Wednesday, June 20, 2007

For Tomorrow: Part 3 (DC comics)
Superman #206 When: August 2004
Why: Brian Azzarello How: Jim Lee

The story so far...
Superman has found a human friend in Father Leone, but even as they debate the philosophies of Superman's existence in the world, their seemingly unrelated perspectives inevitably collide.

For Superman, his mission begins in the investigation of a phenomena called The Vanishing, which describes the unexplained mass disappearance of citizens of the United States. Among the missing, Lois Lane, Superman's wife.

Tracing the Vanishing to the Middle East; Superman intervenes in a civil war, resonating his discussions of divine intervention with the minister. Ultimately the fates decide Superman's course of action, but not before he comes to blows with a soldier the likes of which has never been see -- Equus!

Previous Form:
Superman (#9): Victories over Hulk, Metallo, Moleman, Wonder Woman & Uncle Sam.
Equus: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Superman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Superman 6 (Speed of Sound)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Equus 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Superman 5 (Lasers)

Did you like that intro? Oh, yessir! That's the kind of build-up you want if you're new on the scene as a Superman villain. Sadly, it might not be entirely accurate to describe Equus as "a soldier the likes of which has never been seen."

In truth, Equus bares a very basic resemblance to a similar, but theoretically more successful villain who goes by the name Doomsday.
Yeah, you might have heard of him. Tall guy, grey, lots of white lumpy, spikey bits. Carries the claim to fame of killing Superman, for a bit.

There's a bit of a disappointing repetitive quality to a lot of Superman villains. It might even be somewhat a contradictory conunundrum, because you see, the very thing that makes these characters so utterly similar, is exactly the kind of thing that's needed in a solid, new Superman foe.

Because you've got your Lex Luthors, your Braniacs, and your Bizarros; but when it comes to day-to-day fighting, who's Superman got? Who can play the stand-in for an arc or two here and there, before disappearing to await another go?

What a good upper-mid tier Superman villain needs is strength and cunning.
Granted, Equus has that, and skills to boot. For some inexplicable reason, his Doomsday-esque have the likeminded capability of piercing the Man of Steel's skin [or outer-telekinetic forcefield, depending on your persuasion! - Mike of Steel]. Doomsday himself being a product of science, who knows whether or not these characters might represent the advanced and the obselete, but at the end of the day one thing is true of Equus that wasn't of Doomsday.

We know Equus won't win.

I could talk about pounds-per-inch, about tonnage, and bending steel, but when the dust settles and the sun casts it's dramatic shadow of resolution: Superman wins this. He's seen tougher, and he's beaten them!

The Math: Superman (Super Class)
The Pick: Superman

What went down...
Advancing on the kingdom, Equus marches beyond the dead bodies and pools of blood, while the commanding General Nox begins to warn him of incoming interference. Before Nox can get beyond the 'soup,' a red blur begins to take form, before colliding with the genetically processed bulk of Equus!

The impact of the collision leaves Equus on his super-engineered arse.

Equus refers to his actions as part of liberating a country, but Superman seems unconvinced. Ol' Kal's always had an aversion to blood, mind.
The two titans stay their pleasantries and come to blows, Supes going for a defensive-offensive on one of the fists, while going for the jugular with his free hand.

The move proves to be a surprising tactical error, as Superman's chiseled cheek becomes the unwitting victim of Equus' spiney claws. As though reacting to the shock of pain, a Superman on one knee swats Equus away with a savage right!

Supes puts up a brave face, but we all know getting slashed on the cheek smarts! Equus lets out a threatening growl, but the fight ends with an exchange of insults as General Nox declares no quarrel with the Superman.

The revolutionary leads Superman to the palace balcony, where masses of people stand cheering Nox' name in joyous celebration. While he disagrees with the methods of the coup, Superman bends to the will of the new authority, and leaves it.

The hammer...
With points favouring noone in particular, it's a draw!

So, about that intro... In truth, my dramatic exposition completely undercuts one of the terribly interesting facets of this storyline. Something that may still be one of the most overlooked portions of the story, and that's its obscure connection to the company-wide event that was, Infinite Crisis!

The connection is marginal, but what some won't know is that the technologies being explored within the pages of For Tomorrow mark the precursor for what become the contemporary model for OMAC.

We might very well wind up talking about those issues in the future, so I won't elaborate too much, but I found that to be one of the most interesting facets of this project at the time. There were a lot interesting things to consider going into, and whilst experiencing, this project, which received a fair amount of criticism in contrast to it's impressive sales figures.

This, I think, marked a real turning point in the evolution of comics in the double-oh's [2000's]. I think we see a lot of the current landscape forming in this period, out of the crossovers and artistic movements of the nineties, which gradually morphed from stories like Batman: Fugitive into Batman: Hush.

I think it was a very conceited progression from a bit of an industry funk, where low sales figures gave strong ideas the opportunity to stand out. It's here that you see the unquestionable rise of the Brian Bendis' of today, and a reactionary wave circling out of that to start building even the most trivial of stories with a writer-driven concept.

Coming out of Hush, the semi-retired Jim Lee was a renewed force, and a degree of seperation called Broken City connected him a step down to Brian Azzarello, a man better known for non-superhero books like 100 Bullets.
Broken City had the daunting task of following Hush, and while it did it with some of the most impressive style I've seen on Batman in years, it suffered the difference of 'names', which had retained their power inspite of a story-driven shift in the medium.

'... with all the UGLY!' -- Who needs heatvision when you've got BURNS like that?! Ouchie!We can easily attribute the sales of this project to Jim Lee, and in some ways it's unfortunate that that overshadowed what was otherwise billed as Brian Azzarello's shot at the superhero 'big-time.' While this story was suffering the blows of critics' condition-based scrutiny, an interesting take on the boyscout was lurking underneath.

In the same way Thunderbolts may demonstrate the learning and understanding of how the anti-hero exists in comics through the scope of heroic-villains, this particular story perhaps puts a spotlight on the same subject from a different angle.

In contrast to the post-Infinite Crisis mandate of action based 'bright' stories with the DC icons, this represented an attempt to bring grim internal conflict, and gritty world affairs to the threshold of the world's biggest superhero. While it perhaps proved a point of giving Superman feet of steel, it did at least provide an interesting take on the character. It perhaps just did so over too many pages.

The conundrum, of course, is writing Superman to have problems to deal with, without making them so problematic, people reject them. The latter pehaps being the problem here, where Superman is essentially handed existential and moral questions alongside physical encounters with Equus, Zod and other.

His relationship with the priest, Father Leone, which ultimately provides the emotional throughline of the story, provides a method of externalising Superman's human struggles, without actually having to uncharacteristically diminish what Superman is capable of. And diminishing his abilities has probably been the misguided method of the past.

I did quite enjoy this series, even if only as a contained piece of history that need not be revisited within the pages of the on-going title. It probably isn't what you want to see in a Superman book every month, but Brian Azzarello deserves the credit of writing a very interesting Superman story.
Likewise, Jim Lee delivers competent work, arguably the text-book example of dynamic, well crafted, contemporary superhero comics.

More on this story in the future, but in the mean time, I need some sleep!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 6

No comments: