I've devoted a not inconsiderable amount of thought to reviewing graphic novels in recent months. I LOVE graphic novels and I read at least one of those to every "normal" book I read, and of course I have plenty of thoughts about them, but I couldn't figure out how best to do reviews. There's not much point in telling you how much I liked Elongated Man #783 (fake example) if you don't know who Elongated Man is and haven't read the preceding 782 issues.
For the moment, I'm going to try to do graphic novels that stand alone and tell a complete story, and I'll probably continue to do more than one at a time when I do them. So, without further ado: Superman!
My three favorite titles, through mild coincidence, have nothing to do with each other but do tell an overall story. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Superman: For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello, and Kingdom Come by Mark Waid.
All Star Superman is the only Grant Morrison title that I have any kind of enjoyment for, but it is AMAZING. We already know the basic story, about how Superman was sent as a baby from the planet Krypton, raised by a good farming couple in Kansas, etc. The Superman story has been told at least a thousand times, and Superman, on average, kind of bores me. All the stories are the same sometimes. But Morrison gets rid of the transitional material, the "story glue," and just shows us the panels that are important to the story. He shows us the heart of Superman, the reasons why we loved the story the first time we heard it. He shows us a naive, innocent man who is able to wield amazing power, and what's more, wield it well. The art is hard to explain, but I really like it. The whole story is contained in two volumes.
Superman: For Tomorrow is another two volume book, set a year after The Vanishing, a moment in which a substantial portion of Earth's population simply disappeared. It's a darker and edgier story, sparely written, and deeply moving. You have to fill in a lot of the story yourself, so it'll bear multiple re-readings. I was really surprised by how well the whole book was done... Azzarello shows us what happens when Superman loses his naivete and finds out the world is more complicated than he thought it was. It breaks his heart a little bit, but it doesn't break HIM. He doesn't lose his idealism. The art captures that story beautifully too... It looks like Superman in all his iconic awesomeness, but it incorporates shadows and uncertainty.
Now, if you've been following me for a while, you know how much I love Kingdom Come. It's one of my favorite graphic novels EVER, but it's also becoming one of my favorite Superman graphic novels. The Kingdom Superman is full of sorrow, and even bitterness, and he isn't perfect, but that doesn't make him any less Superman. He's still trying to do the right thing, and trying to save people. He still knows how to throw a punch and how to fill out spandex. I think Kingdom Come can be thought of almost as the future of For Tomorrow in a way.
I see these three graphic novels as partly a timeline, showing an almost childlike Superman growing up, but also as three kinds of Superman/Superman story. The simple kind, the kind that looks at the darkness, and the kind that goes all the way. Whole, breaking, broken. And the best thing is that all three kinds are about idealism. I love all of them. I love Superman. I love to turn a page and see a big, full-page drawing of Superman flying above all of us who are on the ground, because he's better than us, and he inspires us to be better too. Even when he's not perfect, he's inspiring.
There have been a few other ones I liked (Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb was great, and the Superman: Man of Steel series that started in the eighties is my favorite longterm series) but these are my absolute favorites so far. For those of you who have never read Superman, I envy you the joy of discovering him for the first time, and I recommend Superman for All Seasons and then All Star Superman as a great place to start.
Buy All Star Superman (Volume 2 should be out in paperback at some point.)
Buy Superman: For Tomorrow
Buy Kingdom Come
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