Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blogathon 33: Adventures of Superman #612

I've been a fan of Joe Casey's work since Cable #51. I was reading the book when he took over and, man, he did some great work there. My subscription ran out before he and Ladronn finished their run, so I should probably complete it sometime, eh? Ever since then, I'll usually give whatever he does a look.

It took until issue 612 of Adventures of Superman to check out his run. He had been working on the title since issue 587. It took this cover by Kevin Nowlan to make me pick up the book:

How can you not pick up a book with a cover like that?

Little did I know at the time that it would begin a twelve-issue run that would have me telling anyone I could to buy Adventures of Superman because it's just that damn good. Hell, in his interview for Astonishing X-Men: Second Stage, Warren Ellis mentions Casey's final year on the book briefly (which made me wonder about Ellis reading it--I assume if he did, it was research, quite possibly for his JLA Classified story or maybe he just heard about) because it did something very interesting, but I'll get to that when it actually comes up.

For now, #612 . . .

The issue begin narration about a hero called Major Victory whose house has been trashed and we find him curled up in bed, his entire body drained of colour. Outside, three similarly white men stand. We are told "THEY ARE THE HOLLOW MEN. AND THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS."

Cut to: a prisoner being prepped for execution, he insists he's innocent and then the wall is smashed in and there stands a man in a red cape with a red S in a triangle on his chest. He tells them that they've got the wrong man. We never see this man completely, but his outfit is blue, his hair is dark and cut short, and he's got the real murderer, a signed confession and the governor. He's saved an innocent man.

Clark Kent attends a lecture by Ben Conrad, an elderly man who was a journalist and apparently inspired Clark to be one as well. Conrad is writing a new novel, his first since 1960 and it's called "Champion of the Oppressed."

Our mystery stongman prevents a man from beating his wife. He stops the police from beating protestors. Conrad seems somber about the news, but also righteous in a way until he gets a visit from Clark who is told that Superman is the inspiration for the novel, but a version of Superman that fights for the everyman, who doesn't wrestle with aliens and take meetings on the moon. Someone who'll protect the little folks.

And our mystery strongman appears from the sky, attacking police officers who are brutally abusing a man in handcuffs. This is spliced with Clark and Conrad as Clark tells him he has to do something about the situation before it goes beyond his control.

Th army gets involved and so does Superman, who kicks up a cloud of dust just as Conrad deletes his manuscript and his strongman disappears. He tries to tell Superman that he has to fight against the injustice, to make the world better and Superman tells him that their job is to inspire, not judge them.

The issue ends with Conrad accepting that he can't write fiction, but we get a look at the cover of his first book: "The Hollow Men."

Now, if this issue isn't a giant statement on modern superheroes, specifically Superman, I don't know what is. The wonderful pun title, "Authorised" invokes Ben Conrad's abilities, but also the Authority. The way Superman originally acted is very much in line with how the Authority acts. In a way, Casey reminds readers that what those character do is nothing new, Superman did it first, but he also moved beyond those types of actions and took a more mature, long-term view to how he deals with the world. Now, I don't necessarily agree with that methodology, but Casey prevents it in a convincing manner, especially when the two are juxtaposed.

This is just the beginning of Casey exploring what Superman means at the beginning of the 21st century. What role does this hero from the 1930s have in the modern world? The answers may surprise you; they sure as hell surprised me.