Thursday, October 28, 2004

Like a hundred thousand other people...

I've been buying the Brian Azzarello/Jim Lee run on the DC comic series SUPERMAN. I've explained elsewhere why I haven't liked this character for a long time (two words - John Byrne, but in saying so, I'm probably being a bit too easy on Mike Carlin), but my deep affection for the works of the man called The Azz meant I started buying this. Recently, his storyline has been coming in for a lot of criticism in the always vocal online community. For a rundown on the debate, try here.

I've found every issue at least intriguing enough to keep buying it. The slow release of what exactly is going on doesn't strike me as "padding", but as maybe the whole point of the exercise. The reader is supposed to be confused, and disoriented, like Azz's Superman is. I'm prepared to not stand in judgement until the entire series is over, but so far, so good.

My problems with the book are the same as my usual problems with any Jim Lee comic - for all his flashy technique, his faces aren't capable of a wide variety of expession (which is why the series is striking some as one note: look, Superman is sad! Look, Superman is angry!), and I'm not sure he has a great eye for anatomy: even his incidental characters are built like brick shithouses. Every man, whether they're a Kryptonian, a surgeon, a mercenary or a priest, has the same superheroic physique, even Jimmy Olsen looks as dashing as any Justice Leaguer; and every woman has the same unrealistic Malibu Stacey big tits/no waist combo. A delicately nuanced script is being trampled over by a sledgehammer-subtle artist, albeit a very popular one. The result was always going to be unsatisfactory.

This was always a mismatch of collaborators, however its a real shame that all the flak for all this storyline's failings seems to be aimed at Azzarello. Surely, there's an artist drawing superhero comics who could have provided the nuanced character acting the script requires, and the box-office pulling power to return Superman to the top of the comic charts (there's a little light bulb in my head right now flashing "Dave Gibbons! Frank Quitely!")?

But then I've never understood Jim Lee's position as one of the great big Sacred Cows of American comic art. He's an astute businessman, and a fine publisher (his imprint WILDSTORM have spent the last few years defining the mainstream), but as a penciller, I find his work frankly annoying and try and avoid it. But then, I'm happy and secure in the knowledge that I'm a cranky old reactionary flying in the face of popular opinion. Jim Lee and Superman is a great fit, but I wouldn't have bought it: Jim Lee, Superman, and Brian Azzarello isn't, but I am buying it. Let's face it: A encore of the HUSH team of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee on Superman would have sold by the bucketload. Mark Waid and Jim Lee might have hit it out of the park. Grant Morrison and Jim Lee certainly would have.

I'm buying it for The Azz. God bless'im for taking on the biggest poisoned chalice in the comics industry and producing work that is, at least, interesting, and which may even turn out to be great. He mightn't produce a definitive version of Superman, but I wouldn't put it past him to write the definitive Lex Luthor in the near future. Now wouldn't that seem more up his street?