Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Superman 80-Page Giant

The Superman 80-Page Giant came out last week and was simply a treat to read. Touted as a showcase for 'up-and-coming' talents, the book is stuffed with 7 Superman stories ranging from the sentimental to the silly, from fast-paced action to philosophical musings.

And for someone like me, starved for Superman (not Commander El) stories right now, it hit the spot. It definitely reminded me of the old Superman Family or Silver Age Superman 80pg Giants. As a youth I devoured those short 'one and done' stories.

And these new talents didn't disappoint, although I would say that for me, some of them are better known commodities. I have discussed the art of Matt Camp, Clayton Henry, and CP Wilson III on this blog in the past.

But on to the bullet reviews of the issue's stories.

The book opens with 'Cold', written by Mike Raicht and drawn by CP Wilson III.

In the story, Clark accidentally uses his heat vision in response to a bully and nearly drowns Pete Ross in suddenly melted skating pond. It is a touching story of this man's attempt to bridge the gap between his humanity and Clark's super-humanity all while being a father.

In the end, he connects to Clark by pretending that the cold of that Kansas night isn't bothering him, showing that they have plenty in common. I have read plenty of the flashback stories in the past but it is such rich material that they almost never disappoint. These are the reasons Superman acts as he does ... why he isn't aloof or angry or maladjusted. In many ways, the Kents are as heroic as Kal, just for raising him right.

Wilson's art is perfect for this type of story. Sepia-soaked and nostalgic, his pencils really capture the words wonderfully. It gives of a feel of old photographs or daguerreotypes. I have enjoyed Wilson's art on Stuff of Legend and was lucky enough to get a commission from him last year. Here is the link for those who did not see it before: http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/search/label/C.P.%20Wilson

While I don't know how he would do on a primary-colored whiz-bang Superman title on a monthly basis, I think Wilson would be a perfect fit on Jonah Hex, any war comic, or even more 'down to earth' titles like Hellblazer. I really like his work.

We leave that sentimental feel and careen towards the more humorous in 'Lois Lane and Clark Kent: Patience-Centered Care', written by Kathryn Immonen with art by Tonci Zonjic.

I thought this was a funny little story of how staying at home doing nothing is probably an arduous task for Superman. With Lois floored by the flu, Clark vows to stay at home and be the doting and helpful husband. Unfortunately, he is bored out of his mind being on Kleenex duty.
With little else to do, he actually creates a couple of 'danger situations' so he can get out of the house.

The 'Mr. and Mrs. Superman' story was certainly funny and the art mirrored the zaniness nicely.

Immonen has several Marvel mini-series under her belt and Zonjic drew the somewhat controversial Marvel Divas but I hope to see them on some DC comics in the future.

We are then treated to 'Got Bugs', written by Ben McCool with art by Matt Camp. Much more the standard 'punch em up' Superman story, 'Bugs' has Superman fighting a sentient swarm of alien bugs named Krugak ( a great 60's style Marvel monster name).

With the swarm infesting the Daily Planet, Superman has to defend his friends and defeat the insect horde. This also had a nice amusing undertone, with the exterminator hired by the Planet telling Clark his 'war stories' all while Clark is hammering away against the alien threat.

McCool is able to stuff in a lot of story into his few pages ... flashbacks, scenes in the Planet staff room, as well as the action. Pretty impressive.

And I have trumpeted Camp's work before based on his work on Supergirl. His meticulous style works so well here, each bug visible in the lumbering hive-being. I was really looking forward to Camp's take on the Supergirl/Brainiac 5 relationship but based on his blog, I don't know if he is on her next issue. I definitely hope Camp finds regular work soon.

Again we swerve towards the humorous with 'Why Metropolis?', written by Pat McCallum and drawn by Mike Shoyket.

We are treated to the musings of a gang of bank robbers retelling all the cities they have tried to commit crimes in and their interactions with the super-heroes who live there. They talk about the showmanship of Green Arrow, the thoroughness of the Flash, and the creepiness of Batman.

So why try to rob a bank in Metropolis? Because Superman isn't a jerk when he catches you. He is barely in the story but I loved Superman's brief speech to the bad guys, telling them they should look for a different path in life.

Shoyket's art worked more on the Green Arrow and Batman pages than on the Superman pages for me. He looks like he would be best suited for some 'no powers' book like Azrael or some similar Batman like title.

My favorite story in the issue was 'Superman Is My Co-pilot', written by Jason Hall and drawn by Julian Lopez.

Leaning towards the metaphysical, the story revolves around an agoraphobic named Stan whose life is completely changed when Superman saves him from a giant robot which demolished Stan's apartment building. Suddenly Stan feels that Superman is watching out over him and so takes a complete 180 degree turn in his life, thrusting himself into more and more dangerous environments 'knowing' Superman will be there to rescue him. When he almost dies trying to jump from one building to another, he is rescued yet again. But this time, Superman pauses to talk to him.

Superman talks about how difficult his life can be where he needs to make tough choices of who to save and who not to save, how while that is a god-like responsibility, he is just a man trying to help. But most importantly, how Stan needs to help himself rather than rely on an absent savior. Armed with some wisdom, Stan reaches out to the woman in his building who he is enamored of but hasn't had the courage to talk to.

Again, Superman is not the centerpiece of this story instead being the catalyst for character change in the everyman Stan. But it works, showing how much Superman can resonate in the world, impacting even the individual.

Julian Lopez' art has been covered here for his work on Superman, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and World's Finest. His works has seemed to mature and become more detailed here. Good stuff.

'Five Minutes' written by Rik Hoskin and drawn by RB Silva again looks at the frenetic relationship between Lois and Clark. When Lois says she will be five minutes later than she thought, Clark finds the way to pass the time by being helpful in the city.

No fisticuffs with a super-villain here. Instead Superman acts as super-citizen, clearing up a traffic accident, helping put out a fire, even performing the old 'saving a cat from a tree' routine. I thought that was the key to this story, showing how Superman helps even with the most mundane of good deeds.

Silva's art has a hint of manga to it, just enough to make me think it but not enough to overwhelm.

The final story is 'On Break', written by Sean Ryan and drawn by Clayton Henry. Yet another look at the impact of Superman on the common man, this story follows a Superman/Bizarro fight across the country. Each scene moves us from Metropolis to Columbus to Arizona, each with a commentary from a 'normal person' who seems to take Superman's actions in stride.

I thought this was another good story where Superman doesn't necessarily star but is more of an external force on the cast. I suppose this is what it would be like to live in a world of super-heroes, a place where you nonchalantly say a sonic book cracked the television. It was great to see a couple of teenage boys call Superman 'hard core'. I am sick to death of 'big blue school boy' interpretation.

We have seen Clayton Henry's work on the Legion in Adventure Comics. He seems well suited for high-flying superhero action and would be a good choice for a book like Legion or Titans.

You never know what you will get with an anthology book like this. But I thought this one worked very well. In particular, I thought the varying themes showed the breadth of stories that Superman can work in.

And lastly, I hope DC ties up some of these talents and we get to see them again soon.

Overall grade: B+


Saranga said...

No Kara stories? Or have I skimmed your review too fast?

TalOs said...

@Saranga - Supergirl was no where to be seen in this unbelievably waste of good money pityful excuse of an 80 page Superman theme intended Annual.

@Anj - I'm sorry but this had to be THE worst 80 page Superman annual that I've ever had the displeasure of purchasing/reading. Hell, it was basically Superman seen through the eyes of others majority of the time or stuff that was just plain painful and boring to read. When you expect a Superman 80 page annual you EXPECT your moneys worth with it being "balls to the wall" non stop excitement with every page unlike this poor excuse that felt put together at very last minute and in these economical times I don't want to splash out only to have to read about something like Lois raging on Clark about him trying to be there for her and how it annoyed her but would've much preferred a story that had me excited to switch to the next page like say Superman having to had face Darkseid for the first time since Final Crisis and how he'd deal with him after what he ended up doing to Batman. Hell, I would've been just as content to have had Kal being messed with by Mxy in a major way and having to involve the rest of the Superman family in help solving a major puzzle to stop the 5th dimensional imp from causing any more havoc then he already has upon him having first shown up, anything but what we were given which some of it could've easily have been used in 'Superman: Secret Origin' (come the "early years" mini type stories) and the rest could've been used in other various Superman title filler issues Post-New Krypton BEFORE 'Superman' #700' with JMS taking over then on. In having had said all of that the only positive I found from this particular annual was the various cool show cased art being used but apart from that one saving grace for me it was just trite and boring rubbish that you simply don't use in something as big as that of an 80 page Superman themed annual.

Grade: F

Anj said...

I'm sorry but this had to be THE worst 80 page Superman annual that I've ever had the displeasure of purchasing/reading. Hell, it was basically Superman seen through the eyes of others majority of the time or stuff that was just plain painful and boring to read.

One of the great things about the internet and one of the things that I love about this blog is reading differing opinions.

The very thing that I enjoyed about this book (seeing the impact Superman has on the periphery of the lives of the common man) is what made you not like it.

Such absolute dichotomous responses makes me realize just how tough the comics business (or any entertainment business) is as you try to find the happy medium to please the most people while maintaining a high quality product.

I'm sorry you disliked it so much Talos; $5.99 is a big price tag for what you felt was a bad product.

TalOs said...

Anj: I'm all for different emotional themed stories being told in regular comics, whether they range from "grim and grit" to "light and fluffy", yet when it comes to something as rare and special like that of an actual 80 page giant intended Superman annual you had best be making sure it's a REAL page turner (again it's 80 pages we're talking about here, theres no excuse for mediocreness and especialy in these hard economical times for the price the company is asking for) and to have the reader wanting to turn the pages in utter excitement rather then 'em being so annoyed and bored out of their brains that they end up ever regretting purchasing something of mediocre quality (where the same price they paid could've gone to something you'd definitely know you'd get your bang for buck) which should instead be made of THE highest page turning themed stuff. e.g. If this had been an 80 page giant Green Lantern themed annual you bet your bottom dollar it'd be sure to be made of such page turning exciting stuff (which is now expected out of said franchise thesedays thanks to 'Sinestro Corp War'-'Blackest Night' as of late) yet being this focusing on DC's main hero that started it all they allow such mediocre content to go in? How can some one justify said decision in the end when it comes to THE Superhero icon of 'em all Superman? I mean Superman?? *sighs*