Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Graphic Novel: It's A Bird

An original take on the Superman legend.

It's A Bird, from the creative team of
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen.
My only memory of ever reading a Superman comic was when I was really young.  My recollections are vague, so this account of the comic I read may not be one hundred percent accurate, but from what I remember Superman had to defeat a band of Superboy impostors and he did so not through brute force, but through superior wisdom and devious sneakiness.  The story involved Superman leading the impostors on a journey through the heart of the sun and this appealed to me as I’ve always been a fan of space-born adventures.  The intelligence of the story also appealed to me, but for whatever reason I never took any further interest in Superman ... until now.

It’s Bird by Vertigo Comics is a Superman themed graphic novel with a twist.  Rather than present another regular Superman tale, it instead tells the story of troubled comic book writer Steve who is offered the job as writer on one of the Superman comics produced by DC.  Despite this being arguably the top job in comics, Steve however shows an apparent indifference towards the job and in fact tells his editor he is not interested.

His editor responds by setting him the challenge of reading a pile of Superman comics and is convinced that once Steve has done so he will be hooked by the magic of Superman and will be unable to resist taking the job.  Steve remains convinced otherwise and is sure he’ll win the challenge, or to put it in his own words, ‘I’ll take Superman head-on.’  He claims that he doesn’t relate to Superman and uses that as the excuse behind his apparent reluctance to accept the job offer, but right from the first page it’s clear that it’s not just a case of him not relating to Superman.  It actually goes much deeper than that.

All in all it’s a cool idea for a story and presents writer Steven. T. Seagle with the opportunity to explore the background behind Superman and delve into what exactly he represents.  As the story progresses many of the aspects of the Superman legend such as his suit, his background and why despite his alien origins people seem to relate to him, are dissected

As well as analysing the Superman legend though, It’s A Bird also focuses on the troubles and concerns which Steve faces (and has faced) in his personal life and how these are linked to his reluctance to work on the Superman comic.  Although a segment of the story is just Steve moping about feeling sorry for himself, there are reasons behind his behaviour and as these reasons are addressed face on towards the end, the story becomes quite powerful and humbling, and leaves a lasting impression on the reader.  When you discover that the story is semi-autobiographical, this gives the final scenes an added layer of emotion and only goes to make the conclusion even more powerful and memorable.

Examining the Superman legend.
You also have to give DC credit for allowing writer Steven T. Seagle the freedom to argue through main character Steve that ‘everything about Superman is ludicrous.’  From his secret identity (a simple pair of glasses and no-one, not even his girlfriend, can recognise him) to the explanation behind his Achilles Heel of kryptonite (when his home planet exploded it sent shards of itself flying off into space and these shards act as poison to anyone who used to live on Krypton as a baby), many of the more incredulous aspects behind the Superman legend are pointed out.  But as Steve’s editor puts it, ‘Superman is set in a fantasy world.  It doesn’t need to be logical.’  Sometimes you can over-analyse things and if you instead just focus on the overall magic of Superman then you understand him better.

One word of caution is that those used to more typical super-hero artwork may not immediately take to Teddy Kristiansen's art style, but my own personal opinion is that it’s a style which definitely seems to suit bleak story-lines.  My first taste of Steven T. Seagle’s and Teddy Kristiansen’s work was on House Of Secrets which was a very downbeat almost depressing comic.  While not quite as downbeat as House Of Secrets, It’s A Bird is still a fairly desolate tale and one which deals with the sometime harshness of life and therefore the artwork fitted perfectly.

As already mentioned, I have to admit I’ve never really had much interest in Superman, but I nevertheless found this a very satisfying and enjoyable read.  By the end I was left with a strong desire to explore Superman further and give the comics a try.  One scene in particular where departing Superman writer Joe Allen and potential replacement Steve argue for and against Superman left me curious to learn more about why exactly Superman is the legendary worldwide famous figure he is.

Right from the start the idea of looking at Superman from the alternative viewpoint of that of a comic book writer pondering on a job offer was one which appealed to me.  To take something as familiar as Superman and still somehow succeed in achieving an original take on the legend deserves a lot of respect.  Added to that you can’t help but also respect the book’s honesty.  Overall though, the thing I will remember most about this book is the emotion of the closing sequence.

It’s A Bird concludes by making the argument that it’s not always the believability and realism of a story which makes it a powerful experience.  More important than realism is the story’s ability to extract an emotional investment from the reader.  On that basis Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen have done an accomplished job with It’s A Bird because by the end I was undoubtedly emotionally attached to the story, and better and more appreciative of life for reading it.

You can stay up-to-date with the latest Teddy Kristiansen news at his blog:

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Graphic Novels on 'Worthy Of A Bigger Audience'

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