Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Superman Adventures 16: "Clark Kent, You're a Nobody!"
NOTE: A lot of the enjoyment of this issue is the final reveal. This review does not spoil it.
Good Superman is where you find it.
Consider the Superman Adventures comic which was created to capitalize on the success of Bruce Timm's animated series: its all ages format forced writers to return to the thematic basics of the character while limiting themselves to one or two issue stories. The art was done in the simple, clean, style of the cartoon, which forced talented pencillers to focus on the more subtle virtues of their craft. All these factors contributed to a Silver Age revival, with a modern sensibility-- the best of both worlds. Almost every issue of its 66 issue run is top quality.
Surprisingly, no writer exemplified this direction better than Scottish-born scribe Mark Millar. Millar is best known for comics where superheros are self destructive, petulant, children, and would seem to be the last choice for an upbeat, kid-friendly, Superman book. However, he saw the title as the perfect venue for the kind of clever and nostalgic Superman stories he had always wanted to do.
Millar, (along with fellow luminaries Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Tom Peyer) had pitched DC on taking over the core Superman books in a venture that would have been called Superman 2000. They were flatly denied in favor of the Loeb/Casey/Kelly crew that ran the books until Our Worlds at War. That pitch alone contains the seeds of a number of classics in what was a very uneven period for the character: Red Son; Birthright; Action Comics vol 2, 0-18; All Star Superman and...Millar's run on Superman Adventures.
Issue 16 is his first on the book and with the character, and he comes out swinging with a wonderful single issue story that feels like a lost tale from the Weisinger era: Clark is sitting in at the Planet trying in vain to access his computer reminders, when an air disaster means it's time for Superman. Clark rips off his suit and jumps out the window, only to discover he has no costume on underneath, and he can't fly. Things get even weirder when Kent is rescued by Superman, who deposits him atop the Daily Planet building and averts the disaster. Kent is understandably upset, and seeks out a Kryptonite meteor, but finds that it no longer effects him. Worst of all, when he shares the news of his new human vulnerability with his parents, they seem to have no idea what he's talking about. They remember nothing of his life as Superman, and speculate that he's having a nervous breakdown. Kent is just about to start seriously doubting himself when one last look at "Superman" in action convinces him that his memories are legitimate. After a check of his diary gives him the vital clue he needs, he solves the mystery, beats the baddie, and bring everything back to normal all without powers and in less than two pages.
The greatest virtue of this issue of Superman is that the writer understands the character, and tells a story that gets right to the heart of the matter, without beating you over the head with what he's doing. Superman's identity is under direct attack by a powerful foe, made vulnerable not just physically but emotionally, and his salvation is a moment of self-recognition. He overhears himself analyzing "Superman's" tactics, and understands that there is no room for doubt. His memories are not false, because he's the only one that could have had them; the only one that could understand why Superman does what he does. From this moment forward, it doesn't matter if the entire universe tells him he is not Superman-- if he is not Superman than no man is.
Millar never pats himself on the back for his heady work, because it's not necessary. We pick these things up sub consciously, and he allows the story to be exactly what it purports to be-- an engaging puzzle, with a sharp and witty climax. A function of the post-COIE Superman that this clearly is, is his large support system, but take it all away from him and he's still a hero because he couldn't be anything else.
An excellent hidden gem with a story that cuts right to the heart of Superman and back and wraps up in 22 pages. Highly recommended.