So before we start here, I’d like to thank everybody who viewed, liked or commented on my post about the passing of my professor and friend, William J. Vande Kopple. It was a very hard post to write–probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever written–and to have seen such a response is overwhelming. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
And to those who have decided to follow this blog in the wake of the post, well, here’s the kind of post that we usually have around here.
Despite the fact that DC Comics rebooted their entire universe in 2011, in their marketing departments and “Essential Stories” lists, they still hold up several storylines from the prior incarnation of the DC Universe, colloquially known as the “Post-Crisis” DCU, up as gateway stories to read if one wants to know about their characters.
Superman: For Tomorrow, which ran for 12 issues in 2004-2005, is one of those stories; although in abstract, it always seemed to me an odd choice, as it’s an event storyline with no real major changes for Superman nor anyone in his supporting cast, after finally reading the complete edition from the library recently, I understand why. This is an ambitious, epic story that humanizes the one superhero more often called “overpowered” than anyone else and tells a tight, suspenseful tale while doing so.
The scope of this story is shown by the fact that it begins in media res: we open with Superman visiting young priest Daniel Leone in his church. Leone is both apprehensive and slightly confused as to why someone like Superman would come to him. Supes begins confiding his immense guilt over the fact that, while he was out saving Green Lantern from a disaster in space, over a million people–including Lois Lane, who at this point he was still married to–vanished without any cause or explanation. He begins mediating about sin, then tells Father Leone, “My sin…was to save the world.”
Not too long later, Superman appears to Leone again, telling him how he traced the source of the Vanishing, as it’s called, to an unspecified Middle Eastern country in the midst of a civil war. Discovering that the cause was a strange mechanical device held by military leader General Nox, hellbent on taking over the country, he tries to confiscate it. Nox refuses and sics his minion Equus, a sort of cyborg horse-man thing with no moral compass whatsoever, on him. In the chaos, Equus gets ahold of the device and vanishes himself along with 300,000 other people. Not surprisingly, this gains the ire of both the world at large and the Justice League.
Meanwhile, Father Leone, who is actually suffering from cancer, is confronted by a mysterious man named Mr. Orr, who describes himself as a mercenary for people who have “80% of the world population working for them in one way or another,” who wants to find Superman and the device. But for what end…?
Writer Brian Azzarello has been a staple at DC for a long time now–starting with his creator-owned series 100 Bullets, he’s currently writing Wonder Woman–despite the fact that he has openly stated he doesn’t care for superheroes. So whenever he does wind up writing them, he writes them differently from the standard portrayal for purposes of storytelling. The biggest tell of that is here, we get an introspective Superman; Azzarello perfectly nails the query of “If you were the most powerful person you know, yet you couldn’t save your own wife, what the hell would that do to you?” A lot of people have opined both to me personally and online that Superman sucks because he has no limitations seemingly. Azzarello gives him some, but they’re psychological, which helps give this story a unique and distinct tone amid all the required punching.
Jim Lee, the comic art world’s Alex Rodriguez in terms of his popularity and ubiquity–and who is currently co-publisher of DC and artist on Justice League–is on pencils here and he does a bang-up job. Even as someone who’s not intimately familiar with the majority of his work, I can’t help but acknowledge his immense talent. The way he handles both the big fight scenes and tense dialogue-filled moments is propulsive and compelling in equal measure, and it shows you just why he’s such a big deal.
Overall, this is a terrific story that doesn’t require no more than a little above baseline knowledge of Superman to get, a terrific suspense thriller as well as a great exploration of Superman’s psyche. I wasn’t even done with this book before I told my friend, an avowed anti-Supes man, to check this out, and I suspect you’ll like this too. Recommended.