That’s the phrase that I can use to best surmise what Superman has become to the entire planet.
That big “S” on his chest is an iconic piece of imagery, on par with any other worldly, cultural icon. The superhero that started it all has been around for more than 80 years. That’s really speaking to the integrity of his character and why he’s been able to stand the test of time. So many other superheroes created from that age, the Golden Age of comic books, never failed to live past it.
Although, if you ask anyone what their favorite Superman story is, I doubt they could mention any outside of the Christopher Reeve 1978 masterpiece.
Doubtful many would remember seeing the others after that, or even reference any of the awful sequels or remakes or the even-sometimes-so-great-it-hurt-that-it-wasn’t-a-live-action-movie Bruce Timm animated series.
So, how does he stay around for so long if people can’t really reference any fictional works that Superman actually is a main character in? It’s a tad easier, now at least, for Batman and The Avengers and Spider-Man. They’ve had a massive amount of time in the spotlight with excellent movies and cartoon shows, etc. So, why is Superman still at the top of the list of heroes even though he has yet to reach the critical acclaim of the previous?
I absolutely believe that if you debated with anyone why Superman is the greatest hero, they’ll argue for their Wolverines and their Iron Men, but, in the end, I truly believe that anyone would give way and admit that Superman is the best. He’s the top dog. The head honcho. I’m getting off track.
He’s a long lasting icon because he truly is what we should all aspire to be. We don’t, in many cases, but that’s the nature of this particular beast. We aspire to be him, but never truly can.
While I’ll try to stay away from writing 1100 words about the human condition and how Superman is what we should be, it’s worth noting. We love Superman because he’s the best in all of us, but don’t consider him our favorite because we’re the least like him.
It’s an interesting relationship, the one the world shares with Superman. I do believe, though, that it will be changed with the impending release of the brand new movie “Man of Steel”, helmed by director Scott Snyder and starring relative newcomer Henry Cavill. The man looks like Superman, I’ll definitely give him that. However, I’m unfamiliar with his previous acting sets so this will be an adventure for me as well.
With the release in just a mere week and a half, I felt it was time to look at some great Superman stories that might inspire all of us to be a little bit more like the man in blue. I’ve already written about the best Superman story in recent history, the All-Star Superman tale, in two parts. If you want to start somewhere, start there.
It feels, though, that this new movie may not take that turn down the Silver Age road. The place where Superman travels to alternate universes and moves planets and fights living suns. No, this movie wants to do the extremely difficult task of grounding Superman in a modern world while still keeping his sci-fi roots alive. When it comes down to it, that’s all Superman really is. At the base nature of his stories, he’s a Science Fiction tale.
A young boy, last of his species. Sent to our planet. Forced to adapt. Lives up to enormous potential to save us all. We get it.
But, underneath the simplistic nature of his origin, there’s more.
So, this week we’re not looking at the All-Star version. No, we’re looking at a version that’s perhaps more in-line with what they’re trying to do with this new movie. A Superman plagued by the realities of the world. One that, sometimes, can even make mistakes as well. It’s how he deals with them that are important.
We’re looking at “Superman: For Tomorrow”, written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by DC comics superstar artist Jim Lee. Published back in 2004, this series feels the most as if it’s the inspiration for the upcoming Zack Snyder movie.
It’s not because it’s telling an origin story. No, we’ve seen that enough in the comics. No, this series looks to be the most in tune with the “Man of Steel” movie because it balances the real world side of Superman with the kookiness and craziness of the superhero world that he lives in. And it does it strangely well.
Some say that comic books should be able to stand on their own and that every individual issue should tell a whole story. Some say that if the comic serves the overall purpose of a larger story, stick with it. This story, “For Tomorrow”, does exactly that. It is a one year long, twelve issue tale of what it means to balance the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps literally, actually, if you’re as strong as Superman.
I’m getting off point again.
Azzarello helps us see through the eyes of Superman by putting us in the position of a Catholic Priest, Father Leone. One day, managing the duties of the church, he’s visited by Superman. One year has passed since an event came to be. This event, called “The Vanishing”, happened in an instant. Within that instant over one million people disappeared from Earth, leaving nothing but an ashen outline in their wake.
Among them, his wife Lois Lane.
Superman, off planet at the time, blames himself for the events. As he confesses to Father Leone his sins, he also reveals that his sin was that he tried to save the planet.
In a very unprecedented move at the time, Superman reveals that in his failure, he doubled his efforts to save the planet. He traces the cause of The Vanishing to an unnamed foreign country in the Middle East, bereft with warfare and dictators. There, Superman rids both sides of their guns. This is fantasy at its highest. How many times have we wished Superman could really do that? Unfortunately, Superman only makes matters worse as his actions trigger a second Vanishing, taking even more people away.
From here, it’s on Brian Azzarello to make us believe that this is really Superman. How could he make such enormous mistakes? What Azzarello does, though, is not undersell Superman. That’s what the mistake of 2006’s “Superman Returns” was. They tried to make Superman matter by downplaying him and making him weaker than what he really should be.
If his acts are super, then his mistakes must be as well. Azzarello shows us that, while being the most powerful being in creation is one thing, the ramifications can be even worse. Confronted with his mistakes, and feeling terrible at the losses he’s suffering, Superman continues to confide in Father Leone. His reasons, though, are again on the side of dark.
Father Leone has cancer and is dying.
He’ll never be able to share his secrets with anyone.
Though dark in many moments, I did say that this story was brilliant in balancing out the real with the fictional. That’s where artist Jim Lee comes into play.
His lines, absolutely gorgeous in many panels and just plain great in others, services the best when drawing the fantastical. In one sequence, Wonder Woman, concerned about her friend, tries to talk him out of drastic actions that could end his life. When Superman fails to follow her requests, she intervenes and that leads to one of the bigger spectacles in the book. Lee’s quieter, intimate moments with Superman and Father Leone are great, but when Superman faces down four, titanic elementals of the planet that are rising up against the human race for the tragic acts of The Vanishing, it’s beautiful. Did I mention one of them is Mount Rushmore as a rock titan?
It’s a stunning tale. It truly is. Short of going another thousand words about, let me summarize by saying that it captures the darker side of Superman without de-mystifying him. There are shadowy organizations at play, and a special guest star that fans of the movie will love to see.
This is still the Superman you know and love, but, maybe now, you’ll know him just a little better, and know what it means to wear the cape.
Next Week: It’s more Jim Lee action! A brand new Superman comic series is being published, just in time for the movie! Next week, I’ll review the first issue for you to see if it’s truly a lead in to the biggest movie this summer. “Superman: Unchained”, next week!
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Citizen, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, employee and frequenter of Heroes & Villains Comics/Game Store, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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