FLASHBACK R'VIEW: SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS
First up, my initial "review" of Superman For All Seasons. It's more of a detailed examination of the mini-series, so spoilers abound.
R'VIEW: SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS
By Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale with Bjarne Hansen, DC Comics 1998
Awhile back, like all readers, there came a time when I looked at my collection and said ‘I have a lot I need to read!!!’ When it came time to read some of the Superman books, I started with Superman: For All Seasons. My reaction to this story caused me to want to completely immerse myself in the Superman mythos. I watched the first movie, I read Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, moved on to the “World of…” trilogy (World of Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis), and ended with John Byrne’s Man of Steel. Having read some of the best Superman stories, For All Seasons moved me more than most.
I just reread the mini-series recently and got the sense that Jeph Loeb was inspired by perhaps EVERY aspect of Superman’s long career; Golden Age, John Byrne, the Fleischer Cartoons, the first movie, Frank Miller, the Animated Series, etc. Like Batman: the Long Halloween (and it seems Daredevil: Yellow), For all Seasons is once again about the relationship between Father and Son. A different character narrates each chapter, and each seems to be affected by the Father/Son aspect as well as the two other characters of the series: the town of Smallville and the city of Metropolis.
PART ONE: Fathers and Sons
One of John Byrne’s gifts to his reworking of Superman is the inclusion of Ma and Pa Kent. Byrne was determined to keep the human aspect of Superman alive and in the forefront. By keeping the Kents alive, Superman is allowed a constant connection to his roots. Both the Kents and Smallville remind Superman of the very human foundation he was brought up in, keeping him from completely giving in to the alien that is inside him. The Kents act as a sounding board for his troubles as well as provide an escape when things are getting too complicated in his super-hero life. Pa Kent, like in the first movie, seems to be the primary influence in everything Superman does and feels. In Man of Steel, it is Pa Kent that reveals that Clark came to Earth in a space rocket. In the movie, Jonathan instills in Clark that he is here on this world for a reason. In For All Seasons, in just a few scenes with very few (or “unheard”) dialogue, it is Pa Kent’s reassurance that allows Clark the strength to finally leave Smallville to become a hero for the world.
In Book One, Jonathan seems to come across as a bit of a hard-ass in regards to Clark and Clark’s “differences”. This chapter fills in some scenes from John Byrne’s Man of Steel: the disappointment Jonathan has in Clark at showing off with his powers, the aftereffects of Pa’s talk with Clark about the rocketship, the special flight Clark shares with Lana as he reveals his secret, and the goodbye Clark has to say to his father before he leaves Smallville. Part of Jonathan’s disappointment is the simple fact that he does not want Clark to leave even though he knew from the start that Clark would one day belong to the world. He knew there would come a time when Clark would be more than just “a man’s son”. (Book One page 1)
Jonathan is also questioning his and Martha’s raising of the child. Have they done enough? Did the raise Clark the proper way to ensure that he would never abuse his powers? In Book One, pages 9-11, Jonathan and Martha talk about Clark and Jonathan reveals some of the uncertainty he has in Clark and in Clark’s ever growing abilities. Pa Kent knows Clark is different and it is that difference which the parents have tried to keep from growing unchecked. With the stars reflecting in his glasses, to emphasize Clark’s true origins, Pa is seen struggling with the inevitability that Clark will leave soon, becoming a man of and for the world. Having to leave, Pa is hoping that Clark will remember all they taught him so as not to be influenced by others or the outside world.
In Book Two, the “father/son” aspect is tweaked slightly to include Lois Lane and the many men that have influenced her: her father, her boss Perry White, Lex Luthor, her idealistic fantasy of Prince Charming and finally Superman. Lois’ father, as we learned from the Superman series, raised her as he would raise a son. She grew up as an Army brat, learned how to fight, use weaponry, and developed a hardedge directly in response to her father’s stern attitude. Her boss Perry White gave her the ability to be a great reporter, one that is willing to take chances and risks to reveal the truth behind any story. Luthor shows Lois how powerful people can be abusive and selfish. And, from her fantasy of Prince Charming, Lois believes that her ideal man will come to her to protect her from anything. When she finally meets Superman, he blows all her expectations away. “It’s all B.S., “Before Superman”. Even during John Byrne’s run, Lois would never allow herself to be conrolled by any man. Yet here is a complete stranger, who shouldn’t even exist, captivating her every thought, weakening her resolve. She has lost some of her control. “But, to wear a cape and not look stupid. That’s somebody…interesting.” (Book Two page 14).
Book Three is from Luthor’s point-of-view. The father/son aspect in this issue is Luthor as the “father” of Metropolis and its in habitants. Often times in Byrne’s run he has felt the need to play games or test his people. Later in the Superman books, Luthor challenged the system during “Hostile Takeover” of STAR Labs. He is constant need of reminding Metropolis that he is in control. He will not allow himself to believe that Superman is the most powerful man in Metropolis. Just as cruel and petty as he can be, the love Luthor has for his city, however twisted, does surface. After having been arrested for the first time (as seen in Man of Steel), Luthor retreats to his tower to quickly put the event behind him. He will forgive if not forget. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. You made a mistake. I forgive you”. (Book Three page 10). When Luthor unleashes a chemical gas on Metropolis, in an effort to teach Superman a lesson, Luthor himself becomes a “father figure”. He has taught Superman a great lesson on humility. That being the most powerful man doesn’t mean anything if he is all alone. Being the most powerful man means there is farther to fall if you fail. More a boy than a man at this point in his career, it is a lesson that hits hard with Superman. That strikes at all his fears as well as the ones Pa Kent has often talked about. For Luthor, it is just another test. To prove that he is on top and that he will not give up his city so easily.
As in Batman: Long Halloween, Loeb is willing to show all sides, good and bad, when it comes to relationships, particularly between fathers and sons. It is perhaps the strongest bond in all of his writings. Like father like son is a cliché but one with much meaning. The son is always destined to become the father eventually. For Superman, it is a constant struggle, to become his Earth father or his alien father. Loeb stays away from Krypton in this series, causing me to believe that it is the human aspect of Superman that will always win out, no matter what his origins are.
PART TWO: Inspirations
As stated above, I get the sense that all aspects of the “Superman” character permeate this miniseries. Below is just a list of things I’ve noticed:
- Cover: The DC Bullet and Superman logo: both evoke the Golden Age of Comics. Very artdeco-y. The Superman of Earth-2’s logo is much the same.)
- Pg. 2-3: The Kents’ home and barn reminds me of the first movie.
- Pg. 18: Clark outraces a train (first movie)
- Pg. 22-30: Clark vs. the Tornado; I think there was something similar to this scene in the first episode of the Animated Series. At least the explosion and the gas station seems to ring a bell.
- Pg. 35-38: Clark’s goodbye to Lana is from the Man of Steel miniseries by John Byrne
- Pg. 40-41: Clark and Pa Kent’s goodbye in the field watching the sunset; reminiscent of his final goodbye with his mother in the first movie. This full spread is perhaps the most moving to me in the whole miniseries. The colors literally jump out - - almost blinding the way real sunsets can be.
- Pg. 42-43: the first spread of Metropolis reminds me of Steve Rude’s version in the World’s Finest miniseries.
- Pg. 44: the first shot of Clark standing with Lois and Jimmy; very Max Fleischer-ish
- Pg. 6-7: How many times has Superman stopped a missile? Should we count the ways? This always seems to be the way, at least in Golden and Silver Age stories, to characterize his strengths.
- Pg. 40-41: Luthor’s “Guardians of the City”. Used here just as Byrne briefly used them in Man of Steel. Both are an homage to the battle suit (designed by George Perez) for the Luthor/Brainiac revamp in Action Comics in the early ‘80’s (Pre-Crisis).
- Cover: Coloring of Superman’s cape, belt and symbol reminiscent of the way Frank Miller/Lynn Varley color him in the Dark Knight Returns miniseries. Although I would assume there are earlier presedents for this type of coloring, I haven’t found them.
- Pg. 1-7: Further development of when Luthor was arrested in the Man of Steel miniseries.
- Pg. 16-17: Cover to Action Comics #1. Also, the narration sounds like the George Reeves Superman TV intro.
PART THREE: For All Seasons
In Book Four page 38-39, Pastor Linquist does a eulogy of sorts for the aftermath of the flood that has hit Smallville. It is this speech that defines the subtitle “For All Seasons” for the book. While reading the mini, I kept wondering why he titled the book For All Seasons. When I read this part, and kept in mind all that Clark had gone through, I understood why. There are several “season”-oriented statements throughout the book. I’ll leave it up to you to make your own observations to this Part.
PART FOUR: Other Observations
- Pg. 9: The starry sky is reflected in Pa Kent’s glasses. This image will return in Book Two page 37 in Clark’s glasses. Pa Kent is talking about how different Clark seems now that he’s grown up. Clark talks about how out of place he feels both in Metropolis and in Smallville. It is the closest Jeph Loeb comes to acknowledging Clark’s alien origins.
- Pg. 10: Tim Sale does a close-up on Pa and Ma Kent’s hands and their wedding rings. During the flood in Book Four pg. 35, there is a close-up once again of Pa Kent’s wedding ring/hand while he clutches on to a limb.
- Pg. 11: Clark in his room in Smallville. This same image appears in Book Two page 28 (in Metropolis) and back in Smallville in Book Four pg. 23.
- Pg. 32-33: Clark’s talk to Pastor Linquist after the tornado hit Smallville. I think this is the first time any writer approached the idea of Clark and his religious beliefs. Growing up in Smallville, with his parents, you would think Clark would’ve been exposed to some sort of religion. Pg. 21 of Book One has Pa Kent saying that he was never “a churchgoing sort. That was more Martha’s way.” At the end of the Man of Steel miniseries, Clark gains the entire knowledge of Krypton. But yet he still adhere’s to his “human” ways. So whatever happened to his religious side? In that same talk with Pastor Linquist, the Pastor says, “But, when the Almighty sets a course, there’s nothing - - any man - - can do about it.” Clark replies, “But, what if there was one.” It almost seems to suggest that Clark is putting himself above God. Yet, Tim Sale depicts Clark as wide-eyed, with a very youthful face - - almost regretfull that he didn’t try.
- Pg. 47: “My mom made it for me.” One of the many examples of some perfect dialogue – this time completely capturing the human side of Clark regardless of his Superman identity.
- Pg. 15: Dr. Teng, Luthor’s scientific employee, is the same man who created the first “Bizarro” in the Man of Steel miniseries.
- Pg. 20: Lois asks, “How many people do you know that have the initials L.L.?” How many indeed.
- Pg. 37: During Lana’s narration, (of Superman’s rescue of the flood in Smallville) she says, “Because to understand that man in the cape who could fly - - all I needed to know was Clark.” Her statement is almost the complete opposite to Lois’ explanation of her Prince Charming/cape dialogue. For obvious reasons of identity, Lana loves Clark while Lois initially loves Superman.
One of the more moving Superman stories, mythical in its telling, yet all too human in its character. Looking forward to Daredevil: Yellow.