Saturday, 15 November 2014

Superman: It's a Bird... Review (Steven Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen)


It’s a dream assignment for many comics writers: a call from DC with the offer to write Superman! The most iconic superhero of all time, Superman is a legendary character whose symbol is recognised across the globe and whose story is known by millions. After 75 years, Superman continues to endure and, thanks to a new wave of movies, is more popular than ever. What an opportunity for any writer to add to the character! 

That is, if the writer has a storyline to offer - which Steven Seagle doesn’t, both in the book and actually. His character in the book is basically him, an artsy-fartsy comics writer who dabbles with commercial comics to pay the bills. He read a Superman comic when he was a kid and then avoided them ever since, reading “proper” books instead. The book follows Seagle’s attempts to figure out a way in to the character, as well as talking about a genetic illness that plagues his family: Huntington’s Disease. 

The fact that this is published by Vertigo, DC’s indie arm, should tell you this isn’t going to be your regular Superman book. Superman is a background detail mentioned in passing here and there and the main story is Seagle and Huntington’s Disease. And it’s a horrifying illness. It cripples the mind and body, sends the sufferer into involuntary seizures, and slowly kills you; there is no cure. 

Seagle’s grandmother died of it, his aunt is currently stricken with it and he fears that he’s in line to receive it, though he’s told it skips generations. That angle of the book is interesting if depressing. Seagle becomes a human being and his actions are understandable from this perspective, even if he comes off as a thoroughly unpleasant and pretentious man throughout. 

The Superman inserts, because they’re not really a story, deal with Seagle discussing aspects of the character. It’s very clear that Seagle despises Superman on nearly every level. He hates his costume, his origins, his implausible life, everything. I’m really not sure why DC would pick him to write a Superman book as he’s got nothing positive to say about the character and all of his ideas of Superman are simplistic. He hasn’t read contemporary Superman comics so he sees him as this one dimensional character, when, if you’ve read more than a few Superman comics, you’ll know there’s more to him than just the bullet points. 

Written alongside his personal story of HD, the resentment becomes more clear - Seagle hates that Superman will never have HD because he’s perfect. Even so, doing a systematic character assassination all the way through the book isn’t something I’m interested in reading, especially as so many of his arguments feel cheap and easy. 

“Superman isn’t realistic” is the main one which is one I especially hate. Why on earth would anyone expect Superman to be realistic? Superheroes and realism can mix on a certain level but only on the surface - we know no-one can fly, etc., so why try to reconcile this with reality? Superheroes are fantasy - come at it from any other angle and you fail like Seagle does repeatedly. Making Superman realistic leads to crap like Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. 

The ending is rushed and pat. He fights his dad and their decades of strained relations instantly disappears leading to a new openness between them, blah blah blah. Very Lifetime Channel. And suddenly - for no reason - he goes from hating Superman to liking him right at the end. How contrived is that? 

I get that Superman is a tough character to write, and even writing about how tough to write about Superman, like It’s a Bird… does, is tough! But whining about him page after page isn’t the way to go about it. Seagle’s personal story is the only reason to read this one because it's not really a Superman book. But even then, it’s Seagle basically repeating that he’s afraid of getting HD, so it’s not particularly insightful either. 

It’s a turd…

Superman: It's a Bird...

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