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Superman: Up in the Sky #1 review: it’s a bird, it’s a plane of existentialism

A Superman comic with ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ vibes. Fun stuff.

By now it’s no secret Tom King likes to deconstruct DC heroes. All the way back to Omega Men, he was putting Green Lantern in the moral mire of war ethics. For better and worse, he’s been slowly but surely digging into Batman’s brain with a scalpel. Now…for Walmart…he’s putting Superman under the hot lights.

In case you didn’t know, DC got an exclusive deal with Walmart to produce 100 page comics packed with exclusive stories from their biggest talent. Now they’re double dipping and releasing them to us Wednesday warriors.

DC Comics

Our story begins with a mystery: a young girl has been kidnapped and taken into the cosmos. Of course Superman has to save her, right? Well, King explores the tough thought-process the Man of Steel has to undergo. He has dozens of villains and hundreds of people to save every day. Is it morally responsible to run off for just one girl? Fond of splash pages, King’s technique works especially well here because we see first-hand how much work Superman has to put in every day. Obviously, he decides to save the tyke. It may not be the most logical choice, but it’s framed as the most altruistic thing to do. Regardless of his choice, it’s a tough one that’s designed to spark debates.

Although, when discussing the quandary with Clark, Lois gets a little too self-referential for her own good. These days it’s hard for writers to keep from making meta jabs, however corny or dated they’ll become.

I got The Last Temptation of Christ vibes from the anger and confusion Clark experiences from his calling. He must eternally fight senseless crimes and sacrifice himself for the hopeless. Aren’t we all children lost in the dark, calling for help? Brian Michael Bendis is doing equally fascinating work for Action Comics and Superman, making this the new golden age of Superman; a time when his benevolence and human-like emotions effectively collide.

Unfortunately, the themes falter when Superman goes on a vision quest that asks if Superman is doing more harm than good. That’s a question for Batman, not so much for Supes. Granted, there are certain conditions you could set up to ask that question, but this thematic strand isn’t even the main thrust of the book, so it feels clumsily inserted.

DC Comics

One common complaint of King’s work is his mishandled pacing. Far too many issues of Batman in particular attempt to be tone poems in the middle of complicated plots. In contrast,  this issue makes the most out of its format, refusing to rush or languish. There’s enough story here for at least three issues of Batman.

Another selling point is Andy Kubert’s line-work, often cited as reminiscent of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s work. Hell, Kubert did the art for TDKR III and a Grant Morrison arc in that harsh universe. Lone panels from Kubert can convey mountains of atmosphere. One of the first panels (above) depicts Batman and Superman against a sky swollen red, factory smoke billowing from Art Deco towers. A similarly effective panel is in Perry White’s office that overlooks blinding skyscrapers from the sun’s light. This is a grimmer story for Superman, yet Kubert bridges the grounded tone with the majestic.

Superman: Up in the Sky #1
Is it good?
King has already established that he can set up really great stories, only to sometimes flub them later. While that’s a very high possibility, let’s enjoy this first issue regardless, which dishes out introspective intrigue and gravitas.
Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope, and Brad Anderson's deceptively brilliant art.
Delves into the hard choices Superman must make.
Excellent pacing.
Irritatingly self-referential at one point.
Vision quest is unnecessarily clunky.
8
GOOD
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