I like stories that challenge standard narrative formats and make the reader think. It’s A Bird… by writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Teddy Kristiansen is, arguably, one of the most innovative and interesting comics ever written. Yet, oddly enough, I’d never heard of it before I saw it on a library shelf and, on a whim, decided to check it out.
What I found within its pages was one of the most engrossing, compelling, and beautiful examples of graphic storytelling ever compiled.
It’s A Bird…is a semi-autobiographical tale that focuses on Seagle himself. As a child, Seagle first encountered a Superman comic book when he and his brother were confined to a hospital waiting room while his relatives checked in on his grandmother. Years later, Seagle learns that Huntington’s Disease runs in his family, and that this ailment was responsible for his grandmother’s passing.
In the present day, DC Comics calls Seagle and offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to write the Superman title. Surprisingly, Seagle declines, stating that he has no interest in, or connection to, the character. His editor, however, encourages Seagle to reconsider, and gives him a few days to get his thoughts in order. During that time, Seagle not only considers the multitude of assets surrounding Superman (costume, secret identity, powers, philosophy, etc.) but also the threat of Huntington’s Disease that looms like a specter over his family.
It’s A Bird…provokes a lot of thought in the reader, not only about the character of Superman and the comic book industry but also concerning the frailty of human life. Seagle struggles with the looming threat of Huntington’s Disease and he notes the contrast of comics and real life: “For a few years, I wrote some ‘mutant’ comics — trying to think of exciting new powers the heroes’ secret genetic structures might give them. I quit when I realized that some genes don’t give powers…they take powers away.”
Furthermore, It’s A Bird…focuses on the struggles of someone coming to grips with the character of Superman. It’s no great surprise that many, if not most, people have trouble relating to Superman, some of them turning this disconnect into outright vitriol. Seagle fights to try and find something within the Man of Steel that appeals to his unique perspective. This study is further complicated by the people in Seagle’s life, some of whom are completely enamored with the character, while others simply question his inability to widen his perspective.
Kristiansen provides unique visuals for It’s A Bird…, his painted style varying among scenes to give each one a special feeling that reflects the mood and themes explored. His panel layouts are a special treat: the scenes that focus on comic book stories take very rigid, standard panel layouts, while those in the real world contain less structured layouts that reflect the cacophony of real life. Kristiansen’s artwork expresses emotion excellently, and the reader is quickly able to connect with each scene and character. Acclaimed letterer Todd Klein provides superb work as well.
It’s A Bird…is, without a doubt, one of the best comics I’ve ever read. It’s a powerful, gripping story about the human condition, while also providing an argument for Superman’s value as a character. This is definitely a work you need to have in your personal collection.
-exceptional character work, plotting, and exploration of the human condition and the character of Superman
-beautiful, unique artwork
-subject matter may be difficult for some readers
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