Superman For All Seasons
Superman For All Seasons is a four part miniseries that looks to get inside the minds of some of Superman's most iconic friends and foes, all the while giving us a significantly different origin story that manages to simultaneously show his human side while making note of his many alien powers. Featuring brilliant stylized artwork and a script that proves many clichés about both Superman and the superhero medium to be flailing generalizations, this is a book that even readers unacquainted with Superman will want to check out.
The basic premise is that the book follows Superman through his last year of high school through a few years into his career at the Daily Planet. In each of the different seasons he faces a different conflict. Spring, the first season, deals with his need to come to grips with his powers and become a force for good in whatever way possible. Two and three deal with the expansion of his powers and his new life balance in Metropolis, in addition to his blossoming rivalry with Lex Luthor. Lex's deceptive ways lead into the fourth chapter, Winter, where Clark returns home to deal with the emotional fallout of an event that he believes he is responsible for. Almost as important as Superman's story during each of the chapters are the narration boxes provided by one of the people closest to him. Chapter I is told from the perspective of Clark's father, Jonathan, and deals with the unconditional love, support, and pride that the Kent family has for their son, in addition to their concerns about his transformation and future. The next chapter features Lois Lane's handling of Superman's arrival on the scene and has some interaction between the two. This was probably the chapter I cared for the least, simply because it seemed to be the least consequential, but Lois was written very well. Luthor's story deals with his contempt for Superman and the tenuous relationship the two have as contending protectors of Metropolis. Lana's chapter to conclude the book deals with her past regrets, future desires, and admiration of Superman. The narrative provides most of the thematic content for the story, and it also helps to give us some strong insights into the characters most important to Superman.
This book works so well in part because it stays away from dumb superhero stereotypes. There are no team ups of any kind, Superman's conflicts are internal as opposed to battling some generic new villain or henchman, and there is a great amount of underlying themes to enjoy in each of the four seasons. This also works against the belief that Superman stories are boring because the character is so strong or because he rarely faces mortal peril. Sure, he does quite heroic things in this book, but the core emotional conflicts come from within Superman and in fact sometimes derive from these scenes where he is shown lifting boulders with one hand. In fact, the first chapter deals mostly with his increasingly anti-social behavior and his struggle to find a place in his world with his newly blossoming skills. At face value, this is a very easily relatable and emotionally resonant way to connect with readers, and this book's ability to go above and beyond usual fare to deliver a comic that is so poignant and stirring is a big reason that it is such a huge success.
While the artwork may look kind of weird when simply flipping through the book at your local shop, in the context of the story it works perfectly. Superman's line free face and extremely tiny mouth may look funny at first, but as a means of portraying the character's wide eyed innocence and fresh faced demeanor it fits. On the other hand, Lois and Lana look absolutely perfect, if a bit similar. They are sexy and appealing without falling into the usual traps of cheesecake and excess. Outside of character designs, there is plenty to enjoy as well. The contrast between sleek, geometric, and bright Metropolis and rustic, quaint, and homely Smallville is striking and serves to illustrate just how different the two worlds that Superman has inhabited are. There may not be a lot of action in this book, but when there is the art matches it perfectly. I loved the way in which both super speed and x-ray vision were conveyed. Beautiful landscapes and a generous amount of two page spreads featuring a wide variety of topics round out the package. It may not be as realistic or as eye popping as the art in many modern comics, but as a somewhat stylized comic devoid of much action, the art behind Superman For All Seasons tends to be just as powerful as the script.
As someone who has been dismissive of Superman comics for some time now, Superman for All Seasons really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the character and his world. By exploring the near invincible character's human side, and fleshing out his mortal companions while providing great art and powerful themes about the alienation, joy, and fears of growing up, this book establishes itself as a perfect example of the superhero genre at its best.