foreshadowing of Superman’s death. Before he passes away Supes wants to tie all the loose ends ad do as much good as he can. A simplistic story yes, but what is truly important here are not any surprising plot twists but the characters. Superman is portrayed as a almighty almost divine yet so very tangible without any of that godawful messiah complex that some like to attach to him. It is mostly achieved because we are allowed an insight into other character’s perception of Superman. Why does Lois Lane love him, Jimmy Olsen trusts him, Lex Luthor hates him and what did Jonathan and Martha Kent desire for him? It makes him and his surrounding cast of characters more human and real than ever.
Obviously this book also includes the sillier and more kitsch elements of Superman mythos like the 5th dimension, Supermen Squad, the underverse and the black kryptonite. Quite complicated and silly concepts that would not fit in a darker and more serious book, but here they are introduced and explained in a simple light hearted manner which fits the story and is not ashamed of them. Also very important: for the first time in my life I bought into the idea that no-one ever realized Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Nobody would ever suspect that goofy oaf Kent!
The artistic design here is very important. Buildings and clothes look futuristic in a way that people in the 1950’s imagined future to be. I think it is perfect for Superman stories. At the same time the design of the characters… Lets face it they are ugly. There is something very wrong with the faces, their eyes and overall structure that I can’t precisely point out. Yet after the second issue I got used to it and now I actually think that it compliments the story very well. Not entirely realistic yet not entirely stylized either. Same thing goes for the colors. Jamie Grant colored it digitally with very bright almost neon gradients. It was very distracting at first but the more of it I saw, the better it suited the story and its atmosphere. Hopeful bright colors for a hopeful character. Some panels in here are really touching and simply beautiful. Especially this one.
It shouldn’t work yet somehow Morrison and Quitely, two crazy Scotsmen, created something truly beautiful. If you want to convince someone into liking Superman, give them this book. If they don’t like it, I don’t think you need this kind of negativity in your life.
Five out of five friendly piggyback rides.