23 December 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #15: Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume Two

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004-05)

Borrowed from a friend
Read December 2009
Superman: For Tomorrow, Volume Two

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Additional Inkers: Richard Friend, Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Eric Basaldua, Jim Lee, Danny Miki, Trevor Scott, Tim Townsend, Joe Weems
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterers: Rob Leigh, Nick J. Napolitano

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

What the heck happened here? Volume One of For Tomorrow was exceptional-- one of the best main series Superman stories I had ever read. But with this... Brian Azzarello goes completely off the rails.

Let's start with what I liked. Thankfully, Azzarello still gets Superman. I mean, gets him. In this volume, we get an explanation for the mysterious Vanishing and the orb that caused it: it turns out that Superman himself built the orb. Why? It turns out that his entire life, Superman has been haunted by his father's failure: his world about to be destroyed, and all Jor-El could manage to do was save one person, his own child. What kind of protector is that? Superman created the orb to shunt Earth's population into the Phantom Zone, the ultimate fail-safe. So far, so good. I really like this idea that Superman feels this need to outdo his father, to surpass his failures. It fits well. I can even kind of buy the notion that Superman has the technical know-how to design and build the orb to do it.

Where things get kooky, though, is that Superman staffs this world in the Phantom Zone with robot duplicates of Jor-El, his mother Lara, and Clark Kent. Creepy much? He sends the orb with them so that they can reactivate it if the need be. And apparently, having done all this, he wipes his own memory of it.

But the Phantom Zone was not empty, unknown to Superman. For within the Phantom Zone lurked Krypton's greatest threat... General Zod. And this is where things go from kooky to bad, because Azzarello's Zod is terrible. This is not the casually arrogant god played by Terence Stamp, this is a demonic brute, one of many in this comic. There's not really much to distinguish him from Equus, even though one supposedly is the master and the other the servant. The depiction of Zod does absolutely nothing more me; I can see why the fact that Superman had met Zod before was totally ignored for Last Son just a few years later, which was a much superior take on the character. Why bring back Zod if he could just be any old brute? (There is, however, one great bit where Zod asks Superman to save him... then lets go of Superman and falls into a vortex just to get on Superman's nerves.)

Anyway, Zod realized what the orb was and sent it back into our world to ensure that Superman would somehow be drawn back in the Phantom Zone: presumably, that's when it made its way into the hands of the Middle Eastern despot who used it cause the Vanishing. It's all a bit convoluted, but it can be puzzled through eventually. But it just doesn't work for me; it's too complicated to resonate effectively. This world Superman constructs-- Metropia-- represents his ability to atone for his father's "sins", so what does it mean that Zod, another of his father's "sins", populates it for him indirectly and smashes it up? Um...

The other problem with this book is Father Daniel Leone. The center of Volume One were the conversations between him and Superman, as both attempt to navigate their places in the world, as both are the people everyone looks to for help, leaving them with no one to look to. A beautiful relationship was being built there, with each of them as each other's confessor. Yet here, that is all cast aside. They barely talk, and Daniel falls into the hands of arch-mercenary Mr. Orr, who augments him into a replacement for the super-solider Equus, called "Pilate". Um, why? We're told that the fact that Daniel has cancer assists the mutation, but surely there are many more people with cancer, almost all of them more skilled at combat than a Catholic priest? The character is almost cruelly discarded by Azzarello here, becoming a pointless nobody in short order. I mean, there's a neat moment where Pilate saves Superman by figuring out how to send the orb back to him again, but this could have been so much better. What a waste. All that build-up in Volume One was for nothing.

Equus is still dumb, too. Other weird things include Mr. Orr's dealing with the mystic lady, who was never explained in any capacity, and his ability to manipulate Wonder Woman, who ought to know better. I did like that Wonder Woman came to stop Superman from reactivating the orb and sending himself into the Phantom Zone, though, and the Superman/Wonder Woman battle here worked pretty well, especially in its ending.

This does lead me to another point: Wonder Woman has nice legs. In fact, every woman drawn by Jim Lee has nice legs. And Lee wastes no opportunity to show them to you. Wonder Woman wears an improbably short skirt, and this skirt flies upwards at ever opportunity during combat. We even get the occasional glimpse of panties. Classy. Lois Lane is similarly sexualized. Apart from Clark in Metropia, where everyone else wears baggy clothes, she spends her time in a tiny shift that shows off both her legs and ample cleavage. While going tree-climbing. Why? Goodness knows. At least Superman gets his fair share of shirtless time in, too. Other than that complaint, though, Lee's art is typically gorgeous.

I wanted to like this story, I really did. And Volume One is still fantastic. But this volume neglects what made the first one work so well, and muddies the waters with the completely unneeded additions of General Zod and Pilate. A disappointing conclusion to what ought to have been a fantastic story, For Tomorrow does at least end with a great line from Superman: "I will always be there to save you. Because I am Superman. Believe that, until the end. The End. I wonder, when it comes... who will save me?" (Man, Azzarello's characters tend to talk in clipped, dramatic pronouncements. Oh 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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