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Trading Up: Superior

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The seven issues of Mark Millar’s ultimate super-hero wish-fulfilment story are collected in this new hardcover edition.

Simon Pooni was a 12-year-old who had it all; popular with his peers, a talented basketball player and destined for great things. And then multiple sclerosis struck, the friends drifted away and he found himself confined to a wheelchair “trapped within his own skin”. A release from this lonely existence comes from an unlikely source when Ormon, an apparently extraterrestrial “magic monkey”, grants him one wish and allows him to become his favourite super-hero for a week, the legendary Superior!

Simon’s effect as Superior on global issues is immense after he sets about de-arming conflict zones, averting natural disasters and contributing to humanitarian causes on an international level. Throughout this time he is helped in coming to terms with his new powers by his best friend Chris and simultaneously hounded by hard-bitten journalist Madeline Knox, who harbours her own deep secrets.

After seven days of Superior making a genuine difference in the world, Ormon returns with a sinister explanation and an ultimatum for Simon. Should he give up his life as Superior and return to his wheelchair-bound life? Or will the freedom his new identity has given him tempt him into making a truly terrible sacrifice?

If Kick-Ass was Millar’s take on what would happen if someone took on a super-heroic identity in our non-powered real world then Superior is his examination of the effect of super-powers in a similar “world outside your window” scenario. However, while there are similarities in concept between the two books the execution is markedly different. Where Kick-Ass embraced the loser stereotype so inherent in the self-aware geeky mentality of fandom, Superior is a true celebration of the wish-fulfilment fantasy so intrinsic to the genre’s success.

Deliberate parallels with Superman and, in particular, the true Captain Marvel abound here with Simon/Superior being an obvious homage to Billy Batson and his alter ego. Indeed the whole enterprise is something of a well-constructed pastiche with elements of Doctor Faustus and The Monkey’s Paw also being appropriated as significant plot points. Where Millar does succeed in bringing something new to the mix is in his honest and raw portrayal of Simon’s illness. Far too often in super-hero comics disability is portrayed as something to simply ramp up the melodrama rather than be examined for its own sake. That’s a narrative trap Millar ably avoids here.

                  

Leinil Yu’s art has a bold, big screen feel to it that is, perhaps, unsurprising in a project that was probably always developed with one eye on a future film adaptation. There’s a spirit of ‘90s visual dynamism to his work, but with a fine attention to detail and some evocative character sequences that are remarkably effective in persuading the audience to emotionally invest in the cast.

Yes, it’s largely comfort reading and, no, there’s not a huge amount here you haven’t seen in some form a number of times before but, quite frankly, who cares? Superior is the ultimate feelgood super-hero book. If you’re looking for pure, escapist, capes-and-costumes fun that you’re going to come away from feeling uplifted and a little bit inspired by then you can’t go far wrong here. It’s a reminder that we can deconstruct the genre all we want but, at their heart, super-hero comics are at their most effective when they’re a tribute to heroism, nobility and self-sacrifice. Superior has those qualities in bucketfuls.

Superior is available via Titan Books in the U.K. priced £19.99 and published by Marvel Comics in the U.S. priced $24.99.

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