Home > Weekend Asides > Weekend Aside – Mark Millar’s Superman Adventures

Weekend Aside – Mark Millar’s Superman Adventures

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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The number of comics icons who have passed through DC’s line of Animated tie-in comics – the ‘Adventures’ line – is astounding for what was ostensibly a kids’ comics line. The line’s received a large amount of critical praise through the years, winning back-to-back Eisners for Best Single Issue along with the expected haul of ‘Best Comic for Younger Readers’ wins, but beyond that there’s an undeniable appeal to comics pros to have the opportunity to play in a different sandbox.

However, it’s also served as a launching ground for several careers; Dan Slott and Adam Beechen both got their big comics breaks writing Justice League tie-in books (to be fair, Slott had a bona fide hit with a Ren and Stimpy book at Marvel first). But the most curious case is a writer who went on to become arguably the most popular writer in comics, all the while writing in a tone completely different from an adventures title. So as promised, let’s take a look at Mark Millar.

It’s not as though Millar was the first big name on Superman (and, remember, he wasn’t really one at the time to get the Superman Adventures writing gig); after Paul Dini kicked off the series, it was placed in the capable hands of comics writer and theorist Scott McCloud, who guided the title through a solid first year, with veteran Adventures artist Rick Burchett and legendary inker Terry Austin (John Byrne’s inker of choice during his height) on art chores. After about a year, and after a fill-in by Mark Evanier, Millar was given the reins. I can’t imagine what line of thinking led to Millar getting the job, but DC of the mid-90s was all about the unorthodox thinking when it came to big writing assignments.

The first of these two issues is a very clever little mystery where Clark Kent finds himself powerless and watching Superman save the day, while even his parents don’t remember anything about his past, while the second sees Superman trying to save the President from an original villain that takes hints from The Chamelon.

Millar then did something very unusual for the Adventures line and told a two-part story featuring Brainiac and Livewire that, apart from a really good cliffhanger at the end of part one, was one of the more conventional stories that Millar told on the title.

This next set is a lot more out there. The first has Parasite finally succeeding in draining most of Superman’s power and going on a tear through Metropolis, but at the same time does a great job of humanising him by showing Parasite attempting to get back in touch with a girl he used to know. The second has Superman helping out Batgirl to rescue a kidnapped Bruce Wayne, who’s being used by the Mad Hatter as a hostage on the assumption that Batman will walk into a trap (it’s sort of a merger of a couple of the crossover episodes).  Last up is another visit from Mxy (the idea of his every-90-days visits works a lot better in a monthly comic that tells largely single-issue stories), who this time gets the idea of getting to Clark as a kid and convincing him that he’s a danger to those around him.

Millar then played with a couple of standard story types – Superman being superseded by a new hero on the scene and Jimmy Olsen playing around the Fourth World in a Kirby tribute – Millar then hit upon a genius idea for a team-up, namely Bizarro and Lobo.

My favourite story of the run was next, a two-parter that was as ambitious a story as you’re going to see in comics, with Superman returning to Earth after what he thought was a one-hour absence to find that he’d been missing for a year, during which time both his and Clark’s lives have fallen apart. Of course, there’s more going on, leading to a climax in the second part that’s as emotional as some of the best animated episodes. It’s a shame that the show was out of production by this point, as this really could’ve been adapted into a great episode.

Millar then built upon a bit of his own continuity, using one of the characters from his earlier Superboy storyline in an adult role, namely a former classmate’s of Clark who’s convinced that Clark is Superman. The scene with Clark patiently deflecting all the ‘evidence’ in his apartment (“… it’s for a fancy dress ball…” “I haven’t been shopping yet…”) is very funny, and the solution to the problem is smart, albeit a bit unfair on the reader. The next issue was a sequel to “The Hand of Fate”, as Doctor Fate has to save Superman from an entity that’s bent on possessing him.

The final batch are three more stories that certainly aren’t standard. The first is a picture of just how much trouble Superman prevents during the course of an evening, the second sees Superman trying to stop the criminal rampage of… Clark Kent… after spending time in lock-up, while the number thirty-eight sees Parasite turn his attention to Mxy, setting off a very weird issue as Superman tries to take down the simpleton with godlike powers. While it’s a great issue, the tribute cover is the best part if you take note of the issue numbers and know what the gag’s referring to.

Millar’s final issue on the title was Superman Adventures #41, and he wrote himself a heck of a send-off, as in a really clever concept issue he gets to tell 22 one-page Superman stories, drawn not only by regular series artists like Burchett, Mike Manley and Brazillian artist Aluir Amancio who handled most of Millar’s run, and even got a brief job storyboarding at the DCAU production office in California out of his work on the book, but also future stars Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart. However, the standout story is Batman’s guest appearance, as he finds a unique way of dealing with Millar’s favourite recurring villain, Mxy.

Not that other writers didn’t get their chance – comic writers and DCAU contributors Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dwyer in particular got a chance to fill in a lot of Supergirl’s backstory, first with a double-length story in Superman Adventures #21 that really is a must-read if you’re a fan of the character (it fits around the events of Little Girl Lost, although one major plot point later got contradicted in Unlimited), and returned to wrap up their Supergirl arc in #39. But Millar had control of the series for two years, and I still think it’s the best work he’s done on comics (admittedly, that’s largely because I’m a Warren Ellis guy with it comes to Authority).

Given the prices of the TPBs on Amazon, you might be best served to pay a visit to your local comic store to track these stories down. For fans of the animated style or Superman in general, they’re very worthy additions to the collection. Sadly, in a decision that still gets EIC Dan DiDido yelled at in comic cons from time to time, the Adventures line was put on permanent hiatus a few years back in lieu of a younger-skewing set of books that, while they are all of very high quality, just don’t quite have the same all-ages charm. Although the recent issue of the Brave and the Bold comic with every hero dressing up like Batman was tremendous.

Categories: Weekend Asides
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