January 5, 2012

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Dust off the Panels: Superman Kryptonite

Written by Darwyn Cooke
Illustrated by Tim Sale
DC Comics

It's early in Superman's career, and he's just as liable to make a mistake with his powers as he is in his interactions with Lois Lane.  With Luthor sniping at his heels and a strange new economic power working its way into Metropolis with ties to the gangs in Las Vegas, can Superman survive when his very existence is threatened from an unknown source?  Find out in the pages of Superman Kryptonite!

This is exactly the type of book I love to find at the library.  Darwyn Cooke is one of my favorite creators, especially when he's working in the past, as he does here.  Tim Sale can draw the heck out of anything he touches, in a style that's unique in that it avoids worrying too much about anatomy without making his creations seem like they were drawn in haste by a person without skill.  Combined, I expect them to put together a great story that stacks up against anything else I've read involving the Big Blue Boyscout.

I was not one bit disappointed.

Cooke's story hits all the hallmarks of his work with DC, particularly New Frontier.  Instead of trying to capture the modern zeitgeist, a nearly impossible task per Cooke's own admission, he opts to find a way to integrate the story into Superman's past, with elements that might be modern and might just be the 1950s with a lot of cool toys.  Sale aids him in this regard, with character designs that could get away with being in today's world, but are just as at home in a black and white movie.  Focusing on what makes Clark an iconic character, Cooke shows him as being just as human as the rest of us, with fears and anxieties and imperfections.  At the same time, it's clear that this human-that-is-an-alien-too won't let his fears consume him.  That's what makes him a hero, not his powers.  Cooke gets that, and it shows in this story.

Cooke also does a nice job of capturing Lois's independence, Jimmy's undying energy, the jealousy of Luthor (regardless of the foe), and Perry's integrity.  About the only characters who feel off to me are Clark's parents, who seem to act how Cooke needs them to, rather than as the strong, self-sacrificing parents that I prefer.  It's a minor thing, but I don't like Pa's protectiveness or Ma's passive-aggressive nature here.

Story-wise, the big problem is the way in which Cook introduces the Kryptonite.  I know he was trying to do something that was more culturally sensitive and modern, but the scenes in which the Kryptonite edges towards Superman drag down the rest of the scenes and I found myself wanting to leap ahead to get to the good, character-based parts of the story.  Cooke's strengths lie in his dialog and characterization (and, when drawing, his art), not his plotting, and that shows a bit here.

If Cooke isn't going to do the artwork, Sale is a great fit for him.  The story flows perfectly in Sale's hands, as he works his blocky figures and shadows and stark lines into a story where you might think they wouldn't work.  On the contrary, despite the bright coloring we see here, Sale's work shines.  He does great faces for all of the main characters, uses his exaggerations to great effect, and almost effortlessly makes the whole thing feel so big.

Reading Superman Kryptonite, like reading the Batman story where Bats and the Riddler must fight King Tut, remind me that it's quite possible for DC to commission stories that require almost no prior knowledge, are violent without being gratuitously gory, and best yet--the heroes do their best to never kill, no matter what the risk to themselves.  What a crazy concept!  After finding so much of the New 52 to be failing my expectations, books like this just make me sigh and shake my head.  Superman Kryptonite would have a wide crossover audience, but I guess it's too old-fashioned to make it in the almighty direct market.  That's a pity, because I'd even pay full price to read stories like this monthly.

I'm glad that DC collected this, and I highly recommend it for fans of Cooke, Sale, and Superman.  Now if only we'd get more like this.  I guess I can just keep hoping for collections.