Writer : Brian Azzarello
Artist : Jim Lee
Publisher : DC Comics, December 2019
Superheroes are creatures who possess such powers that make them more than human; a god (or a semi-god) is a creature who possesses such powers that make him or her more than human. It easy to see how there is a kind of link between the two sets, that of comic book superheroes and that of the creators of the world (or of their offspring). The idea of being “super”, after all, entails the fact that we are trespassing into another domain, that which is forbidden to man and that, no matter how much he or she might strive, will never be crossed, unless, of course, a strange turn of events lead a chosen one to be vested with the power of speed, of strength, of wisdom, and so on.
There should come as a not too big a surprise, then, that Superman For Tomorrow is strongly intertwined with religious undertones: Superman is not simply a semi-god, here, as in the fact that he embodies both the characteristic of humanity and divinity. He even becomes a veritable god, a creator of a world (a universe?) that strongly resembles heaven, where men are sent to lead a better life, free from the chores and the pain that bind them to our own cosmos (a hellish world that is plagued by wars). Yet, such god is not sure as to what he is doing is right or wrong, even though he will always try to lead a life according to the ideas of truth and justice; a faltering faith in himself is what makes Superman, in Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s novel, more human (humane?) than usual.
There appears to be a sense of caustic irony in how dreams, hopes and reality are treated throughout the pages. The world Superman lives in is ours, and instead of aliens trying to invade Earth, this time he is faced with war in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Superman can fight in space, but what happens when he finds himself in the middle of a violent and bloody guerrilla between a dictator and a liberator? In a world where genocide and mass executions are part and parcel of our everyday life, is it still possible for Siegel and Shuster’s creature to live alongside us?
Being a god (or, at least, being seen as one) does not always entail that everyone shall have faith in us. Heretics and non-believers, or simply people who believe in other divinities will always be present, whether they are right or wrong. But what happens when a god tries to save every single human life and, yet, some of these lives refuse salvation? Hell is therefore not something that exists outside humanity, a space where we are sent; it is rather a forma mentis, the reality of an idea strongly linked to what makes us human, therefore making sure that whenever man is so is possibility of a heaven and a hell.
Superman For Tomorrow is therefore a commentary on the (mythical and historical) figure of Superman. The religious themes we are being presented with are treated from more of a metaphorical point of view, where the reader’s faith or lack thereof does not play a role. The novel, in fact, can be easily read either as a religious or a lay parable whose structure is strongly based on the Bible, but whose message can resonate with anybody, both as a commentary on universal values and on our main protagonist, Superman. What, after all, can be said about such a character who’s lived for nearly a century? This was the question Mr Azzarello and Mr Lee tried to answer and succeeded in doing.
The graphic novel has a few weak spots. It should be read in one sitting, as it is only by having a clear picture of the entire structure that is it possible for the reader to understand the story; patience and focus are not something we can forget to use here (this might be one of the reason that both critics and readers gave in their majority a negative response to the serialized version). There is also a bit too much of exposition, as sometimes characters explain instead of doing, something that seems quite out of place if we take into consideration that the overall feeling would be one of realism (as much as realism is possible in such comics). Finally, this is one of those books where black and white would have been tremendously beneficial, especially if leaving Mr Lee’s drawing untouched by any kind of ink. Yet, the story as it is works and manages to capture our attention; Mr Lee and Mr Azzarello wanted to say something new about Superman and here they managed to do it, showing that for all the superpowers a god (or semi-god) might have, in the end what makes us want to read about him or her is the humanity (that is, the plethora of doubts, fears and hopes) they embody.