i'm not a Superman freak; but the mythology amuse me in many ways.




Recent articles in the mainstream press have much sparked debate online in regards to the future of Superman, in both comics and movies. While the movie has, how shall I put it, just a few problems in the past decade, I think his comic book counterpart is doing just fine. Mark Waid’s Birthright has done a stellar job of retelling Superman’s origins. As Waid put it, it’s like Superman: The Really Long Movie. Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman series really highlights the conflicting nature of Batman and Superman’s personalities. It seems it’s the monthlies that are the problem. I’ve not picked up Action Comics, Adventures of Superman or Superman (or Man of Steel, for that matter) on a regular basis since The Death of Superman arc. I think a day may come (way down the line, mind) where those monthlies are phased out and all we’ll get is a continuous flow of mini and maxi-series’. That might not be a bad thing; DC could tempt some of the best writers to pitch ideas for Superman stories, without having to worry about continuity or the pressure of strict deadlines. However, a good writer is a good writer, they should be able to tell a decent story that makes people come back to the regular Superman titles. But I can’t see them going the way of Man of Steel for a while yet.



In the last year, two of the greatest Superman stories have been released. Neither are from the three core Superman titles, both can be classed as Elseworlds, yet both capture the essence of the character and what makes him so special. Neither try to make him cool, neither try to make him edgy or appeal to the generation of readers who prefer flawed heroes, they show Superman upholding his ideals of truth and justice. I’m talking about Superman: Red Son and Superman: Secret Identity. If you haven’t read these then I’d advise you to go and pick them up. Red Son is out in trade paperback, Secret Identity is bound to be out as a trade sometime soon (you can own your very own copies just by visiting Kinokuniya KLCC : you friendly comic book trade outlet). I’ll try and be spoiler-lite but if you haven’t read them it’s best you don’t go any further.


Superman: Red Son

In Red Son, Superman’s ship crash-lands in Ukraine and the Man of Steel grows up in Communist Russia. The concept is fascinating and in the hands of a lesser writer could have gone belly up. Millar’s execution, and his understanding of the Superman (and DC) mythology shine through, especially in the third issue where things are brought to a thought-provoking conclusion. Red Son’s Lex Luthor is a US government scientist, a genius (and, in the first issue, bears a striking resemblance to Sean Connery). He is the most remarkable human being on the planet and sharing it with Superman is the last thing he wants. This Superman has no secret identity, suggesting that Superman is a more legitimate personality than his alter ego.


The death of Stalin leads to Superman taking his place. This is coupled with the rise of Lex Luthor, who eventually becomes the U.S. President. Red Son is a “what if?” Cold War story, except Superman and Luthor are far more dangerous than any nuclear weapon. With Superman on their side Russia are Cold War victors, this Superman believes in Truth, Justice and the Socialist Way. The world embraces Communism and Capitalist America crumbles as the only country that doesn’t subscribe to Superman’s beliefs. Only later, when Lex Luthor takes his seat in the Oval Office, does Capitalism become the status quo. Superman traditionally has never been about politics. He is, however, an American creation and will reflect American beliefs. It can be said he is a character of the world but then how many times has Saddam Hussein picked up a Superman comic? Superman represents America. Millar’s Communist Superman is exactly the same as the American version. He isn’t evil, he won’t take a life, he’ll do what he thinks is right and has the same set of morals. It’s the political beliefs instilled in him that separate him from his yank counterpart.


Red Son highlights the flaws of Communism from Superman’s point of view. How can you champion equality and at the same time be a superhuman dictator? Luthor realizes this and in a sucker-punch ending takes down Superman by writing him a one-sentence letter. In the real world it isn’t as easy to define good and evil as it is in comic books. There are no megalomaniac super-villains, no superheroes, all we have are our beliefs and ideals. Superman and Lex Luthor clash because they fear each other. By injecting a political element into their relationship Millar heightens their conflict ten fold. What makes Red Son so fascinating is that Superman doesn’t win in the end. Lex Luthor lives happily ever after, he even gets Superman’s girl. Perhaps Millar finds villains more compelling and relatable characters? His Wanted series would suggest so.


At its heart Red Son is the biggest, most expensive and epic Cold War movie never made. The best comparison I could make is to say it is to Superman what Dark Knight Returns was to Batman. It’s a deconstruction of Superman and his world, though Millar takes the character out of his normal environment to do it. The only problem with Red Son is that it came 20 years too late. The story is relevant today but would’ve been even more so in the Watchmen era of comics. I really believe Superman: Red Son is that good. Hopefully 20 years from now people will talk about this story the way they do about Watchmen (aahhh ... Encik Alan Moore, kembalilah kau ke persada komik).


Superman: Secret Identity

I will go on record now and say that Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Secret Identity is my favourite Superman story; apart from the 'Smallville' season series on TV3 (... and I'm no fan of Kurt Busiek writing as well) . The pitch is this: Clark Kent grows up in Picketsville, Kansas. Superman is a fictional character. He’s mocked for sharing his name with the world’s most recognised superhero. Then, adolescence strikes, and he discovers he has Superman’s powers. This concept didn’t thrill me much when I first heard about it. I felt it would tread similar ground to Astro City, only with Superman instead of Samaritan as the protagonist.


Secret Identity captures exactly what I was saying in one of my previous columns. Busiek turns the average man’s life into a mythical story. The four issues cover Superman as a teenager, as a young man, as a father, and finishes with him in old age. The feeling I got after I’d read these comics is something I have never felt when reading a comic before. It’s the kind of feeling you have when you see a movie that is so heart-warming you can’t help but feel moved by it. Like Millar, Busiek is a great writer; this story done by someone else could have been overly sentimental and instantly forgettable.


It’s grounded in reality yet has all the grandeur, spectacle and whimsy of regular Superman stories. Stuart Immonen’s painted art really elevates the book for me. Taking away the art would be like taking away Williams’ score from Superman: The Movie. Immonen’s Superman isn’t a steroid freak. He’s a normal, well-built guy in a Superman outfit. He’s the perfect look for the next movie Superman. There’s some wonderful single and double page spreads. My favourite being when Superman is stood on the moon looking down at Earth. When Immonen’s Superman is in flight you really believe you are there with him. This mini-series is essential reading for the makers of the new Superman movie. I sincerely hope Bryan Singer, McG, M.Night Shyamalan, Jerry Bruckheimer, James Cameron(he's the original director for a Spiderman movie back in 1997,after he's done with Titanic) or even Peter Jackson will read this.


Superman never encounters Lex Luthor, Lois Lane (though Clark does marry a Lois) or Jimmy Olsen. In this story they don’t exist. There’s even a complete absence of villains. The bad guys are the U.S. Government who are trying to track down Superman. They want to know why he can do the things he can do and view him as a possible threat. Superman forges an agreement with Federal Agent Malloy, he’ll help them if they leave him alone and give him privacy. While Red Son never tackles issues of identity, Busiek’s story does. Clark goes to great lengths to keep his identity secret in order to protect his wife and two daughters. The last person you’d suspect is a best-selling writer called Clark Kent! Too obvious!


As the years pass more super powered beings appear. Of course, in a nice nod comic book history, this real-world Superman is the first. We never find out where his powers come from, and it doesn’t matter. The story is so engrossing that to find out why would spoil it. I wouldn’t ever be able to say that Red Son or Secret Identity are the definitive Superman stories, since I’d class them as Elseworlds. My belief is that Superman: The Movie was, and is, the definitive Superman. It’s a shame that creators have to step outside the regular mythology to create great stories. I’m sure that is down to DC more than anything.


Superman may not be cool or hip. He may need small changes in order to survive longer. But how many heroes have had two stories as great as Superman: Red Son and Superman: Secret Identity in the past year? Batman? No. Spider-Man? Not a chance. I think Superman has a safe future in comic book form.




p/s : wishing that there will be a super-power in me to be battle 'the never-ending-battle-in-me'



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