Monday, November 27, 2006

Superman Confidential #1

Superman Confidential #1, January 2007, DC Comics
storytellers: Darwyn Cooke & Tim Sale
colorist: Dave Stewart
letterer: Richard Starkings
editor: Mark Chiarello
associate editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.

Seems my body has smuggled a souvenir back from Arizona – a stomach virus, presumably the same strain that infected my friend, his wife, and his baby on Thanksgiving Day. I don’t think I have it as bad as they did, unless the worst is yet to come, but the symptoms are more than annoying, to say the least. Home from work today, I sought a “comfort comic,” something with a tinge of familiarity but new enough to make the read worthwhile. Superman Confidential was just what the doctor ordered.

DC has launched a Confidential series for both Superman and Batman to explore the heretofore unknown aspects of their respective universes. (I wonder if Justice League Classified will experience a title change to follow suit. The two similar concepts seem too redundant not to streamline. But I digress.) In Superman Confidential #1, “storytellers” Darwyn Cookie and Tim Sale, both of whom are by no means strangers to shoehorning critical stories in our favorite superheroes’ pasts, tackle the burning question: Where did Kryptonite come from? Well, I should rephrase that; we know where Kryptonite came from – but how did Superman realize that it was the source of his otherwise latent vulnerability? I suppose the first season of Smallville, with all of its 26 episodes, didn’t explore this concept enough, eh?

Pardon my cynicism. I just have a difficult time embracing these ret-con tales, especially in the Superman and Batman mythos. I mean, these characters have been around for over 60 years, a firm enough foundation for stories about their present day adventures, I reckon. Do we really have to keep drudging up the past? That said, these new old adventures occasionally offer insight into these characters’ younger mentalities that builds a true appreciation for their expertise today. For instance, in Batman: Year One, what’s more compelling: the Dark Knight’s war with the mob, or his ongoing monologue about his inadequacies? I may not dig the logistics of Superman Confidential – because I feel it’s been done before – but I like the little moments of character study. For example, Superman’s thoughts about his invulnerability are more human than some human’s thoughts about their mortality: “They think I’m fearless. But each new cataclysm gives me one sharp instant of mortal fear. Will this kill me? Am I dying right now?” For a man unraveling his unearthly abilities for the first time, these thoughts are natural and compelling. The fact that they’ve been confidential until now is a crime befitting Lex Luthor himself.

Perry White struck me as a dynamic character, as well – especially in his Transmetropolitan-like conviction about the new casino in Metropolis as a conduit for vice behavior. A shockingly conservative stance on the writer’s part, I believe, but also an element that could’ve been intended to reflect the innocent times in which Superman rose to popularity. (After all that Great Depression and World War II stuff, anyway.) Just a thought, here.

Also, I should mention, when I picked up this issue, I expected a lengthy read because of its heft weight. The Superman story was the standard twenty-two pages – but with the inclusion of a Teen Titans mini-comic and a pair of 3D glasses for some role-playing game ad, the comic was deceptively heavy. I remember reading something somewhere about how retailers didn’t appreciate the extra shipping costs for these “extras,” and frankly, as a reader, I feel like they took away from the story overall. The pacing of the inner monologue was often interrupted with unnecessary page-turns. So, Kryptonite wasn’t this issue’s only weakness. Heh.

Funny, I sought this issue to cure my ills, but in reality, in exploring the issue of vulnerability, it has simply brought my infirmity to light. Superman has his little green rocks; I have my stomach-crippling virus. I’ll tell you this – knowing where it came from doesn’t change the fact that it hurts. The Man of Steel would tell you that himself.

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