The Review: Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Alan Moore and Curt Swan

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Alan Moore and Curt Swan
DC Comics, 128 pp

Reviewed by University of Toronto Bookstore Staff, James Bell

Soon students will be returning to university campuses across the country in pursuit of degrees in English literature, and some of them will be taking courses dedicated to a subject that not many years ago wasn’t acknowledged as appropriate for study, let alone a serious art form.  In fact, being caught reading it would have been an embarrassment, a sign that the student hadn’t outgrown childish pursuits, and indicative of a level of immaturity that would have called into serious question whether the student should even be attending an institute of higher learning.  Cries of “Nerd!” or “Geek!” would have rained down upon them without mercy or apology.

Professors and their students will say they’re studying graphic novels, but often they’re really reading comic books.  The “graphic novel” rose out of the comic book tradition, but as a designation it has a complicated history.  It is often a term used to add a patina of respectability to a story that is clearly a comic.  Chris Wares’ Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a graphic novel, and so is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: they were written as complete stories, meant for the form in which they exist.  Dave Sim’s Cerebus “phone book” compilations are collected comic books.  So is Watchmen, the comic book that everyone loves, as long as they can call it a graphic novel and elevate it to the status of “literature”, because then it’s safe to study it in a way that’s still not possible with mere comic books.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and that it was a revelation to me when I read it at age 15 in 1986–month by month, eagerly awaiting the release of the next issue.  That’s how I read it, and I still have every issue, prized possessions amongst more than a thousand other comic books (pared down to just the essentials from close to two thousand–some comics, after all, don’t stand the test of time).  It’s because I read so many superhero comics that Watchmen means so much to me: the themes, rituals, and cliches of the superhero comic were embedded deep within me, just as they were with Moore himself, so that his deconstruction of them was, for me, a coming-of-age that marked a passage from childish pleasures to adult understanding.  I often wonder how much people who never grew up reading superhero comics can appreciate Watchmen or, when I’m being more generous, how their appreciation of it differs from mine.

But that sublime story, almost twenty-five years old (has it really been that long? Am I really that old?) has overshadowed the other work Moore has done in comics over the years, and people should understand that however much of an innovator and iconoclast Moore has been, most of his work has been within the comic book medium.  And as much as he was capable of writing extended story lines that played out over years in comic books like Swamp Thing and Miracleman (both of which I will proselytize about given even the slightest encouragement, so beware) he was also great at writing concise, brilliant single issues of a mere twenty pages.

“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” is an example (this compilation includes that story as well as two stand-alone stories written by Moore).  For reasons too complicated to go into here, but in part due to the seismic changes taking place in comic books thanks to creators like Frank Miller and Moore himself, in the mid-1980s Superman, the literal grandfather of all superheroes, was facing an overhaul.  A new creative team would be taking over, introducing changes in an attempt to make Superman more “relevant”.  Superman, unleashed on the world in 1938, had a lot of history, and the new team would be scrapping much of it and starting with a clean slate.  Thankfully, someone at DC Comics had the brilliant idea of revisiting that soon-to-be-dismissed history one last time, and the even more brilliant idea of allowing Alan Moore to write it.

Moore perfectly encapsulates the history of an icon, his friends, and his enemies, stories that had played out month-by-month for almost fifty years, in less than sixty pages.  He allows the reader to revisit the characters who had become so familiar, so much a part of our lives, in a way that honours the past, and yet acknowledges the changes to come.  The reader is surrounded by the markers of more innocent times while witnessing their destruction.  The genius of Alan Moore is that, given the opportunity to revel in the past, to lose himself and his readers in youthful nostalgia, he also finds a way to speak to very adult concerns.  Moore doesn’t transcend the genre of comic books; he elevates it by his presence.  And that’s why students will be studying his work this semester, and for years to come.  Watchmen may be the pinnacle of Moore’s career, but perhaps some brave professor will add Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? to the reading list.

Buy Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow Now!

The Review: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6), Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6)
by Bryan Lee O’Malley
ISBN: 9781934964385
Oni Press

Reviewed by U of T Bookstore Staff, Aleks Wrobel

Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, is in a band called Sex Bob-omb with his friends Kim Pine and Stephen Stills, and has a rating of ‘awesome’. Scott also must defeat the seven evil exes of the beautiful Ramona Flowers in order to win her heart.

Scott’s story starts in 2004 with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Volume 1). Readers were introduced to Scott and all the members of his precious life and immediately fell in love with the Canadian loser. Fans couldn’t wait for the next volumes, and the independent comic book artist and writer Bryan Lee O’Malley suddenly became a local celebrity. Even Hollywood took notice and Scott Pilgrim finally met the world on the big screen this summer. Scott Pilgrim vs the World directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera, opened on August 13th and was one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer.

Except for the occasional battle with an evil ex, not much happens to Scott. O’Malley wrote the first Scott Pilgrim book as a joke for his friends, creating characters that were 20-something-year-old stereotypes, and put them in a familiar setting: Toronto. Scott’s sister works at Second Cup, midnight cravings are satisfied at Pizza Pizza and the gang’s favorite hang out is Sneaky Dee’s. Toronto fans immediately recognized the world that O’Malley writes about as their own. However, this world is a nerd’s paradise. Each battle with an ex borrows heavily from the video game format. There are ninjas, robots and a vegan with psychic powers. Scott collects lives, points and tips on how to win the girl.

In Volume 6 Scott has defeated almost all of the evil exes. The only one left is the one that really matters: Gideon Graves. Unfortunately, when we find Scott in Volume 6, he’s lost the will to do anything that doesn’t include moping around his apartment. In Volume 5, Ramona disappeared right before his eyes and no one has seen her in months. It’s difficult to talk about the books without giving too much away and Volume 6 is the most important volume of the series as evidenced by the nearly 2,000 die-hard fans who flooded the street at a local comic book shop’s midnight release party. On all the summer reading lists for 2010, fans will be excited to know that Scott does get off his rear end and confronts his issues, the results of which are ultimately satisfying for the reader. Volume 6 gives us fight scenes that are better than ever and there’s enough relationship drama to keep things interesting. O’Malley knows what his fans want and does a good job of giving it to them. Each Pilgrim book depicts the life of the millennial loser-turned-hero. And everyone needs a good hero, even if he is in a band.

Buy Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6) Now!

The Worst Movie I Ever Saw…

My Year of Flops

Scribner, ISBN 9781439153123

In stores October 2010

I love movies; I always have.  I love going to the theatre; I love watching them on TV.  When my family got its first VCR it was a life-changing event; when we got cable and I could watch TMN my sleeping habits changed.  I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of movies, many more if you count ones I started to watch but couldn’t be bothered to finish. Because some movies are so bad that they’re just a waste of time… but some are also so bad that you never forget them.

I like to think that my tastes have matured over the years, that the movies I choose to see now are better than the ones I chose when I was a kid.  I saw a lot of bad movies growing up because a) I would watch almost anything and b) there are so many movies that are just no good.  But the funny thing is, often it’s those bad movies that stick with you, refusing to be forgotten as they deserve to be.  Ski School 2, Blame It On Rio, The Last Boy Scout… all horrible movies, but each of them has a place in my heart, even if I wish they could disappear from my memory.

Nathan Rabin, the Head Writer for The Onion’s A.V. Club, must be some kind of soul brother to me, because in his new book My Year of Flops: One Man’s Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure, which reprints columns (and adds new material) in which he revisited famous and infamous movie flops with an eye to rehabilitating their reputation where undeserved, and confirming their atrociousness if deserved, he clearly has a soft spot for movies that, if not successes, are at least noble attempts to tell a story through the magic of cinema.

Rabin takes on notorious flops like Heaven’s Gate and The Cable Guy as well as personal disappointments such as Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, and although he can be cruel, snarky, and very funny (he does work for The Onion, after all) his goal is never to just kick these movies while they’re down–his stated goal is “to fight our cultural tendency to associate commercial failure with artistic bankruptcy.”  Or, to personalize his mission: “When I look at failures, cinematic and otherwise, I see myself.  I welcomed the opportunity to provide a sympathetic reappraisal of some of the most reviled films of all time.”

This isn’t one of those books that warns you which movies to stay away from; in fact, I’ve now added some of them to my list of movies I want to see.  Like The Island of Dr. Moreau, if only to see Val Kilmer’s impersonation of his co-star Marlon Brando.  Or Ishtar, which Rabin decides is a “secret success” rather than a true flop.  And that’s because Rabin looks at these movies with a fresh eye, informed by thoughtfulness and not a little bit of hindsight.

If you love movies, and always adored Joe vs. the Volcano, no matter what everyone else said, this is the book for you.

By the way, I would have to say the worst movie I ever saw was Yor, the Hunter from the Future… what’s yours?

A History of Ukraine

Please join us at the book launch for Professor Magocsi’s book,

A History of Ukraine

7 pm, Thursday, September 23, 2010

Special event price:

20% off original $54.95

Refreshments will be served.

St. Vladimir Institute

620 Spadina Avenue, Toronto

(at Harbord, two blocks south of the Bloor-Spadina Subway Station)

For more information call: 416-923-3318