Thursday, July 15, 2010

What You Should Have Read #23

Some of you might have noticed that, in this blog that began with a heavy emphasis on comic books, there haven't been any comic book related posts lately. My reasoning for that is that reviewing everything hampered my enjoyment of this, my favorite hobby. It turned fun into work. But I want to keep comics alive in this blog, so every now and then, when a great issue or a topic comes to mind, I'll write about.

Like right now.

Superman. My enjoyment of his stories goes in cycles. I first picked up his books regularly when Mxyzptlx (I typed that without looking it up, and I think it’s correct. I think that makes me an incredibly nerdy nerd, and I’m okay with that) took his powers and he and Lois got engaged. That maybe lasted the better part of a year. Then I stopped. Then Doomsday showed up and they both died (for a time), so I showed up, too. Then the pretenders showed up, and I hung on for a bit, but then I left. That was the cycle. I’d pick up the books for maybe the better part of a year, then I’d leave after it became same-old same-old.

So recently, I picked the books back up after Zod and the Kandorians created a New Krypton opposite Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The plans for the Super-titles seemed grand and wonderful. It seems like I was let down with every issue, though. Everything was incredibly anti-climactic, and that includes the destruction of New Krypton, the revelations of the members of the Legion Espionage Squad, anything having to do with Mon-El and General Lane…everything. I stuck it out for the end of the “100 Minute War,” though, but I still planned on dropping all Super-books when Supes came back and we were back to status quo.

One thing I did think was a good idea during this whole mess was the reassigning of the Super-books leads. While Superman was off on New Krypton, his other books were reassigned to other Super-characters. Flamebird and Nightwing head up Action Comics, and Mon-El gets Superman, while the main guy gets shuttled off to Superman: World of New Krypton. I had assumed that that would change when Superman returned, that he would be heading up both of the books again (what with Nightwing and Mon-El both stuck in the Phantom Zone), but right now he’s just in his self-titled book while Lex Luthor is starring in Action Comics, at least through issue #900 (according to writer Paul Cornell).

It’s this tiny detail that has kept me reading Action Comics. If written well, Lex Luthor is a crazy-awesome villain. I consider him more of an anti-Batman, and maybe that’s what makes him the perfect villain for Superman. He’s human. He has no powers but his mind. As with Batman, it’s Luthor’s brains and gadgets and cunning that make him so formidable. Now, Superman is no dummy, but in a battle of wits, Luthor will always beat him. Human vs. alien, brains vs. brawn. So that’s why I’m still reading Action Comics.

Now, if I’ve reached the end of this current Super-cycle that I’m on, why am I still reading Superman? Well, the first answer is simple. JMS. J. Michael Straczynski (spelled THAT without looking it up, too). The creator of Babylon 5 and the writer who continued to evolve Spider-Man and Peter Parker as wonderful characters (prior to Brand New Day, if you’re not familiar), he gets a pass on all new comics he’s attached to (although I still haven’t picked up Rising Stars, and for some reason I didn’t read his Fantastic Four issue. I need to rectify that). Hell, the guy got me to pick up Thor, and I figured that would be impossible. I realize that the guy has had some…completion issues. He rebooted the Squadron Supreme (excellent stuff), but it ultimately had to be finished by someone else, and he’s only completed about 2/3 of The Twelve. So you’ve got to worry about that. But the stories he’s been telling in The Brave and the Bold have been understated and exceptional.

So I picked up Superman #700 to see where he’d start off, and…Superman is going for a walk. A LONG walk. A walk across the U.S. of A. Wow. Epic (where’s a sarcasm font when you need one?). I mean, I guess I get it. Superman is akin to a god. With his powers and his feats, he’s untouchable, unrelatable. In that retrospect, he’s the opposite of Peter Parker. So JMS is taking him for a walk, having him meet Joe Everyman, trying to get him to be a bit relatable. Maybe? Is that really necessary? In a genre run amok with gods and super-soldiers and mutants and the unkillable, do we really need to be able to relate to this particular hero?

Eh. I guess it doesn’t matter, because after reading this week’s Superman #701, I’m hooked. I don’t care if Superman is more or less super than man. I care about good stories with art that won’t make me vomit. This issue, at least, hits that mark (wonderful praise, no?). There’s so much that goes on here, so many little things that you would think would be beneath Superman’s pay grade, that it’s hard not to think of this as a standard-sized comic. And look! He has lunch! In a diner! It was the little touches that made this wonderful. The conversation with the jumper. The man with the heart condition. The explanation of what it means to be a hero while walking down the street. And Eddy Barrows’ art? Good. Not great, just good. And that’s all I need.

So thank you Messrs. Straczynski and Barrows for this wonderful little issue, and I hope what I saw here will continue through your run.

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