Review: Superior

Superior
Superior by Mark Millar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superior is a bit of an excursion for Mark Millar, in that though it portrays the life of a superhero obsessed boy, rather like ‘Kick Ass’, it concentrates less on ghoulishly realistic fighting and more on the emotional side of things. Simon, our hero was a happy boy with a great future, and then MS struck him down and left him permanently crippled and blind in one eye. He longs to be able to move, jump, wiggle his toes again, and so when a magic monkey (yes, you read that right) offers him one wish, he chooses to become Superior, a golden age superhero who is all-powerful, invulnerable and all-round good. Then he goes on a rampage of good-doing. We meet Madeline Knox, a top news-anchor who will do anything to get herself the scoop of the century, anything including throwing herself into mortal danger and offering herself to Superior as bait. But then there is a sting in the tail, we discover that the magic monkey was thinking something along the lines of the Faust story, and so Simon has a terrible choice: be Superior and lose his soul, or return to being a boy with MS.

Now, the story is very well told and rather moving, and it’s nice to see (for once) Millar portraying a woman positively: Madeline may be prepared to prostitute herself for the sake of a scoop, but she is still, under her media tart exterior, a moral being. So, why only four stars? Well, as you may have gathered by now, this is essentially a homage to the Superman of the golden age: Simon is Clark Kent, Superior is Superman, Madeline is a sexed-up version of Lois Lane, and it’s fair to see the magic monkey as Mr. Mxyzptlk, the fifth dimensional imp. And this is where the problem lies: the resolution is just too easy. At one point Madeline tries to persuade Simon that disability is not a death sentence (which is true) by telling him that when she was a child she suffered life-threatening leukaemia, and was housed in a hospice. And yes, it speaks volumes for her determination that she got from there to where she is now, but then again, she did have the advantage of being beautiful and brilliant. It helps. And MS doesn’t just go away.

But there’s a worse problem. At the end, the magic monkey thinks he is about to triumph, but Madeline defeats him with one of those awful ‘gotcha’ paradoxes that were so popular in the golden age: ah, you may think you’ve won, but you see that means blah blah blah blah blah, so really you lose. After the set-up with the very moving material about Simon’s lot in life, this is just weak. He escapes on a technicality, not due to any nobility, goodness or whatever. And it could have been much more. Let’s see how. We could see Simon choosing to be Superior, even if it destroys him, as being akin to Christ sacrificing himself to save mankind. And yet Christ’s action led to his ascension into Heaven as a part of the Godhead, as well as saving everyone else. So Simon takes on himself the form of Superior and then sacrifices himself by giving his soul to the magic monkey. But such a profound sacrificial act is of such purity and goodness that no mere demon could stand against it, so in fact, by his oblation as Superior, Simon should transcend his agreement and yet retain his status as Superior. Oh yes, and then Madeline would clearly be the Magdalen: the whore who repents to become the greatest of the apostles (the fact that her trademark colour is red fits with this). I posit that this resolution could have fitted very easily into Millar’s framework and given it much greater power and impact, turning Simon from (to be frank) a bit of a whiner, into something literally superhuman.

Oh yes, and as an afterthought, Madeline looks stunningly sexy in the final pages, but unfortunately her dress is an impossibility. It’s a basic fact of strapless dresses: either they’re low at the front or low at the back, but you can’t have both at once. Not and have them not fall off, that is.

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