22 November 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #14: Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004)

Borrowed from a friend
Read November 2009
Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume One

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterers: Rob Leigh, Nick J. Napolitano

DC Universe Timeline: Two Years Ago
Real World Timeline: 2006

(It has to have been over a year since Identity Crisis, as "the Vanishing" happened a year prior to the opening of this story, and that has to have come after Identity Crisis. However, just two months remain until the Infinite Crisis-- meaning only three months have passed since Identity Crisis!)

The thing I really like about Superman-- the thing that I think Superman For All Seasons captured so well-- is that he's a guy who feels like the weight of the entire world is on his shoulders. He doesn't angst out over this, not usually, but feels it all the time. He has the power to do the greatest good of anyone in the entire world; how can that not weigh on him? So he does his best, like any hero would do, but not even Superman's best is always enough. Sometimes, he fails.

For Tomorrow begins a year after the Vanishing, an incident where over a million people vanished instantaneously. Superman wasn't there-- he was in space, doing what Superman does, helping people-- and he holds himself accountable, not the least because among the Vanished is one Lois Lane. Superman travels to the apparent origin point of the energy waves that cause the Vanishing, tracking them down to a country in the Middle East. When he arrives there, he doesn't find the source of the Vanishing, but he does find a civil war: one he decides to end.

All of these events are being narrated by Superman to Father Daniel Leone, a Catholic priest. Exactly why Superman feels the need to deliver his story under the seal of confessional isn't clear, but he tells Daniel that his sin "was to save the world", and it's certainly related to the actions he took after the Vanishing, which were drastic, to say the least: he stops a battle in the civil war, tracks down the leader of the insurgents, only to find he's already won. So he helps stabilize things by cleaning up the area. But what he eventually discovers is that the now-toppled regime was who created the Vanishing device, which has fallen into the hands of General Nox, the insurgent leader, and Equus, his cybernetic henchman. The dialogue between Superman and Father Leone runs over all these scenes, proving an insight into Superman's state of mind, and it is immensely well done: Brian Azzarello seems to get Superman. He's upset without being angsty, troubled without being tortured. He sees himself as one of us, and that is why the burden he bears is such a hard one. He doesn't always win, but no one tries harder.

It's hard to judge this story right now, because it's not a story. In its infinite need for profit, DC split the For Tomorrow story up across two different trade paperbacks, so all we get here is the first half. And it's not even really a first half, given the terribly out-of-sequence way we're learning about events. We might have half of the story, but it's not a continuous half. But what's here is good: Superman's frustration is portrayed well, as is his drive and determination. I love the bit where he fights four elementals (summoned by a mysterious woman who I hope is explained in volume two) determined to cleanse the earth of human life, defeating them through cunning and sheer force of will, not punching.

Of course, not everything quite works, not yet. Though I like the disjointed narrative in general, and I love the in medias res opener, there are parts where it's almost impossible to parse what's going on, especially with Superman's talk with the Justice League. Though maybe this will be filled in later. The Justice League's reaction to the Vanishing is oddly muted, too: obviously this is because it's a Superman story in a Superman book... but it makes them look like jerks to tell Superman he's too involved to handle the issue but seemingly do nothing about it themselves. I don't really get what's up with the confrontation with Aquaman, either. And Equus is a pretty uninteresting villain, though on the other hand, General Nox and Mr. Orr are working for me so far. And as for the earth elemental being formed out of Mt. Rushmore...

But the heart of this book are the conversations between Superman and Father Leone, and those work. A lot. Daniel has his own demons to deal with: just like Superman he wants to help everyone, and just like Superman he can't. The rapport the two men have springs up immediately and works very well, giving a focus to the often-disjointed story. I like the banter they have as both attempt to answer the unanswerable, always switching roles as questioner and answerer.

Even when Brian Azzarello's writing slips a little though, it all still works: Jim Lee's art is fantastic. That man knows how to draw Superman in an iconic pose, and that's a good thing given how often the character seems to pose here. His Superman isn't someone you'd want to mess with. All the art is handled well, though, especially the settings, which effectively move from gleaming Metropolis to war-torn desert, from lunar fortress to underwater, from a Catholic church to deepest space.

I don't know where For Tomorrow is going yet, but that doesn't stop me from looking forward to volume two. Superman should always be written this well.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.

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