Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Superman: For Tomorrow

I am a big fan of Brian Azzarello. His name will make me pick up a comic that I otherwise have no interest in reading. Perfect example is For Tomorrow, a Superman collaboration with Jim Lee that came out a few years ago. As a kid I used to be a huge fan of Superman, but as I have gotten older there just seems to be a missing element to the character that bothers me. I understand that he got the great values from his Kansan parents, but there has to be something deeper as to why he acts the way he does, something that so many have tried and failed to convey before, and something that Azzarello and Lee attempt again here.

While Superman is off in space, millions of people across Earth suddenly disappear. He returns too late to stop the disappearances that devastate the world, but discovers quickly that the global tragedy struck all-too close for the Man of Steel. Lois Lane is gone and Superman is so despondent about his failings that he visits a priest for an ongoing confessional that runs the length of the story.

Superman is always most interesting when his superiority is put into question, and Azzarello poses the perfect question at the start: what happens when the Man of Steel fails? It’s not like losing a fight with the Parasite or something, but instead that he was powerless to prevent a global act of terror. As many of us felt after 9/11, the big guy is left questioning his abilities and purpose. This is played out in his confessional type conversations with the priest and is stirringly effective.

Yet the problem with For Tomorrow, as with so many other stories, is that the mystery is more interesting than the truth. Since the first volume is primarily told in a flashback, the second catches up to the present and we lose the troubling reflections by the Man of Steel. But the real issue is that it doesn’t feel like a Superman story. Instead it feels like a Brian Azzarello story that just so happens to have a Superman-like character in it. The brooding character is welcome, but in the end the appeal of the character is one of hope and wonder.

Azzarello wastes the character of the priest, turning him from a compelling person to a science fiction cliché. To me, this character provides the heart of this book, the touch of humanity, and to have it thrown away irrevocably mars the tale.

Jim Lee’s artwork is top notch. It really feels like he has a handle on Superman and Lois Lane in a way that he didn’t while drawing Hush. While some of the villains aren’t conceived too well visually, the layouts are stunning and his mastery of storytelling is easily apparent.

All in all, another disappointing stab at what makes Superman the sort of person he is. That said, I hope that DC continues to mine stories in this vein because when someone finally does nail it, it will be one of the best comics ever written.

1 comment:

steve-mollmann said...

This is in my pile. I'd be happy to discuss it with you when I get there... in two years.