Review by Karl Verhoven
Superman doesn’t really do small any more. He’s so powerful that he needs foes of a certain calibre to show him at his best. Contrivances of the past notwithstanding, the Joker, Captain Cold and the Cheetah aren’t much of a threat when Superman’s around. However, as is often emphasised, it’s his humanity that makes Superman who he is, and the moral core of Up in the Sky concerns the abduction of a single young girl preying on his mind. It seems she’s been transported somewhere by a zeta beam from space, which is long established as difficult to track, but haunted by the fact of his being Alice’s favourite superhero, Superman determines to bring her back to Earth.
Up in the Sky is Tom King’s mythical Superman, mixing story archetypes of the quest, the labours, the tempting by the devil and the rite of passage, while at the same time exploring what Superman is and what he means to people. You may think that’s been done before, yet King offers new twists, one an alien healer absorbing some of Superman’s memories while treating him and realising what he is. There’s an emotional immensity to this and other sequences as Superman is pushed well beyond his limits during a single-minded journey, both literal and allegorical.
Just as it might be imagined that there’s not much new to say about Superman, it may also be assumed that Andy Kubert has drawn Superman so many times it’s rolling off a log for him. It’s certainly true, but Kubert takes on his own challenge and delivers multiple versions of Superman from the heroic archetype to the mundane among the exotic. At times you can look at a specific panel and not see Kubert’s style at all. There are elements of his father, and isn’t there some Barry Windsor-Smith in the alien on the sample art? The splash pages are each spectacularly good, the story of Superman racing the Flash told by nothing else.
The race is narrated by the missing child, and representative of the way King varies the style through the chapters. One is titled ‘The Thousand Deaths of Lois Lane’, Superman trapped in that modern day scourge of the administration queue imagining what might be happening back on Earth without him there. “I signalled him Ms Lane”, says a chirpy Jimmy Olsen. “Don’t worry, he’ll be here” are his last words before we see a plane crash. Another section is an argument between the rational and hope, and King includes plenty of friends, allies and enemies among new situations of his own devising. There’s never any doubt as to the outcome, and one of the highlights of a generally very good Superman story is Alice’s eventual long conversations with Superman.
A constant applies, which is that Superman survives. No matter the odds or the intimidating threat, he survives. Just because he’s not often tested on Earth doesn’t mean we should assume there’s anyone out there who can beat him. That’s the comfort we want from Superman, and this is a heartening reaffirmation of it.