Despite DC’s New 52 wiping out most of DC’s established continuity, DC has continued to put out trade paperbacks collecting its now defunct storylines, with this particular collection feeling like it’s coming out way too late. In many ways this compilation, which originally ran in Superman #204-215, was a project meant to capitalize on the phenomenal critical and sales success of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush , which saw Jim Lee return to a monthly pencilling gig for the first time in years. Since DC was so successful with Hush, it made business sense to try and replicate that success with Jim Lee illustrating a different DC hero, this time tackling Superman. The fact that this storyline had Jim Lee illustrating Superman is the precise reason why this collection is finally coming out at all. Originally, the storyline was split into two collections, similar to what happened with Hush when it came time to package the storyline in a collected edition. But years later, it was finally collected in one volume, as opposed to two. That’s finally happening for Superman: For Tomorrow, but this time around it’s also timed to coincide with Jim Lee illustrating Superman for the New 52, in a new book that he’ll be launching with current superstar writer Scott Snyder. For the sakes of all involved, I hope it’ll be the success that For Tomorrow wanted to be, but never quite was.
When Jim Lee illustrated Batman: Hush, the storyline felt like a Hollywood summer blockbuster, with big action, intrigue, but not the deepest story to ground it. It was a popcorn flick on the four-colour page, and it was well received, despite its faults. However, Superman: For Tomorrow never received the same level of critical acclaim. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to go back and reread this collection, all in one go, I have to admit that the material has definitely aged better than I would have expected, and reads quite well in a more isolated, insulated form. The story is easier to follow, the characters more interesting and engaging, and the TPB format prevents the story from feeling rudderless, which is an easy feeling to have when reading certain comics month to month. There’s more action ideas present in Azzarello’s script than in Loeb’s Batman, and at times he fails to write to his artist’s strengths, and I think that’s where the main difference between the two projects lies. Jim Lee is a fantastic artist, but he’s not the greatest storyteller. His pin-ups are among the best in the business, but it’s sometimes the nuances in the artwork which seem to escape him. This was a very different story than Hush, and yet it was marketed in much the same way, even though the story was completely different. Superman must face his own limitations when an event known as the Vanishing occurs, and it leads him to desperation, as he just wants his wife back. Along the way, he’ll go up against the JLA, fight with Wonder Woman one-on-one, and take on a new incarnation of General Zod.
Although the Jim Lee artwork is certainly enjoyable, it lacks some of the polish that was evident in his work on Batman: Hush. By the end, I’m not truly sure that he ever quite “gets” Superman right, as opposed to how he perfectly captured the visual look of Batman right from the get-go.
Now that time has passed, I think that this storyline has definitely become a better read, not just because now it’s fully collected in an easy-to-read format. It was taking place at an odd time in the DC Universe, as storylines were ramping up to the Infinite Crisis, and yet there was Superman, telling its own particular story that didn’t feel like it really fit into the continuity inhabited by other Superman books in the line. Now that time has passed, and it feels like it’s truly being read on its own, and not as part of a greater universe, it stands apart and feels like a much more enjoyable read. The artwork by Jim Lee isn’t his best, but he has a strong script by Azzarello backing him up, even though his art isn’t the best match for it. It’s definitely worth a read though, and has some great “moments”, although it isn’t simply built upon an entire book’s worth of moments like Hush sometimes felt like. Recommended!