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O Superman

  It's A Bird...

 

Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen

Vertigo/DC, 2004

Rating: 3.8

 

 

Posted: July 29, 2004

By 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 Nietzschean underpinnings.

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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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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