Review- Superman: Up In The Sky HC
It often feels like creators who are tapped to write a Superman story or series are motivated to create that one special self-contained story that can be handed to any casual reader. That's definitely the case here, especially considering these were originally released in the Superman Giants that were initially Walmart exclusives. Those books were mostly a collection of reprints with a few short chapters of new exclusive material, so writers had to make sure they were creating short yet concise (and mostly self-contained) stories.
My exposure was when they reprinted these stories into the six part mini-series, each issue containing two chapters. My initial read through digested the short stories for what they were every few weeks, and as I enjoyed each bit I was tempted to pick up this complete HC and see how it read in one sitting. And while it's still a very enjoyable collection of moments and ideas, that's also sort of the downside as well.
The core push of the series is that a little girl is kidnapped from Earth, and that her favorite hero is Superman. The initial chapter deals with Superman considering the ramifications of leaving the planet for one person, flipping from his discussions with Lois and other heroes to single page montages highlighting what it means to be Superman.
The decision made to go on his quest, we get about nine chapters of his exploits in space. Each chapter highlights a different trial or element of Superman's character, focusing on what makes him Superman (or Clark, in some cases). They bounce around from being joyfully ridiculous to somber moral dilemmas.
My favorite among them is the section dealing with Superman VS Bureaucracy as he has to deal with a never ending amount of red tape to simply make a phone call to Lois. It's a great set-up as it creates a tedious scene to play against Superman's constant worry that Lois may be in danger and he can't do anything about it, the clerks at the communication bureau halting him from any progress in ways Darkseid can only dream.
Speaking of Darkseid, this also features one of the best sequences I've read with him in a while (outside of Kings' Mr Miracle run) as Darkseid agree to help Superman but only if Superman agrees to kill an innocent. A great reminder that Darkseid stories are at their best when he's not a big invading fight fest like Thanos but instead a manipulator that places our heroes into the worst moral dilemmas. Even if the innocent that Superman must kill wants to die to prevent suffering from a terrible disease, and even if that death will save another, Superman does not kill. But what if he has to?
It's these moral plays that make up the strength of the series, supported by Kings nack for tight scripting and getting to the heart of his characters. King combines his pithy dialogue with engaging story layouts that alternate from chapter to chapter, some taking advantage of his favored nine panel grids, others utilizing the Bendis favored narrative box infested single page layouts, and some a bit more traditional.
Andy Kubert's art is the perfect match for all of this, melding together a strong combination of superhero action with subtly infused moments of character and emotion. Of the Kubert clan Andy has always been my favorite ever since his Ka-Zar days, so the book is a visual hit for me.
By the time we make it to the end game of the series, King makes it clear that the threat was never the point. He creates a faceless and nameless antagonist and a generic robotic threat for Superman and the heroes of Earth to fight against for the sake of putting a pin in that plot-thread, but the core purpose of the series was to get Superman to his goal and to save Alice, the young girl who has served as a part-time narrator and impetus for this soul quest.
Superman and Alice's flight home is an utter delight as well, the two engaging in a completely honest series of chats that are more compelling than any climatic battle King could have probably penned. Which is both a disappointment and a boon for me, as I often feel that the best Superman stories are the moral tales that deal less with his physical powers and more with the heart of the character. King gave me exactly what I would have wanted, and yet I do feel that something is lacking.
It's difficult to not compare this book to stories such as Morrison' All-Star Superman or Loeb's For All Seasons, because at the core of all of these books is the desire to figure out what makes Superman tick. What is at the heart of the character. And each story pretty much does that, but we apparently need to be told roughly every 3-5 years as our attention span as a society is barely existent anymore. Which sounds like a complaint, but it does give us a sequence of examples on how it can be done, each building off of the last. The distinction I guess I would make between this one and previous stories is that stories like All-Star answer those questions but within the confines of a better defined long-term plot. The plot to Up In The Sky is nearly inconsequential, more like a simplified window dressing to what is admittedly a pretty great window.
As an overall package I can point out structural weaknesses, but I can't really argue with the message. Superman is great and here is a point by point breakdown as to why he is great, offered in an engaging series of short accounts. We should not be distracted as to why we are being told Superman is great, just shut up and accept this fine offering of reasons. Considering the original confines of the publication strategy, the project coalesced into a very admirable and memorable package.
This was a long ramble to pretty much just conclude that this is definitely a fun and engaging Superman collection, and definitely one I would recommend to a casual reader who doesn't understand what makes the character tick. It's a great hardcover package clocking in at 176 pages for $25, plus it gives you the original covers for the Superman Giants and the six issue mini, so you're getting a chunky art gallery as well. And hey, any comic featuring Superman saving cats from trees is always worth the money.