Sunday , May 26 2024
Python biographer Kim Johnson & Pythonite John Cleese's veddy English take on the Superman myth. . . .

Superman: True Brit

The core conceit in Superman: True Brit (DC), the new “Elseworlds” graphic novel written by Monty Python fanatic Kim “Howard” Johnson “with some help by John Cleese” (good luck figuring out where the Pythoner’s contributions actually begin), is one that Cleese raised in his script for A Fish Called Wanda: that of the bourgeois British male, hamstrung by his habitual, deeply bred concern with avoiding undue attention to himself. In the alternate universe of Brit, the strange visitor from another planet lands in Weston-Super-Mare, is discovered by a pair of rabbit-toothed farmers, and raised to act as if his extraordinary powers were an embarrassing birth defect to be kept hidden from public eye. “WWTNT: What Would the Neighbors Think?” is the mantra young Colin Clark is given by his adoptive Earth mother. (“The words all of England lives by,” she notes, as Colin is about to leave for college.) It’s an amusing idea – that of placing this most garishly costumed icon in a world where such displays just aren’t done – but despite its much-flogged connection to the Flying Circus, Brit rarely rises above being mildly amusing.
Johnson (withsomehelpby Cleese) strives mightily to make it work – tossing in refs to classic Python routines like Bicyclerepairman and throwing in shout-outs to old pals like Michael Palin – but once they’ve established their central premise, there’s little left to surprise us. After landing a job at one of London’s sleazy tabloids, our dunderheaded hero Colin ultimately dons the cape and spandex. (“This is my pledge: to be helpful, courteous and nice!” he declares to himself.) There, we get a lot of predictable digs at tabloid journalism that were old when J. Jonah Jameson was first seen tromping the halls of The Daily Bugle. Turning the “Elseworlds” version of Lois Lane into an amoral Page Three girl is a nicely snarky touch worthy of Kurtzman-&-Wood’s Mad comics “Superduperman” Bitch Lois, but then Johnson softens the satire by introducing the “real Lois” as a cousin from America. Apparently, there’s only so much you can do in the corporately overseen “Elseworlds.”
The graphic novel is rendered by John Byrne (who I remember first established himself as a Python fanatic back in the days when Heidi MacDonald was writing for Amazing Heroes) & Mark Farmer – and, aside from visualizing Ma & Pa Clark as comically stunted rural types – their take is much more flatly literal-minded than I’d hoped it’d be. Perhaps the book would be funnier in the hands of an artist more willing to be more visually silly, the kind of artist who’d make farmboy Colin a more absurdly musclebound oaf, a comic book version of a Terry Gilliam character. But Byrne appears to’ve grown so accustomed to his own established style that he’s unable to make this goofier material fly. Perhaps the best instance of this failing to work is his inability to pull off one of the book’s better running gags: when Colin’s adoptive parents, shamed by his public displays of superhero-ness, keep moving without telling their son. They’re always found out by their clueless son every time, of course, but Byrne can’t do much with this the squirmy joke. Perhaps, as a True Brit himself, he didn’t want to make his audience feel too uncomfortable?

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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