Graphic Detail takes an in-depth look at a new graphic novel or trade paperback released each week.
One of the most common criticisms brought against superhero comics is that they're nothing but adolescent male power fantasies—we like superheroes, some say, because as little boys we wanted to be them (this ignores half the potential comic-reading audience, but whatever). Mark Millar and Leinil Yu's Superior takes that idea and runs with it. Here, 12-year-old Simon Pooni, a middle schooler afflicted with multiple sclerosis, encounters an out-of-this-world being who offers to fulfill his one greatest wish. That wish: to turn into Superior, his favorite comic-book/movie hero. But Simon's about to find out that his benefactor may not have the purest of intentions.
In lots of ways, Superior is an homage to Superman, especially to his classic 50s/60s stories and the Christopher Reeve movies (it's not on accident that Millar dedicates this book to Reeve and director Richard Donner). Superior the character might as well be Superman, actually; he's got the same powers, the same run of corny movies and the same moral code ("I always liked the fact that Superior doesn't kill people," Simon says. "Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff.") And Millar seems to understand that, even if superheroes are just an adolescent power fantasy (which, let's hold off on making that call), they can still inspire us to do great things. As soon as Simon gains the powers of his favorite hero, he starts helping people around the world with them, instantly becoming humanity's favorite person.
But Millar, after all, is the guy behind stories like Kick-Ass and The Ultimates. He's known for injecting what people call a "realistic" sensibility into his scripts, which usually means they're pointedly political and super pessimistic. Neither of those things escape Superior, a story where a lot of things happen just because it feels like they should. That's not the worst plotting device in the world, really, but Millar's tread this ground before. In an effort to be topical, he actually dates himself horribly—for instance, one of Superior's grandest acts is to go to work for President Obama, ending the War on Terror by finally finding Osama bin Laden (ooops). Then there's the totally ridiculous reveal of the truth behind the creature that gave Simon the powers of Superior in the first place. This page is so laughable, so out of left field, that it kills any drama the revelation could possess.
This is all such a shame, because the scenario Millar sets up in Superior is amazing. The whole first chapter (out of seven) of this book is dedicated to Simon's less-than-stellar life in middle school. It's not easy being a kid with MS, and through some rough scenes we learn about the struggles that make up his day-to-day life. This is not something
you see in comics a lot, and it is very interesting… much moreso, in fact, than the next four and a half chapters, which only care about Superior. We've seen Superior's story before, hundreds of times… doesn't it cheapen the book to take the spotlight off Simon?
Yes, Simon eventually reappears as this book comes to an end and he has to decide whether to go on being an amazing superhero—for a high price—or just go back to being a kid with a tough life. But by that point, the story's so concerned with supervillains and monkey demons (yes, really) that the care taken to establish Simon as a sympathetic character seems to have disappeared. Things end okay, but it really feels like the first chapter here could've led down a much better road.
But let's say something positive, okay? Art here's provided by Leinil Yu, who Marvel Comics readers may recognize as the penciler who graced Secret Invasion. Yu seems to get better with every book; though his style can sometimes come off as too scratchy, he has a fine command of his characters here, for which credit can probably also be given to his team of inkers (Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Jeff Huet) and colorists (Sunny Gho, Javier Tartaglia and Dave McCaig). This book was fun to look at, with panels of action that pop and more sensitive, quiet moments that carry a lot of weight.
In the end, though, this book just feels so much like a wasted opportunity. It certainly has its share of fans—USA Today called it "the best mini-series of the year"—but consider: might a story intended to be about the inspirational power of superheroes have produced a greater impact by devoting more of its time to Simon Pooni, a teen with MS, whose struggles are infinitely more relatable than those of a Superman knockoff? That could provide some real inspiration, right? C-
Have you read superior? What did you think?