The Comic Bucket List #1: Superman for All Seasons

“The Comic Bucket List” is a limited column where we review 25 comic books and graphic novels we’ve been meaning to read for years. We discover if they were worth waiting for, or if they never quite lived up to the hype they promised.

Jeph Loeb, Tim Sales

Initial Appeal:
In 1998, whenever I had a few bucks on me, I’d go over to the comic book store and buy anything that featured Superman on it. No matter what title, no matter what hero, if it had the big red S, I bought it and gladly took it home. I had an issue of “The Ray” and “Steel” because Superman guest starred. And surely enough I bought “Superman For All Seasons” because it was a new mini-series with the Man of Steel. Foolish me, I bought the first issue, took it home, and never read it. Years later I regretted not collecting the four issue mini-series.

Most Memorable Moment:
Thanks to the love and care of Ma and Pa Kent and Lana Lang, Clark learns that there is a need for Superman. Deciding to hide out in Smallville for a while after having his soul crushed by Lex Luthor, Clark, as Superman helps Smallville from sinking in a flood, and saves his dad from drowning in a water rapid. In the final shot, he saves his beloved dog Shelby who greets him with licks on the face.

Best Character:
Surely, it’s Clark Kent/Superman. His journey in to Metropolis is not jut a mission to protect the city, but it’s a quest to see if anyone really needs a Superman. Will they welcome him? Will they protest his presence? Clark and Superman are a humble duo with good intentions who catch on to Lex Luthor’s devious ways quickly. And he won’t back down.

Does It Live Up to Expectations?
“Superman For All Seasons” features no big robot battles. There’s no war. There’s no major super powered villains. There’s simply Superman battling Lex in a match of wits and wills. Superman is powerful, invulnerable, and beloved, while Lex with his amazing wealth has spent decades building Metropolis from the ground up and is still just tabloid fodder. Lex hates Superman from the minute he sees him, and he will do whatever it takes to crush him. Oddly enough, like a school bully, Lex breaks Superman down mentally, and manages to burrow in to his mind to convince him that he doesn’t belong in Metropolis. Lex wants to be Superman. And if he can’t be a superhero, then no one will. There is a lot of foreshadowing to future events with hints at Kryptonite, and the Lex drones that are basically prototypes for the suit that will eventually keep Lex alive and able to fight Superman.

Not to mention Lex is stricken with some terminal lung disease, which hints at the eventual radiation therapy that will introduce us to the bald madman we know all too well. “Superman for All Seasons” is beautiful and epic. And yet rooted in sheer simplicity. Some readers may not love that Superman doesn’t punch robots or beat down super villains, but that isn’t Superman. The Superman in “For All Seasons” is basically what Superman should always be. He’s a guardian angel, and a protector who cherishes life above all else. He will only raise his fists if he truly has to. At one point Lex gets inside Clark’s head so much he considers destroying Lex’s ivory tower, but holds back. Because at the end of the day violence will help no one, and Lex leaves Metropolis at his mercy when he manufactures a virus that leaves Lois, Jimmy, and all of Clark’s other friends at death’s door.

Tim Sales’ art is amazing, presenting sweeping landscapes and immense splashes that make Clark’s world seem so vast. When he’s home, his world is beautiful, but still so simplistic and warm. When he’s in Metropolis the world feels like a labyrinth with a lack of nature or human presence. Clark has to make Metropolis home, because as he gets older, he simply begins to outgrow his town that threatens to stifle what potential he has to offer in his adopted home world. Clark is depicted as a rather large individual who towers over literally everyone, but has the spirit and charisma of a meek young man still looking for his own voice. When he dons the cape and tights, he finally finds that he has a purpose, and he’s never afraid to speak up.

The plot with Superman’s fan girl and how Lex implements her to provide Superman a difficult battle is a bit anti-climactic, and I never understood why Lex dressed her as a super villain when she only wanted to be Superman. I also never quite understood why he brainwashed her when she already viewed Superman as a deity. In either case, “For All Seasons” is an incredible mini-series with a title that represents the staying power of the Man of Steel. He’s a character that retreats home often in the book, and he has to show Metropolis that he’s going to be Superman, their eternal guardian angel, come snow, heat, or rain. For all seasons. It’s a wonder this book is so highly received. It creates an epic atmosphere for the tale of Clark Kent and Superman, while sticking to its roots as a homegrown tale. I wish Superman were presented more in this vein and less the angsty lunkhead.