Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Hero or Superhero?

Last month, I went on a superhero comic kick, and, oh, it's not even over! If you love superhero comics, you are in for a treat. If you don't, you will be bored. But, wait, most of these are worth reading if you don't think you like superhero comics! Seriously, these are pretty fantastic books here.

In his continual quest to get me to care about Superman, my pusher, Angelo, bought me Superman: Up, Up, and Away!, by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns with art by Pete Woods and Renato Guedes, for my birthday. It begins as the story of Clark Kent, Superman having lost his powers during Infinite SuperMegaCrisis or whatever. It's been a year of living as a norm, and...he kind of likes it. Lois likes it too. It was neat to see the character in this light, as well as his relationship with Lois. Truthfully, I could have read a whole book about that, but the title is Superman, not Clark Kent, so he has to get his powers back eventually. Yet what surprised me was that even that didn't feel like an eye-rolling reset of the status quo. Even that actually tied into the characterization and what makes Superman/Clark Kent who he is. In a way, the story is really a character study about not just who he is but why he does what he does. Toss in Lex Luthor at his Lex Luthor-est, and you've got a great book. It's a bit overstuffed with heroes and villains, but it's also highly accessible to new readers, since Clark helpfully explains who everyone is.

By the time I reached the last page, I had a startling, unexpected realization: I actually cared about Superman. Maybe I only want to read more Kurt Busiek/Geoff Johns Superman stories, but there you have it. This is a great book for Superman fans and non-Superman fans alike.

Having seen the movie and the pilot for the upcoming animated series, I thought it was high time I actually read some Green Lantern beyond "Mogo Doesn't Socialize," and Geoff Johns's reboot/origin story, Green Lantern: Secret Origin seemed a good introduction to the character (the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, at least). And, in fact, it is, although Hal is kind of a dick for most of the book. He does grow, however, and he has Daddy Issues and all that. Johns seems particularly good at getting at the human element of superheroes, treating the human character with just as much, if not more, importance as the superhero. The more fantastical elements are also exciting and intriguing, especially all the business about prophecies, the dark secret of the Guardians, and what the fuck is up with not being able to attack the color yellow, come on now. All in all, a solid story that doesn't quite sell me on the character and the world (I'm still kind of whatever on Hal, and the Lanternverse just seems so big and sprawling and complicated that I'm afraid of it), but does make me the teensiest bit more interested in reading more of Johns's GL run, at the very least.

I'd had my eye on Marvels, by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross for years, but after having loved Busiek's work on Superman: Up, Up, and Away!, I thought it was finally the time.

This book just makes me giddy. The concept is simple: the Marvel Universe as seen through the eyes of an Everyman photojournalist. But the execution is brilliant, as Busiek uses the publication history as his template for this world. Thus, we see the evolution of Marvel Comics and how the real-world reactions to certain characters and events may translate to the fictional reality. While a familiarity with comics history is obviously a plus, it's not a necessity; I was only really familiar with a few of the major events depicted in the story. But it was the fact that I knew that the other events were "real," had "really happened," in a sense, that made me appreciate the brilliance in how it was all put together. Busiek uses various events in Marvel history to show how everyday, "normal" people view superheroes and how their opinions are depressingly fickle, which is reflected in the comics themselves. Is Spider-Man a hero or a menace? Are the X-Men saviors of mankind or mutant freaks? Do we love or hate the Fantastic Four for being celebrities? Phil Sheldon just shakes his head in disgust and indignation. It's a perspective not often focused on, how the very existence of superheroes affects society and regular people, and I loved the picture Busiek painted. And, of course, the art that Alex Ross painted. I found that the painted interior art worked better here than in Kingdom Come, maybe because it's so observational, like this is how we see the Marvels, so glorious and wondrous.

I was interested in reading the story that followed Superman: Up, Up, and Away!, but, hoo boy, Superman: Back in Action, by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieiza with art by Pete Woods, is definitely a step down from that wonderful book. The interesting thread is the public's skepticism that Superman is really Superman (as one character points out, the last time Superman "came back," there were four of them, all fake), but that's incidental set dressing. Rather than explore this idea head-on, Busiek and Nicieza concoct an excuse for a wacky team-up book, forcing Superman to work together with an odd assortment of heroes (and one villain) to save the world from aliens who are stealing lots of stuff. It's cute and fun but there's not much substance or character work here, and the story mostly seems to exist to set up some future plotlines that I don't really care about. Also, the art is meh. Geez, Busiek, way to destroy my interest in Superman so soon!

Also, there are three old-school Superman wacky team-up stories thrown in to fill the book out, and they are silly and old-school, if you like that sort of thing.

Given Kurt Busiek's treatment of Clark Kent in Superman: Up, Up, and Away!, I was interested in reading Superman: Secret Identity, by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen, which is all about Clark Kent. That is, a boy in the real world who just happens to be named Clark Kent...and have superpowers. By setting the story on Earth Prime, Busiek is free to retell the Superman story in a more realistic fashion, focusing on a boy—then a man—dealing with a secret identity and wanting to use his powers to help people. There are no alien invaders, no mad supervillains, no hokey sci-fi threats. The main threat is the government, and the familiar "government wants to control the superhero" plot is the weakest aspect of the book, as it takes focus from the more human elements, which are done incredibly well. The miniseries comprises four chapters, each set in a different stage of Clark's life, and by the end of the book, I was getting a Daytripper vibe from the way that the story encompassed one man's whole life. So he happened to have superpowers. Whatever. His life was rich and fulfilling in so many other ways. (Immonen uses a very different style here than he did in Nextwave, doing his own coloring to give the book an almost dreamlike quality.)

May I also give Busiek and Immonen props for making Lois Indian? And this was in 2004! Indians weren't even cool then!
Tags: being indian, books, comics, real life friends
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