‘Sup readers? Welcome back to Fan Fest’s On The Shelf, a weekly book review column in which I am continuously proven wrong. How so, you say? Well, in a previous post, I mentioned the books on the docket for review are “100% likely to be a fiction piece rather than non-fiction,” and hey, look at that, two weeks later, I’m reading and reviewing a semi-autobiographical graphic novel.
It’s a Bird… is written by Steven T. Seagle, with freaking amazing art by Teddy Kristiansen. Marketed as “one of the most realistic Superman tales ever — without featuring Superman,” I was originally drawn to this because it’s only 136 pages — I was pressed for time this week— and it’s a reprint from 2004. If it’s dragged its way from the relative obscurity of the early 2000s, it must be good.
So if you don’t know, It’s a Bird… follows a comic book author, Steven, who has landed the gig of all gigs: he’s been tapped to write Superman! Which would normally be cause for celebration, humble-bragging, or at the very least, a fist-pump. But Steven is diametrically opposed to anything to do with the Man of Steel, a character who, in Steve’s mind, is an unrealistic ideal of perfection that no one can relate to. At the same time as he’s commissioned to write Superman, Steven’s father has gone missing, and in his family— prone to keeping secrets like their silence is worth millions— that probably means it has something to do with the genetic bombshell looming over his head. Steven was a kid when he first learned about Huntington’s Disease, an incurable genetic disorder. It’s his family’s best-kept, worst-feared secret, and the day his grandmother died of it, he was reading a Superman comic with his older brother.
I am doing like, World’s Crappiest Disservice to this book right now, but technically it’s been out for over 10 years (with its original printing and all), so if you haven’t heard of it yet… there are a bunch of people who are far more eloquent than I am who will tell you why you need to read it. In case you’re still with me:
It’s A Bird… is not only a painfully honest look into the life of a man who makes superheroes come alive for readers, it’s a sharp, smart study into the question of whether or not the world still has a place for an ideal like Superman. The short answer? Yes.
This re-release is so relevantly-timed I have to wonder if it was strategized this way. With the entire world (especially the Western world) turned into a veritable circus act, and everyone screaming that their problems are more important than their neighbour’s, It’s a Bird… is the 136-page reality check that everybody needs right now. This little book is packed to the brim with the unchanging truths of the human condition, not all of them fortunate or Instagram-worthy. Sometimes you’re living a fairytale, complete with your very own “And they lived happily ever after…” but, as It’s a Bird… wryly points out, more often than not, that’s not how it happens. More often than not, life is ugly and depressing and (obviously) not for the faint of heart, and sometimes it can smack you down so hard, that when you choose to get back up again (because the only real choice is to get back up again), sometimes, in order to live, you have to hunker down and survive for awhile. It’s not fun or cute. You won’t get any “Likes,” for gritting your teeth and doing what has to be done and getting on with things that suck. But— and here’s the kicker!— at the end of all that drudgery, there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. An opportunity to do better, to be more, to learn from your bad times and get on with your good ones. And this is something that, while seemingly blatantly obvious, should probably be expounded upon as much as possible (re: people should be bludgeoned over the head with It’s a Bird… until this lesson sinks in). Life is a crapshoot, so live while you can. It’s not like anyone makes it out alive.
Now, I’m sure he’s heard this before, and far be it from me to point out the obvious, but Seagle’s choice to even write this book in the first place was brave as hell. In It’s A Bird… the main character is an unmitigated jackass (it’s justifiable, but still) who takes out his frustrations on everyone around him, from his girlfriend to charitable friends to strangers on a bus. In general, people try to put their best foot forward when their story is being told, particularly if they’re the ones narrating— Seagle did something that’s becoming increasingly rare. He told the truth.
A refreshingly experimental take on why the world needs Superman— and maybe why it always will— and what the iconic character means. Gorgeously painted and hauntingly real, It’s A Bird… has not only earned a premium spot on the shelf, it’s convinced me to try more nonfiction. If you’d like a copy, head down to your LCS, or grab it here.