Sunday, May 2, 2004

Quick review: Superman #204
There've been some great Superman stories and many more bad ones. The last time I regularly read Superman comics was probably a decade ago. Supes is a character with infinite potential -- the first and still most resonant of superheroes -- but too often his comics are lame and uninspired. The monthly comics get "rebooted" every other year or so, nearly as often as Superman leaps over tall buildings, but usually they don't make much of an impact. The latest "reboot" is going on right now, and the title drawing the most hype is writer Brian Azzarello and artist Jim Lee's 12-issue run on "Superman." I picked up the first ish out of mild curiosity this week -- I admire Lee's dynamic art, but don't love it, and Azzarello is one of those acclaimed comic writers I just haven't gotten into, although I can see his appeal. His gritty, gory crime and horror work in titles like "Hellblazer" and "100 Bullets" would seem an odd fit for Superman, on the face of it.

However, reservations aside, I actually kind of enjoyed this first part of "For Tomorrow," even if it's more tease than meaty storytelling. Azzarello creates a classic mystery hook. It's been one year since a terrible "Vanishing" event in which a million people worldwide apparently disappeared. Superman failed to prevent it, and he's feeling guilty. That's really the "plot" of this issue, clearly geared to drag the reader into the next part. But it's handled quite well -- a moody, evocative issue, with Superman visiting a Metropolis priest for advice. Occasionally the dialogue is a bit stilted, but not painfully so. And some good quotes: Superman to the priest -- "My sin? Was to save the world." Lee's art is highly detailed and spectacular here, showing soaring architecture, great space landscapes and a perfectly iconic Superman. Azzarello uses a muted, restrained tone here, filling in the gaps in the story slowly. It's all kind of elementary "Chapter One" mystery storytelling and could easily fall to bits, but it does the trick for me this issue -- I'm sold on picking up part two to see if the solid aura of Gothic grandeur and mystery continues. This just might be proof a good Superman story can still be told. Grade: 4/5

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