Saturday, 27 September 2014

Superman: True Brit Review (John Cleese, John Byrne)

John Cleese has a long line of credit with me for creating Fawlty Towers alone - that sitcom is perfection! I watched it when I was a kid and an adult and loved it both times, it’s a comedy masterpiece. Then there’s Monty Python which I came to later but still loved and the Holy Grail is one of my favourite movies. Even his lesser-known work like A Fish Called Wanda was superbly written by him (and Kevin Kline steals the show with his insane performance!). 

So I have a lot of love for Cleese even though Wanda may have been the last great thing he did and that was some 25 years ago! 

That said, it’s really, really hard to reconcile that brilliance with this comic - Superman: True Brit - which might be the worst Superman comic ever created. It’s certainly the worst I’ve read! 

Like Mark Millar’s Red Son, which wonders what would have happened if Superman’s Kryptonian vessel had landed in Soviet Russia than American Kansas, True Brit wonders what would have happened if Superman had been raised in England. The difference is that Millar’s story was told totally straight, and superbly, while Cleese and co-writer Howard Johnson’s is told comedically. The only reason I can fathom that it’s meant to be comedy is the inclusion of Cleese because there is no humour in this book. 

Where do I even begin with this tripe? Let’s start with Superman’s appearance which should be fairly easy to establish but Cleese and co. totally botch. 

Apparently Cleese thinks Superman is Cyclops because his heat vision is only contained when he wears specially designed glasses - and that’s why he wears glasses! Oh and his farmer dad is also a whiz at creating heat-resistant lenses in his shed, apparently! 

Then there are the other aspects of his uniform - the S on his chest is the family’s coat of arms, because everyone in Britain has a bloody coat of arms! That’s the only bit of origin that Cleese bothers with because the rest of his outfit materialises out of nowhere. After being told by his parents repeatedly not to use his powers (because what would the neighbours think? AHAHAHA THAT’S SO BRITISH ISN’T IT!!) he suddenly decides to help some Beatles-lookalike musicians (even though this is the ‘00s!) and voila! he appears fully costumed. 

Cleese also writes Superman as both retarded and without values. When he’s not smashing his head around indoors because he doesn’t know how to control his flying, he’s lobbing tree stumps through houses (duh, how do I use my super-strength again?), or killing cattle accidentally. But that’s probably the comedy right? Look, Superman destroyed some property AND he’s got a dumbass grin on his face - FUNNY.

He kowtows to his Rupert Murdoch/J Jonah Jameson-type newspaper boss and comes up with trashy stuff for his tabloid newspaper, because he’s a total buffoon who can’t think for himself. Duh, should I become an investigative reporter or should I just take nudie shots of celebs? Well, of course the latter because my boss told me to and I’m a tool! He also doesn’t understand basic economics because he’s a clod through and through, for no reason besides, I guess, Cleese thought it would be a riot to write him that way. 

His parents seem to hate him - they’re constantly moving without telling him, trying to escape this powerful alien who’s embarrassing them by doing good - and are always, always telling him to fit in and not stand out. Along with Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel, these were the worst versions of Superman’s parents ever. 

Oh and then there’s the guy he manages to impale with a cricket bat because isn’t that hysterical? The guy doesn’t die (because Cleese needs this pun so badly) but grows up to be his enemy - Bat-Man. Oh, my fucking sides! They’ve fucking split from laughing so much - Bat-Man, and he’s a man got a cricket bat sticking out of his chest! AHAH… 

I’ve gotta stop there because the litany of crap that makes up this book could fill a book of the same length. Every page is a disaster. I kept reading because I couldn’t believe how every single page got worse and worse. I wondered how this got published, then realised it was DC, but still couldn’t believe a comedy legend like John Cleese could produce something so unfunny. Moreover, as a Brit, like Cleese, I’m stunned he could write something so full of bad stereotypes and clownish pandering to foreigners’ views of British culture - is he honestly this out of touch or does he just hate Britain now? 

This book is bad on every level. I hated it so much. 

It’s such a shocking mess it makes me wonder if Cleese really was as funny as I thought or whether it was his co-writers - like Connie Booth on Fawlty Towers, or Graham Chapman in Monty Python - who propped up his writing, and he’s just a great comedic actor. Either way, avoid, avoid, AVOID, Superman: True Brit. 

Superman fans will hate it for mangling Superman, British readers will hate it for how the British are portrayed, and comics readers will hate it because it’s so dumb. If you see a copy on the shelf, punch it in the cover for me.

Superman: True Brit


  1. I hadn't heard anything about this book. I almost can't believe it's genuine. What a shame... could have been a good opportunity even if it retreading the (brilliant) Red Son ground.

    Hadn't realised John Cleese was even a comics fan.

    1. I know! How and why John Cleese came to write a Superman book is so totally baffling!