Saturday, March 19, 2005

All Together Now: "For Tomorrow" (SPOILERS)

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

-- Revelation 21:1-4

"For Tomorrow" is the 12-part arc produced for the Superman book by writer Brian Azzarello, penciller Jim Lee, and inker Scott Williams. It picks up shortly after The Vanishing, a worldwide phenomenon when a million people simply vanished, leaving behind only ghostly silhouettes (shades of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Superman blames himself for not being able to prevent the Vanishing, and seeks out the counsel of Father Leone, a priest with a checkered past. The story's 11th part came out on March 9, so I wanted to recap and review it all to get ready for the conclusion.

While "For Tomorrow"'s premise is rooted in longstanding Superman mythology, it doesn't require the reader to know much about current Superman continuity. In fact, the regular Superman supporting cast (Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor, even Clark Kent) hardly makes a dent in the plot. However, Superman's troubles come from the fact that his wife Lois was "vanished," so in that respect her presence is felt in the story.

Otherwise, the major supporting characters are new. Besides Father Leone, there's Mr. Orr, a mercenary who wants Superman brought to justice for his role in the Vanishing; and new villains Equus and Halcyon. Along the way Superman also runs afoul of the Justice League, including Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. The fight with Wonder Woman provides an issue's worth of action, as does a fight with Halcyon's elemental giants.

The story starts off with Superman, post-Vanishing, trying to stop regional conflicts. He wins the battle with Equus, but loses the war -- the strongman Equus is supporting also has the support of the locals. Supes quickly decides to do as much good as he can in rebuilding the country, but after finding that Equus and his boss have the Vanishing device, Superman ends up activating it. Equus and his boss vanish, along with thousands of other people. Now Superman's in trouble with the rest of the world, including the JLA.

It's probably safe to say that Lee and Williams' art is the main attraction for most casual Superman fans. As with their Batman arc "Hush," there are a lot of big set pieces. However, Brian Azzarello has also produced a thoughtful script that attempts to cast Superman in a new light by exploring issues of faith and duty.

As you might expect, there's some fairly obvious religious imagery, especially in Superman's conversations with Leone, but eventually, that serves more to paint Superman as a flawed, almost tragic figure. Azzarello's dialogue has a certain noirish quality, so it takes a little getting used to coming out of ostensibly square characters like Supes and a priest. Azzarello also tends to begin each issue with dialogue boxes from a character who is off-panel, so after a while it's distracting trying to figure out who's speaking. One of Azzarello's nice touches is showing the homemade memorials to the Vanished people. Together with Azzarello's emphasizing how Superman cares about each person he tries to protect, it puts a more human face on the super-powered action. This too is contrasted with Superman's questioning of his own humanity, apparently since Lois' absence has made him feel less human. (Azzarello hasn't yet explained where the elder Kents are in all of this, or why Supes isn't seen as Clark Kent.)

Many Superman stories test him with extremely powerful opponents. In "For Tomorrow," the problems which Superman confronts have more philosophical underpinnings. Still, they are problems worthy of Superman's attention, but paradoxically they are problems that Superman's respect for humanity doesn't normally attempt to solve. In this respect, "For Tomorrow" aims high, and for the most part succeeds.

[WARNING: past this point this essay contains SPOILERS.]




Picking up where the previous summary left off, Superman and Father Leone go to the Fortress of Solitude to analyze the Vanishing device. Superman figures out who created it, but just then Wonder Woman and Orr attack separately. After taking care of both of them, Superman tells Wonder Woman that the Fortress is set to auto-destruct, and tells her to save Orr and Leone. Superman then sends himself into the Vanishing.

There we learn that Superman himself created the Vanishing out of the Phantom Zone, as a refuge for the people of Earth if it faced a planetary catastrophe like that which destroyed Krypton. Supes then sent the device into the Phantom Zone, erasing his own memory of having created it. Because Supes was inspired to create the Vanishing after a conversation with Lois, this means that Lois was the only person on Earth who knew about its existence.

However, Superman apparently didn't know that General Zod, a Kryptonian criminal, was already in the Phantom Zone, having been sent there by Jor-El. Zod learned to use the device and abducted the one million people. Having assembled an army out of some of those less charitable abductees, Zod faces off against Superman. During their fight, Superman sends the Vanishing device back to Earth -- specifically, to Father Leone. Unfortunately, Orr has taken Leone to a shadowy laboratory, where Orr was turned into a super-soldier. Leone is now Version 4 to Equus' Version 3. And that's where we are now.

As I said above, "For Tomorrow" aims high. It contrasts the public perception of Superman-as-God with Supes' own view of himself as a man trying to do the best he can with what he has. Thus, Father Leone wonders if Superman can cure his cancer, and Superman explains that he doesn't try to impose his will on the world that way. Azzarello tells us over and over that Superman won't get involved in a macro level with the Earth's destiny, which is why he sends the Vanishing device away and erases his own knowledge of it. Nevertheless, Superman has opened Pandora's box simply by creating the Vanishing, so naturally it comes back to haunt him.

If Superman reminds us of God, the Vanishing seems to be a Garden of Eden; and like the Biblical garden, the Vanishing was corrupted almost from the beginning. (Azzarello hints further that the Vanishing would have been corrupted eventually even without Zod's presence.) Just as Eve prompted Adam to eat the forbidden apple, so Lois' question about Earth's fate prompts Superman to create the Vanishing. However, the Vanishing is more like the new Heaven and new Earth promised by God in Revelation -- a safe haven following the apocalypse, where there will be no more danger and all may live in peace.

It is therefore hubris for Superman to have trespassed in God's domain by (as he puts it) "creating Heaven out of Hell." Superman claims that his sin was "saving the world," which is actually not far from the truth. Superman's sin was to put his faith in his own ability to save the world, rather than in God's ability to use him for God's own purpose. There's an old puzzle about whether Jesus could create a rock so heavy he couldn't lift it; well, here we see that Superman has created a device so dangerous that he might not be able to stop it.

(I'm treating Superman as a Christian because Superman in this story is using a priest of the Christian God as his confessor; therefore, Superman apparently is submitting himself to the rules of Christianity in order to find the answers he needs.)

The lesson of "For Tomorrow" seems to be that not even Superman is God. God knows all, sees all, and can be everywhere; but Superman, powerful as he is, is still subject to the limitations of this world. Superman wants to succeed where Jor-El failed, namely by ensuring Earth's safety where Jor-El could not ensure Krypton's -- but he forgets that without Krypton's sacrifice, there might not have been a Superman. Who knows what intergalactic boon might result should Earth face a similar catastrophe? Superman walks a fine line between being reactive and proactive. If he is going to buy into the Christian faith, he needs to trust that God will keep him on the right side of that line.

"For Tomorrow" has a lot of potential, and could eventually become a classic Superman tale. Still, this just raises the stakes for part 12.

A hardcover collection of the first 6 parts goes on sale in two weeks, and the conclusion is scheduled to appear on April 13.


Captain Qwert Jr said...

So your saying the story eventually becomes comprehensible? I gave up on it 2 issues ago. Or is this a case of your always excellent summaries making a crappy story seem good (I enjoyed your Hush summaries on the Trekbbs far more than I liked the book itself). Even with your clarifications , I still have a lot of problems with it.

Tom Bondurant said...

I was just as surprised as you were, but yes, it does become comprehensible. Of course, #12 could screw everything up all over again....

Anonymous said...

yep, it does become comprehensible. but you'd have to go throug the 'painful' experience of reading it twice. haha.
to me, the story is also about salvation. superman, a god-human-like alien could offer humanity the possibility of solving all their troubles – like wars or cancer, but it'd be like imposing his will on the world. And the story shows how whenever superman gets too involve like that people refuse to be saved. When he stopped war on Kasnia, Kasnians threw rocks at him; when he accidentally disappeared Nox and Equus, the JLA, Aquaman and his people, Orr’s bosses and that witch with the elemental giants got angry; when people appeared in Metropia, some liked it and enjoyed it like a heavenly paradise -like Lois, and some hated it as if it were heaven – like Equus, Nox and specially Zod.
Zod, in many ways was Adam and, at the same time, the Devil. He was the first man in the Phantom Zone, but he was there as punishment and the place was originally supposed to be his hell. He was supposed to be the first man to enjoy Superman’s Heaven-like –not intentionally, but he hated every thing about it. Zod hated it and wanted to destroy it even if he had to destroy himself (devil is supposed to hate himself).
At the end Zod turn down his last opportunity of salvation when Superman reached for him. That panel reminded of Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel, only in this case, Zod’s Adam is turning down Superman’s God’s help.
As for Father Daniel, he played Judas to Superman’s Jesus. At the end ‘went to hell’ after ‘selling his soul’ to people who wanted Superman’s power – Orr probably chose him to be the new Equus because of his knowledge about Superman. He was Judas in this story, betrayed Superman because he refused to save him and turned to Orrs bosses (Pharisees wannabes) for help, Then after realizing what he has done (only in this case) to himself, he ask Superman to kill him.
Azzarelo had a good argument, but he should know his public better. You have to either read it twice or have photographic memory, because every single detail and word is a reference to something that is going to happen like two issues ahead. Readers have to do a lot of linking work here… And we don’t like linking work or subtle references!! That’s why we are comic book readers: We don’t like so much to read! That’s why we need the pics, dammit!
So, in conclusion, a little, or even better, a lot more clues would be nice for Azzarelo’s next book.