Review: It's a Bird graphic novel (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

[Contains spoilers for It's a Bird]

The list of my favorite graphic novels is admittedly a short list. I like trade paperbacks because, in the course of reading a series, I tend to get two or three readings out of them; a graphic novel, like a regular novel, I'm likely to read only once, and the short time it takes me to read a graphic novel often makes it not worth the price.

One graphic novel I recommend, however, is Steven Seagle's semi-autobiographical It's a Bird. In it, "Steve" gets offered the chance to write Superman (shortly before Seagle himself began writing the title), but considers turning it down because he can't relate to the character. At the same time, Steve's father goes missing, and Steve suspects it has to do with the family's open secret: that Steve's grandmother died of Huntington's disease, and Steve and his parents might also carry the diease.

There's an arc, and an interconnectedness, to the various elements of It's a Bird that I admire every time I read it. Steve begins with disparate problems -- whether to accept the Superman job on one hand, and what happened to his father on the other -- but Seagle ties these together in that Steve's earliest memory of Superman is reading the comic book when his grandmother died.

Steve's indecision about the Superman project slowly gets infected by his depression over how Huntington might affect him (and his decision to marry and have children with girlfriend Lisa). Page by page, Steve shuts down creatively, and then emotionally, until a sequence of pages where Seagle (and artist Teddy Kristiansen) show Steve in bed, unmoving. It's only when Steve untangles his bad memories of the situation in which he read the Superman comic from his enjoyment of the Superman character itself that Steve's able to see the value in writing Superman.

Granted, It's a Bird is hardly the love song to Superman that, say, All-Star Superman is. Though It's a Bird ends with Steve feeling positive toward Superman, the book offers far more reasons why someone would not want to write, or possibly read, Superman than why someone would. Seagle harps especially on Superman's foreignness, his superiority -- even, at one point, questioning why Superman dares to sport yellow on his costume.

One comes to recognize, in Seagle's view, that Superman's biography really makes very little sense, certainly far less than many other superheroes. What Steve decides is that it's not the facts that matter, but rather the symbol -- that Superman symbolizes trying again, or having faith in the unknown. Neither of these seem to me Superman-specific to me, and Steve's decision to start writing Superman at the end of the novel struck me as too easy -- Seagle's done too good a job of convincing us why Superman doesn't make sense for Steve to accept Superman rather than turning to Captain Marvel or another title.

That Seagle's own run on Superman never quite got off the ground is an odd coda to the book. The reader is left wishing the best for Steve, even as we're not sure he's on the right track quite yet (a sense that I think Seagle reinforces through Lisa in the end).

It's a Bird is a real-world, Vertigo study of how we, or at least one man, relates to Superman. Chris at Collected Comics Library talked about books that every comics collection needs, and this is one I recommend.

[Original graphic novel, available in hardcover and softcover.]

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1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to get this book. Thanks for the recommendation!
    And thanks for the mention! Cheers!