After a couple of issues focusing tightly on Mon-El, Superman #690 (pencilled in a workman-like fashion by Pere Perez) did not feature the Daxamite at all, instead spending the issue quickly catching up on all the smaller plot lines that have been started in the book.
My main problem with this title has been the multitude of characters and plots that have been here. James Robinson must recognize that this might make it tough for readers to get attached or drawn to the title. It feels almost like there is too much trying to happen in this book so it feels like a random collection of scenes. Robinson even mentioned the 'fragmented pieces' of the book at the Superman panel in San Diego.
This issue was really a microcosm of that complaint. We see a number of quick scenes, glimpses into what is happening with the supporting characters of the book. What's worse is that many of the scenes end with a plug for another title or book ... the next place to follow that particular storyline.
As a result this issue felt more like one of those 50 cent preview issues like DC Universe #0, an issue that lets readers get a taste of upcoming storylines in other titles to entice them to read more. Superman shouldn't have that feel.
Last issue ended with Atlas towering over an unarmed John Henry in his Iron Works factory.
Somehow at the beginning of this issue Henry has time to call upon his armor and gets dressed for battle.
I did like how Atlas belittles Steel's intelligence. Psychological warfare helps weaken an opponent. Atlas is striking on all fronts. After all, how could Henry be stupid enough to let this near stranger come into his home?
Last issue, Steel also talked about the defensive capabilities of his factory.
There was a good 2 page spread like above where the nanotech-charged factory seems to come to life to engulf Atlas. I thought this was visually engaging to see more and more of Atlas disappear in each panel.
Unfortunately, metal alone isn't going to beat Atlas who nearly defeated Superman one on one.
Without much muss or fuss, Atlas overwhelms Steel. Atlas then contacts General Lane letting the General know that he has finished his mission.
Next we get into a Science Police meeting where The Guardian names his 2 team leaders: Officers Wilcox and Romundi.
He also states that he will need 2 squad members to become 'plain clothes' Science Police officers. Jon Kent has already volunteered (probably easier to sneak away and switch to Mon-El that way). The Guardian then tells Jamie Harper she will be the other. Jamie doesn't seem to happy. We are told more of that story will be told in the Secret Files book.
We switch to a Metropolis theater where Zatara is talking with a stage hand named Geoffrey. Geoffrey was hoping to learn some magic from Zatara. Since Geoffrey has not learned much, he gives his notice and seems to vanish.
Zatara's date shows up but quickly morphs into a hungry Parasite. Luckily, Geoffrey stuck around and opens up a stage trapdoor. Amazingly, that seems to be enough to stop the Parasite. He isn't seen the rest of the scene. Also amazingly, the two men are calm enough that they stopped the Parasite that they have a conversation rather than running away or confronting the villain.
I don't think the Parasite typically has shape-changing powers despite his 'silly putty' appearance. Seems like something of a editorial gaffe if he doesn't have those powers.
In a move that frustrated more than interested me, Geoffrey reveals himself as Mark Merlin. Merlin was a character in the old House of Secrets book, working with a sorceror named Prince Ra-Man. I only know this from an old issue of DC Comics Presents which had a 'Whatever Happened To....' story about the characters.
But does this title need another set of characters and another storyline?
We switch scenes to Dr. Light and The Guardian in civilian clothes at a park while their daughters have a play date. I didn't know that Dr. Light had a child!
There seems to be romance in the air between the two heroes. Yet another new plot line!
We are reminded we can follow this love story in Superman and Justice League of America.
The last scene was the most intriguing for me.
Tellus confronts Ion telling him he should not seek out Mon-El now. That a premature meeting will lead to disaster.
Ion, vaguely espousing some of Daxam's xenophobia, agrees to leave Mon-El alone if Tellus will deliver some mysterious crystals to him. That story is continued in Superman Annual #14.
Each scene seems interesting enough.
This issue had a very disjointed feel to it as we zip from scene to scene.
One of the problems I have when so many plots are being juggled around is that I tend to deconstruct the book from a plot progression viewpoint as well as page and panel allotment. I should just be enjoying the book and thinking about the plots and characters.
After this book, I thought the following:
1) Did I need 12 pages of Atlas/Steel fight? Could some of those pages been better utilized showcasing other plots?
2) Did I need a 2 page scene to hear that Jamie was named a plain clothes officer?
3) Did I need 5 pages devoted to a new Zatara plot line involving little known characters?
4) Did I need 2 pages adding a new romance plot for the Guardian?
5) Wow ... no Mon-El. Wow.
It isn't a good thing when I am thinking all those things analytically instead of simply saying 'what a great story'. So while the 12 pages of Steel/Atlas were very good, I perseverated more on the page count than the action. I just haven't been pulled into many of the current threads enough to think that they warrant page space. I also don't have a sense of an over-arching story that all the plot threads will be woven into. Maybe they are all leading up to something spectacular. I can only hope.
As a result, Superman lags behind the other super-titles.
Overall grade: C-