Saturday, May 05, 2007

The funny thing about mediocre issues...

I’ve delayed writing about All-Star Superman #7. Not because it’s a masterpiece that defies description, and not because it’s an unmitigated disaster that I could spend a dozen paragraphs unpacking. No, it poses a much subtler difficulty: it’s just sort of mediocre. Granted, a mediocre issue of All-Star Superman is still much better than a mediocre issue of nearly anything else, and even very good by another book’s standards. So where does it go wrong?

Two things catch my attention, one relating to Morrison’s half of the storytelling (if we can ever so conveniently separate a story into ‘halves’ like that) and the other to Quitely’s. As far as the writing goes, this issue stands out as a curious sort of failure for the same reason as issue 3. That is, Morrison forgets that what makes Superman interesting – and what’s made the rest of the run so great – isn’t Superman himself, but rather the way that his supporting cast provide us with all sorts of wonderful paths into and through an otherwise clichéd archetype. In issue 2, we feel Lois’ paranoia and her doubts; in number 4, Jimmy’s desperation to preserve Superman’s quasi-mystical aura is tragic and sweet, especially since it serves to reminds us just how human and fallible Superman really is. This sort of absence of any humanizing frame is ‘Thing No. 1.’ Instead, we get a fun but fairly mindless battle that depends even more than usual on Quitely’s ability to sell the story. And while Quitely is almost always more than up to the task, he stumbles on this issue.

This is ‘Thing No. 2’, and at least three scenes caught my attention immediately and for all the wrong reasons. I can’t, for the life of me, tell determine just what the hell is happening on the first page. I don’t know what or why a contorted body is floating in space and I don’t know what Quintum is crashing into. This isn’t all Quitely’s fault, of course, but it doesn’t get any better on the second page, where Superman is releasing his adolescent Sun-Eater into space. We don’t really know this until he explains it later in the issue, though, and so we’re all on our own in determining exactly what’s happening in 5 dialogue-free panels where Superman may or may not be fighting with the octopus-like creature, since it has no face, there's no dialogue, and so there's no conventional way to express what's occurring to the reader. Retrospectively, it seems like this should be almost akin to a foster-parent saying goodbye to a child, but I shouldn’t have to complete the entire issue in order for the scene to work. While theoretically a given moment could be purposefully vague or difficult, there's no reason that it should simply be left incomplete. But the final error is the most egregious: Steve Lombard throws a bizarro-mutated Allie out a window but the dialogue clearly indicates that it should have been the bizarro-clone that took the faceplant on to the street below. That’s not a lapse into poor storytelling, as it was in the first two instances – that’s just sloppy.

Funny enough, these failings actually help to call attention to the near-flawless execution of the first story arc. (Especially since I bought the hardcover collection on the same day.) It’s easy to harp on about the bad stuff while missing the good simply because you expect or demand it. Little steps backward like this issue remind you that you can’t take great comics for granted.

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