Collecting all 4 issues of this limited series.
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Tim Sale (p&i), Bjarne Hansen (c)
I’m a sucker for the hazy yet touching nostalgia that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale managed to evoke with their Marvel works like Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue, so it was with pleasure that I went back to discover some of their earlier work in a similar vein with DC. Whilst Superman has never been top of my list of favourite characters, it was the pedigree of the creators – and not the costume – that drew me towards this particular collection. Shorter than their Marvel miniseries, a mere four issues of story (one for each season of the year) might not seem like a substantial piece of work, but the craftsmanship which has gone into Loeb’s writing and the detail which has lovingly been injected into Sale’s artwork is well worth every penny.
It’s taken me a while to work out why I like the pair’s work so much, above almost any other creative team you can mention. Their books aren’t as thrillingly action-packed as the best issues of The Ultimates or as densely plotted, gritty and maturely-targeted as the current Daredevil run - yet I’d place their books above even those firm favourites of mine for the simple reason that Loeb and Sale consistently find a way to cut to the core humanity of their characters. Here, they succeed in evoking a real sense of emotion which not only makes it easy to empathise with the players of Superman’s world, but also makes you work in the other direction, relating the events and emotions of the book to your own life experiences. As Superman prepares to leave home and become a man, Loeb has Pa Kent regret that “I never thought about our time together until in grew too short”: and after reading such simple, evocative prose, there won’t be many people who don’t start to examine their own family relationships in a similar way. Comic books as a medium have a harder time wringing genuine emotion out of their readers than other art forms – maybe due to their melodrama or extremely-imagined settings – but this series really hits the spot. Ironically, that most untouchable and flawless of superheroes is brought down to a more believable, relatable and human level than almost any other that I’ve read.
I first read this collection a couple of years ago, but in rereading the book for this review, the themes and messages within the text and art have really hit home. The series acts as a great metaphor for the coming-of-age, the end of childhood and the acceptance of your place in the world, and the framing technique of each issue being narrated by a different character is a great way to reinforce the differing personalities and points of view that Loeb brings us through his dialogue and characterisation. The changing of the seasons also gives artist Sale and colourist Hansen a great opportunity to show of some amazingly lush and realistically detailed pieces of comic book art, and even if the full or double-page splash seems to be used almost every other page it’s worth it every time for the scale and beauty which the art team manages to pack into each one. Not only is the art well-observed and meticulously rendered, but it works on as many levels as the excellent writing too. The contrast drawn between the natural beauty of the countryside and the imposing grandeur of the city mirror Superman’s journey from his roots to his eventual home, and the restrained colour palette make the hero’s in-costume appearances all the more flashy and impressive, restoring a palpable sense of the spectacular to jaded comics audiences. There’s also a more solid and grounded feeling to these visuals than those of DD: Yellow or Spider-Man: Blue: this could be due to the fact that this story isn’t told in such an overtly rose-tinted “flashback” as those others, but it could equally be to help reinforce Superman’s reality and down-to-earth personality despite the gaudy costume, a story strand which is developed throughout the four issues. Of particular interest is the exploitation of Clark Kent’s otherworldliness as a weakness by nemesis Lex Luthor, only for Clark to rise above it and become the Superman that he was born to be.
Far from being the irritatingly perfect Big Blue Boy Scout that I’d had him pegged for all these years, Loeb and Sale restore a gentle humanity and dignity to the character, adding a quiet graceful beauty to him and his surroundings and a depth to his relationships which make this collection a timeless pleasure to read. On a final note, it’s really worth getting your hands on the hardcover edition of this collection if you can. A lovely acetate slipcover to this particular collection makes a classy finishing touch to the longer-lasting format, and the improved paper stock and lush printing really helps Tim Sale’s artwork to spring from the pages.
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