Warning: Contains Spoilers
Can you imagine what it would be like if you had all the powers of Superman only to realize that you cannot save everyone?
In “A Measure of Hope,” the second story of “Superman: Red and Blue no.1,” (written by Brandon Easton and illustrated by Steve Lieber) Superman comes to grips with the realization that he can do better as a hero.
The Man of Steel arrives at the funeral of Jolene Norhtridge, the mother of a young man named Mel. Superman acknowledges that he understands if Mel is angry with him but Mel responds that he is not angry but is disappointed. Mel asked Superman how many letters he wrote to him and the hero responded with “63 letters.” He also responded that he recently started reading the letters and, by the time he read the first letter, Mel’s mother had already passed away.
Brandon Easton wrote a story that was melancholy, traumatizing and healing. In the comic, Easton used the letter as a narrative bridge to flashback into Mel’s childhood as the grieving man tells him of that day. As Mel recalls what happened, we see a young Mel on his way home from school due to a super-villain attack on Metropolis. Mel witnesses Superman fighting Kalibak, the son of Apokoliptain villain Darkseid. Superman also encounters young Mel and advises him to get home to safety.
Excited to tell his mother about seeing Superman, Mel arrives at his small apartment only to see that the kitchen door is closed. I felt that Easton used Mel and his mother’s habit of keeping the doors in their small apartment open to “give a false sense of spaciousness” set off the emotion of the story. Mel tells Superman that he wished that he never opened the door because when he did, he saw his mother taking heroin. The young man is saddened at the sight as his world starts to fall apart.It is here where Easton uses the letter to evoke guilt within Superman.
The heroin was also another element Easton uses to evoke the trauma that Mel witnessed. When older Mel asks Superman to imagine if that was his mother, Superman only answers “I…can’t imagine.”
In the scene in young Mel’s bedroom, we learn that Jolene his mother, turned to drugs due to the loss of her husband and getting laid off due to refusing her boss’ advances. She tells Mel to not follow in her path. The shaken Mel asks if his mother’s addiction was his fault and she assures him that it was not and that she will always love him regardless of her state of mind.
Jolene points to young Mel’s blanket, which has the House of El sigil (Superman symbol), and tells him that it means hope on Superman’s home planet, Krypton. When Mel asks his mother “what does she hope for,” she responded:
“A better tomorrow. That’s the only way to measure hope, by your capacity to believe that things can improve. Otherwise, there’s no point in getting up in the morning.”
After Mel tells Superman that Jolene’s body was found at a church after consuming heroin, the paramedics found a photograph of her and his younger-self. The photograph was used for the funeral program.
In the last scene, Superman and Mel both come to a realization. Superman admits that with all his powers, he cannot bring Mel’s mother back and Mel acknowledges that even though he loved his mother, she had made a lot of bad choices. Mel also admitted that a part of him wondered if his mother would have still made the same choices if Superman and his allies dealt with the drugs in the rough neighborhoods.
In the end, Mel understands that Superman is not a god but does inspire hope. Mel and Superman heal when Mel asks him to bury his mother in the starlight. Superman and Mel hug with the letter telling Superman that he had a wonderful life because his mother taught him the gift of hope by following Superman’s example. The Man of Steel takes Jolene’s ashes to the moon and places them in a Superman symbol encasing. The story ends with the hero promising her to do better.
The illustrations by Steve Leiber and the coloring by Ron Chan evoke the melancholy, trauma, and healing of the story with the use of the red and blue colors of Superman’s costume. The color blue was used in the more tranquil or sad panels. For example, we see the color blue in the funeral where Superman meets Mel. We also see the color blue used in the Fortress of Solitude where Superman is reading the 63 letters and at the moon where Superman places Jolene’s urn and promises her to do better. The color blue was also used to color both young Mel and Jolene as they talk about the latter’s heroin addiction.
The color red was used in the more intense panels. For instance, we see the color red used in the scene where young Mel witnesses Superman fighting Kalibak. We also see the color red used when young Mel arrives at his apartment and it becomes more intense when we see the panel of glass shattering all over Mel when he sees his mother using drugs.
“Superman: Red and Blue no.1” is available at your local comic book shop or where comic books are sold. You can listen to my commentary on “A Measure of Hope” on the Earth-16 Comics Wire Podcast.