Personally, I've been looking to the digital medium for my Superman fix, post-New 52. DC's made a smart move in starting up a new digital Superman release (after rectifying a massive misfire, in my opinion) that focuses on classic, continuity-free Superman stories; so old fans can take heart in having a Man of Steel they recognize. Superman has been such an alien in his own world lately, I haven't been able to see any of myself in his stories. But the Adventures of Superman puts spectators squarely back in the action, with spare, colorful stories (brought to you by a myriad of writers and artists) that actually have a lot to say about our hero's impact on American society. In the first issue, Supes tried to keep an innocent from killing himself, and failed. His need to preserve life, even to the point of enlisting violence for the sake of shielding bystanders, reflects a basic human need to protect and care for others. I saw myself there.
And I saw myself in this week's installment, which revolved around two boys bickering over who gets to "play" Superman. Witness, as Jeff Lemire's brilliant two-fold story unspools, how the kids first assign roles:
Lemire keeps cutting back and forth between worlds, so the reader understands that the Superman we're seeing is actually the little boy in the yellow and towel-like cape. The kids' argument over who the villain should even be spills over into the fantasy world. The redhead switches from Brainiac to Bizarro to Lex Luthor, before finally returning to the bulbous-headed Brainiac. And since there's no real threat of violence within the fantasy -- its roots formed from invisible blows spent between two friends -- we learn something about Superman that has nothing to do with his powers, or who's more likely to win in a fight with him.
We learn that everyone can draw strength from a fantasy, that these daydreams help us build connections between ourselves and others. We learn that the endless cycle of fighting within a Superman story isn't its main draw. This, in fact, never becomes clearer than when the two enemies make peace within the make-believe:
At the end of this story, the boys toddle off, agreeing to switch who plays Superman next time, also agreeing that Superman is Superman because he always wins; and don't they both deserve a win? In their scenario, Superman is benevolent, and his benevolence guarantees triumph. Funny thing to get from a comic that showcases pages and pages of fisticuffs, eh?
Of course, if epic physical conflict was the only reason to pick up a Superman story (and, believe me, I've heard that it is), I doubt I'd ever give one a second glance. The best Metropolis Marvel writers see that the true fantasy animating Superman books isn't bugling muscles, but the hopeful possibilities surrounding any individual's actions. These kids are far more powerful together than alone, and they only realize one another's ability to compromise through indulging in fantasy. Not bad for a comic that doesn't actually star the Man of Steel. Then again, his influence is felt across every single digital page. At least I think so.