Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Now THIS is Superman...

To this point in Morrison and Quitely’s fantastic take on Superman mythology, Superman has been mostly viewed from afar, or at least indirectly – issues have focused variously on Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, or Lex Luthor, but we have yet to see events unfold from Superman’s particular perspective. This issue, the last in what will be the first collected trade of All-Star Superman, finally allows us the opportunity to see Superman’s world as he does himself, albeit from the distance of a story set in the past. “Look at you!” exclaims Pa Kent to his young Superson. “You’re destined for great things Clark…” But like every great epic hero, this Superman must overcome tragedy before he can realize that destiny. And that tragedy is as beautiful crafted as it is devastating – for Clark and the reader alike.

Though it is easily the most sentimental and heartfelt issue of Morrison and Quitely’s run to this point, “Funeral in Smallville” stays true to the larger format of the series through its surprisingly appropriate and seamless incorporation of both touching and absurd tributes to the confused and contradictory mass of the Superman mythos. Both Krypto the Superdog and Superman-Prime – the latter from Morrison’s own DC One Million alternate future universe – make appearances, as well as Ma and Pa Kent and a host of time-traveling Superman’s descendents known as The Superman Squad. But the seemingly mundane and sentimental plots elements – Ma and Pa Kent’s only plot point is their preparation for the harvest – and the utterly fantastic – the Superman Squad are chasing the time-warping Chronovore – meet under the auspices of a theme that is all too underdeveloped in Superman lore: that of family.

Perhaps surprisingly, Morrison is at the height of his abilities in this unabashedly sincere context, and his dialogue has never been so subtle and affecting. Given that we know from the cover of the comic that Pa Kent must die, the exchange between Pa and the Mystery Superman hits a pitch-perfect bittersweet note in Jonathan’s final moments. Equally powerful are Quitely’s contributions. There’s a treasure trove of beautiful wrought scenes from which to choose, but I’ll focus on the moment in which young Superman takes flight after realizing that he can no longer hear Pa’s heartbeat. It must have been tempting for Quitely to devote half a page or even an entire splash to young Superman’s desperate attempt to save Pa’s life, but he and Ma – who is also rushing to Pa’s aid – are given equal-sized panels in the bottom third of a single page. The artistry is sublimely expressive in even this one small instance: where Ma is a tiny figure running across an endlessly gigantic field, the teenaged Clark fills the panels and flies so quickly – his hair actually catches fire – that he seems poised to burst out of the panel. He is forever poised, though, and ultimately unable to accomplish the feat and save his dad. That Clark cannot extend beyond the panel is a visual reminder that even Superman is not without limits. For all his ostensible power, he is still only one person, just as human and flawed as any other. A stunning contribution and new high-point for a series that manages the impossible and outdoes itself with every issue.

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