Superman #23.4 Parasite came out this week and was a very interesting read for me. Unlike many of the one-shots I have read this month which have been unbelievably dark, there was a sense of dark humor in this issue, a welcome sort of palate cleanser after seeing Deadshot's parents and baby sister gunned down, Harley Quinn kill countless people with bomb-laden gaming systems, and the Cheetah eating the heart of her victim.
Aaron Kuder does the writing and the art in this issue and brings a new take on the Parasite as a sort of slacker super-villain.And with that basis for the character, you know there will be some sarcasm and irony soaked in. It should be obvious from the cover where a chibi-style death skull floats in the bright background. That isn't blood or viscera.
But on top of the new origins, Kuder's approach to the art is excellent as well, giving us vertical panels, splash pages, and inset panels which add so much of the story. His Parasite certainly seems to be modeled on the Frank Quitely bloated tick in All-Star Superman and any time I am reminded of that book it is a good things. But perhaps the best effect is his use of words floating amongst the art to add to the tone.
The book starts with the Parasite discussing how painful a life of eternal hunger is and deciding to end his life. In the aptly named Suicide Slum, he throws himself off the roof.
So the book opens on a sort of depressing tone with a villain so upset at his lot in life that suicide is an option. This opening made me wonder if this book would be similar in tone to the Killer Frost one-shot which really revealed a sympathetic villain struggling with her doomed existence. That didn't seem to jibe with the day-glo cute background cover.
And then we have a flashback to the Parasite's origin. Joshua Michael Allen is a bike messenger in Metropolis. He has a sort of inflated sense of self, calling himself the bike messenger of the gods and bringing each package to it's destination in less than perfect condition. When people complain about it, he acts as if it is their problem.
I do like this opening scene, eating food from one of the packages, wondering why everyone in Metropolis thinks they are so important. We get an immediate sense of who this guy is. He hates this city, hates its citizens, and probably hates his lot in life.
This Parasite gets his powers in a very different way. Perhaps the most brilliant thing Kuder does is use the 'hybrid virus' monster from the
Imagine, Kuder found a use for the Hybrid monster, an arc that DC might have hoped would fade in people's memories.
The downside is his leg gets broken. A bike messenger that can't ride is useless and so he is fired.
His girlfriend is upset because he can't pay her back for things she has given him so she dumps him. I love how the word parasite floats in the air, how 'dumped' is a panel to itself.
An opportunity arises when STAR Labs contacts him, hoping to test him for the residual effects of the virus and ... most importantly ... they pay.
Here he belittles the STAR labs staff member, calling her an overweight version of Velma on Scooby Doo. And the words 'jerk' and 'fool' float around him.
It is a pretty interesting character progression in the story for me. I started out feeling bad for the 'hungry' Parasite. Then I was bemused by the sardonic bike messenger who is sick of rich people and their yummy truffles. By this point, I am pretty much sick of this guy. He is a jerk and a jackass.
This middle section of the book when we meet the human Parasite is slickly ironic in tone.
Unfortunately, the STAR scans somehow unlock the Parasite powers. Big moments deserve big art. I thought this splash page was great. The cadaver-like Parasite rising from his seat (which has a coffin sort of feel to it), the drained workers on the floor, smoke billowing around ... great ghoulish stuff.
And the odd white squares on the Parasite? Cardiac monitors melted into his skin. Nice!
If there is one page that stood out above the rest it is this page, brilliant in design. We see the Parasite falling to his death as the story has caught up with the opening. Interspersed in those vertical pieces are inset panels which tell of the Parasite's sorry existence since the accident, draining people, and feeling horrible. But these insets feel like windows given the building background, windows into his past maybe? And the falling Parasite drags the readers eyes.
Superman rescues him without knowing what he is and the Parasite immediately swells. The morose deep purple becomes a vibrant electric pink. And his attitude changes dramatically. Superman is 'delicious'. The emptiness is gone. And the power ... this is probably what that bike messenger wanted in life ... power.
As I said, there is a definite Quitely Parasite feel here.
Superman quickly deduces that the Parasite absorbs energy and so a quick freeze ends things.
But the words here work so well, evoking a sort of drug addict need.
Suddenly this guy goes from a man willing to kill himself to end his pain to someone willing to do anything to get that next super-hit.
In some ways this becomes a very good book to contrast to the Killer Frost one. In that book, Frost needs Firestorm's heat to become normal. She hates what she needs to do to accomplish that, a victim of her need for energy. Here Parasite needs Superman's energy to feel better but he seems fine doing whatever he has to in order to get it.
With the CSA breakout at Belle Reve, the Parasite makes his way back to Metropolis.
The end scene is chilling as the Parasite forces a mom to drive him into Metropolis or he will drain her child to death. Now I really don't like this guy. Still, his ending line about how Metropolis has the best places to eat (Superman) is a nice wry line to end on.
So overall a very entertaining issue. I like the nonlinear story path. I like how Kuder manipulated my feelings of the main character from sympathy to hatred. And the art is fantastic, complementing the words perfectly.
Overall grade: B+