Friday, 29 November 2013

In My Pants

"Smallville Season 11"
I flipped through Smallville Season 11 #1 this week (it was free on Comixology, like your first hit from the dealer) and was struck by the Superman costume (pictured right). It's very similar to the classic, but with a red belt and darker patches down the sides, beginning under the arms and continuing down the sides of the legs, flattering the torso like a rugby top. It has a few lines on and around it, seams like it was actually sewn together by somebody, but nothing overly elaborate. Some detailing on the boots. Enough to make it look distinct from the comics.

Most significantly, no red shorts.

And I'm looking at it, and I'm thinking, well, this is actually fine. It looks like Superman.


"New 52" Superman
See, I'm not overly fond of the "New 52" Superman outfit (left). I enjoyed Grant Morrison's run on Action (see earlier article), and am satisfied with his reason for wearing it - it's not only easy to change into and out of, but it is itself invulnerable, bolstering his own innate protection as well as reducing his repair bills. But for some reason I don't like it, and I kind of thought it was because of the shorts.

The shorts may have been somewhat of an anachronism; they've been explained as the result of superhero outfits being drawn from acrobat uniforms, breaking up the lines of the human underneath, and yes, drawing attention away from any indecent bulges that may or may not arise from, ahem, sensitive anatomy. Plus they're really easy to draw. Most superhero costumes happen like this: You draw a naked human, and draw lines on it. The classic "Underpants-over-the-tights" look comes from drawing your lines right at the hip. But whatever the roots, over 70+ years the shorts became iconic for Superman. You take that away, and it's not Superman, it's a guy wearing the S-Shield in an alternate universe (and we've had enough of those over the years).

But then I see this Smallville one, and it's not so bad.

"Man of Steel" Superman
What else could it be about the New 52 uniform that sets my teeth on edge? Comparing and contrasting with the "Man of Steel" outfit (right) - a movie I still haven't seen and in all honesty am ambivalent about - the costume is again a little off. But, again, I don't think it's the lack of red underwear, it's more the belt, which is here implied rather than explicitly present. There's a differentiation of texture which is kind of an attempt to break up the form, combined with the under-arm torso emphasis thing they have going on again, but it's not particularly successful. You end up with this sort of vast canvas of blue that's more reminiscent of the (likewise awful) Fantastic Four movie uniforms.

(As an aside, I love the Smallville Season 11 belt, the way it takes a V-line and a little bit of trim to make that pentagon "buckle" out of negative space.)

But it's still Superman for some reason. Certainly from the waist up, which I find I can't say about New52!Clark. It's something more subtle.

It's the collar.

Kal has always had his shirt end at the collarbone. The cape's shifted around; sometimes it comes from that same line, sometimes it's attached around the back of the neck, but the shirt itself always ends there. The neck itself is bare. I don't know why that's a dealbreaker for me but for some reason it is. It somehow makes it more militaristic, more constricted. I'd say there was a juxtaposition of Clark Kent's work collar and Kal-El's open neckline, but that would sound pretentious. Maybe I just have a neck fetish. Whatever the reason, it seems to be the thing that bothers me most about New 52 Superman.

Images sourced via Google Image Search. Used without permission.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Back in Action

I've been suckered in by - I mean taking advantage of - a lot of Comixology sales lately, and this week I picked up Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics. 99¢/69p an issue, you can't pick up the trade paperbacks for that, even on Comixology.

It was ... Ugh, argh, rrmmmm. Hah. Ouch.

Don't get me wrong. It was good. There's no denying it was good. Morrison has fantastic ideas. Brilliant. He knows the magic of words and worlds, every panel on every page is a work of genius. The problem is not that he's not good. The problem is that he's so far past good that it's just awful. So brilliant that it hurts to look directly at it.

It's less evident earlier on, where things are more coherent, but even there there are digressions, non-sequiturs that don't pay off for nearly a year, and usually that's a great thing, the mark of a solid writer who's planned ahead. The first line of the dialogue in the first panel of the first page gives away something that isn't clear until issue 16! And that's great. But it's different when you cut away from a cliffhanger to tell an apparently unrelated story for two months. At that point you're actually detracting from the story.

It becomes - I don't want to say worse - more acute near the end of a run, and I have to wonder if he overestimates the amount of time he has and gets caught up in his famous deconstructed storytelling, because there's an acceleration. By issue 18 here, same as the last issue of Final Crisis, Morrison has hit this kind of plateau, a Zen trance of creativity. He's trying show you how all the plot threads tie together (And they do! They really do! It really is a beautiful tapestry!), it's just that he can't articulate it to us lesser lifeforms in anything approaching a traditional narrative.

"My face is up here, officer."
So you get this kind of incoherent mess, where every line of dialogue is epic, but they don't necessarily relate to each other. It's not even that the plot is indecipherable, it's all there in front of you. It's just like piecing together a jigsaw, rather than reading a story; a cold logical exercise in deduction instead of a living thing that is talking to you. The overall experience is a confusion of colourful shapes each yelling, "The god-weapon supermind has only to feel!" And, "See my face in everything!" And, "Consider yourself exorcised!"

Here the confusion infests fewer pages (during which four new characters who have only been mentioned in passing turn up solely to excise a redundant plot thread) but it is still that distinctive, familiar Morrison morass. To be brutally honest, I feel like the run is saved by the backup features, in which a different creative team expand on or explore some brushed-past plot point or missing events from the main story.

I love a lot about this run. I love the changes to the Superman mythos - Krypto especially, and the deft amalgamation of every rewrite of Brainiac's origins. I love the suggestion that rather than being a simply editorial byproduct of "Flashpoint", the changes to Clark's status quo (his parents' deaths, the annulment of his wedding to Lois) are actually part of this 18-month / 10-year plot arc. And I love that it's done with such art, rather than thrown in on page one with a cloaked villain cacking about how much they hated the old universe anyway (I'm looking at you, Stormwatch).

Although, of course, it is right there on page one, if you go back and look.

Which is brilliant.