With John Cleese credited as co-writer of Superman: True Brit, you could be forgiven for expecting a comedy masterpiece, perhaps doing for Superman what Life of Brian did for Jesus. This is Cleese’s first credit on a comic and he’s jumped straight in at the deep end, contributing to this rewrite of the history of the Man of Steel, landing the baby Superman’s space craft in Weston-super-Mare instead of Smallville. Hilarity ensues. Or, at least, it should. But the life of Colin Clark is a mish-mash of weak Superman in-jokes and tired clichés about English conservatism.
After the inevitable alternative origin story, the writers turn on the British press, using Superman’s journalistic alter-ego as an ironic tool to comment on the tabloid newspaper industry’s habit of lifting celebrities to near god-like status for the sole purpose of tearing them down again. Superman’s dual identity as public figure and news reporter is an interesting dichotomy to be explored here, but it rapidly turns it into a bitter attack, pushing the caricatures too far and losing any sense of humour.
In fact, there’s barely more than a chuckle to be had in the book. The plot is weakly constructed around a concept that seems barely worth bothering with, since a British Superman probably isn’t all that much different to an American one. It’s this general lack of anything to say and a lot of pages to say it in that results in the inevitable descent into stiff upper lip and cricketing gags. Compared to an alternative-geography Superman like Mark Millar’s Soviet Red Son, this is just embarrassing.
With the artwork almost equally bland, True Brit is a patronising book that probably wouldn’t have made it past a publisher’s desk if it didn’t have Cleese’s name attached to it. And that is at least as big a travesty of our continued fascination with the cult of celebrity than the recent antics of the British press.
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