Thursday, January 20, 2011
An Open Letter To Mark Millar Re: Superior
Dear Mark Millar,
In the unlikely event that you have been reading this blog, you probably know my increasing dissatisfaction with your output in the past few years. This comes from a place where I once loved your work, back on the Authority and the Ultimate titles. There were innovative titles that were very entertaining and felt like genuinely modern takes on the superhero genre. Even in more recent years you've delivered some very good comics like Wolverine: Enemy of the State and the Marvel Knights Spider-Man. The frustration I feel with more recent works (particularly your ICON output and your Ultimate Avengers revamp) comes from the feeling that you are working well below your potential. Some part of me still held out hope that you'd do thoughtful works again, but after I read Superior #4, I realized that wouldn't be the case.
My experience with Superior was at first conflicted; on the one hand, I thought that the not-Superman Superman analogue was the worst cliche of creator-owned superhero writers, filing serial numbers off and calling it 'meta' rather than creating unique characters. One the other hand, I was impressed with how Simon's Multiple Sclerosis was handled. You made the character's suffering realistic and sympathetic, and you treated him as a major character rather than a pet to showcase others' greatness. And even while I'd lost interest in your other books, I still wanted to see this story progress, and see how Simon would live his life with super-powers.
But that's not what this story is about, is it? The backstory of Simon is scarcely mentioned in issues 3 and 4, and instead the story starts focusing on the Superman analogue. All the old tropes are trotted out, with Simon doing all the heroic Superman things with his Superior powers, and the world acting like he's a savior. The narrator even goes out to talk about Superman-- I mean Superior's origins, and how he inspired kids people during the 30's. This is a unique insight that everyone who's even heard of The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay already knows.
Admittedly, it's optimistic, which is a far cry from your previous Icon stories (which are about, respectively, a wannabe teen hero who pretends to be gay to get chicks, and an evil Batman analogue who impregnates his enemy's daughter with the sperm of his son and booby-traps her womb. But just because it's unique for you, doesn't mean it's unique for others. I've already seen stories that try to reintroduce wonder and hope to superhero comics. I've read Marvels, the "Heroes Return" Marvel books, Grant Morrison's JLA and All-Star Superman, Mark Waid's Fantastic Four, and other comics that believed that being traditional was revolutionary. Most of them weren't so self-conscious about it, though-- they also had inherently interesting stories to go with the nostalgia.
This would merely make it forgettable had I not read your afterword for the first issue, where you talk about the importance of creating new heroic characters for each generation, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did in the 60's. But a technicality doesn't make something new. Superior is Prime from Malibu's Ultraverse, who was Captain Marvel from Fawcett. If it was a story about a kid dying of multiple sclerosis, as in the actually GOOD opening parts of the comic, I would have loved it. But you couldn't divorce yourself from the superhero genre, and had to make MS the Culturally Noteworthy Tragic Backstory to inspire Simon when he becomes Superior. Which, in its own way, is again reducing the disabled character to a prop off which others look better.
The cliffhanger with the seemingly compassionate but actually evil Space Monkey giving Simon's bully powers did nothing to convince me that this story will be going anywhere. I'm just not going to bother, because if you've stopped caring about trying anything different, why should I care about what you do?
Hoping you'll write something interesting again,