Adventures of Superman – Violent Minds
Now, I’m no Lex Luthor but I do have a bit of a beef with Superman. I’ve simply never been a fan and so his status and the love of those who are has always baffled me somewhat. I am however a fan of DC’s Digital First lines and the creative team that they chose for the first comic in this one – lead by Jeff Parker and Chris Samnee – so I thought that, given the year, I should give the old Kryptonian a chance to win me over and win is exactly what Superman always does.
Parker, perhaps in parodic reference to his pseudo-silent short for Legends of the Dark Knight, the Batman sister-series, opens Violent Minds with a close up shot of a shouting mouth. ‘This issue has dialogue’ it almost screams; and though the next twenty pages certainly deliver plenty of it, the stuff somehow feels less essential here than it would in many other stories. Simply put he has yet again scripted a story that would work well enough if read wordlessly; only this time we get some words too. Everything said is simply a garnish, a seasoning on top of the art and narrative action which both convey so much in their relative silence.
A great example of this is what Wes Abbot does through his lettering. DC can be a bit staid sometimes when it comes to design choices like this, preferring normalized fonts that function but rarely enhance. Here though the form of the writing is as telling as the words themselves. There is an anger and confusion – an anarchy – to everything that antagonist Leon says and the loose, long-lined font of his dialogue communicates that just as Clark’s clear, controlled figures do his ( prior to his appearance the civilians had all been either shouting or heard from a distance and thus their fonts begin off kilter also, enhancing this effect). Abbot alone tells us that this is a story of chaos versus control.
I don’t like to synopsize such short stories because they are oft, as this one is, written to surprise you with their core content as much as any left-field twists – it would also take about as much time for you to read them as it would for me to write such a summary – but I am happy to say that the story does boil down to Superman fighting himself, or more specifically fighting what he could have become were he not so sane and stable a person. It’s not as high-concept as some of the coming stories surely will be, but it’s not an obvious one either; Superman’s world is one of blacks and whites, goods an evils, but this duality is a new one to me and seemed a very strong way at getting to the core of the character.
It also establishes an interesting tone for the series going forward, though there is presumably no direct serilaisation; this is a world where people die, where drugs like meth are rampant on the streets of Metropolis and yet it’s also one where Samnee can show Superman enacting some old-school heroic pose and Parker can provide him a witty quip ( “…past my limit.” took me beyond mine.) The punch reveal at the book’s mid-point is the perfect amalgamation of these two, a humorous idea in the midst of a rather serious situation. Done poorly it could come across as ping-ponging but here each side simply tempered the other into something stronger; so I hope that despite their short length future stories strive for something similar.
Though it took some getting used to in Legends that short size and the condensed nature of digital comic storytelling as a whole actually suits Superman in a strange way; you’re shown an innocent in danger, here paramedics about to be flattened by their own ambulance, swish the page with your finger and within that second he is there, the next shot one of Supes with the situation under control. It makes sense that he is a man that would operate at this speed, not one who would hover in the air monologing about the situation and how he will handle it. His actions are not for our eyes to see, we would get but snapshots and that’s exactly what Samnee delivers, albeit in his trademark animated style. Thanks to him and colorist the every page of the book looks simply stunning.
Like the Legends line this is to be a series of short Superman stories and that to me was the issues main an only flaw; that despite being titled ‘Chapter One’ and ending on something of a tease for the future we won’t actually be seeing any more of this story. At the same time though I’m not sure that I need to see this story stretched out because the important moments are all here, the character’s core boiled down and displayed in these few pages. “The road to progress is never a straight line. Examine, recalculate and test again,” says one of the comic’s characters on his scheme; a line that could just as easily be applied to this series as a whole. Honestly though I don’t know that they need to run too many more trials since DC and series editor Alex Antone have found a superb superman team here.