Teenage superheroes have always had slight handicaps to overcome, usually commonplace ones like shyness around girls, general nervousness, lack of parental support, or poverty. Superior, a seven issue mini-series by Mark Millar, takes the time-honored formula a step further by giving its hero, a pre-teen named Simon Pooni, an incurable, debilitating, tragic handicap: multiple sclerosis.
As a care-giver for handicapped adults, I’ve had the privilege of working with a young man who had MS and I got to see first-hand how oppressive the disease can be. After years of walking with crutches, his conditions worsened to the point where he was then confined to a wheelchair, unable to perform many fairly basic tasks.
Simon Pooni has only experienced the onset of MS when the story begins. Sadly, he had been a promising basketball player before his disease came into play, and afterwards many of his friends had shied away from him, and, as if things couldn’t get worse, Simon becomes the target of bullies.
Simon experiences a pretty swift turnaround when a talking monkey in a space-suit appears and offers to fulfill any wish Simon may desire. As it so happens, Simon is a huge fan of Superior, a superhero movie franchise based closely on Superman. Next thing he knows, he is Superior, cape and cowl and all.
The origin story element will probably feel familiar to most fans of superhero books. Indeed, the premise is heavily indebted to both Shazam and Superman. What happens next in the story though I found to be much more refreshing. Simon, testing out his newfound powers, actually devotes himself to saving people!
One gripe I have with contemporary comics is that the heroes rarely save ordinary citizens. Instead, it seems like superheroes are constantly saving other heroes, and meanwhile cats remain in trees and cars careen into ditches. Simon as Superior immediately does what I wish Superman would do more of: trying his hardest to prevent any unnecessary loss of life, from car accidents to bigger events such as saving a space-station caught in a declining orbit.
As the story unfolds, the Faustian side to Simon’s wish is revealed, but since the graphic novel is so short (you can easily read Superior in one sitting), I’ll curtail any further summarizing, suffice it to say, there’s a climax that’s likely to please fans of mainstream superhero books.
Through it all, the humanity of the protagonist is always there, and that is ultimately Superior’s selling point. Simon remains an endearing character, and the reader will hopefully set the book down knowing more–and caring more–about the lives of people with multiple sclerosis.