Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Books: Superior


Written by Mark Millar
Art by Leinil Francis Yu

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

"I always liked the fact that Superior doesn't kill people. Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff."

So: yeah. I'll admit it - ever since I saw Man of Steel last week I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - if you're one of the unfortunate few who follow the Islington Comic Forum on facebook then you can probably tell from all the links and stuff I've posted up there (sorry guys) that it's kinda wormed itself into my mind like one of those worms-things from The Wrath of Khan [1] (only - you know: not in a good way).

I don't wanna be mean and end up spoiling it for those of you who haven't had a chance to watch it yet (although - come on! - it's been out for like two weeks already: and what? You telling me that you're life is so fulfilled that you don't have the time to watch a mindlessly violent blockbuster superhero film? HA! I don't believe you...): but I guess if you had to narrow it down to like a single sentence then that sentence would be: Superman isn't supposed to act like that. And another sentence (what the hey) would be: he's supposed to be better (that's what makes him Super silly).

(And - god I know yes - it is incredibly boring to hear a comic book geek bitch and moan in a nasally voice about how "that's not what happened in the comics. That's not what happened in the comics." But there's a difference between making whatever changes to the story and adding blah and taking away the things etc and: well - let me put it this way: how would you feel if you went to see film called Traffic Safety Man and it was all just him running red lights and driving with a mobile phone in one hand and a beer in the other? It's like: damn - if that's what they wanted to do: then why bother making it about Traffic Safety Man? As the end product is pretty much completely antithetical to what the character is supposed to be all about).

Of course - I hashed out a lot of these feelings in the thing that I wrote for Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu's [2] Superman: Birthright (link below): although looking back now - the stuff I wrote is pretty much all over the place like a seasick donkey and never really pulls itself together enough to make a cogent point and (man) I am very much temped to go back over and re-write the whole thing [3]: but part of the whole structure of this here blog (which I'm pretty much completely committed to at this point) is that I can't really write follow-ups to stuff I've written before [4]: everything has to be on a book-by-book basis you know?

Except - well - we got a big batch of new comics that came into today and sitting on top of the pile was this book: Superior. And - well - it's like someone pecked inside my brain and decided to make a comic book version of the Man of Steel that gets it all exactly right.

Now. The thing that's so amazing (to me) isn't the fact that someone could make a superhero comic that perfectly managed to distill all the the qualities that make Superman so gross-darn super (I mean - come on: how hard can that be?) but that such a book would come from (like it says on the cover): "From the Writer of Kick Ass" - that is to say: Mark Millar.

For those of you that don't know: Mark Millar is (at this point) the comic book world's version of the Anti-Christ: dirty, depraved and responsible for some of the most heinous comics of the 21st Century so far. I mean - yeah: we all know that comic books are supposed to be slightly seedy and disreputable (that's all part of the allure right?) - but Mr Millar (for the past decade or so) has been pushing those limits further into the ground than anyone has really dared [5]. I mean - read Kick-Ass 2 if you're curious to see how squalid a mainstream comic book can get [6].

Picking up to read Superior was only really to satisfy my curiosity as to just what level of bad Mr Millar was currently operating on: which I guess explains how it managed to sneak in behind me and grab me by the heart.

Make no mistake: I spent the entirety of my first read through of Superior constantly expecting the utter-most worst. Any second now (I told myself) someone is going to say "bring out the gimp" and this whole book is going to descend into some-sort of messed-up torture porn vibe with ball gags and things being shoved into uncomfortable orifices: so I just kind of sat there bracing myself for a massive car-crash of awfulness and so sort of "dude - that is so messed up" that has become Mr Millar's stock-in-trade. But - hey - if you take away anything from all this stuff that I'm writing down - then take this: I don't know how it happened but this book might just be the most palatable book that Mr Millar has gifted the world since his Superman: Red Son all those many years ago [7].

I mean - seeing how Superior first appeared in Mr Millar's "Clint" magazine I guess I just assumed that it  going to do for Superman what Nemesis did to Batman (i.e. make him all messed up and awful and mean): but instead - well: it's almost as if with all the other books he's produced lately - he's managed to flush out his venom and ever-constant-need to show the world that he's no softie [8] and instead crafted a hymn to the power of goodness: truth, justice and all the rest.

Which basically means: that even if you've hated everything Mark Millar has done in the past whatever years - I'd still say you should give this book a shot: and if you want a glimpse into the mind of someone who knows exactly how and why the legend of an all powerful man who can fly has managed to endure across multiple cultures for 75 years - then same thing: pick up and read Superior: it's the best refutation of the Man of Steel I've read all week.

[1] Looking it up - they're called Ceti-eels "Ceti eels incubate their larvae within the plates of their jointed carapace. Upon emergence, the eel larvae can enter the ear of a larger animal, where it wraps itself around the cerebral cortex. This causes the host extreme pain and renders them extremely susceptible to outside suggestion. Over time, as the larva matures, the subject suffers from madness and eventual death." So know you know.

[2] Who - (yes) check it out - is the exact same Leinil Francis Yu who did the art on Superior. 

[3] And - D'oh - maybe put in something about how The Man of Steel actually borrowed quite a few little plot points and lines of dialogue from Birthright (which is the whole reason why I decided to write about them both together): but - no matter, no matter. Publish and be damned or whatever.

[4] If I did go back and write more stuff then the first thing I'd include would be this article from Comic Alliance (Choice And The Moral Universe Of 'Man Of Steel' [Opinion]) which 1. If you've seen Man of Steel you should totally read and 2. Includes this: "I noticed that every choice Clark Kent made was one a hero like Wolverine might make. Wolverine is the guy who gets to be misanthropic and petty and grim and make it all look cool. But Wolverine is not messianic. Wolverine is not a paragon. Jesus Christ would never wear a "What Would Wolverine Do?" bracelet." Which - well - check the first line of this post and gasp in awe at how I'm making this all join up.

[5] With the only notable exception being Frank Miller (no relation) who (with his book Holy Terror) managed to pip Mark Millar past the post to take home the prize of "Most Morally Repugnant Comic" of - like - the past ten years. Bully for him.

[6] On second thought: urg - don't read Kick-Ass 2. It's rubbish.

[7] And if you don't really know what that means: well - maybe click the link below and read the stuff I wrote about Superman: Red Son or (even better) track down a copy and read it yourself.

[8] I always think of this AV Club Interview when I read any Mark Millar mainly because of this: "I remember a friend of mine saying to me, “Oh, I wonder if you’ll, now that you’ve had a baby, you’ll go all Ian McEwan.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ian McEwan—his work used to be very, very harsh, and then he had a baby, and he went quite gentle. “So I wonder if that will happen to you, if you’ll lose your edge.” I was, “Oh my God, no.” So I think I purposefully went the other way, because the next thing I did was The Authority, which turned out to be my breakout project, but also the harshest thing I’ve ever written. I think since then, maybe subconsciously, I’ve always been aware of, “Don’t go soft.” I probably push it a little too much sometimes, so that I don’t seem as if I’ve gone soft."

Links: Alternative Magazine Review.

Further reading: Superman: Birthright, Kick-Ass, Kiss-Ass 2, Superman: Red SonNemesisUltimate Comics: AvengersUltimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-ManIrredeemable.

Profiles: Mark Millar.

All comments welcome.

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