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Superman #206
writer: Brian Azzarello
artists: Jim Lee and Scott Williams

Jim Lee delineates Superman as a near-god, perfection from every angle. Thankfully keeping the art from too much idle idol worship, Brian Azzarello writes even supermen as men, struggling with their consciences and their purpose in life. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. So why isn't this comic book dream team putting out a more enjoyable book?

Worse, why do I find myself actually preferring Action, written by Chuck Austen? Kill me now.

It's not as if Azzarello hasn't set up an intriguing premise. In this arc, Superman battles superfoes externally and overwhelming guilt internally for the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of people, including Lois Lane, the previous year. He doesn't know why it happened; he only knows that somehow, he failed them.

And so he turns to a priest for, if not absolution, at least a sounding board. Like most priests in popular fiction, this one, too, struggles over his own purity. While the two bandy deep thoughts back and forth, Superman occasionally gets called away to take down a monster here, or interfere with world politics there.

Perhaps the biggest problem lies in this being something out of Azzarello's usual realm. He writes intrigue and crime well, but falters with characters so archetypal. Just as Azzarello's Batman didn't feel like Batman in his arc with Eduardo Risso, "Broken City," this Superman seems like the character in the story Azzarello cares about the least. For sweep, the writer puts the Last Son of Krypton in the midst of a fictitious Middle Eastern country's revolution, with characters that give you the nagging feeling you've seen it all before and can't remember if you liked it. Plus, Azzarello writes for an artist whose forte lies in drawing beautiful people and hideous creatures fighting, so it doesn't matter what you think about it, anyway.

It's not that Lee can't draw quiet moments; it's more that there seems little point to such an exercise. He works best in big splashy moments, because without a lot of noise you notice how impossibly fine looking everyone is - except of course, for the monsters.

Here, the monster is something called Equus, a high-powered techno-workhorse with a strong enough resemblance to Doomsday to push sales. As a character design, Equus has little of the horse about him, except maybe the lenses over his eyes that could stand in for blinders. As ugly as Equus is, though, Azzarello presents the possibility that while in service to the revolutionary General Nox, he actually is a noble steed. But can you believe that Superman would fly into a room full of slaughter and be persuaded somehow not to bring the perpetrator to some sort of justice, even if the citizenry are grateful for the killing? (Any resemblance to current events must be strictly coincidental. Kaff kaff.)

Azzarello would have us believe that Superman would compromise his own moral vision in such a situation. But then, he compromises it every time he interferes with politics. At least when fighting Zod, you could understand his getting involved.

Maybe America is stuck in a grey area. In the gloom, Azzarello certainly can spin a pretty good yarn. But somehow, no matter how doubt-filled he may be, Superman does not belong in that fog. He's too bright, too colorful, too important to us as a symbol of something better. Though Austen may write a Superman who may be a little cocky, at least that Superman remembers who he is.


Derek McCaw

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