Itís a Bird...
Written by Steven T. Seagle
Illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen
Published by DC/Vertigo; $24.95 HC/$17.95 SC USD.

Iím extremely cynical when it comes to writers analysing and dissecting the Superman mythos. Given how frequently the character has been examined both inside and outside of comics almost since the moment of his creation, the concept has ceased being novel. Or so I thought. While Itís a Bird... suffers in comparison to what has come before in this area, the human drama presented by Teddy Kristiansenís gorgeous artwork is innovative and impressive.

Steve is a comic book writer whoís just been handed the job writing SUPERMAN. The trouble is that he doesnít really want it, as he really has no basis for comparison with the character. Meanwhile, Steveís father has gone missing, and his search for him forces Steve to come to grip with a dark family secret, and with his own mortality. His simultaneous search for a way to relate to the multi-faceted concept of Superman and for his father lead him to a series of discoveries about the character and ultimately, about himself.

In truth, the sections dealing with analysing Superman are easily the weakest parts of the book. It feels like Seagle is going through a checklist of all the major weaknesses of the concept. Superman as a (flawed) metaphor for alienation? Check. Superman as mishmash of mythological figures? Check. Superman as fascist adolescent power fantasy? Check. Itís been done before, and in more interesting ways. Furthermore, it makes Steveís eventual discovery of a means to relate to Superman less believable and genuine.

The other major plot, concerning Steveís search for his father, and his coming to term with Huntingtonís disease, are far more resonant. The writing here is a little emotionally detached, as though Seagle is avoiding being too biographical. Despite this, it manages to strike a chord with the reader. Steveís confusion, frustration, and sense of helplessness are apparent and immediate, and his dialogue is convincingly real and somber.

The real star of this graphic novel is Teddy Kristiansen, who communicates all the emotion, majesty, and power lacking in the script. It is important to note the subtle changes in shading and colouring Kretiansen uses to distinguish between the three main settings: the present, the past, and the fiction of Superman. The present is depicted primarily in greys and blacks, with gritty and jagged linework in order to convey Steveís sense of depression and frustration. This is directly contrasted to the softer lines and earth tones that are used to convey Steveís memories of the past. The fictional world of Superman is by far the most distinctive: garishly coloured and bright, with clear, bold illustration.

Itís a Bird... wonít really change how you view Superman. It probably wonít even change how you view comic book writers. But it is a visually impressive comic with some serious meaning that is worthy of further consideration. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Michael Paciocco

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