Welcome to 2021, and welcome to this new Read Pile! This time we’ve got writer (check out https://aflickeringlife.wordpress.com/) and cohost of the Omniplex podcast (https://theomniplex.org/) Austin Shinn (https://twitter.com/untitleduser?s=21, @untitleduser), who’s brought us Superman: For Tomorrow.
When I was searching for a selection for this column, I didn’t spend long deciding what I needed to remove from the pile. I read a lot of big collections of several arcs but for this I needed a single coherent story. It would be best to be a high profile one people are interested in. Major creative team would be nice. And lastly, it’s not a bad idea to pick a character I’m a major fan of.
Superman: For Tomorrow checks all the boxes. A long but single story from Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee that DC sold as the Superman version of Lee’s iconic Hush featuring my favorite character. If I’m looking for comfort food, it really can’t look more on the surface like this. Which is why I do hate to say that I get why this has had far less legs than Hush.
This story is a hybrid of three disparate elements. The big selling point is Jim Lee and I am boringly in the majority on him. Jim Lee earns the term artist. His pencils are fluid, emotion filled, dynamic works. Lee was coming off the incredible Hush, a story where the art was matched by a brilliant story that was one of Jeph Loeb’s best.
Then there’s the Superman factor. The 00s were not a smooth decade for Clark. I feel like the meme that he was boring took hold hard. It’s not a decade without good stories, such as the underrated Camelot Falls and the legendary All-Star Superman, but a lot of stories wrestled with the character like this one. The hope and joy weren’t always there.
I think if any writer was to wrestle with who the character is, Brian Azzarello makes sense. I have a weird relationship with him. I don’t think he’s very good but I don’t hate him oddly. I think that’s because unlike a Frank Miller or Mark Millar there’s no specific issue to point to. He’s not a misogynist or an edgelord. He’s just not really my taste. But maybe here that would change.
The story begins a year after a mysterious wave of disappearances wracked the globe, taking a million people including Lois Lane. A grief stricken Superman tries to solve the vanishings while bonding with a priest. His quest leads him into conflict with the JLA and an answer he won’t like.
I noted that the 00s were not Superman’s age. I don’t think any story captures that rough moment like this. This is far from a bad book, a rather brisk read I shot through in a few days. But it’s a book undone by a writer who writes almost everything well but has no idea how to write Superman.
Brian Azzarello’s Superman is a much edgier version than the norm. He’s angry. He’s violent. He refuses to go by Clark with his colleagues, insisting on Kal. This is not a character I liked in the least and of course I didn’t. He’s not Superman. I don’t go with the need to always have the character be aw shucks nice but I do need him to be a good character and I will never accept a version that rejects his humanity. This is sort of the embodiment of what people say they want and it’s bad.
And yet, that didn’t break the book for me. I’ve read a lot of Superman in that era and I was used to it. What works is this book has a really solid hook that’s well executed. Azzarello has a solid mystery with a strong answer. It’s a very fast moving book. Dialogue is strong. I liked the priest, a richly written study in a man tempted. I could even understand why Superman was a jerk, given that he lost the love of his life.
But then there’s Jim Lee’s art. Lee is in full Lee mode here. Read this on guided view in awe. Every panel is breathtaking. Lee draws everything better than anyone else going today. If this is the big selling point, it’s hardly a failed one.
Ultimately, if the mission of this was to grab a book off the pile and get a dose of comfort, even with my reservations it was a success. This was a nice read that delivered what I needed.
Thank you for reading this week’s Read Pile! Hopefully it was a part of a nice start to the new year. As always, get in touch with me (@prince_organa on Twitter) or get in touch with Dave by fancasting Bryce Dallas Howard as Mary Jane. Next time will be something DOOM-y by Brason T. Thanks again!