Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Superman #213

Posted: Sunday, February 6, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

“For Tomorrow: Part Ten”

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Bob Agamemnon:
Michael Deeley:
Shaun Manning:
James Redington:

Bob Agamemnon

Plot: In an unnamed but apparently Middle Eastern city, the nefarious Mr. Orr uses two dogs named Zeus and Apollo to capture the witch Halcyon with the goal of obtaining a magic knife. Meanwhile, Superman meets Jor-El and Lara in Metropia, a city in the dimension to which the “vanished” have vanished. It becomes clear that the same technology that created the dimensional prison known as the Phantom Zone was also used by Superman himself to create this new dimension. Elsewhere in the dimension, the beast Equus, with an insensate Clark Kent chained to his back, leads an army toward Metropia. Equus is joined by a villainous-looking figure named Zod. When Jor-El goes outside the city walls to confront the army, he is defeated.

Comments: Superman is perhaps the most divisive character in all of the superhero genre. Everyone, it seems, has an almost proprietary attitude toward the Man of Steel, and any writer or artist who fails to conform to the often quite rigid criteria for “faithfulness to the character” is pilloried. Brian Azzarello, whose current run on Superman is nearing its end, has hardly escaped unscathed from his encounter with the Big Blue Boy Scout. Many have expressed outrage at his attempts at a psychological portrait of Superman. The priest who serves as Superman’s confessor in this tale has also drawn accusations of representing a “pseudo-religious” intrusion. However, the trouble with Superman #213, and indeed Azzarello’s run thus far, lies not with the direction in which he is taking the character, nor with the concept of a serious psychological treatment of Superman. Instead, it is simply shoddy storytelling that has sunk the endeavor.

An exchange between Lois Lane and Kal-El in Superman #213 is emblematic of the failure of the issue:

Lois: How are you feeling?
Superman: Apprehensive.
Lois: Not just . . . or loving?
Superman: You’re not playing fair . . .
Lois: Okay. . .how about just loving?

The word play of this dialogue is typical of Azzarello’s work in his Vertigo title 100 Bullets, and at first glance it might seem clever. The problem here is that it serves as smoke and mirrors to distract from the fact that Superman’s “apprehension” is of the most nebulous kind imaginable. Guilt is the emotion Azzarello has projected onto his story from the start of “For Tomorrow,” a large chunk of which is narrated by Superman to a priest. But what is the cause of this guilt? What narrative element lays a foundation for it? Is it guilt that he wasn’t on Earth at the time of the initial vanishing , and therefore failed in his role as protector? Is it guilt that he “threatened to kill the world” back in issue #209? Is it survivor’s guilt over his lonely escape from the Kryptonian apocalypse? Or is it guilt that he is the ultimate cause of the vanishing? Any one of these dramatic vehicles could have been employed to explore the myth of Superman, but taken together, they form an emotional swamp with the reader left to muddle out the motivations of the character’s actions.

In 1922, poet and critic T.S. Eliot wrote of the necessity of an “objective correlative” for emotion in dramatic art. He defined it as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion.” Eliot used this criteria to argue that Hamlet was a failure, a thesis many may find suspect. However, it provides a useful way to look at Superman . There is a sense in Azzarello’s run that the reader is being asked to understand an emotion, namely, guilt. However, this guilt is incomprehensible because the “chain of events” fails to automatically elicit it. To borrow more from Eliot, Superman “is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” Hence, each issue of this story leaves one with a feeling of confusion as to how one is supposed to understand the action emotionally.

Though the dark faces and knit brows of star artist Jim Lee’s figures seem to reflect the murkiness of the story, the art in this issue is a pleasure to behold. Lee’s dynamic compositions grant a fleet-footed energy to every panel and give the story a sense of movement, even if that movement does take place on a narrative treadmill.

Ten issues into “For Tomorrow,” readers can be forgiven for feeling as if they have been duped. Brian Azzarello has taken them down a long road, and it is becoming increasingly clear that he has no pay-off in store.

Michael Deeley

The problem with Azzarello’s story is the “elephant in the room.” That is, the thing everyone can see or knows about, but no one will discuss it. “For Tomorrow” has been about something the reader doesn’t know about until Azzarello decides to explain it. It’s about the elephant you never saw in the house you never visit.

Since this is the 10th part of a 12-part story, there’s not much point to buying the comic now. You might as well wait for the trade books. But if you’re curious, here’s what happened:

Several months ago, one million people vanished from the Earth, including Lois Lane. Superman traced these vanishings to a strange device in a Middle Eastern country. The device was used by a revolutionary who overthrew his country’s dictator with help from a monstrous superhuman called Equus. Superman arrived after the dictator was overthrown, so he agreed to help rebuild the country and save the injured. When Superman asks for the vanishing device, the revolutionary refuses and sicks Equus on him. He then uses the device to make Equus and himself disappear.

At this time, Superman is approached by someone called “Orr” claiming to represent the people who “really” run the world. He wants the device. Superman refuses. Returning to Metropolis, Superman finds public opinion has turned against him. People think he helped overthrow the dictator and overstepped his authority. A woman calls on the powers of the Earth to summon four elemental giants to attack Superman. He forces them to surrender by threatening to kill the Earth. The woman is found and comforted by Wonder Woman. She is later revealed to be Halcyon, also called Deilah and Bapsheba by history.

Superman tells his story over several days to a priest dying of cancer. This is where “For Tomorrow” begins; everything else is told in flashback. Between Superman’s visits, Orr approaches the priest, claiming he has the cure for the priest’s cancer. Orr wants to know what Superman’s been telling him. The priest refuses, since his talks with Superman have been a confessional. On his last visit, Superman takes the priest to the Fortress of Solitude. He tells the priest he’s worked out how the vanishing device works. He’s going to use it on himself to see where the other victims went. Suddenly, they’re attacked by Wonder Woman who wants to destroy the vanishing device. The Fortress is destroyed, endangering the lives of the priest and the newly arrived Orr. Superman gets Wonder Woman to save them while he uses the device.

Superman arrives in a paradise. He meets Clark Kent who directs him to Metropia, a city built by those who vanished. There he finds Lois Lane, Jor-El, and Lara. From them, Superman learns that he built this world in The Phantom Zone. It started when Lois asked him if he’d save his only son from a dying Earth? Superman realized the fate of his child would be tied to the fate of the entire world. So he built a perfect world. But there are those who won’t accept paradise. An army of outcasts has gathered outside the city. Aided by Equus, they prepare to destroy Metropia and kill everyone inside in the name of their leader, Zod.

There are some religious themes developing in the story. Many of them revolve around Superman seeing himself and being seen as a savior. The Superman/Clark Kent split could represent Superman’s loss of his human perspective after the vanishing. But with two issues to go, there are some big questions Azzarello has to answer:

Why does Halcyon hate Superman?
Is this the same Zod killed by Superman in a pocket universe, or one from the “fake” Krypton seen in the “Return to Krypton” story?
If the Phantom Zone was created to imprison criminals from Krypton, where are they?
Just how did Superman create an entire world and bring his parents back to life anyway?
And how can Superman and Clark Kent be two separate people? Doesn’t Azzarello know better than to do anything remotely resembling Superman III?

A couple of things bug me about the story: Orr looks exactly like Commissioner James Gordon from Batman: Hush, also drawn by Lee and Williams. Lois loves “Superman” instead of “Clark,” and acts like arm candy around the big guy. And conversations take forever! Talk about your decompressed storytelling. I really think combining panels of dialogue, not to mention eliminating certain scenes that don’t advance the plot, would have cut the book’s length in half.

The main reason to buy the book is Jim Lee’s art. Lee never looks better than when he’s inked by Scott Williams. Their art is simply beautiful. The fights are powerful and exciting. The figures are warm and human. Possibly their finest work to date.

With two issues to go, it seems unlikely that Azzarello could wrap this up neatly. “For Tomorrow” might end up failing to live up to its own high-concept. As the saying goes, it could be sound and fury signifying nothing.

Shaun Manning

The nature of the Vanishing is revealed, as Superman is reunited with Lois Lane… and his parents. Meanwhile, Clark Kent is held prisoner by Equus and the monster’s keeper. As a war rages across Heaven’s landscape, one protector falls and Superman himself may have to kneel before the conqueror.

Jim Lee’s designs for Jor-El and Lara come off as an interesting blend of all the things Superman has been told about his origins, reinterpreted for his own cultural lens. The father as costumed hero adds the weight of legacy to Kal-El’s career, which complements the most prominent themes of the story arc. Superman’s adversary (it should not be hard to guess who this is) also sports a menacing new look.

As to the story, this issue raises some rather tricky questions of reality and perspective. The most direct revelation of Superman #213 is that the Man of Steel has created heaven from hell. But its occupants pose a certain existential problem: because of the Vanishing, there are millions of real humans in this domain; there are, however, several entities sprung straight from Superman’s imagination. Superman and Clark Kent are two different people (and it is suggested that Clark arrived first), Jor-El and Lara are alive, and the villain may be a manifestation of Superman’s greatest fears, or he may be a previous citizen of the zone. The “imaginary” characters interact with the “real” banished people, with Jor-El even serving as their protector. What do the relationships established between such characters say about the nature of reality itself?

“For Tomorrow” speeds toward its conclusion, gaining the strength of momentum as one mystery after another comes to light. Also, strangely, part ten of the story is the first issue a person who hadn’t read the previous chapters could pick up and understand. With an epic battle and stirring conclusion still to come, the Azzarello and Lee run looks to end with a bang.

James Redington

You can’t argue that the art is simply amazing.

You can’t argue that the writing is pretty damn good too.

However, the story itself is as confusing as going to the toilet in the dark after just spinning around on the spot with your eyes shut.

Is Superman dreaming? Is this the Phantom Zone? Who is this new Zod? Why is he there? Why are Jor-El and Lara there? Are they robots? Why are Clark and Superman there as separate beings? Why is Lois so quiet? Why? What? Where?

In many ways, questions like these want me to keep reading, BUT on the other hand I feel I should I have some idea of what is going on.

I firmly believe that I shouldn’t have to go back to previous issues every month to get an idea of what is happening. I like to think that you can read one issue one month and go onto the next the following, without having to re-read the previous issue again just to make sure you understand what is happening. After a ‘run’ has finished, I like to go to back and read the whole story. I guess that “For Tomorrow” will probably make an excellent trade when all the parts are in place, and I am sure it will all come together. Now, however, I feel it isn’t working as separate issues – story wise.

Jim Lee is super! Sorry for the pun, but it really is the only way to go. His work is stunning; the only thing that lets it down a little is the design of the new Zod. He looks like something out of Toy Story 2 or a manga cartoon… I dunno, but it doesn’t fit. There may be a reason we, the readers, don’t yet know why he looks like this. The design is cool and the drawing excellent, but all the spikes… not my cup of tea. I do like the “Z” on his chest and the colouring of the suit though.

Why is he wearing a mask? Why do all these new “pretend” Zods wear masks? Is this going to be another Zod who looks like Clark… erm, sorry… Supes, Kal-El?

I thought considering that the cover was never released before the issue hit the stands, this was a bit lame. Again nothing wrong with the actual work involved, it just didn’t do it for me like some of the previous covers had.

Character wise, Superman is still not right; I am guessing that is more to do with the story than Brian Azzarello’s writing. I think the same goes for Lois. I don’t think this is the real Lois; she is too quiet, too much of the pretty wife not speaking and looking pretty – only interested in making “love.” AGAIN, I think this is more to do with what is happening than the writing. I hope I am not wrong as I am really looking forward to Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Brian’s new mini series coming out in a couple of months.

In a nutshell: “Super” work all round from all involved. I have faith that my questions will be answered. I guess it’s time to dig out those old issues and get myself up to speed on what has happened so far. If you haven’t read this arc, pick up the trade in a few months. I am sure it will be super! (Sorry, had to get one more in before I left)

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