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Non-Review Review: Superman Unbound

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman Unbound is a little disappointing. These direct-to-video animated films can offer brilliant and energetic takes on established comic book characters and stories. The recent two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and the animated version of New Frontier come to mind. However, Superman Unbound seems to be just treading water, offering a fairly generic Superman story with no real insight into the character and his world.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away…

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Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Silver Age comic books are, by their nature, different from modern comics. It’s more than just evolving social norms, or even shifting artistic sensibilities. There’s a massive world of difference between a fairly average comic written in the mid-sixties and a similarly average comic produced today. While I’d be reluctant to describe the comics contained in Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 as “great” or “brilliant”, they have a certain charm or novelty to them. They feel alien and unique, as if offering a raw and unrefined sample of a mood that Superman has been chasing for the past two or three decades.

While I don’t think Batman was as well-served by the sixties as he was by later decades, there’s a surreal innocence to these comics which speak to Superman as a character. These are the comics that probably inspired Richard Donner’s Superman film, and though artists like Al Plastino, Curt Swan or Dick Sprang might not have drawn a Superman who resembled Christopher Reeve, it’s very easy to imagine him fitting in among these stories quite easily.

The Silver standard?

The Silver standard?

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Flashpoint: Project Superman (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

I actually quite liked Flashpoint. I can accept that the event had its flaws. It was a less than ideal set up for a radical shift in the status quo and a significant proportion of its tie-ins were absolutely terrible, but these are problems that seem inherent to any big “universe-altering comic book event.” However, despite that, I liked the idea of viewing the DC universe “through a glass, darkly.” Seeing familiar, but distorted reflections of DC icons cast as terrifyingly cynical nineties anti-heroes.

By positing that any world inhabiting these grim anti-heroic substitutes was severely broken, Geoff Johns was able to reaffirm the idealism of the Silver Age. Contrasting DC’s stable of iconic heroes to their darkened reflections allows us to take stock of what is really essential to them as characters. Project Superman provides a glimpse at an alternate version of Superman, one raised under very different circumstances. It dares to ask what is the essential ingredient in making Superman the character we know and love.

It’s a deeply flawed three-issue story, and can’t measure up to Brian Azzarello’s superb Batman: Knight of Vengeance, but it’s still a fascinating look at what makes Superman into Superman.

A broken world...

A broken world…

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Non-Review Review: Superman vs. The Elite

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman has struggled with his pop culture credibility for quite some time now. The character is seen as too old-fashioned or outdated to really resonate in the modern world, standing for an overly simplistic and unquestioning moral philosophy which doesn’t take into account the nuances of current realities. Superman vs. The Elite, adapted from Joe Kelly’s What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, represents an attempt to counter this opinion of Superman as a character. Unfortunately, it never really does so be convincing us that the character is still relevant. Instead, it creates a bunch of convenient straw men to oppose our hero, and never allows him to win on his own terms.

Beware the Superman...

Beware the Superman…

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Infinite Crisis: Superman – Sacrifice (Review)

This month I’m taking a look at DC’s massive “Infinite Crisis” Event. Although it was all published in one massive omnibus, I’ll be breaking down the lead-in to the series to tackle each thread individually, culminating in a review of the event itself. Check back for more.

I can see how Infinite Crisis earned its reputation as an overly-convoluted event. Even its tie-ins had tie-ins. In this case, the Superman: Sacrifice story, an arc spread across Superman, Action Comics and Wonder Woman, serves as a tie-in to Greg Rucka’s The O.M.A.C. Project, which was itself part of the lead-in to the big event. As you can imagine, it’s a rather strange trail of continuity to follow, as events here play out as a subset of a story that is itself a subset of something larger. While that is a problem of itself, the biggest problem with Superman: Sacrifice is that it takes an interesting enough central concept and reduces it to an over-extended four-issue arc about characters hitting each other really hard.

There’s blood on his hands…

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Justice League Unlimited – Question Authority (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

If Paul Dini’s writing can be said to evoke the best of Batman: The Animated Series, Dwayne McDuffie’s work on Justice League Unlimited fills the same niche. Dini’s scripts tended to generate pathos and tragedy for the massive and varied supporting cast of Gotham City, offering insightful character studies about the broken denizens of Batman’s world. McDuffie’s Justice League work offers a thoughtful and modern examination of traditional characters, often finding moments of character amid epic storylines built around exploring the tapestry of this shared universe. While the late McDuffie was responsible for quite a few memorable episodes of the show, it’s fair to argue that the four-episode climax of Justice League Unlimited‘s “Cadmus” arc capture those strengths almost perfectly – playing to his skills as well as Heart of Ice played to Dini’s.

Luthor’s got a gun…

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Non-Review Review: Superman II (The Theatrical Cut)

I kinda feel sorry for Superman II. As a film, it’s overshadowed by the enormous controversy over the firing of director Richard Donner. Donner, who directed the original film, had begun work on the follow-up, when he was dismissed by the producers – reportedly for resisting the “campy” direction that the Salkinds where trying to force on the film. Richard Lester (who worked with the Salkinds as producer on The Three Musketeers, The Fourth Musketeer and as an uncredited producer on the original Superman) stepped in to fill the vacant position, and was ultimately credited on the finished product. While the film works relatively well, it suffers from the simple fact that Lester is nowhere near the craftsman that Donner was.

You'll believe a man can make a woman forget his secret identity!

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