Pipeline: John Byrne's "Superman" #1 Revisited

Tue, April 30th, 2013 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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SUPERMAN #1

Continuing a series of looks back at free first issues available through comiXology.

"Superman" #1 is from the beginning of John Byrne's reboot of the character in the late 1980s. This one gives us the new origins of Metallo, in a series of nicely illustrated point of view panels. It's Byrne playing with his storytelling styles, varying things up just a bit from the usual routine of flashing back to a heavily-captioned sequence to blurt out a "secret origin." The intercutting between Metallo's POV flashback and the current day scene is a bit rough at times, but the whole thing works.

It's also fun to read a comic where all the old rules are forgotten and need to be learned again. In this case, that's most specific to the unveiling of Kryptonite and Lois' discovery that Superman is an alien. It's the kind of material that most comic writers would love to use -- how many origin stories do we get written of every character every year? -- and John Byrne had a lot to tackle. The stuff we take for granted today is everything Byrne squeezed into these books as fast as he could back then.

Compared to the sturm und drang of modern comics, there's something whimsical and magical to the late-80s style of comic we see here. Clark and Lois are still in a love triangle thanks to Clark's alter ego. Clark is an upstanding man trying to win her heart in the truest way. Lois is a driven news reporter who's likely to get herself into trouble. There's the usual stretch to keep the Superman/Clark Kent identity a secret, but that's fun in a classic comic booky way.

The soap opera aspect gets a bit thick at times, though it's still fun. But, man, can you imagine a line of dialogue like this one showing up in a modern superhero comic? This would not go over well:

"Now, Lois, you know Mr. White has warned you repeatedly about risking your pretty neck to get a story." is not exactly the words of a sensitive modern man...

Terry Austin's inks over Byrne's pencils look a little scratchier here than in their heyday together on the "X-Men." Austin plays with some tones to indicate shadows in a way that works, and some close-ups get heavier inks to indicate the stress and strain Superman is under.

Walls filled with purple tech just look cool.

I like Byrne's detail in the tech lining the walls. I like John Costanza's imperfect hand lettering. I like the double-thick panel borders to indicate a flashback. I like Byrne's rubble. And I like his Lex Luthor, who looks and acts vaguely Kingpin-ish here. It's the little details that add to a fun read for me.

Sign of the times: Count how many colors are used in this cityscape

The coloring by Tom Ziuko is what you'd expect for a comic of this vintage. Solid areas of color fill in large swaths of the page. Simple light purple backgrounds let the action come front and center. Even city images involving shades of purple, green, and pink work. I'm not sure how, but they do. Photoshop gradients and tens of thousands of colors were still a few years away. The simplicity of the colors kept the art front and center, and made the penciler and inker work a little harder to put all the effects on the page rather than letting the post-production people/colorist finish it off.

Reproduction values are great. While this book was obviously not originally published digitally, it doesn't show any of the common signs of a digitized comic. The whites don't look yellow, the colors don't look splotchy or moiré patterned. Some real effort went into converting this book into digital form, and it shows. (Maybe the original film was still available?) They didn't attempt to hide things or clean things up. Colors that bled outside the lines are still there, for example. The digital comic is an accurate reproduction of the original comic's coloring, which is nice.

This first issue of the rebooted "Superman" series is a freebie at comiXology and stands well enough on its own. If you like what you see, of course, the next 15 issues from John Byrne are all also available. The second issue, as I recall, is a particularly entertaining one where Lex Luthor works out Superman's secret identity. His reaction is priceless. Byrne did a great job in those issues of carrying story arcs throughout the series while still telling done-in-one tales. Each issue is satisfying on its own, but the overall effect is even better.

PICKING UP THE SCRAPS FROM C2E2

  • C2E2 may have been the first convention in years where I didn't read any rumors expecting Marvel to announce "Neil Gaiman's Marvelman" comic. Has that perennial rumor finally gone to sleep? Or did people just get it out of their systems after the Angela news and hype/speculation a few weeks back?

  • It's Dark Horse's turn to publish Elfquest, the comics industry's latest stab at reviving the nearly-moribund property. I hope the BoingBoing serialization is going well and that it will bring in a larger outside audience, because the Direct Market crowd for this comic is pretty thin at this point. ElfQuest was a great independent hit story of the 1980s. It's long since peaked. DC's last effort to push it a few years back disappeared pretty quickly.

  • The best part about the end of a convention is that the artists start posting pictures of the sketches they created over the weekend. Erik Larsen was in Calgary for a convention there and tweeted some pics on Sunday. (This is my favorite.) Skottie Young at C2E2 had his usual assortment of images, many of which you can find on his website. Check out ComicArtFans.com and run a search on "C2E2" to see lots of other sketches and original art that changed hands over the weekend.

  • I'm trying to avoid spoilers these days. They've lost the excitement they once held for me. I'm going to be seeing "Iron Man 3" this weekend, for example. I've already read far too many people teasing plot points, thinking they're not spoilers because people must be too dumb to make the obvious guesses at what they're referencing, I guess? I don't want to know. I want to go in cold. I'm like that with a lot of comic book news, too. So C2E2 had a lot of small new publishing announcements that I'm sure appealed to all sorts of people. They also had a lot of creators talking about the futures of their books. I glanced at the covers (love Art Adams' X-Men one), but I'll skip reading the interviews. I want to be surprised more in my comics life.
THE PARALLELS OF CON PROGRAMMING

Once again, Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference mirrors the issues of Comic-Con International in San Diego. The big gathering of iOS and Mac programmers sold out in less than two minutes this year (with server crashes galore), prompting howls from the programming community that the ticketing system is broken, the wrong people are getting in, the old-timers are being left out, the ticketing system should be a lottery or is worse than a lottery or it shouldn't be a lottery, it's too exclusive, it's not representative of the community, and that the whole thing needs to be scrapped and rethought. As usual, there's the conflation of a lottery system with equality and fairness, like the random draw of a lottery ticket is more fair than the lucky draw of who got through before the servers crashed.

The big difference between CCI: San Diego and WWDC right now is that nobody is complaining that Hollywood has ruined Apple's programming. Other than that, all of the hand-wringing sounds word-for-word like the complaints that everyone's once favorite convention in San Diego has had in the last five to eight years. It's only gotten worse since I wrote about it last year.

The parallels grew ever stronger this year, too. An AltWWDC event has been organized. For those who can't get into WWDC, that's an alternate series of presentations happening a block or two away for people with the same interests. Think of it as the Trickster of WWDC. Separate admission, separate event, same target audience. The overflow crowd has a great alternative now.

While some plead for San Diego to become something closer to a city-wide festival of the arts a la Angouleme, some on the Apple community are suggesting a never-ending conference held on the internet. Even better, I saw one person suggest moving WWDC to a bigger venue in Las Vegas. That's when a nasty case of déjà vu set in and I had to take a nap.

In a new wrinkle, Apple has been calling developers to offer them tickets in the wake of the quick sell-out. Can you imagine CCI calling long-time con-goers who got locked out to offer them a ticket?

Oh, and one last difference: While San Diego has stopped offering early bird pricing specials, Apple never had them. Apple's WWDC tickets run $1599 a pop. They still have no problem selling more than 5,000 tickets in less than two minutes. And, yes, their servers were acting wonky from the crushing traffic, just as San Diego ticket sales often burn up servers.

At this point, I'm not sure there are any more parallels to draw between the two events. Give it another year, though, and we'll see what Apple might come up with next. Maybe they can move the even to Anaheim? Maybe hotels will be made available via lottery, too? A stabbing in a UITableView Presentation over a guy saving a seat for the following UIWebView lecture? Let's hope it doesn't go that far.

THINGS I'VE STARTED READING

I tried to read "Jupiter's Legacy" #1. Honest, I did. But the thing printed out with too many muddy pages. I couldn't enjoy it. I could barely read the art on many of the middle pages. Maybe glossy paper would have helped. Maybe a digital version would have looked better. (Mark Millar isn't authorizing one for three months.) I don't know, but I do know that Peter Doherty's colors did not combine with the art well at all, and that makes it a complete loser to me.

The front few pages and the last few pages look great, but the bulk of the issue lacks enough contrast to be readable. Having superheroes talking at night in front of a dark blue sky on dark green land while wearing dark gray suits just leads to pages full of mush with super bright white word balloons floating above. You can't even see the art behind the main characters. With Quitely's thin lines, the color easily overwhelms the art.

When I'm less cranky about the whole thing, maybe I'll give the book another try.

I made it through the first issue of Image's "Great Pacific" from the recently-released trade paperback. Time constraints kept me from finishing it, but that just gives me something to look forward to this week. I like what I've read so far and can't wait to see where it goes.

Likely, I'm the only one who sees similarities between it and "Largo Winch," since there are only a dozen of us reading that series in America. Joe Harris' story is one of a smart young man who's inherited a ridiculous amount of wealth from his father but would rather Do Right and be a global gypsy than sit still for board room meetings. After that, it looks like it'll go off in its own directions and I'm looking forward to it.

The artwork by Martin Morazzo is clean and easy to read, with a bit of a Frank Quitely influence, I'd say. Tiza Studio's coloring here, though, is bright and clear. With one or two panels excepted, I never had a problem instantly picking up on what was drawn on the page. That puts this series leagues ahead of the much-hyped "Jupiter's Legacy."

If you're looking for books I did finish reading, check out my reviews last week of two Image comics, ”Witch Doctor: Mal Practice” #6 and ”Invincible” #102.

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TAGS:  pipeline, john byrne, superman, dc comics, mark millar, frank quitely, jupiters legacy

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