At last! Super! has finally returned to us! It’s been roughly 84 years since #3, and with another terrific issue the wait was well worth it. Super! #4 is a self-contained story, picking up not too long after #3 ended. It gets right to the point and quickly reacquaints old readers and introduces new ones to Cosmopolis’s lunacy and mayhem. It also deals with an old, Cold War villain returning for revenge, and makes a previously intolerable character really likeable.
One of Super!’s most endearing strengths is that it’s hilarious, but also its level and style of humor is pretty unique, especially among the Big Two’s superhero comics. There are plenty of background gags and at least three genuinely funny jokes per page. The first panel got a real laugh out loud for what is essentially a background gag. Furthermore, to Dolan and Piatt’s credit, if one joke doesn’t fly there’s no problem because there are tons more coming out rapid-fire. And most of them are very funny anyway, and things you may not expect to be funny are (prime example: the night nurse). The writing resembles Archer and Venture Bros. in that its brand of hysterical is a mix of outlandish and callousness, but – especially with Venture – something genuinely idealistic and optimistic underneath the failure and sarcasm.
Another thing Super! has been consistently great at, and what really shines in this issue, is showing how normalcy and the absurd meld together. Cosmopolis is a normal city that has adapted around its bizarre citizens, like Astro City. This issue mostly takes place in a retirement home for superheroes. It’s such an obvious idea that it becomes genius. Of course superheroes have retirement homes – why wouldn’t they? And of course it’s populated with old, golden age superheroes, many of which are in varying stages of dementia. The best bit is the guy who keeps popping out of cardboard boxes, Solid Snake style, to shout and attack people, like a more aware Johnny the Tackling Alzheimer’s Patient.
What’s really great about the retirement home setting and the cold war villainy, and this issue’s general theme of the past, is that it adds to Cosmopolis’s history and its current culture. The first generation of the People’s Champions was actually a team of great heroes, compared to the current roster of puffed-up jerks. But those jerks get away with it because they’re legitimized by the legacy on which they are coasting. The Champions are so beloved and so important to not just Cosmopolis but the world, so of course there are hundreds of groups mimicking and taking inspiration from them, even decades later. The Champions always strived to do good and help people – even their enemies, which makes the resolution to Rocket’s feud with Crimson Comet truly touching.
Super!’s third greatest strength, its main ensemble cast of the Archer Group, is pretty downplayed this time around. The Streak is the featured character this issue, which was worrying at first because the Streak is the Worst. But here he was enjoyable and just generally likable! It will be interesting to see him as the focal point of the group another time, since this one was still mostly about the Russian Rocket and Crimson Comet and not him. But there’s room for development, and I’m interested in seeing that explored.
The art, as always, is pretty great. Dolan’s faces can have a stiff quality to them, and while it’s still present it’s gotten much better in the five-month interim. His composition is great, particularly with action scenes, but he really shines with character designs. Every character he makes is always identifiable and unique, even when obviously riffing on someone else. A lot of them could easily be used in a mainstream superhero book. The colors are great, particularly with Russian Rocket and the fights. A special note, again, goes to the golden age People’s Champions. They look like they were designed in the 40s and 50s, and the sort-of-filter over their flashback scenes makes it look aged and adds to the atmosphere.
All in all, Super!’s return was exactly that. Next issue promises the return of the group of villains lead by Black Atom, secretly Paula’s boyfriend Adam, and places Fire-Ant in possibly-mortal peril. It’s surely going to be a must-read, whenever it comes out. Eventually.