Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Graphic novels - "Superior" and "A god somewhere" - ramblings

Yesterday I read a couple of new graphic novels I borrowed from the library. 

Both were given top notch reviews. For example, about "Superior" USA Today wrote, "The best mini-series of the year" and for "A god somewhere" it wrote "One of the most compelling page-turners to come out this year". 

In my mind I think that while the quote may come from the same magazine, (USA Today), it surely cannot represent the same reviewer / person! I enjoyed SUPERIOR very much but hated "A GOD SOMEWHERE.


What I enjoyed about SUPERIOR is that the plot is simple yet the story very compelling. And best of all while I seldom agree with the theology in the stories of most graphic novels (no exception here either :-)) I like the moral dilemmas presented in the story and how the hero wrestles with them.

I particularly like how the story is seen from the perspective of a 12 year old boy who understands that with great power comes great responsibility! Hahaha as a Peter Parker, Spider-man fan, could not resist adding that!

The plot is simple - Simon Pooni, a 12 year old was a normal kid with a great life, popular, a talented basketball player with a great future etc until he contracts multiple sclerosis. Within months he becomes blind in one eye, is confined to a wheelchair, though on good days he is able to move around in crutches. But on bad days he he cannot even speak properly. It is bad enough all his friends but one abandon him, and his dreams are shattered but what grieves him the most is the little things in life ... like running upstairs, peeling the cellophane from a DVD box set ... And I like how he has one loyal friend Chris who makes the effort to see him at least once a week to go to a movie together. (And I enjoy too the additional touch where Chris is of a different ethnicity than Simon). 

It is at the movies where the story kicks off - a movie based on a very old comic book hero (Superior - who is very similar to Superman in power and attitude). Coming out of the movie, they discuss the show.  Chris does not like "Superior" because as a super hero he is boring, outdated- "Not bad-ass" like Bond or Jason Bourne and his costume is lame etc. Simon however likes Superior for the fact that he doesn't kill people. "Being a nice guy is what makes him different to Wolverine and all that stuff".

Every night he prays for a miracle and one night, a talking monkey named Ormon (a character from the comic book appears and whisks him away, telling him that "Out of the six billion people, you have been selected . Out of six billion candidates, you were deemed the most appropriate."  Simon has been granted "the magic wish" and he is turned into the comic book . movie character "Superior". He is told: Go home and show me what you can do. All will be explained in one week. 

On an interesting side note, his parents thinks he has run away from home yet again and he sends a message to them telling them he is ok as he does not want to frighten them and does not know how to explain what has happened to him. Of course he does not realize how this approach makes things worse for his parents. Very realistic IMHO - and a really nice touch.

With the help of his friend Chris, he learns about his powers, tries to figure out why he of all people was given these powers etc. As he learns how to control his powers, a major disaster occurs - a meteor shower hits a space satellite and it plummets to earth, falling onto New York City. He springs into action, and saves the day. And from that moment on, he is all over the country, tirelessly preventing disaster after disaster, both great and small. When people finally realize that he is the comic book superhero come to life (and who looks exactly like the actor who plays the comic book hero in the movies), confusion and intrigue becomes worldwide. He becomes a media darling (and the story now shifts also to the perspective a female reporter who has no scruples in working towards her goal to get the inside exclusive scoop. She plans a dramatic car accident endangering her life knowing that he would rescue her - and even goes as fart as attempt to seduce him ... 

But no one apart from Chris knows he is actually a 12 year old boy in the body of a superhero (there is no other super hero in the world) and in whatever interview he gives, he sounds so corny but so right! He comes across as either naive but it is simply because his motives are pure. 

He ups the ante and before his week is up he goers international, meets with the US president and offers his services. He dismantles the Taliban, rescue kidnapped UN workers, US marines, and basically solves the Afghanistan crisis in a day without killing anyone. And yet he remains an innocent and well meaning 12 year old. I love the scene where he says the following to some military personnel (with a a very serious look on his face): "I found and Optimus Prime with the name Yusuf on the side. Tell the local news people I'll leave it here with the Red Cross. These guys are pretty expensive."

He goes global and makes a difference all around the world, from the Middle East, to China and Africa. And when asked by the US president if there was anything he could do for him, he asks to get the chance to play baseball for the METS against the YANKEES, for the KNICKS against the HEAT and other "crazy" things a 12 year old would deem as important. 

The things start to get scary - the week is up and he finds out that Ormon is not an angel from God but a demon who is desperate to get his first soul for the devil. He has been a failure for 500 years and he has until the next night to get his first soul or be cast back down to the lowest pit (Let's just ignore the theological problems here :-)). He discovers that he was chosen not because he was special but because he was the most desperate.
If he does not sign over his soul before the deadline, he will have to live the rest of his life 
as he was - in suffering. He is send back to earth in his original form (where he was at the home of the reporter for an interview - where she actually had plans to seduce him etc). The reporter finds out that the whole story as Simon breaks down - she comforts him as he confides in her but she also uses the opportunity to tape whole story.

But she has a change of heart when she realizes how confused he is and the pain he is in and wanting to get out of his "stupid, pathetic body" saying " ... if I sell my soul and do like he says, I won't have to be useless anymore". So the next morning, she takes him to a children's hospice where she tells him her own life's story - her twenty two operations, and struggles and how her struggles helped mould her into who she was etc. And then it ends with her saying "I know why you like being a superhero Simon. You just want to be loved like they're loved in the movies. But you've got that at home already. You know what I'm saying?" And then she take him home and he is reunited with his parents.

She decides not to print the story to protect him and tells her editor: "He cancelled our date at the last minute and said he was leaving Earth. He's gone Josh. We're never going to see him again."

BUT the story doesn't end there - Ormon the demon has a back up plan and puts the whole world in danger to force Simon to sell his soul or millions of innocent people will die. Despite his parents and best friend Chris's pleading (his parents now know), Simon agrees to make the ultimate sacrifice and sell his soul (also despite now understanding that his soul is eternally precious) to save lives. 

I will leave the cool ending out ... :-)

But I need to add that the story ends with the words: "Dedicated to Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner: with love and admiration. And at the last page: MS= being a superhero everyday. And a quote: "Multiple sclerosis may seem like an invisible force to the outside world, but it is a true villain that I must do battle with everyday." Aaron, diagnosed in 1995

It's a a great story of friendships, courage, sacrifice (there are some excellent sub plots too and the villains are excellent - yes, another besides Ormon), touching on so many aspects of human nature. And I am glad that there are black and white moral decisions and not just grey.

And I like the fact too that this is a Marvel publication and they have paid tribute to "Superman", a DC comic character. 

Okay, now for the other graphic novel: a god somewhere. Interesting that the plot is also about a person (this time a man) who is bestowed superhuman powers. It is written from the perspective of his best friend. Nice approach in story telling with lots of flash backs that fill in gaps in the story and provides background that keeps the story interesting. BUT I hated the way the story developed and the fact that it is too grey and has no proper conclusion (too postmodern for me)

Basically it's how Sam a black man comes to know two brothers (white) - Eric and Hugh, and later on Hugh's wife Alma (whom both Eric and Sam like very much and still fantasize that she married them rather than Hugh). It starts great in terms of how the friendship developed when Eric and Hugh rescue Sam from a severe beating and take him to the hospital. Two cool brothers - in some ways very alike, in others different who were just basically good guys. 

Eric takes Sam under his wing and encourages him and they become not just room mates and work mates but best of friends. So close that His brother Hugh often feels left out. 

Eric gains his superhuman powers when he was a victim of a freak explosion (that could not be explained) that leveled his apartment block killing dozens. Rushed to the hospital he quickly got better and his skin is reported to become as tough as leather. He hears that there are still people trapped in the building and suddenly he gets up, rushes out at super speed. crashes through the hospital building and flies off. He lands at the disaster site and with super human strength, removes the rubble helping to save lives. This is recorded live by TV reporters. 

As the story develops, he does good with his powers in dramatic fashion foiling a violent bank robbery where police are being gunned down. But his approach is violent and arrogant and his relationship with his family especially his brother becomes more strained.

What irks me is the story makes him out to be a Christian, a church goer who talks about Jesus etc. His power makes him popular with the mayor and the US president etc but he is shown to be detached, judgmental etc and as the story unfolds, he slowly sports a beard and a hair style similar to traditional imagery of Jesus.  He gets the mayor to put more police on patrol in his brother's neighborhood and then lets himself be discovered in his brother's house - showing his brother beaten to a pulp (by him) and his naked sister in law been raped by him. He then allows himself to get arrested and sits in jail and asks to see his friend Sam, and has a conversation about a dream or memory where he was a god somewhere with the power to do anything. He wants to talk but the conversation makes no sense. He then breaks out of jail in a dramatic fashion killing police and military, and destroying buildings around him without caring about collateral damage. He is shown killing without mercy in a sadistic manner.

As the story unfolds, Eric becomes public enemy number one and wages a personal war against others, especially the military. Story revolves around Sam who because of his friendship with Eric makes a living out of re-telling Eric stories from his perspective. Sam becomes a reporter who is embedded in the military task force whose objective is to kill Eric. And when Sam and Eric get to meet - it;s all about Sam asking WHY? and Eric never giving a straight answer - acting as if he is god and can see the motives of everyone and how everyone is evil (implying only he is good and Sam is too inferior to understand?) and more violence.

So despite all the wonderful comments about the story, I find it too negative and enigmatic - kind of meaningless, hopeless, not moral dilemma, just negativity and violence. I expect violence in superhero comic books - that's part of the super hero genre. I mean, a story about Wolverine will for example have to have violence and killing but at least there is a reason behind it in the story line and he does grapple with his animal nature, and there are redeeming factors in the story-lines. 

Though I suppose the sub plot of how Hugh and Alma are still married though scarred for life can be seen as somehow positive? 

What exactly do these reviewers mean? (Taken from the back cover)

"Powerful work" - Newsarama

Philip K. Dick does it for science fiction and this creative team may well have done it for comic books. For people who love this form, it will be a reverential kick in the heart for some time to come." - Lost in reviews

A well-told story that's as much about living in the aftermath of a life-interrupting calamity as the philosophical implications of superhumanity." - The Onion AV Club

"Will undoubtedly find a spot among some of the great graphic novels of this age." - Graphic Novel Reporter

"Jaw slackening images of wanton destruction. [Arcudi & Snejbjerg] pull no punches, and that's crucial for the gravity of a story about absolute power, religious zeal, and friendships torn apart. it just feels big." - iFanBoy.

Oh, Eric chooses to kill and then allows himself to be killed while sitting in a meditative pose ..?

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