Man and Superman #1 Sets a New Standard for Superhero Origin Stories

We live in an age of wonder, where works of art we once thought were lost in the ether can find their way home. Films like Orson Welles’ unfinished The Other Side of the Wind are able to be assembled and presented for audiences decades after being shot. The unreleased album, …For the Whole World to See by protopunk band Death finally reached audiences 30 years after it was recorded. And Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s unpublished and incomplete run on Miracleman is slowly working its way towards being concluded after years of legal battles and publication uncertainty.

Now, another work of art once lost to the all-enveloping vault has been given new life. Man and Superman is more than just an over-sized comic book: it’s the ideology of what it means to be a superhero from a living legend and a celebration of the mythology of the world’s greatest superhero with stunning art illustrating a timeless tale. Yes, this is something of an origin story. And if you’re like me, you’re sick to death of seeing origin stories of characters who are so prevalent in pop culture that even people who don’t read comics know the road which lead them to don a cape. However, no matter how many times you’ve seen a genesis of a hero, if the story dips into little-explored aspects of monolithic heroes (and does so well) it’s a story worth revisiting.

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Man and Superman (formerly known as Superman Confidential) is a tale about the creative process in a way. It’s not about the creation of a piece of fiction, but rather a focus on how a persona is brought to life. Legendary writer, Marv Wolfman and prolific Italian artist, Claudio Castellini have homed in on a transitional period in the life of farm boy Clark Kent. There is far less exploration of the history we all know. This isn’t about Clark being from another world or his upbringing by loving parents from the Midwest. Instead, this comic delves into how Clark was ultimately inspired to create the alter ego of Superman.

Naturally the fact he’s from another world and his human parents raised him with a strong moral compass play into Clark wearing the cape and diving headfirst into dangerous situations, but Man and Superman takes in account Clark’s relationship with Metropolis and his own doubts regarding his place in the world. As alien as he feels in Smallville, stepping foot into Metropolis is like wandering into another dimension. The world has expanded for Clark, and with this expansion he must cultivate his courage and push away doubt to become a god among men.

It’s been said that what makes Superman special is that, unlike other superheroes, Clark Kent is the mask the Man of Steel wears to hide his true identity. But not everyone sees it that way. For many, Superman is all of us. He represents the inner hero in everyone. Sure, we can’t fly, and we sure as hell aren’t bulletproof, but even Superman, with all his powers and strengths, will push himself to the limit, inspiring hope and protecting the innocent. His benevolence is as unlimited as his abilities, and even when those abilities fail, his humanity never wavers. It’s a idea so strong that even a jaded comic reader like myself can’t shrug it off.

Castellini’s art is solid as usual. He’s been a permanent fixture in superhero books for decades, and his work has a timeless feel. He doesn’t rely on flashy page layouts or panels constructed as polygons (not that there’s anything wrong with flashy…or polygons). Instead, his pages are clean and uncluttered. His character designs are classic and simple, making it difficult to determine what era the were drawn in. Hi-Fi’s colors don’t distract from the sublime subtlety of the line work and enhance the aesthetics for the better.

For some readers, Man and Superman might feel like another retread, and in some respects it is, but the angle from which Wolfman and Catellini view our hero gives us a fresh perspective. In Wolfman’s introduction, he explains the rocky road to publication (this was originally created in the early aughts), claiming not only that Man and Superman might be the best Superman story he’s ever written, but it might just be among his best work overall. The crazy thing is, he might be right. It might be too early to make such a wild proclamation, but Man and Superman may become a classic in the graphic medium.

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