|Jul/Aug 2005 Book Reviews|
Steven T. Seagle.
It's A Bird...
Illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen
DC Comics. 2004.
Ask almost anyone who Superman is, and they'll be able to tell you about the costume, the flying, the love of Lois Lane. Even those who have never read a Superman comic have a frame of reference for this iconic character. Why is he so pervasive? Does this idealistic character from the 1940s have any relevance today? These are the questions at the heart of It's a Bird..., an original graphic novel by Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen.
It's a Bird... tells the story of Steve, a comic book writer who has been given the opportunity that most writers only dream of, a chance to write Superman. His editor, girlfriend, and even his mechanic are elated for him. The only problem is he doesn't want to do it. He just doesn't buy the costume, the secret identity, the origin; he doesn't have a Superman story to tell.
As far as Steve in concerned, nothing about Superman connects to his life. In fact, Clark Kent's invulnerability, his perfect family, his strength, seem in direct opposition to Steve's experience. His life is a stressful one. Issues with his already secretive family come to a head as his father disappears, and the Superman assignment forces him to face his only memory of ever reading a Superman comic—the day his grandmother died of a disease she may have passed on to him.
Work and life intersect as Steve uses the themes surrounding him as inspiration to try to get a grasp on why everyone else loves this character that is aggravatingly better than they'll ever be. Struggles with the ideas of death, solitude, and secrets lead him to contemplate their place in the Superman mythos, and propel him to create two to four page comics that are meditations on these subjects. These, and further questions of courage, alienation, justice, and power lead to a deeper analysis of the many facets of a deceptively simple character.
As he struggles to come to terms with a character he has no faith in, he finds himself discovering parallels between the Man of Steel and himself, and realizing the purpose of heroes and creating fiction. The themes in his life resonate within the Superman pages he creates, and shed light on them in a way that surprises even him.
The art is an integral part of any graphic novel, and Teddy Kristiansen's painted pages in It's A Bird... reflect not only the narrative, but the emotional atmosphere. Using a muted palette of browns and grays, Kristiansen imparts the bleakness of Steve's outlook. Brighter colors are only used in the short comics that Steve writes, further indicating the separation between Steve's life and his perception of Superman. It's only as Steve comes to some understanding and his outlook becomes brighter that those colors seep into his world.
Characters reach the status of an icon when they transcend the medium in which they originate to symbolize something deeper, when they're able to reflect the hopes and dreams and truth of the reader. It's A Bird... is a testament to the power of fiction, to the strength that heroes can give us, and a reminder that even as adults we can find meaning in childhood heroes.