Grace Randolph and Russell Dauterman’s “Supurbia” is a superhero story with almost no superhero action. It’s an unusual book in that it takes the soap operatic aspects of the private lives of supes and turns it into the focus while crime fighting takes a decided back seat.
In the current climate of reality television and “private lives” of celebrities being an oxymoron, this book works nicely as an examination of where we are as a culture. There’s so little focus on what jobs and functions people have these days — whether actors, athletes, politicians or any other job in the public eye — as the world instead has a laser focus on what they do and who they supposedly are behind closed doors. In that way, “Supurbia” is an excellent reflection of our current mindset, but I’m not sure it’s as successful as an engaging superhero story should be.
The action and crime fighting in this book are almost nil and for me, I think I would find the private lives aspect more interesting when contrasted with the public deeds and personas. There are bits of it, but in general it feels unbalanced with too much weight on private lives. In fairness, the focus of the book is on the superheroes’ significant others, not the superheroes themselves, but I still feel it would benefit from a little more balance.
That said, Randolph is completely at ease within this soap opera framework and she revels happily in its exploration. The strength of the book certainly lies in how deliciously fun it is to see her play with the private lives of superheroes we all know and love. Randolph has easily recognizable analogues for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Lois Lane, Robin and a few others at her disposal in “Supurbia” and she uses them well. It’s funny in an almost malevolent way to chuckle at them struggling with children, marriages, affairs, betrayals and everything else “real life” throws at a person — superhero or otherwise.
Dauterman is a great artist for the series as his work is expressive without feeling exploitative. It would be easy, given some of the subject matter, to fall into cliche, but instead we get work that feels emotional and appropriate. Sure it’s heavy on the cheesecake, but we get as much male cheesecake as female (if not more) and so it feels deliberate and funny, rather than random and offensive. Dauterman has a great handle on the characters and does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping them recognizable and yet different enough from the characters they are obviously based on for the gag to work.
There’s a decided audience for this book, and if you like your superheroes with plenty of soap and very little action, Randolph and Dauterman are delivering exactly that with a whole lot of enthusiasm.