söndag 21 juli 2013

Kurt Busiek & Stuart Immonen: Superman – Secret Identity

I always liked Kurt Busiek. I first encountered his work in a couple of eighties filler stories for Marvel – I think one was an issue of Marvel Team-Up and the other Captain America (or possibly Daredevil) – and was struck by how well he did human interest stories.

(As opposed to how Marvel generally did human interest stories in the late eighties-early nineties, which was bloody terribly. They had J.M. DeMatteis, who was very good if a bit on the sentimental side, and Denny O'Neil did a couple of Iron Man stories, and Chris Claremont was bearable even if too talky and over-obvious – but other than that, when the Marvel of that era did "human interest", it generally fell flat.) (And I do mean really flat.)

I just couldn't understand why they didn't give this guy a regular series. I mean, they gave Peter David that – and totally deservedly so! – after he'd shown his chops in a couple of single issue-stories. Now I read on Busiek's Wikipedia page that he had health problems in the nineties after mercury poisoning, and I wonder if that contributed. (I also wonder what the hell happened that he got mercury poisoning in the first place, but the Wikipedia entry doesn't say.)

The first regular series of Busiek's that I recall reading is Astro City which you definitely ought to read, too, if you aren't already. It's very strong superhero/human interest stories in a roman à clef – or, rather, comics à clef – setting, with some exquisite art by Brent Anderson. Basically, it's DC's superheroes getting a more naturalistic treatment. "Superman" spends most of his time saving people, so that when he finally falls asleep, he dreams about just flying and enjoying the feeling of freedom that he never ever has while awake. In another story, almost every superhero there is promises to just work his/her butt off on a particular evening. Why? So that "Superman" and "Wonder Woman" can take the night off and go on a date... Astro City is great, and I especially recommend the collections Life in the Big City and Confession (the latter being a powerful Batman story, far better than what DC was putting out at the time – post-Dark Knight and post-Alan Grant).

But. Secret Identity.

This is the story of a guy named Clark Kent living in the real world, where everybody knows that Superman is a comics character with superpowers and the secret identity of Clark Kent. So naturally, this real-world Clark Kent gets hassled a lot for his name. And then, suddenly, inexplicably, in his mid-to-late teens he gets super powers.

This is actually one of only two weaknesses with the story. Where the hell does he get superpowers from? And why? Apparently, a miracle occurs, just to tie together a good idea that Busiek had, of a guy named Clark Kent being razzed about his name, with another good idea he had, namely to do a Superman story as if he really existed in the real world. Connecting those two good ideas, however, wasn't a good idea, as it stretches the reader's suspension of disbelief a bit on the thin side. But I'll forgive Busiek that mistake, because the rest of the book is simply so damn good.

Young Clark now has to find a way to start using his newly-arrived powers for good without revealing who he is. He almost fails, and the authorities start looking into his history, but as he has a medical history clearly indicating that he's not invulnerable, they write him off as "superboy" candidate. (Clever plotting by Busiek, there. Tip o' the hat.)

Anyway, Clark grows up, and gets into the reporting/writing business. He gets set up with a date named Lois by his colleagues. He falls in love. Wants to start a family... but the government is hard on his heels. How to protect a family, if he starts one?

Here, roughly in the middle of the story, the narrative bogs down a bit, as Clark obsesses just a bit too much about these issues while playing hide-and-seek with government agents and the military… and this is the second weakness with the book. It has me worried for a bit, but then Busiek gets things moving again and gives us a what is basically a tale about a life well lived, and how kindness and goodness isn't the worst path to choose for yourself. Maybe he gets a bit sentimental somewhere along the way, but if he does, I don't really notice it, because Clark Kent really is such an interesting acquaintance to make, and the problems he has to deal with ring true. This is a story about people – you know, what all those superhero writers claim to want to write and what quite a substantial percentage of them fail to accomplish. Busiek succeeds.

And so does artist Stuart Immonen, because the art is gorgeous. It is clear and very readable, conveys emotion and is beautiful to look at. Action scenes are depicted without emanata and sound effects, giving them a sort of slow motion quality that goes well with the story's emphasis on people and their emotional reactions to events. A story like this hinges on credibility, and Immonen's art, with its many believable portraits of ordinary people, provides that in spades.

And, as I said and as the sample page above clearly shows, it's gorgeous. Nearest description I cam make is that it's as if Gene Colan pencils from the height of his ability had been magically turned into colors and ink while retaining their original subtlety. Yes, Immonen is that good, and it really bolsters the story.

Highly recommended.

Edit: Another blogger reviewed this book here.

Inga kommentarer:

Skicka en kommentar