Author: Mark Millar (writer), Leinil Yu (penciler)
What’s happening, another comic book review in a row? And what is that exactly, a love child of Superman and Shazam???
Well, to an extent ;). Though the fruit of Millar and Yu’s collaboration reads like an unabashed love letter to Superman, it had actually been published by Marvel. This comic is one of the more vivid examples of the blurred lines between what exactly in the superhero world is a property of one or the other powerhouses – and a solid reminder that ideas cannot be owned :).
Superior is a story of a twelve year-old kid, Simon Pooni, who struggles with early onset of MS. Multiple sclerosis is an awful, debilitating illness, killing slowly but surely – and the first thing it kills is hope. At first, Simon could no longer wiggle his toes; soon after he could only move on crutches, his one eye already blind. When a character from his favorite series of movies appeared to grant him a wish, he did not hesitate a moment. In a twist that all too well reminded me of another DC character, and one I cannot stand to boot (yes, I’m talking about you, Shazam!) Simon becomes the character from his most boyish dreams. But what he had taken as an angelic intervention is in fact far more sinister, and as the plot thickens and the fate of the world – as well as that of his own soul – is at stake, Simon must grow up pretty fast. Making tough choices does that to you. The story is simple enough, and probably wacky enough, to leave it be ;). What really mattered to me in Superior was actually the sentiment, the idea, and the art.
Yu’s artwork is wonderful, as always. The lines are clean and precise, with just the right amount of detail to feel realistic, but not cluttered. The Superman imagery, which seems the driving force behind many of the panels, suits the overall mood perfectly, and Yu really did his homework when it comes to Supe’s legacy. I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the great coloring and inking job of a bunch of talented guys as well: it’s dusky and shadowed, but clear nonetheless. Despite the fact that Superior is the superpowered hero, already an established icon from countless movies, comics and toys in Simon’s world, as well as the titular character of Millar’s story, it is Simon who remains at the centre of the creators’ attention – and it’s a surprisingly good decision to have a terminally ill boy as a protagonist of a superhero comic, for it allows the mature readers to come back to a time when the world seemed a bit simpler – and maybe a bit more uncanny and full of possibilities? – place than it is today. But mostly, it works because Simon is no Billy Bates, and Superior is, thankfully, no Captain Marvel. Simon is a child who needs to grow up very fast despite – or because – of his newfound abilities. Thankfully, he has help from expected and unexpected corners, and the whole process may be awkward at times, but is still pretty rewarding.
Millar walks a fine line here between sentimental and sappy, between teenage dream of glory and plenty of gore, quite adult in its gleeful abandon, between the world of fantasy come true and some very real, difficult decisions. I guess the balance that he’s found is the main reason for it all working so bloody well. But it’s still Millar, make no mistake: there is a lot of his trademark cursing, darkness and brutality, but this time it serves a purpose: to better showcase the light at the centre of the story.
Superior – or should I say, Simon – cares for each and everyone, and that message is delivered clearly and succinctly through wonderful close-up panels of people’s faces; the battles, however big and gloriously destructive, remain in the background, an inevitable extension of the internal battles and of the dichotomous view of the comic book world. If there’s good, there must be evil. And evil does what it does best in the superhero genre, rampaging through the city and destroying everything in sight 😉 Yet in Superior we never lose sight of the real fight, which remains close and intimate; and what ultimately creates the biggest punch has nothing to do with fist-fighting.
But mostly, Superior is pure fun. It is the story of an adolescent fantasy come true, and, at the same time, a spot-on meta-commentary on the nature adolescent fantasies. A love letter to old Superman movies of Christopher Reeves and Richard Donner fame written by a person who had seen much more throughout their lives, and yet returns to their first true infatuation with respect, humility and a bit of trepidation. I can actually imagine Millar as one of the kids depicted in his comic, reading and watching his heroes with almost religious awe. Come to think of it, it’s probably the only of his comics in which we can glimpse Millar as an emotional human being 😉
Superior is a tribute to the times long-gone, which seem simpler just because you were growing up in them, and the world was brighter because you didn’t notice the shadows… It’s a paean to friendship and love, and trust. It’s also a strangely traditional, Catholic view of good and evil impersonated, and at the same time, a wonderful, tongue-in-the-cheek ride through all main superhero tropes (and yes, female proportions – or rather disproportions – included. But in all fairness, male as well :P).
Lastly, I really appreciate the role of adults in this graphic novel. Parents, treated as a given up to a point of juxtaposition I’ll not spoil, and Maddie, of course, the ruthless news hound with a newly rediscovered golden heart, but also Tad Scott, the actor playing the role of Superior. Parents rarely play a significant role in superhero comics, maybe because usually they’re dead and can only influence their offspring as a memory 😉 In Millar’s comic they are an important part of the story just because they are there when it counts.
All in all, Superior is an extremely fun romp through the genre, a wonderful tribute to the character who started it all, and a great piece of comic art. Don’t be deterred by the cursing, destruction, or big boobs, it’s just the rough exterior protecting the warm, cuddly, sentimental and unabashedly soft heart beneath 😀