SUPERMAN: SPACE AGE #1 / Script by MARK RUSSELL/ Art by MIKE ALLRED/ Colors by LAURA ALLRED/ Letters by DAVE SHARPE/ Published by DC COMICS
I had the good fortune to run into Mark Russell at Fan Expo Dallas last month. Somehow, in all my planning regarding what costume I would wear which day and what books I would pack to have signed, I missed the news that one of my favorite writers was attending. I found his table, ironically enough, while trying to find a different creator whose cancellation announcement I had also missed.
I mention this because after getting my copy of Not All Robots signed, Mr. Russell tipped me off as to his next big DC Comics project – a Superman story set in the 1960s, with Mike and Laura Allred on the art duties and Dave Sharpe lettering. That story is Superman: Space Age #1 and it is every bit as excellent as one would presume given the pedigree of the creators involved.
The story will be familiar to most superhero fans, being a retelling of the origins of Superman and several other superheroes. The twist is that Russell sets these classic stories against the background of the Kennedy assassination. This is the catalyst which prompts Clark Kent to go out into the world and seek to restore the sense of hope he thinks his country just lost. Also, because Mark Russell is Mark Russell, he tells this story while spinning several metaphorical plates, with multiple subplots balanced against sly humor and clever character development.
Perhaps the best example of this is Russell’s take on Pa Kent, who was seemingly written in such a manner as to evoke the Pa Kent of Man of Steel but make Jonathan Kent’s reluctance to see his son take an active role on the world stage make sense. This Pa Kent is a wounded warrior, who wishes to spare his son the pain he endured as a soldier, having devoted his life since then to growing crops and feeding people. This lesson, in turn, fuels Clark’s decision to become a journalist and find ways to understand people before playing judge and jury.
Mike Allred’s artwork is decidedly retro in its aesthetic, yet bold and new in its execution. Backed by Laura Allred’s colors, every panel of this book grabs your eye and refuses to let go. Their usual hallmarks are here, with some clever jokes hidden in the background among the tilted panels. Dave Sharpe’s lettering is likewise full of subtle touches, like Clark’s narration while he’s on the job being in balloons resembling neat handwriting on a yellow notepad.
Sir Terry Pratchett once defined good fantasy as any story that made you look at something familiar in a new way. By that definition, as well as any other, Superman: Space Age #1 is good fantasy. It may be too early to make Eisner predictions so soon after SDCC 2022, but I’m willing to predict that this book will win several awards in 2023.