As someone who has felt that Mark Millar's more recent projects haven't been quite up to the standard of some of his best loved works, Superior #1 comes as a pleasant surprise. That's probably because my biggest problem with Millar's books of late is that they've been too relentlessly cynical and misanthropic, and the story of Superior is far more innocent, heartfelt, and optimistic.
The story revolves around Simon Pooni, a wheelchair bound young boy with multiple sclerosis whose condition is gradually worsening and who idolizes the Golden Age superhero from whom the book derives its title. Through a strange set of circumstances (in fact, they're so bizarre that I half suspect that the entire second half of the book is some kind of hallucination or dream sequence), Pooni is transformed into the very image of his idol, as well as being gifted with all his powers.
That might sound like a fairly thin and unoriginal outline for a story, especially given that it takes an entire issue to tell it. However, Superior gets away with this through creating a genuine sense of warmth and affection around the characters, and approaching its classic feeling superhero concept in a refreshingly heartfelt way.
That doesn't mean that the book is overly simplistic or quaintly retro. There are some pleasing modern details here that I'm hoping will pay off in future issues, such as the idea that the character of Superior is seen by most people to be an outdated, too-good-to-be-true, whiter-than-white character. It'll also be interesting to see whether Pooni's transformation into the spitting image of the typecast actor who plays Superior on the silver screen will cause mistaken identity complications later in the story. And I'm hoping that the cosmic space-monkey that facilitates Pooni's transformation is going to play a continuing part in the series too, and will be disappointed if his role isn't explored further. But for now, the book is content to set out its stall in a straightforward manner, leaving those secondary plot threads to be addressed at a later date.
Leinil Yu's art is some of the best work I've seen from him in a long time. It helps that he's paired with an inker who doesn't make his work look scratchy or sketchy as with some of his previous books and it also doesn't hurt that colorist Dave McCaig seems keen to employ warmer, richer, and more vivid tones than his usual restrained, washed-out palette. But the real driving force behind the artwork is undeniably Yu, and he creates some memorable action sequences--such as the opening movie extract, which hints at just how much fun a Superman-vs.-Brainiac film could be--as well as dealing with some of the more outlandish stuff (like the space monkey) and some of the more grounded moments (such as the understated final page, or the scenes detailing Pooni's gradual deterioration due to his condition) equally comfortably.
So why am I not giving this issue a higher bullet-rating? Well, there are a couple of elements that I found off putting. Most notably, Millar's penchant for peppering his dialogue with swear words detracts from several of the issue's key scenes. I have no problem with swearing per se, but here it feels as though Millar is throwing in the adult language just because he can. Pooni's transformation into Superior would be far more powerful and exciting without his jarring exclamation of “Fuck!” and his subsequent fear of being discovered in his new body is conveyed so perfectly by Yu's visuals that the addition of a speech bubble containing just a single expletive simply isn't necessary.
There's also a sense that Millar goes slightly over-the-top when he has Pooni's peers taunt him about his condition. Yes, kids can be cruel, but it's a very insensitive and idiotic group indeed that would choose to tease a disabled boy for his condition within earshot of his mother. However, Millar just about overcomes these drawbacks with a surprising tenderness and sweetness to his writing that's a million miles away from the world of Nemesis or Kick-Ass, particularly when it comes to the passage that details the small pleasures of life that Pooni's condition has robbed from him.
Through the interesting (but not completely original) conceit of having a disabled child given the chance to benefit from the abilities and physique of a superhero in the classic mold, it looks as though Millar might be planning to explore the concepts of wish fulfillment and power fantasies that have always surrounded the notion of superheroes. I look forward to seeing where he takes the book now that the basic setup is out of the way.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!