The anthology series is back in favor at the Big Two, and this week Superman Red & Blue reaches its fourth issue. This week sees some of the biggest writers and artists in the business contributing stories like Mark Waid, Francis Manapul, Michael Conrad, Joe Quinones, Audrey Mok, Cully Hamner, and Alitha Martinez. Over the course of five tales, we get to know two of Superman’s greatest foes and witness a moment that confirms why Superman believes in people.
The first story is by Mark Waid and Audrey Mok with colors by Jordie Bellaire called “Namrepus”, and if the title isn’t a dead giveaway, it’s a story focused on Mister Mxyzptlk. This story is a fun visual throwback with color and line art from another era. Even the clothes of the characters feel anachronistic, even though it’s set in the Fifth Dimension. The creative team does a good job flipping the roles of Mxyzptlk and Superman as Superman is now tormenting Mxyzptlk in his own dimension. There’s also a nice reminder of what makes Superman so great by story’s end.
Next up is a “Prospect of Tomorrow” by Francis Manapul, which is one of the prettiest comics stories you’ll read this year. Manapul really leans into the limited color choice of the series with blue fields and skies making a dreamlike visage that is gorgeous and expressive. The story goes from Earth with cool light blues to another planet that is harsh and all red, which creates an interesting visual juxtaposition. There’s also a familiar-looking robot that’s a fun touch with a clever twist by the end.
Robert Venditti and Alitha Martinez feature “A Little Is A Lot” with colors by Emilio Lopez. This story reveals a moment between Clark and his dad when he was a teenager that he never forgot. The art is warm and welcoming in the flashbacks, which is met with a harsher future of tall and rigid cityscapes. There’s an interesting visual style change that sets up the harsh realities of being a hero later on with the peaceful moments of youth and the importance of good parenting going a long way.
“For the Man Who Has Nothing” is by Michael W. Conrad and Cully Hamner with letters by Pat Brosseau. This tale is poetic on some scale, revealing a happy moment for Bizarro that’s used against him. The narrator is understanding and it helps explain the troubled thoughts and the emotional state of Bizarro in the story. There’s a beautiful message here by Conrad that makes the tale feel important and wholesome. The art by Hamner helps elevate the message by making Bizarro a bit more twisted and monstrous and by extension empowers the words to make him more empathetic and relatable. If it were up to me, this short would be up for an Eisner.
Last but not least is “#Saved by Superman” by Rich Douek and Joe Quinones which is fresh, clean, and modern. The story focuses on a social media influencer who almost accidentally kills himself, but is saved by Superman. This sets off a trend, not unlike planking, but it involves getting Superman to save your life. It’s an incredibly clever idea that is beautifully rendered by Quinones.
Dave Sharpe letters most of the stories above and it’s exceptional work. “#Saved by Superman” plays around with emphasis very well, while “Prospect of Tomorrow” uses different caption boxes and word balloons to create a different feel. It’s quite something to see how a letterer can change the style, font, and emphasis from story to story, which only adds to the enjoyment of this book if you’re a purveyor of comics.
Superman Red & Blue #4 is one of the strongest in the series yet. My only gripe is that not every story is about Superman, which somewhat strays from the series in some respect, but the main purpose is to reveal the core of these characters using limited colors. Even more so, every story here inspires in some new or thoughtful way making you fall in love with Superman all over again.
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