Continued from here and here and here; "The superhero comic is an impossibly tough sell, so how to convert the blissfully unconcerned heathen who isn't already predisposed towards the adventures of the cape'n'chest-insignia brigade? ... Which books might just convince a broad audience of folks who aren't adolescently-minded shlock-shock addicts to buy into the super-hero habit"
8. Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? by Alan Moore & Curt Swan
man convinced that he's soon to die slumps and weeps with despair
while his steadfast pet dog lies by his feet and looks up in concern.
Presented with a restraint which trusts the reader's capacity to
empathise without a heart-clogging injection of schmaltz, it remains
one of the most quietly anguishing images ever presented in a superhero
comic. For those who know anything of the history of the characters, the sheer impossibility of such a situation simply accentuates
its power. After all, Superman neither weeps nor crumples - even
temporarily - under the weight of an inescapable fate which he can't
out-punch, out-think or even escape. To all but the most disinterested
of those who lack the slightest familiarity with the backstory of Kal-El and his Kryptonian hound, the
moment remains at the very least an intriguingly unresolved situation.
The juxtaposition of the strongman in his circus tights and cape with
his own hopelessness; the landlocking
of Superman's slumped frame far from the eye's natural exit point from
the page; the presence of an exhibit of a metal girder once bent and
twisted by some unimaginably powerful process, a symbol of a remarkable
and yet now quite apparently useless measure of strength; the looming shadowed presence of an
alien pterodactyl-like creature suggesting nothing but the worst of
ill-fate ahead; Curt Swan's design for the largely wordless full-page
shot is exquisitely well-judged, complimenting the pathos of Moore's
script without curdling the moment with an easy excess of syrupy
Unlike the previous selections in this list, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
is a comic that's saturated with the weight of continuity and peppered
by super-people who can't possibly be regarded as anything other than
entirely absurd. It is possible, with a considerable denial of reason,
to find something of the everyday in the acrobatics and super-science of
the likes of Batman and his various costumed street-fighting progeny.
But Superman is an essentially all-powerful character who the literal
minded will always struggle to empathise with. From his capacity to fly
faster than the speed of light to his less-exploited gift for super-ventriloquism,
the Silver Age Man Of Steel and his bizarre and crowded pantheon of
supporting characters remains a quite obviously poor fit for any tilt at
comic-book realism. Yet only the smarter-than-thou snob and the
irredeemable idiot conflates a fiction's lack of realism with an
inability to express emotion and ideas.
Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
draws a great deal of its power from the discussion of the loss of
potency and purpose with age which underpins the beats of Moore's
script. Faced with the accumulating and psychotically-threatening
consequences of his years spent at war with petty criminals and tyrants
alike, Superman finds himself impotently watching on as his friends
are threatened and murdered, as his own life and its achievements appear
destined to end in failure. Yet what appears to be at first a superhero
concludes with the sight of the now powerless Man Of Flesh And Blood attending in
anonymity and good humour to the business of being a husband and father,
having become a far less self-obsessed individual who's found a host of less
conspicuously planet-saving ways to contribute to the everyday world
around him. If our imaginary would-be reader of super-books could be
presented with a single example of how a labyrinthine mythos with its army of logically preposterous
characters can produce a tale that's entertaining, moving and gently
thought-provoking, then Moore and Swan's Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? should surely be it.
9. Ti-Girls Adventures by Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets #1, 2008)
Whatever the typical sluggardly modern-era super-comics is, Ti-Girls
Adventures very much isn't. Exuberant, smart, politically vibrant,
inventive, hilarious, ambitious, it's a joyous rush of a tale which refuses to accept that the superhero's adventures ought to be anything other than consistently entertaining and constantly inventive. In that, Jaime Hernandez taps once again into the imperatives which drove the storytelling of the very best of the sub-genre's creators in the Golden and Silver Age. Most of today's writers and artists tend to imagine that their responsibility is to write to the page, as Warren Ellis once said of Alan Moore's method, and it's a way of thinking which has somehow resulted in the belief that a side of a comic need really only carry a moment or two that's in any way noteworthy. There's no little irony that Jaime Hernandez understands his super-book history in a way which so many of the Big Two's current curators have clearly never cared to grasp, because he knows that the work of the Lees and the Kirbys and Ditkos, to take but three examples, was concerned not with what the page might be made to say so much as what each individual panel could be designed to shine with. For the artists and writers of the best Marvel superhero books of the High Sixties, to name one conspicuous high-point in the sub-genre's history, the worst sin of all was to risk losing the audience's attention before their eyes leapt the guttering between one frame and another. Every panel had to count, every row had to shine, every page had to strobe with distraction and novelty. The super-book is at its best when it's at its most fiercely
ingenious, when it's most captivatingly densely-packed, and that's exactly how Ti-girls functions.
To enjoy Ti-Girls is to find many of the prejudices which underlie most of the Big Two's product becoming even more obvious, inexplicable and incisor-grindingly frustrating. Here there's no age barrier to the rank of costumed protagonist, let alone a taken-for-granted fatwa on the respectful, playful representation of a broad range of female body types. There's also nothing of the oh-so-common whitebread machismo or the doctrine of stab-'em-in-the-guts-shock on show, of course, but what there is a delightfully imaginative tale depicting generations of super-women drawn together by the threat posed by an old friend who's now both super-powered and "beserk". Super-book aficionados faced with the first few chapters of Ti-Girls might choose to dwell upon the best nine-panel fight scenes for several decades at least, while others will find themselves seduced by the friendships which develop, and on occasion don't, between the various members of the book's compelling cast. Along the way, readers will find the strip's pages saturated by the kind of smartly ludicrous inventions which Grant Morrison has often complained are almost entirely absent from the superhero narratives of the 21st century; a tiny one-inch high baby living in the belt buckle of its super-heroine mother; the shriek of Penny Century growing louder at ground-level as she nears Earth from space; drunk super-powered arm-wrestlers mind-controlled into believing that their sole good-for-bar-fighting limb has been severed from their shoulder.
The truth is that Ti-Girls is joyously good fun. In establishing how wrong-headed a great many of today''s super-book creators are, it re-establishes how dynamic and delectable the superhero comic still can be.
Superhero Books To Convert The Unconverted
1. Catwoman: Wild Ride by Ed Brubaker & Cameron Stewart
2. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
3. Batman: Mad Love & Other Stories by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, and esteemed colleagues
4. The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel Masterworks #2, #11-19, Annual #1)
5. Spider-Man Loves Mary-Jane by Sean McKeever & Takeshi Miyazawa
6. Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters & The Birth Of The Comic Book by Gerard Jones
7. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, Kano et al
8. Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? by Alan Moore & Curt Swan
9. Ti-Girls Adventures by Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets #1/2, 2008/9)