Superman: Red & Blue (#5) – Various

4 out of 5

A much better outing for this series than the other entry I read. Whether this was luck of the draw or editors / creators learning from previous examples, most of our writers and artists here smartly focus on smaller stories – more humble, human stuff – and don’t necessarily try to wow us with any new revelations or moving messages about Supes, who’s generally one of the more “obvious” characters on the DC roster. The color use is similarly more subdued, with everyone (again, either purposefully or coincidentally) realizing that trying to use the colors in a shticky way doesn’t work well with the red and blue palette, and instead approaching the colors somewhat more traditionally – treat the blues and reds as variants of grayscale, and work accordingly.

In other words, this is just a collection of simple stories starring Superman, and the book is all the better for keeping the scope smaller.

Judd Winick’s opener Fetch, about Clark and Krypto, is definitely a softball. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a boy and his dog tale, and Judd writes it with all its due melodrama, though he kind of stretches for some concluding thoughts when fewer words might’ve done the trick. However, Ibrahim Moustafa’s gentle but defined art is divine, and helps smooth out the humanity of the tale, with Wes Abbott affecting the just the right weight in the letters and bubbles. It’s worth noting Moustafa colored the art here – kicking off that trend of not overplaying the look, to the strip’s benefit.

G. Willow Wilson’s De-escalation is a Clark Kent story, and it’s rather perfectly subtle – Clark using his Supes powers in a low-key way to foil a robbery – though Wilson can’t avoid doing some cutesy “but Clark is really Superman!” nods at the end. Oh well. Valentine De Landro’s loose art maybe incorporates photo reference for some expressions, making it look a little funny at some points, but the overall style is nonetheless a good fit for the tone of the thing, and Landro is again self-coloring, going with a muted set of blues and reds that make for a very distinct look without it being at all distracting. Interestingly, here Abbott uses a bit “louder” lettering to counter the blockier art style.

Your Favorite, by Joshua Williamson, may’ve been coincidentally my favorite in the collection, because the writer achieves the emotional beat with minimalism – he uses only the words that are necessary to establish the setup of Jimmy Olsen being interviewed by a reporter, and Olsen flashing through some memories to determine what his favorite picture is. Chris Sprouse is a perfect choice for a Superman artist, really hitting a classic, bold look, and Hi-Fi uses an alternating blue / red color focus in the panels – once again not going for anything too poppy that might disrupt page flow – that also underlines the emotions, since it opens up into more a more organic and bright final panel.

Red Sun… Blue Dot by Mark Buckingham is maybe the least interesting story, as it’s just narration from the time of the launch of baby Kal’s ship over arted pages of that ship’s travels to Earth, but it’s also Mark Buckingham on art, meaning those travels are gorgeous, and inventive. And that’s the thing: I’d say Buckingham purposefully made the narration less of a focus, except in how it would interweave with the art; that is – this feels like an experiment with layout and pacing, and that aspect of it really works. Lee Loughridge “cheats” on the colors a bit, using a gray backing to a red and blue focal point, but that was the best way to make the pages look as good as they do.

And finally, the reason I bought the issue – Daniel Warren Johnson. …Alas, heh, it’s perhaps the roughest tale here. It’s a tribute to fatherhood: DWJ dedicates the strip to his dad, and it’s a story told through the lens of Pa Kent’s influences upon Clark from boyhood to adulthood, via the simplest of support: saying he loves him, and is proud of him. It’s a mantra that Daniel repeats across the pages, and it’s clearly very personal, but unfortunately it doesn’t feel like it exactly maps to Superman, even though it’s a classic father / son relationship to which it does seem like it should fit. I think, perhaps, it’s the initial setup that feels a bit rough, with Jonathan Kent getting guidance on the matter from a preacher. Casting it from that religious point of view feels like it maybe diminishes the intention somewhat; again, it might be a less-is-more approach could’ve been better – stripping this solely down to its repeated mantra would’ve still gotten the point across. The coloring (from Daniel) also doesn’t exactly work here; it feels added on as a requirement. There are some black and white panels that are perfect, and it makes you wish you could see the whole strip that way.