Wednesday, June 13, 2007

All Star Superman #4: 'The Superman/Jimmy Olsen War"

“The Superman/Jimmy Olsen War” is the weakest issue of the series yet, but it’s still fun and stylish in the way that only Morrison and Quitely can deliver. What’s hooked me on the series is the relationship between Superman and Lois, so it’s a bit disappointing to leave them for an issue to focus on Jimmy. But, getting past that, there’s plenty of good stuff here.

One of the notable things about this issue, and the series in general, is how well Morrison uses the twenty-two page comic format. Most writers today structure things in six part arcs that are “written for the trade.” Now, I read almost all my books in trade and I have to say it’s perhaps even less satisfying to wait six months to read a story then get less than the equivalent of a single TV episode. Grant manages to fit a whole story into twenty-two pages and provide a satisfying emotional and visual experience. In a lot of ways, I think structuring for the single helps discipline his writing. Both this and Seven Soldiers are marvels, each issue complex and worthy of seemingly endless analysis.

The opening page has the great gag with Jimmy dressing as a woman, and all the previous setup is worth it for that. I like how Leo Quintum is the best dressed man in Metropolis, I too could not ignore the coolness of his Technicolor dream coat. Quitely stocks Jimmy’s apartment with all kinds of fun stuff, including an odd portrait of him dressed as a cyborg turtle. I’m sure there’s some story behind that, and Grant could probably tell it to you if you asked him.

Jimmy’s tour around the P.R.O.J.E.C.T labs has some fun stuff, but things don’t really get going until he falls into the pit of pink liquid. The scene with Clark running out of Perry’s office, turning into Superman as he goes, is fantastic. Grant and Quitely do a great job of selling the difference between the two of them, such that what was once an absurd narrative problem because one of the series’ greatest assets. It’s a lot of fun to watch Clark change into Superman when he finds out he’s needed.

It’s hard to watch Superman turn evil under the influence of the black kryptonite. As I’ve discussed earlier, Morrison’s Superman is an incarnation of absolute good, and it’s hard to watch him spiral down into evil. Superman struggles to deal with it, and in the process, raising the question of what they could do if Superman did turn evil. The last ditch option is to kill him, but first, we get Jimmy transforming into Doomsday.

Their fight is well executed, particularly the moment where dark Superman is crippled by his fear of death. Here, we see the feelings that regular Superman would never be able to show. He’s aware of his role as a symbol of what humanity can be, he can’t allow himself to succumb to this weakness. But, his opposite can, crying that he can’t die because he’s Superman. I particularly like the idea that Black K Superman becomes weaker the worse he acted. That implies that regular Superman because more powerful when he does good.

And, in the end, Jimmy uses Quintum’s resources to win over the heart of Lucy, impressing her with his tickets and a message on the moon. It’s a great finale, a really sweet moment for the issue’s hero. Quitely’s Lucy looks like she belongs to a different Quitely book, a bit more realist, but it still looks good and that final panel of her is great.

So, this wasn’t the most emotional or thematically dense issue, but it’s still a lot of fun. Now, I’m eager to check out the Clark Kent issue and see what happens to him and Luthor in prison.


Anonymous said...

I think the cyborg turtle thing you mention might be a reference to an old story where Jimmy becomes a giant turtle boy.

David Golding said...

This issue is the only one I have a problem with so far (out of 8 issues). And I think the problem is with Quitely's art. His Doomsday just isn't Doomsday. I mean, it looks like Jimmy's covered in duck down. And with him lacking the necessary presence, it feels like the ending lacks weight.

David Golding said...

BTW, I don't understand people's problem with the Superman-in-glasses disguise. This makes sense to me (in comics, which are oneiric and iconic) and seems no more absurd than many other features of Superman stories. Why pick on this?

Quitely's transformation of Superman into Clark Kent is interesting, but isn't solving a narrative problem, so much as answering an old reader question. Even more interesting, I think the movies (which star real people) do have this problem (as they do with many visual aspects of comics), but I'm not sure the transformation could be translated to the big screen as a solution.

Patrick said...

I'd agree that it's definitely more a movie problem than a comics problem. In Superman Returns, the coinciding absence of Superman and Clark should have tipped people off. I guess the reason so many people pick on it is that this is a universe where dinosaurs do battle in the streets and Bizarros invade on giant asteroids, but if the people don't function in an emotionally real way, the entire narrative integrity is called into question. Having your characters not connect the dots between Clark and Superman can make them look stupid, and that destroys the emotional reality of the universe.

But, if you're writing a good story, people won't get bogged down in nitpicked, they'll be more absorbed in the actual goings on.