Superman Adventures Volumes One and Two
By Mark Millar, Aluir Amancio, Mike Manley and Terry Austin
Published by DC Comics; $6.95 ea. USD
Mark Millar strips the Superman mythos to its bare essentials to grand effect in these two digest-sized collections. Superman Adventures was a monthly comic book inspired by the excellent Superman animated series of the 1990s. The stories collected here from that now-cancelled title are of a piece with the TV series, in that they are inventive, energetic and a delightful reminder of how exciting and engaging Superman can be when handled properly.
There are ten stories in these two volumes, touching on many, if not most of the elements that make up Superman's world. Ma and Pa Kent, Smallville, Metropolis, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Lex Luthor, and such animated stalwarts as Livewire and STAR Labs' Professor Hamilton. Millar constructs ten tight tales that highlight the essential decency and heroism of Superman and the vastly appealing relationships he shares with his friends, family and city.
Millar is mostly known for his more adult-oriented work, work that often descends into shock-for-shock's sake, and while I find much of that material (The Ultimates, The Authority and Chosen come to mind) appealing, it's interesting and even enlightening to see how he handles the restrictions of an all-ages comic. He doesn't always hit the mark square on -- his disposal of Brainiac in his appearance in Volume One seems a bit more punitive and thoughtless than Superman should be -- but for the most part the stories shine with the glow of a writer who truly knows and loves these characters from the inside out and is delighted to be able to play with this particular set of toys.
Millar's Lex Luthor is especially enjoyable -- the character's potential as a truly worthy foe seems to have been flushed away in the mainline DC continuity, but here he is obsessed with Superman without losing his innate sense of power, arrogance and entitlement, marking him as a much more formidable and entertaining antagonist than you might find elsewhere. One particularly delicious full-page shot features Lex staring out his massive window at Superman; as the page is framed, Lex is shown as taller than any building in Metropolis, but Superman still manages to fly higher than Luthor. It's a subtle, wordless image that tells you more about the relationship between Superman, Lex and the city itself than most writers can pull off in 32 overwritten pages (Hi, Jeph!).
Aluir Amancio, Mike Manley and Terry Austin must be singled out for their invaluable contributions to the books. Amancio and Manley share penciling duties, Amancio doing the majority of the stories. Both bring power and life to Millar's scripts, and both beautifully integrate the animated style with their own abilities and strengths. Terry Austin's inks bring a clear, bold confidence to the linework that is enhanced by vibrant, primary colour work by Marie Severin and Rick Taylor.
Don't overlook these because they are primarily aimed at children. Millar's scripts may be compact, but they are not unsophisticated, and his plotting and characterization is top-notch and miles above that seen in any other Superman title I've read in the past few years. He and the artists he worked with on these books made me like Superman again, and that's no mean feat. You'll want to share these books with the children in your life, that's a certainty -- but you'll want them for yourself, too, because they're great comics you're going to want to read again and again. Grade: 4.5/5
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