Power and Masculinity:

On Be a Man and Supreme Power

Be a Man
Top Shelf Productions – Jeffrey Brown (w/a)Last year, Jeffrey Brown released Clumsy, his debut graphic novel (or rather, I think it’s his debut) through Top Shelf. It was an enjoyable read, in that Brown was painfully open in regards to the relationship portrayed therein. His book, told through a series of out-of-sequence slice-of-life vignettes, depicted the entire life of one ill-fated relationship. And Brown pulled no punches when it came to showing how terribly lovesick the whole affair had made him. After all, the fairer sex makes a pathetic bastard out of the best of us at one time or another.

However, I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t, at least once, while reading Clumsy, thought to myself, “Man, suck it up. Stop being such a pussy.”

Apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking that and word seems to have gotten back to Brown (though I’m relatively certain that he was well-aware of how periodically pitiful he came off as; I think that’s part of the point, after all). Be a Man, his latest release, is to Clumsy what a special feature is to a DVD. It’s a short, supplemental release, albeit one with a very specific (and very comedic) goal:

To cast Brown in an entirely more “manly” light. And Be a Man succeeds at that, although in a parodying way.

Be a Man is quite a bit of fun, with Brown’s overly masculine thought processes generally ranging from the amusingly absurd (such as him spinning his girlfriend over his head) to the embarrassingly accurate (case in point: doing things you don’t want to do in the hopes of getting sex in return) and periodically venturing into territory that no one would admit to, but some have undoubtedly gone (“Here, you can wipe yourself off with this sock”).

All the same, it’s not without it’s problems. Brown still isn’t much of an artist (though now that’s actually part of the joke, so he gets points there) and, frankly, there’s little reason to pick this up if you haven’t already read Clumsy. Doing so would probably be mildly amusing (in a “Ha, men are stupid sometimes, aren’t they?” sort of way), but really, Be a Man is just one extended in-joke for previous readers.

If you’re already familiar with Brown’s work (like I am and you really should be, if you aren’t already), Be a Man is a thoroughly amusing diversion. It’s utterly insubstantial, in the final analysis, but that seems to almost be the point. So if you liked Clumsy, it’s definitely worth dropping the three bucks Top Shelf is asking. It is a short read, but frankly, it took me longer to read Be a Man than it does for me to read a Bendis issue of Daredevil and they’re the same price (for the record, I’m paying a dollar a minute on average for Bendis’ DD; damn you, decompressed storytelling).

I’d give it a higher rating if it weren’t so irrevocably self-referential.


Supreme Power #9
Marvel Comics/MAX – J. Michael Straczynski (w); Gary Frank (p); Jon Sibal (i)

I read the first few issues of Supreme Power as they were released and, basically, I enjoyed them. However, shortly after the book got rolling, I went through a period of contraction in my buy list and, frankly, the book’s story looked so utterly decompressed that cutting it was just a no-brainer. “I’ll just read the trades,” I said to myself.

And I stuck to that.

A couple weeks ago, Marvel released the first Supreme Power trade. As planned, I sat down one day at work, on an afternoon when business was slower than usual, and read it cover to cover. Then I got antsy. I wanted to see what happened next. Turns out we still had copies of the seventh and eighth issues in stock, so I read those too. Then the ninth issue came out on Wednesday.

And I’ll be damned if I’m not hooked again, because Supreme Power is simply an outstanding read.

In this issue, the U.S. government (and, as a result, the world) feels the effects of Hyperion’s slow awakening to the truth of his existence. Namely, that he is not of our world, has never been and will never be a “normal” human, and that his entire life has been an artfully constructed forgery, created by the United States to keep control of the single most dangerous weapon on the planet. And Hyperion is (understandably) not happy about it. Having handily disposed of Doctor Spectrum in the previous issue, Hyperion moves deliberately forward to a secluded military base where his handlers cower underground, dreading his impending arrival and imminent wrath.

Supreme Power, it seems, is nearly the lone example in comics today of how to properly utilize the so-called “decompressed” style of storytelling. JMS is certainly taking his sweet time moving the plot forward, but it makes a lot of sense in this case. Supreme Power is an entirely self-contained universe, one experiencing the dawn of the era of the superhuman (similar to Straczynski’s own absent Rising Stars… hmm…) and, frankly, it’s a story that deserves to be told fully. Look at it this way: Straczynski only gets one opportunity to tell the origins of these characters and I’d much rather he take as much time as necessary to really flesh them out and make them more than just a dime store Justice League.

Gary Frank’s pencils here, as always, are gorgeous. His characters’ facial expressions are flat-out jaw-dropping (no pun intended) and I can’t get over how easily he makes the transition from talking heads to superhero fight scenes and widescreen carnage. If I were a more articulate man, I’d put into words how incredible this issue (and the series as a whole) looks, but I’m afraid my vocabulary fails me. It’s probably just as well, as Frank’s (and inker Jon Sibal’s) work has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

The long-time DC fan in me is still a little irritated at the thought of Marvel unabashedly aping the competition’s most famous characters. I mean, wouldn’t Marvel be irritated if DC just lifted the Fantastic Four (oh wait, they had them first: they were called the Challengers of the Unknown) or the X-Men (oh wait, them too: the Doom Patrol)? And, as a fan of shorter stories (in general), I’m still a tad put off by the relatively slow pacing.

But I’m learning to overlook both of these things, because Supreme Power is arguably the best thing going at Marvel these days, particularly in light of the departure of Grant Morrison from New X-Men (not that “Here Comes Tomorrow” was anything to sing about). It’s mature without being gratuitous, deliberately paced without feeling padded and unashamed to have superheroes actually use their powers once in a while.

It’s ironic, really. Initially the MAX line seemed to be just a place where you could show more sex and say the f-word. But right now it’s producing the only two Marvel books that I’ll read monthly: Punisher and Supreme Power.


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