Superman: For Tomorrow (Volume 1)

I've just read the new softcover of the first half of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee's year-long "For Tomorrow" arc in Superman that began April 2004 (issues 204-215). Though the title was first given to Lee, who then picked a writer, one still can't help but think another artist would have been better suited to draw the subtleties of facial expression that inevitably make or break dialogue-heavy scripts such as this one. Even worse, the look of the cliched-90s villain Equus seems like Lee's self-parody of Image character design — a cyborg Killer Croc wearing Oakley shades — but the visual faults of the first five issues are instantly absolved in the sixth by the perverse but ingenious image of an elemental earth monster whose four heads are the actual Mount Rushmore!

Lee_Rushmore.jpg

(Sorry to spoil it but it was too good to keep to myself.)

Though I don't think its execution was perfect, there is no question that Azzarello's script is ambitious and provocative, asking a question as ancient as it is contemporary. Though I am skeptical of Jim Roeg's interpretation of Infinite Crisis as a political allegory, there is no doubt that Azzarello uses Superman to represent America's active role in the world and address the implications that accompany it. Not content with limiting its scope to political commentary, however, Azzarello extends the analogy from national superpower to supernatural power. The question "If you are able to prevent evil, should you?" is relevant as both a political and theological question, and the book seems to offer more than one answer by comparing Superman not only to the United States but to God himself.

Politically, the foreign policy of the US since JFK's inaugural address has been that since America has the ability to prevent evil around the world — including "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war" — it therefore has the responsibility to do so. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Spider-Man was invented only a year later with his guiding philosophy that "with great power there must also come great responsibility."

Theologically, the question of why a God would let bad things happen begs the further question, if God ought to interfere to prevent great evils, why shouldn't he intervene to prevent every act of minor evil as well? But if God intended to directly interfere with every human choice on an everyday basis, what is the point of history at all if humanity is not permitted to create its own?

Analogously, then, why should Superman prevent disaster only in Metropolis? Why not also in other cities or other countries, since he can? As a resident of earth he feels obligated, like the US, to do what is within his ability as the world's greatest superpower. But as a foreigner, what right does he have to interfere with sovereign nations? Indeed, as an alien, what right does he have to interfere even with Metropolis? Furthermore, as a practically divine being, what right does he have to interfere with the sovereignty of personhood and individual choice, whether good or ill?

Azzarello references both Christ and America in association with Superman, as he questions his appropriate relationship with the human world, but Azzarello's answer(s?) are yet to be revealed since this volume collects only the first six issues. I hope the next six live up to the profound trajectory established so far. I would not be surprised, however, if the soundbite-favoring format of the comic book prevents a sophisticated enough response to such philosophically complex questions.

On the positive side, since Superman is practically omnipotent, ethical issues are his only credible challenges, so Azzarello is using Superman as he is best used — as an allegorical representation of either divine or American superpower — and he is doing both simultaneously. But on the other hand, extended Socratic dialogue does not fully exploit sequential art, which is better suited to iconic than to dramatic narrative. In that sense, the title's immediately preceding arc, Godfall, was (contrary to the appearance of its covers) a superior exploration of the Superman-as-Christ allegory, cleverly depicting a condescension resembling the incarnation of God in human form. Azzarello's arc is no doubt an appropriate follow-up, highlighting the transcendent rather than immanent Superman, though its ultimate success will be dependent on Volume 2.

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4 thoughts on “Superman: For Tomorrow (Volume 1)

  1. Jim Roeg says:

    since Superman is practically omnipotent, ethical issues are his only credible challenges, so Azzarello is using Superman as he is best used — as an allegorical representation of either divine or American superpower

    Fascinating stuff–I may have to give this arc a second chance! I gave “For Tomorrow” a try in floppies, but was so put off by its Socratic dialogues and Jim Lee art that I gave up after the first couple of issues. I suppose that the other approach to Superman is Morrison’s, which is to make Superman’s adventures so bizarre, innocent, or mythic that they somehow seem to avoid or at least sideline the type of Christ/US allegory Azzarello explores. There’s no question that the “political allegory” of Infinite Crisis is vague to the point of imperceptibility – what can I say? I enjoy an interpretive challenge! Azzarello’s story sounds much more sophisticated. Interesting to hear about Godfall too–I’ve been very tempted to buy that trade, so it’s nice to hear that it’s actually good!

  2. Nobody says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t mean to bash your IC reading again, just wanted to give credit where it was due for keeping me thinking about the political angle.

    Of course I love Morrison’s Superman as well, because the character no doubt has enough of his own mythology that deserves exploration apart from his metaphorical value. There is no point to allegory forced so far that it contradicts a character’s own personality and history.

    Yet even in For Tomorrow, Superman fighting giant manifestations of the four elements (of which the Rushmore monster was one) is simply Morrisonian in its audaciousness.

    Godfall did blow me away though, hopefully not completely attributable to low expections. I think I linked to my original review of it.

  3. GrafxExtreme says:

    I’m a graphic designer and not much of a comic officio. However, I do remember a similar story years ago when I was a child. I concerned the moral dilemma of how Lois Lane was always placing herself in danger because she knew that Superman would be there in the nick of time to save her.

    The moral question was, “Was he doing her or the world a favor for saving it?” Because now both she and the world became co-dependent upon him. No longer taking responsibilities for their actions. Taking bigger risks than they should. Placing themselves in danger.

    The image of this comic story line had a real impact upon me. Upon being accountable for my actions. Taking responsibility for myself.

    I believe that’s one of the problems with the world today. They expect the U.S. to foot the bill for every disaster they run into. For the U.S. to rescue them from bankruptcy, starvation, or other disasters. They no longer take responsibility for themselves. And, like a spoiled child they complain and whine when the U.S. can not give them what they want or expect.

    Christ-like? I can see the comparison. My concern is, under the current Christian faith, we again are allowed not to take responsibility for ourselves. It’s not our fault, “God moves in mysterious ways.”. If something good happens, “It’s God’s will”.

    How much better would this world be if we didn’t have people rescuing us? Who disempower us because their actions allow us not to be accountable for our own?

    Kristy
    GrafxExtreme.com

  4. timesthree says:

    I think that the real trouble with this one was the lack of an interesting villain. Superman is only ever going to be as compelling as the guy that’s trying to destroy him, as Azzarello himself proved in Luthor: Man of Steel.

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