Why you should read… Superman: For All Seasons

Taking a second look at one of the greatest Superman tales.

24-2After last week’s reappraisal of V For Vendetta, I thought I’d return to something of a more recognisable brand, this time around. Superman: For All Seasons, written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale, was first published in 1998 by DC Comics, following the duo’s work on the excellent year-long maxiseries, Batman: The Long Halloween.

For me, Superman: For All Seasons is a definitive Superman tale. The story takes place across the four seasons, with each self-contained chapter harmonising with the origin story of the character. We see Clark Kent’s evolution from farmboy to hero, all told through a nostalgic, Americana-heavy filter that touches upon the humble elements of the character’s background.

I’ve found Superman is a character that a lot of creators have struggled with. While characters like Batman and Spider-Man give writers a template on which to create interesting stories (action, followed by brooding and wisecracking, followed by action, respectively), Superman is still a difficult one to get right.

The reason Superman: For All Seasons works is because it taps into the human side of the character. The relationship between Clark Kent and his parents, friends and enemies isn’t a supporting element of the narrative – it’s the focus of the story. We see how his romance with eternally small town-bound Lana fades away, as he moves to Metropolis and becomes something far more than just a farm hand.

It’s also a rare example of a superhero story that only works because of the artists involved, such is its unusual action-free nature. Although Tim Sale’s work tends to be suited to characters like Batman due to his heavy use of shadow, here – thanks to the rich palette used by colourist Bjarne Hansen – the rising and setting suns of Smallville have never looked better.

Though never declaring itself an origin story, I like to think of it as the definitive read for anyone who wants to understand why the Superman character is so fascinating, and what kind of life experiences govern his altruistic motives.

Superman: For All Seasons is available now in collected editions from DC Comics in the US and Titan Comics in the UK.