Page 45 Review by Stephen
Yes, that is Superman's back on the front cover, rendered with all the stockiness of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN's Frank Quitely, but this isn't a superhero comic.
It's semi-autobiography and cultural analysis, exceptionally astute and poignant as anything.
Originally published in 2004, it was a firm favourite of all three of us who have co-owned Page 45 over the years and comes with the mighty Teddy Kristiansen on phenomenal form, proving that he is as versatile an artist as Jillian Tamaki, Bryan Talbot, Eleanor Davis, Stuart Immonen or Mark Buckingham... all within the confines of this single sustained narrative.
The plot: Steven's writing career has been firmly Vertiginous in nature. Not for him, the aspiration to write brightly-coloured spandex. Now he's just landed the SUPERMAN title - many a comicbook creator's wet-dream job, I'm sure - but he has absolutely nothing to say. He simply cannot relate.
He's moved away from his mother, grown apart from his father and brother, and has a beautiful, mature and understanding girlfriend called Lisa. But every time he experiences an inadvertent twitch, an innocent, involuntary spasm, he's haunted by a family secret which emerged during a childhood hospital visit and is about to erupt once more. Now Steven's father's gone missing, his mother's beside herself, his editor demands to know if he'll take the gig and he cannot bring himself to let his girlfriend in on what's troubling him. What exactly is troubling him?
My first thoughts on breaking into this original graphic novel thirteen years ago were "Eddie Campbell".
This reads so much like Eddie Campbell (see ALEC) and, believe it or not, it's just as good.
It's full of wit, charm, meandering excursions and calm considerations of ideas that might never occur to you. It's also absolutely devastating. Moreover, if you've ever held an interest in Superman as an American icon or just as a character, this will give you much pause for thought. And if you're interested in writing, you'll both empathise with and perhaps even learn from this, especially if your objective is comics.
Whereas some works sadly fall straight through the cracks between conflicting, incompatible areas of appeal, this bridges so many interests and as Grant Morrison wrote:
"It defies genre categories and poses questions about the relationship between man and superman which are hard to answer but important to consider here at the dawn of the 21st century. It's also about as mordantly accurate a description of what it feels like to write superhero comics for a living as anything I've ever read."
As Seagle searches for his father he delves through his memories, and begins to ponder Superman. He thinks about secrets and vulnerability, about solitude, symbolism through colour, our history of power, about being an outsider (Superman is the ultimate immigrant) and who the real outsiders are. He considers his school days, his own personal demons, and - most uncomfortably of all - how some genes don't provide potential or powers as manifested by Marvel's mutants, they take them away. They can wreck a healthy body, often irreversibly.
Apart from a superb supporting cast in the form of Lisa...
"It's your boyfriend."
"Funny. Buzz me in before I drop your lunch."
"Then it would be your lunch."
... kind editor Jeremy and his Puerto Rican fan-boy taxi mechanic (who aids, abets and interrogates during his search), Seagle also lucked into the perfect art partner here: Teddy Kristiansen.
You might know Teddy from THE RE[A]D DIARY precisely one half of which was also written by Seagle (you'll see!) which was a former Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month or from SANDMAN MIDNIGHT THEATRE now included in Neil Gaiman's MIDNIGHT DAYS, but you have never seen him in quite such fine, chameleon-like form.
I count twenty-one distinct art styles are on show here: one from the central narrative, another for the flashbacks, and the rest to complement the individual diversions, each of which is entirely apposite for illuminating its respective proceedings.
One of them which Teddy emailed us ahead so long ago is all Kent Williams in its sombre silhouette while Seagle contemplates The Death Of Superman.
The school episode sees Kristiansen erasing individual identities by withdrawing facial features, leaving the cape to make its statement of standing out from the crowd as one kid, habitually ignored, receives a single day of undivided attention whilst dressing up as Superman during a Halloween celebration. Then, after reverting to invisibility when wearing regular clothing, the lad makes the mistake of repeating the performance the next week...
And one of the most powerful pieces, 'The Outsider' sees a complete change of pace both in the script and visuals which I can only describe to you as utterly Seth.
(See GEORGE SPROTT etc.)