Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books’ literary value

The first publication to print my work was the Ottawa Citizen as part of its “High School Confidential” section. Nine of my articles were published from 1993 to 1994. Two decades after writing this review of a Superman graphic novel, I took a course on writing comic books.

To most of us, comic books are a medium best left to youngsters.

Since their creation, comics have been very much maligned — both as children’s entertainment and as a form of literature. It is only recently that comics have proven to be popular to an “adult” audience — although loyal readers will tell you that this has been the case for quite some time.

Under a Yellow Sun was a prestige graphic novel published by DC ComicsAs recently reported by Michael D’Acosta here in the Citizen, “adult” is not meant in a lewd sense. It merely describes a mature readership that wishes to read thought-provoking and complex stories in a comic book format. Examples of these comics are such titles from DC’s Vertigo line as Sandman and Shade, The Changing Man, and independent titles such as Madman Comics.

Of course, the majority of comic books are still Action/Adventure Super-Hero books, but there are also a few that fall in between. Superman has been at the forefront of the action titles for years, but interestingly enough, the Man of Steel recently appeared in a story that wasn’t just an “action/beat-the-villain” story.

Entitled Under A Yellow Sun, this prestige graphic novel from DC Comics is presented under the guise of a novel by Clark Kent, reporter with the Daily Planet. Clark is desperately trying to finish his second novel, which his agent expects to be completed in a week. The story line of the novel concerns an ex-marine named David Guthrie, a man so desperate for work that he unknowingly takes a job working for a crooked businessman manipulating the politics of a small South American country.

While Clark struggles to resolve his protagonist’s situation in the novel, he also faces difficult decisions on other fronts. As Superman, he has been doing his best to stop street gangs from terrorizing Metropolis. These street gangs have been discovered to be using some very sophisticated weaponry which can be traced to Lexcorp. Superman confronts Lex Luthor, but of course, Luthor feigns ignorance.

Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books' literary value
“Under A Yellow Sun proves comic books’ literary value” was published in the Ottawa Citizen in the summer of 1994

As Clark becomes increasingly frustrated with both fiction and reality, he begins to question the values he was brought up with. What follows are the parallel stories of Guthrie and Superman as each tries to win their battles without sinking to the level of the enemy.

Under A Yellow Sun should not be dismissed as just another super-hero comic aimed at kids. The story and the morality play presented contain universal concepts and values that can reach many people at different levels. It is the type of story that you can let your children read and hope they learn from. At the same time, the story can be enjoyed by an adult audience, and it will no doubt give them food for thought.

Under A Yellow Sun is a tale of significance, and it demonstrates that comic books are not always a corrupting influence on young people’s minds, and are in fact a legitimate form of literature.

Written by John Francis Moore with art by Eduardo Barreto, Kerry Gammill and Dennis Janke, Under A Yellow Sun is available at comics specialty shops for $8 from DC Comics.

Gary Hilson is entering first-year journalism at Algonquin College.

X-Men film debut rivals Burton’s Batman

I stayed up late enough last night to catch Roger Ebert’s review of the new X-Men movie and it reminded me why I never listen to movie reviewers most of the time: they have no idea how to review a genre film.

It’s not that I begrudge Ebert’s right to give a thumbs down, but why is it that the X-Men only received a minute of discussion when most movies on the show receive a lot more? I’ll tell you why: because it’s a comic book movie and people like Ebert are just too erudite to review these kinds of movies. In Ebert’s case, senility must also be a factor. He found the movie hard to follow. Better count your brain cells, Roger. He also complained there was too much focus on character development. Usually these anal retentive reviewers are complaining that there’s not enough character development and too much action.

Right now you’re probably thinking that I’m a rabid X-Men fan who will stand by his favorite mutants no matter how bad the movie may be. Wrong. I’ve never read an X-Men comic. I was a DC fan when I was younger. Green Lantern. Legion of Superheroes. Hawkman. Not X-Men. But while Ebert says the uninitiated would have problems following the movie, I had no problem at all. The X-Men is probably the best comic book movie since the first Batman, and I would hazard to say even better. This isn’t a bunch of guys in costumes taking each other on and trading one line zingers. This movie actually has depth, much more than any other comic book movie that’s been made. Not only should it be lauded for the effort of making its characters three-dimensional, it should be lauded for succeeding, with some minor exceptions.

The story is primarily told from the eyes of a teenage girl named Marie (aka Rogue), played by Anna Paquin, and Logan (aka Wolverine), played by Hugh Jackman. Rogue discovers early in the movie that she will drain the lifeforce out of anyone she touches and heads north, where she runs into Logan. Logan has the ability to heal very quickly from any wounds and has also been implanted with an indestructible metal, providing him with razor sharp claws. They are just two of many mutants in the world who are feared by the general public. A US senator (Bruce Davison) is leading the push to pass a bill that would force mutants to register. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has hope that humanity will learn to accept mutants, but his old friend and now nemesis, Eric Lencher (aka Magneto), played by Ian McKellen, believes that the only recourse is to make sure mutants end up on top no matter what the cost. His mutants attack Wolverine and Rogue, but they are rescued by Xavier’s own X-Men, Storm (Halle Berry) and Cyclops (James Marsden).

Xavier runs a school for gifted youngsters, also a haven for mutants. He promises to help Wolverine unravel his past. The difference between mutants and superheroes is that mutants are persecuted, and in some cases a danger to themselves as well as others, whereas superheroes such as Superman were instantly idolized for their heroic abilities. The movie deals with this aspect in a thoughtful manner and the issue of racism, albeit on a simplistic level. Magneto as the villain is not just some guy who’s gone wacko like the villains in the Batman films. His motivations are very human. Unfortunately the mutants that have sided with him lack depth: the shape changing Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos), Toad (the Phantom Menace’s Ray Park) and Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) are all just two-dimensional baddies.

The X-Men is a very entertaining movie that’s well cast and well-plotted, balancing the character development and the action scenes. Don’t listen to the stuck up reviewers: they just don’t get it. And any die hard X-men fan I’ve spoken to has loved the movie and says it’s true to the original comic book legacy that inspired it. This X-Men virgin thinks it’s the best movie of the summer.

Gary Hilson is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for hire. He lives in Toronto.