Opinion on the recent Azzarello/Lee run on Superman seems to be near-universal: the art, by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, is a great example of super-hero art at its finest, while the story, by Brian Azzarello, is, too be charitable, incomprehensible.
As a longtime Superman fan, I was initially excited about the prospect of Azzarello & Lee working on Superman. The art was sure to be fantastic, and given Azzarello's previous track record, we were assured of getting a story that would be the equal of the art.
Then the first issue came out. As expected it looked gorgeous, but the story was, well, confusing. Like many, I assumed that the plot would come together and start make sense. Unfortunately we're now five issues in--the entirety of the first hardcover collection--and it still doesn't make any sense.
It is, in a word, bad.
Which is surprising, because Azzarello is a good writer. We've seen him do plenty of good work in 100 Bullets, Hellblazer, even Batman. Even if his past work wasn't your cup of tea, you would at least have to admit that he knows how to construct a story. Even were Azzarello to phone his Superman in, it would have to make more sense than this.
So why is the writing on Superman so bad? Unfortunately, I can only come to one conclusion: Azzarello is writing Superman this bad on purpose.
Having come to this sorry conclusion, the next question must be why? Why go to the effort of writing a purposely bad story when less effort would have produced something at least middling?
Part of the reasoning must have been that, with Lee on the art, it was going to sell no matter the quality of the writing. Put in enough pictures of Superman and other super-heroes pounding away at super-villains (and each other) and the fanboys would eat it up. Heck, probably half of them wouldn't even bother to read it.*
but there's another explaination. If I recall correctly, Azzarello's initial pitch for Superman was rejected by the powers-at-DC. I don't recall Azzarello's exact comments, but it was something along the lines of: 'They hired me--they know the kinds of things that I write--what did they think they were going to get?' It may be that having been rejected, Azzarello has decided to go for the lowest denominator--'They don't want my best work? Fine, I'll give them my worst.'
Or there may be another reason that I can't even begin to guess. I'm just idly speculating here. But the fact remains that this is sub-par writing from anyone, especially a talent like Azzarello. Which is a shame, because this could have been a great Superman comic. Instead, it's just a great looking Superman comic, which is less than we deserve.
* Yes, I will continue to buy Superman myself. I have an uninterrupted run of Superman going back over 20 years, and it'll take more than a few bad stories to get me to quit. Plus, the art is sure purty.