Friday, November 11, 2011

Superman #1

DC Comics, 25 pages, $ 2.99

Writer and layout artist: George Pérez
Artist: Jesús Merino
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

If there’s a particular theme to Superman, then it’s a certain unease with the 21st century—it’s practically oozing from every page of the comic. In some ways, the reality we’re living in—and have been for some time—is presented as threatening, in other ways it comes across like a shiny new thing that the creators have just discovered and can’t put aside. But overall, I think it’s fair to say that Superman—as well as Superman, in its pages—seem to be struggling with the notion of existing in the present. Which is a very odd starting point for a debut issue expressly designed to introduce the character and his world to potential new readers.

I have much time and respect for George Pérez as an artist and storyteller. His Avengers with Kurt Busiek still stands out as one of my favorite traditional superhero comics, and his craft and storytelling instincts are undeniable. That said, his Superman isn’t quite there. It’s a serviceable enough superhero plot, granted. Despite the issues mentioned above, Pérez’s layouts tell the story in rock-solid fashion, and Merino’s art is perfectly competent, as well.

The prose, however, is dreadful, and it’s plastered all over the book. Most of it describes and comments upon the story—the decommission and demolition of the old Daily Planet building, Superman’s fight with a generic “fire monster from outer space” (really)—in a supposedly journalistic style, but it misses the mark completely.

“Spotting a Daily Planet news copter and police copter converging toward the midtown area, the Man of Steel decided to check it out for himself. His super-hearing had already picked up the distinct sounds of screeching tires, police sirens and gunfire—his super-vision picked up the rest. […]

“Superman assumed that the thieves were not from Metropolis. No local criminals would dare do this. […]

“As Superman rocketed the alien creature up past Earth’s stratosphere, the monster’s frantic thrashing started to ebb—even as its flaming form began to dwindle.”

Erm, really?

Either Clark Kent—who’s meant to have written the article—is meant to be the worst reporter and news writer in history, or Pérez picked the totally wrong storytelling device here. Even if we’re charitable and assume that the completely over-the-top purple-prose style was intentional, that wouldn’t justify having the audience wade through it for 25 pages.

And that’s not the only problem with the script, at any rate. The characters keep droning on about Twitter and the death of print journalism, but it seems phony from start to finish. It’s all pretty ham-fisted, and it’s never quite clear what it’s meant to add up to, other than a general sense of wariness against a world that’s long become an everyday reality to anyone under the age of 50, let alone people working in the news industry.

Superman is a solidly competent comic, in many ways, but it’s something less than competent as far as the prose is concerned, at least. The story it tells is utterly generic, and the way it’s told wouldn’t have seemed out of place in 1984.

Grade: C-

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