Man and Superman 100-Page Super-Spectacular #1
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist/Cover artist: Claudio Castellini
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Editors: Brian Cunningham, Peter Tomasi & Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $9.99 US
This is another one of those instances for which I’m thankful that I have a savvy comics retailer from whom I buy my comics, because he brought this book to my attention. I hadn’t heard about it at all, when I looked at it on the shop shelf last week, I hesitated at dropping 10 bucks on it. But the manager at the shop said writer Marv Wolfman had proclaimed it to be his best Superman story, and that the collection of the previously unpublished four-part story was already sold out at the distributor level. So I decided to take a chance on it, despite the fact that I already have far too many comics and graphic novels – both read and unread – cluttering my house.
I’m pleased I did. Wolfman – who had a solid run on Adventures of Superman in the late 1980s – wasn’t exaggerating when he dubbed this his best Super-story, and that’s because it’s not a tale about the Man of Steel. It’s about Clark Kent, and it’s powerfully resonant and relatable. The only aspects of the writing that kept this from being perhaps Wolfman’s greatest oeuvre was the thinness of the conspiracy plot and the depiction of journalism. But those weaknesses were minor as compared to the strength of the characterization and universal tone of the rest of the book.
Clark Kent arrives in Metropolis, with big hopes and big plans. He aims to use his powers to help others, but he also wants to make his dreams come true — to become a reporter at a shining beacon of journalism, The Daily Planet. But Clark quickly finds himself in over his head, unable to get a handle on how to start down those paths. He’s feeling alone, feeling hopeless and feeling useless — until one person steps up and tells the world that she believes in him.
A couple of decades ago, Italian artist Claudio Castellini was rising as a star talent in American comics, but his output seemed sporadic. It’s easy to see why he was well received, though. His work reminds me a bit of the style of living legend Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and there were moments in this book when his figures boasted the lightness and energy we used to see from Kerry Gammill (who had his own turn in the Super-books a while back). Castellini presents Clark as a hulking figure, tall and riddled with muscles. He is to become Superman, after all, so it makes sense. But here, it makes for an interesting contrast and contradiction. We see this massive, imposing form, but it’s inhabited by a cautious, insecure young man, hesitant to take action, especially because when he does, things so south for him. Perhaps one of the most striking images in the book, contained in a small panel, is the image of Clark curling up into the fetal position in a dank, lonely apartment.
The cover for this comic conveys a core aspect of the plot — Clark’s transition from a kid from Kansas to a man in Metropolis — but it didn’t quite work for me. Part of the problem might be the awkward design of the central logo. The emphasis on the power and bombast of the Superman legend runs contrary to the more intimate and personal nature of the plot. Honestly, the story struck me as though it merited a better format; this four-part, episodic story has been repackaged as a graphic novel, but this floppier format, though affordable, felt a little as though it didn’t do the book justice. I would have liked to see a stronger promotional push from DC on this project as well; it’s definitely one of the better Super-stories we’ve seen in a while, and it fits in nicely with what Brian Michael Bendis is doing with the ongoing titles featuring this character.
An interesting device in Wolfman’s approach to the story is the fact that almost everything is from Clark’s perspective, either first-hand, through his sensory powers or his memories. The writer deviates from it a little bit, especially for a couple of key scenes between Lois and Perry White, but overall, he sticks with it, making the story all the more personal in tone. One scene at the end of the book — the confrontation between Luthor and the city’s new hero — had a particularly strong impact thanks to the approach, as the entire scene unfolds through Clark’s eyes. We don’t see him, only what he sees, namely a desperate, defiant and dangerous Luthor.
One of the things I loved about Wolfman’s examination of Clark Kent was his focus on the character as a writer at heart. In the past, Clark’s decision to go into journalism was conveyed as a means to allow him to learn about disasters and crime as quickly as possible, but here, he’s shown to have a real passion for writing, and for reporting in particular. He’s not doing it just to help people, but because it’s what he loves to do.
Mind you, when it comes to the actual practice of journalism, the script stumbles a bit. While Perry White’s gruffness rings true, Lois Lane’s ability to bully her boss seems to stretch things a bit. Furthermore, Clark’s scoop at the end of the book is accepted far too easily and quickly, with no one questioning the newbie’s sources or methods. Furthermore, Luthor’s plot is terribly transparent; it doesn’t stand to reason that only Clark and Lois would see through it.
What’s so engrossing about this story, though, is how Wolfman captures the lonely and clumsy first steps we take into adulthood. He conveys Clark’s longing for home through the use of his powers, but it’s nevertheless relatable. I remember that awkward quest for my first apartment, the gambles I had to take in a new town, the isolation I felt in a place where I knew so few people. Clark has great power and knows how to use them adeptly but not practically, and it’s fascinating to see Wolfman present one of the most powerful characters in all of fiction as feeling so small and impotent in his own life. This was a fascinating and grounded exploration of the most iconic of all super-heroes, on par with Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s Superman: Secret Identity. 8/10