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It's A Bird...
Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen
Kevin Forest Moreau
Steven, a freelance comic book writer, is everything Superman is not. The Man
of Steel is strong, imposing and colorful: Steven avoids the gym, is skinny and
wears a lot of black. Superman is an iconic action hero, while Steven is an
intellectual out of central casting, right down to the pale skin, the skinny
frame, the glasses and the goatee. So perhaps it's understandable that when
Steven is approached about writing the monthly Superman comic, he can't
quite wrap his head around the concept.
That's the central conflict in It's A Bird..., a semi-autobiographical
graphic novel (according to the back cover) written by Steven T. Seagle, best
known for his work on DC's House of Mystery and Sandman Mystery
Theatre, and a run on Marvel's Uncanny X-Men. After he initially
passes on the assignment, Steven is hounded by his editor to reconsider, and the
more he turns the character over in his head, the more consternated he gets.
Admittedly, that's a pretty thin premise on which to hang a book, but there's
more to Steven's story than meets the eye. Steven's antipathy toward Superman is
linked to an incident from his childhood: his grandmother's death after a long
struggle with Huntington's disease, a disorder that robs victims of their speech
and motor control, leaving them prisoners inside their own bodies. What's more,
Steven's father has just disappeared, a disappearance that may have something to
do with the disease as well.
So Steven splits his time between looking for his father (a search he conducts
with a troubling lack of urgency, given that for all he knows his dad could be a
walking zombie) and alienating his loved ones -- he punches a fellow freelancer
during a conversation about Superman, and begins emotionally shutting out his
smart and attractive girlfriend, to boot. Clearly, he's got issues to work out
that run deeper than Superman. But it's his Superman issues that Steven tackles
first, in the form of brief vignettes that break down different aspects of the
Superman mythos, from the costume to the character's outsider status and his
These segments, each painted with a different look by Teddy Kristiansen (whose
scratchy artwork throughout keeps the reader firmly rooted in the story), are
the most interesting aspect of It's A Bird.... Of course, some of them
don't really have much to do with Superman -- a segment entitled "Fortress of
Solitude" spins a tale about a man who shuts himself off from the entire world
so completely that he dies, which speaks more to Steven's shabby treatment of
those around him than anything else.
That, of course, is the whole point of It's A Bird...: Steven's problems
with Superman aren't really about the Man of Steel at all. As a result, the book
ultimately feels contrived: Steven's examinations into the Superman legend
aren't particularly revelatory, and the link that causes Steven to associate
Superman with the disease never fully rings true.
Besides which, Steven never convinces us he's anything other than a privileged
jerk. His issues with Huntington's may humanize him, but they don't explain away
his actions. This may be intentional on Seagle's part, to further contrast
Steven's character with Superman's. But if so, it works too well: any comic book
writer knows that it's hard to get readers to root for an unlikable character.
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