Superman for All Seasons – A Review

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Tim Sale

Publisher: DC

Superman for All Seasons takes us back to a different age, the Smallville world of Midwest values and sensibilities.  The book is filled with a sense of nostalgia that’s both tender and poignant, carrying a real emotional punch.  This is the hallmark of Loeb and Sale, evoking the humanity of their characters in books like Daredevil: Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, and Hulk: Gray.

“It’s not nearly as hard as learning you have limitations as it is learning how to work with  them.” –Pa Kent

Each character in their own way reflect the idea of what it must be like for Superman to come to terms with who he is and why he does what he does.  Inadvertently, they speak as much about their  own woundedness and expectations—how they see him, see themselves, measure themselves against him—as they do him.

“You may be able to do things nobody else can do but that doesn’t make it any less hard to be who you want to be.” –Lana Lang

And, “super” or not, Superman/Clark Kent struggles with the very essence of his humanity:

-he looks for a place to belong, to call home

-he struggles with loneliness

-he bears the unspoken weight of never being able to do enough and be an example for everyone

“Being the most powerful man in the world means nothing if you are all alone.” –Lex Luthor

To draw Biblical allusions, I’m reminded of the concept known as “the Messianic Consciousness.”  Not all scholars believe this theory, but the principle works like this: Jesus gradually grew into his knowledge and role as the Messiah. The same idea is at work here.  Not only do we see Clark Kent coming to terms with his body and powers, and the responsibility of being different/having special gifts; but we also see him wrestle with what he is to do with those gifts.  The burden of the fact that being multi-gifted means that we are that much more obligated to use those gifts.  To whom more is given, more is expected.

“These are choices each of us makes, not only to do good, but to inspire good in others.” –Lana Lang

Superman for All Seasons is not filled with the typical action slam bam that fills many superhero comics.  Tim Sale’s art captures the essence of Superman, both his humanity and the icon.  The story is told in seasons, each season representing a character’s point of view:  Pa Kent (Spring), Lois Lane (Summer), Lex Luthor (Fall), and Lana Lang (Winter).  If Lori Lemaris had narrated spring, we’d have completed the L.L. initialed associates of Superman theme.  But Superman for All Seasons has always had the feel of a special book.   One that should be appreciated for its simple yet profound storytelling and its elegant art.

Action Comics – A Review

“Last Son” – Number 844
Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner
Art by Adam Kubert
Published by DC Comics
Price $2.99

I have never been much of a Superman reader for the simple reason that it’s tough to make me care about Superman. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve put in my time trying to care about him, it’s tough for storytellers to find interesting ways to deal with him. I followed the Man of Steel and the rest of John Byrne’s re-boot run. I loved Alan Moore’s Man of Tomorrow story. I even casually tuned into the stunts that tried to garner attention to what should be DC’s flagship books: Superman’s death and resurrection, his Red/Blue phase (granted, it’s no clone of Spider-Man storyline, but still), even his wedding to Lois Lane.

However, when all is said and done, Superman is basically this all-powerful figure who has it all and does it all. Not much can hurt him and he seems to do the right thing all the time. His fights have to be big to be interesting and he’s barely relateable as a character. His problems are “uptown” problems. Which is why I was intrigued by the possibilities of the current story line.

Geoff Johns (Infinite Crisis) and Richard Donner (Superman II, whose mythos pretty much defined Superman Returns) come aboard to give us “Last Son”. Like the coming together of Superman’s wedding timed to coincide with the then wedding of Lois and Clark on the popular television series, we once again find ourselves with a jump on point for people returning to the book after Superman Returns. Because of the history ret-conning of 52, we have a lot of continuity shifting in the Superman mythos (Pa Kent is alive, a de-aged Jimmy Olsen) as we try to reconcile the various Superman interpretations (ignoring the current television incarnation, Smallville, apparently).

In “Last Son,” a new child of Krypton arrives and Superman struggles to figure out what to do with the child. This story appeals to the strength of John’s writing: characterization. There are elements of Superman that this story draws out that are quite relateable: his sense of feeling alone, isolated, a minority trying to live among a people not his own; him trying to relate to a(n emotionally) distant father; Superman wanting to have a family and a connection to the history of his people; him wanting the ties of community; and most importantly, the thrill of being a new dad. What is rife with potential excitement is the same thing that makes it rife with the potential for disaster: where Donner goes, General Zod, the defining villains of the Superman movies can’t be too far behind.

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

We tend to cling to a narrow definition of family. The simple biology of blood does not necessarily make one family. For many, a circle of close friends can be more family to than blood kin, as they are family you choose for yourself. With the myth of Superman already percolating with messianic imagery, an overlooked theme to his story is the power of adoption. The potential of being adopted into a family after thinking yourself alone. The opportunity to find belonging and maybe even a sense of identity and purpose.

Grafted into a family, natural born, or choosing a missional community as family – family is family, in every sense of the word. They will be far from perfect, and suffering their faults will often be a pain, but that doesn’t negate the idea of what families should be about. Family should be about community, about support.

Let me comment on the art. I might be committing fanboy heresy, but I was not a fan of what Adam Kubert is doing here. It is too stylized for my tastes (which I thought of Bill Sienkiewicz. art during his New Mutants run, so guaranteed I’ll think him a genius ten years from now). His faces are particularly odd, as if incomplete or rushed. While the layouts and overall visual storytelling was great, the fact that every stray line had to be inked proved distracting.

I’ll admit, my big fear is that this storyline will be an end-around throwback to Superbaby tales. Putting that fear aside, this will be one of those rare Superman runs that I will follow. With any luck, it may rekindle my interest in the character, I’m sure what the creators (or at least the corporate machine behind them) ultimately want. We’ll see, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

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