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Superior #4

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011
By: Dave Wallace

Mark Millar
Leinil Yu, Various (i) (c)
Marvel/Icon
Mark Millar's creator-owned 'Big-meets-Superman' comic trundles on with this fourth issue, which adds a little shading and depth to the story so far, even if it doesn't really threaten to break any new ground plot-wise until the final couple of pages.

I use the word “trundles” because Superior's pacing has so far been slow and steady, despite dealing with some fairly large-scale and exciting ideas. However, the pronounced pacing hasn't been a big problem for me; instead, I think it has allowed Millar to treat his story with a little more thoughtfulness and maturity than has gone into the likes of his concurrent Ultimate Avengers, Nemesis and Kick-Ass projects.

The plot of the book -- disabled boy idolises iconic Golden Age superhero; disabled boy meets magical wish-granting space-monkey; disabled boy becomes iconic Golden Age superhero and sets out to save the world (yes, that old chestnut) -- provides for much in the way of larger-than-life characters, visually interesting concepts and huge-scale action sequences.

However, it never feels like those are the title's main focus. Instead, it's the bond between multiple-sclerosis sufferer Simon Pooni and his best friend, Chris, that forms the emotional heart of the book. Simon's delight at being offered a chance to overcome his disability and his naďve desire to change the world resonate far more than the daring rescues and heroic deeds that he accomplishes in the guise of Superior, and the subplot involving Simon's worrying parents is deftly underplayed so as not to overstate their anguish, instead letting readers imagine for themselves what the couple must be going through.

That's not to say that the book's bigger moments aren't compelling. With Leinil Yu as artist, the action is always crisp, clear and satisfyingly detailed without ever feeling less than incredibly vibrant and dynamic. Yu's angular style also gives the book a distinct visual identity without ever pushing things so far that the all-important real-world elements that ground the series become unrecognisable or cartoonish. And Yu also manages to slip in one or two enjoyable visual gags (including a “Kick Ass” numberplate).

But Millar always remembers to focus on the characters and the effect that the story has on them, first and foremost. It sets this book apart from much of his other work lately, which has been guilty of employing some fairly cheap shock-tactics and empty, hollow plotting at the expense of real depth and complexity. The only bugbear here is the swearing and occasionally adult dialogue, which makes the book unsuitable for youngsters when it would otherwise be a perfect entry-level title for new comics readers. I don't know why Millar is so intent on peppering the book with swear words, but perhaps it's just his way of selling what is a surprisingly sweet and heartfelt book to cynical teenagers.

This issue also introduces some interesting new wrinkles to the story. One of them is a final-page surprise that I won't spoil here, but which not only promises to open up a new angle of the story that harkens back to the first issue's opening pages, but also casts Simon's wish to become Superior in a whole new light. It's very telling that we never actually saw the moment at which Simon wishes to become his hero, and I wouldn't be surprised if Millar is saving it up as the basis for a big twist in future issues.

The other interesting new element is the juxtaposition of Simon's innocent worldview with that of metropolitan news reporter Maddie Knox. Whilst the interplay between the two echoes the relationship between Superman's worldly Lois Lane and the too-good-to-be-true Man of Steel, it also functions as a commentary on the way that traditional superheroes may have lost their relevance in a world that automatically second-guesses even the most selfless acts of altruism.

The book seems to be suggesting that the problem isn't that those old-fashioned superheroes are too simplistic; it's that we've grown too cynical -- although I do wonder how Simon's well-meaning attempts to sort out the war in Afghanistan for President Obama (including bringing back Osama Bin Laden) are going to turn out when he applies his naďve efforts to the complex situation.

On top of all this, there are a couple of other fun little details, like the reaction of the actor who plays Superior in movies -- and who provided the model for Simon's makeover -- to the bizarre spectacle of a real-life version of the character he portrays, as well as the satisfying wish-fulfillment fantasy-come-true of Simon tackling Chris's bullies.

All of these elements combine to produce a layered, thoughtful, and surprisingly heartfelt book that provides a novel take on the original superhero story. The title's fairytale quality and grounded elements give it more in common with 1985 than any of Millar's other books, and it's certainly streets ahead of the other titles he's writing at the moment. As I gradually move away from in-continuity books from the Big Two publishers, it's nice to see creators like Millar and Bendis (whose Scarlet I'm also enjoying greatly) doing some of their best work outside the confines of those traditional superhero universes.



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