Clark Kent’s alter-ego isn’t so much a super hero as the embodiment of a code of values, and that I think accounts for much of his appeal and longevity.
Speaking personally, I’m all for truth, justice, and the American Way, or at least I am when that fine nation is striving to live up to its best ideal of itself, rather than giving in to groundless fear and hubris.
Superman – Secret Origin
Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Gary Frank& Jon Sibal
‘The true story has never been told… until now!’ reads the back cover blurb on this book which purports to fill in details of Superman’s early years. The first story concerns his time as a child in Smallville, learning to cope with his powers and how fear of hurting others holds him back, the revelation of his alien origin and the effect it has on Clark, a first encounter with Lex Luthor and Green Kryptonite, and Martha Kent’s production of the iconic costume. Contrarily there is nothing here that we haven’t heard before, but Johns does manage to put everything into a universal context and allow us to identify more with the character despite his outlandish abilities – Clark is quintessentially a troubled teen, learning to cope with who he really is. The theme develops in the second segment, when Clark as Superboy meets members of the Legion of Superheroes and travels into the future to learn of his influence on the world (and also that even hundreds of years down the line there are bigots), with a subtext that everything is going to turn out fine regardless of how he feels about himself now. Finally Clark moves to Metropolis to work as a journalist, where he gets to meet Lois Lane and all the other people who are going to be important in his life, thwarts the ambitions of Lex Luthor, and saves the Daily Planet from bankruptcy by giving them Superman exclusives. He also has a run in with Metallo and the US army, who aren’t too happy about having a super powered alien with unknown motives on American soil. Despite that ‘never been told’ tag, there’s little here the readers familiar with the character won’t have heard before, or been able to infer. All the same, Johns throws a fresh coat of paint at the material and the end result is an engaging and eminently readable book that lets us get to know the character on his own terms, and the artwork is gorgeous.
Superman – New Krypton Volume One
Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by James Robinson
Regardless of the title, the first part of this book pretty much ignores New Krypton. Instead it features Jimmy Olsen haring round the country in pursuit of a news story that involves the Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, cloning, assassination, and a government conspiracy to produce weapons that will kill Superman, and I’ll admit that I found it all a little far-fetched – that ingénue Olsen could learn all this while avoiding a super powered killer who is on his tracks seems dubious, to say the least. The second half opens with the funeral of Jonathan Kent and the trauma that causes Clark, before moving on to covert ops experimentation on a trapped Brainiac. Finally we move on to the subject of the newly enlarged bottle city of Kandor and how its super powered citizens will adapt to life on Earth, with distrust on both side, not least of the Kandorian faction who still place their faith in the discredited General Zod. It’s intriguing stuff, and of course you can find parallels with real world immigrant concerns in the plight of the Kandorians. On a personal level the way in which Clark and Martha Kent deal with Jonathan’s death is handled with a genuine sensitivity, and the artwork throughout is rather splendid, with some eye catching splash panels and accomplished close work. My only problem with the book is that it is very much “Volume One” – lots of plot threads get thrown out there, but very little is resolved. There are hints of trouble waiting in the wings, as with the apparent resurrection of Lois’ father General Lane and the experiments on Brainiac, but none of it really goes anywhere as far as the contents of this book is concerned. It felt like turning up for a three course meal and only getting an appetiser. While I’m happy to wait for the plot to develop when reading issues of a comic, for a book like this I expect something self-contained. Call me picky.
Superman – Aliens
Written by Dan Jurgens, illustrated by Kevin Nowlan
Now here’s an interesting idea, take Supes and put him up against one of the silver screen’s scariest monsters. This book is a collaboration between DC and Dark Horse, who have the rights for Alien and I have to admit to being more than pleasantly surprised by it. When Lexcorp pick up messages from outer space in Kryptonian, Superman sets off in one of their craft to investigate. He finds a space rock with a replica of Argo City, but its woefully reduced population are under attack by hordes of acid drooling aliens intent on using them as breeding fodder. With his sun derived powers draining away, Superman helps fight off the hostiles, but it’s a hopeless task and eventually even he is implanted with an embryonic monster. Holding Superman back in his struggle is his reluctance to break his personal code and kill, which may mean that not only might he fail to save Argo’s last survivor but that Earth itself could be endangered. Of course it all works out fine in the end, but not before we’ve had the required amount of action and soul searching. Backdrop wise this pretty much takes a page out of the Alien playbook, with Argo in danger because of a crashed spaceship and all that follows. Superman’s presence gives the material a different emphasis though, and the character’s human side is put on display – he is vulnerable emotionally because of his heartfelt wish to meet others of his kind, and also vulnerable physically due to his dwindling powers that make him dependent on others, the rescuer becoming the rescued. He has to deal with the fact that he can’t save everybody. At the centre of the narrative is the moral dilemma that Superman faces, his determination not to kill despite all the perils inherent in adhering to such a course, and each reader will have his or her own feelings about that (personally I’d have blasted the critters to kingdom come). With some gorgeous artwork this book adds something of note to the Superman mythos, shows how the character can be adapted to any circumstances because of the values he represents, and I was glad to have read it. And yes, Mr Theaker if you’re reading this, I too enjoyed the chestburster that couldn’t break through – a nice touch. Now waiting for the Predator crossover, or did that one go down while I wasn’t looking?