Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Superman 80-Page Giant 2011

The Superman 80-Page Giant 2011 issue came out last week and, much like last year's 80-pager, was an unexpected treat to read. Touted as including 'seven fresh stories' by the 'industry's most promising talent' on the official DC solicit, it didn't fail to please.

Unlike last year's version which featured almost exclusively Superman stories, this issue read more like an old issue of Superman Family, looking at all the other super-characters. In some ways I thought it was ironic given that Superman hasn't headlined in Action in over 2 years and currently is only starring in 'Grounded' and heck, that isn't even really Superman in my mind. So why should this book be any different?

And like last year's version, there are some creators here who are much more established in the medium than I would expect to find in a Showcase-esque book like this. I wonder how long some of these stories have been finished, waiting for enough to be accrued to make an 80-Page Giant.

The more I look at the Dustin Nguyen cover, the more I like it. It is a very nice medley of the Superman mythos.

Superman 80-Page Giant 2011 includes a solo Supergirl story which I will review for the bulk of this post. But I will touch on the other stories as well.

'The Bloodsucker Moxie' was written by Joe Caramagna, with pencils by Trevor McCarthy, and inks from Andre Szymanowicz. I haven't heard of any of these creators so this really felt like an 'up and coming talent' sort of story. Nice punny title, playing on the 'Hudsucker Proxy' Coen brothers movie title.

The story takes place at a carnival where Linda Lang is meeting a young man for a date. There were some nice flourishes as we open the story such as Supergirl having a hard time with texting and also her desire to find a funnel cake stand. I love funnel cakes!

One of the running themes in the story is how uncomfortable Supergirl is with some of the customs on Earth. Things like fumbling with typing while texting is a universal woe. But asking if going into the freak show at a carnival is an 'Earth ritual' sounded a bit off for someone who has been on Earth for so long.

So was her being so easily swept into the freak show by a boy named Troy (not who she was going to meet). After her dealings with Power Boy, I doubt she would let herself be led anywhere.

Still, I suppose it could happen if you aren't even aware that it is happening.

Inside the Freak Tent, Troy and Kara look at a shelves of unknown oddities. The green jar on the second shelf holds a Fordovian bloodsucker, something Supergirl recognizes.

Again, the 'This is your ritual?' sounded a bit flat. Supergirl has been on Earth for years; this made it seem like she just landed.

Anyone else recognize the outfit Linda is wearing?

Looks like McCarthy used this publicity picture of Laura Vandervoort when she was first announced as Supergirl on Smallville as a reference.

I liked McCarthy's art in this story a lot. It really seemed fresh and slick.

In the Freak Tent, Linda's date Brendan shows up, saving her from the boorish Troy. I like how he used the 'she's crazy' excuse to pry her away. Reminded me of when Aladdin does it to save Jasmine from having her hand cut off.

I also like the art of Brendan here; it is quirky enough to remind me of early Chris Bachalo, his Shade the Changing Man stuff. That's high praise.

Linda's expression on the top panel also reminds me of Bachalo.

When Brendan calls himself Linda's boyfriend, Linda is shocked. She's confused. And she's happy. She seems to like him.

Since Linda has never really dated, this sort of confusion about relationships didn't bother me as much as the other 'Earth custom' talk. I think all teenagers are confused about love initially. So this dialogue felt very natural.

But before the obvious imminent kiss can happen, someone screams.

Turns out Troy has released the Fordavian Bloodsucker, a sort of space octopus which is killing humans (including poor misguided Troy) but finds Kryptonian blood irresistable.

Linda ditches Brendan in the Freak Tent and battles the monster, eventually frying it with her heat vision. The battle sequences are drawn well with a nice dynamic feel. No bike shorts here though.

The story ends on a bit of a downer and again seems just a tiny smidge off. Brendan doesn't want to be with Linda if she disappears like she did without explanation. He ends it before it even began.

Supergirl calls herself a stranger to the planet, a freak. Sounds more like Supergirl around #34, not the one who got to where she was emotionally in #59. Of course, most people will still say that the thing that makes Supergirl appealing is her emotional vulnerability despite her physical invulnerability. If this is someone's first Supergirl story, I bet it was a very touching ending.

For me, it reminded me of a Silver Age story that I can't 100% place, one where Linda ditched Dick Malverne in the hall of mirrors at a carnival so she can save the day only to have Dick react much like Brendan.

Overall, I still think it was a good Supergirl story. The art was very nice.

The rest of the issues stories are of similar quality or better.

Jor-El stars in 'First Time for Everything' by writer Beau Tidwell and art by Cafu. Now Cafu is pretty established at DC, having drawn pieces of the New Krypton storyline and working on THUNDER Agents. I haven't heard of Tidwell.

The story has Jor-El defying the Science Council to get proof that the planet's core is unstable. I have read prior incarnations of Jor-El acting like an action hero so this felt right. I will say that his rigging an elevator to become a rocket did stretch my suspension of disbelief. It felt a bit too 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.'

I did love the ending though. Analyzing the Kryptonite he has obtained, Jor-El realizes that he is right and the planet is doomed. He was hoping he was wrong. The last panel with him slumped in his chair looking defeated is fantastic.

'Quarter-Life Crisis' is a rather existential story starring Jimmy Olsen, written by Abhay Khosla with very nice art by Andy McDonald. It was my favorite story of the book. The story starts with a great panel invoking some of the more painful Superman covers from the 60s and 70s, those covers where Superman isn't helping people and instead laughing at them. As Jimmy crumples before him dying, Superman stands over him, arms folded, saying 'Everyone dies! Especially you Jimmy Olsen!'

It turns out that a mad scientist has cloned 100 Jimmy's, each of whom has a day or so to live. Superman and Jimmy begin tracking down the Olsen corpses, seeing what they have accomplished. I loved these two panels, which hearken back to wacky Olsen stories of the Silver Age. I mean, handcuffed to a demon hand with a treasure map in your back pocket! That's a busy day. I love the dead-pan Superman reply. 'Not too shabby.'

In the end, Jimmy wonders why he needs to get into these adventures. What is he looking for in life? What would make him happy? It turns out the Jimmy tagging along with Superman is also a clone. He looks upon the real Jimmy who arrives as the clone is dying and tells him 'no more excuses'. It's time to live.

Deep stuff at the center, but Olsen absurdity at the periphery ... this story just worked.

Lois Lane stars in 'Credit Check' written by relative comics veterans Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, with art by recent 'Grounded' interlude artist Amilcar Pinna. I like Pinna's art much better here, showcasing both Lois and Lana without veering towards aping Ed Benes as he did in that Superman issue. Funny that that issue also starred Lois.

This issue shows just how good a reporter Lois is as she works her investigative magic to discover that 'Kasten Broadway' is a fake name, an invented person. Moreover, 'Kasten' is actually the son of an Intergang boss who wants to leave the family business to be an actor (the pseudonym now makes more sense).

For me the highlight of this story was the conversations between Superman and Lois on the phone as she continually tells him that she is fine and doesn't need help. And he keeps wondering how she gets herself into the trouble she does. It read like a happy couple who know each other very well and love each other unconditionally.

'Bad Moon Rising' was  written by Aubrey Sitterson with art by very established team of  Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer. In it, Superboy gets a bit fed up with being in Smallville, feeling trapped by the banality. Luckily, as he storms around the town, he runs into a werewolf who is munching on some cattle.

The two battle only to take a breather and realize that they have more in common than they thought. The werewolf was merely letting off some steam just as Superboy was trying to do. Creighton (the wolfman) promises to stop eating live cows; the two decide to grab a burger together. I suppose a kindred spirit being in the town will help Superboy's outlook on life.

I love Barrows' art. The fight sequence is stunning. For the long time Superboy reader, this might feel off since he seems so comfortable in Smallville in both Adventure and his own title. Again, for the first time reader, this probably answers the question 'why would he stay in Smallville' more succinctly.

My second favorite story in the issue was 'No Go Away Glad, Just Go Away', a Bizarro story written by Steve Horton with art by Dan McDaid. It is a great Bizarro story because he wants to sit still and be left alone, the exact opposite of 'Grounded' where Superman is constantly moving and wanting to interact with people. In the end, all of Bizarro world tries to get his attention and interact with him. Finally, Bizarro warms up to the reception and does what seems natural to him ... he leaves the planet. Funny!

My favorite moment in this story was the arrival of BizarroGirl. She has freed herself from her cave and wants to hang out with her cousin. When he tells her to take off, she delivers a super-low blow. Her curt 'hello forever' retort was perfect ... umm, imperfect? I am glad to see BizarroGirl again and hope she sticks around as a part of the DCU.

The art is appropriately rough and works here.

'Old Men Talking In Bars' by writer Neil Kleid and artist Dean Haspiel has Perry White and Wildcat trading stories about how much they love but are also frustrated by their sons. It includes a nice flashback story of Perry's first story which involved Wildcat.

It's an okay story but it just didn't grab me the way the other stories did. Part of it may be that Haspiel's art just doesn't work for me.

I always have low expectations for books like this figuring they most likely represent a hodge-podge of talent cobbled together. But the last two Superman 80-Page Giants both were top notch.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Wasn't it a wonderful book! That Supergirl story ending reminded me of nothing so much as this sort of thing, the cover of Supergirl #3 from the early Seventies:

I liked the art, though a few of the Brendan faces seemed out of keeping with other work here. Looking at pics of the writer, Joe Caramagna, I'm wondering if artist Trevor McCarthy was trying to get a sense of him in there - probably not!

The Jimmy tale was my favourite too - and the twist, so sad. I didn't guess until I was about a page away ... I like it when a story lets the reader feel vaguely smart!

Unknown said...

yep, the Supergirl story was nice despite the obvious error of the 'Earth ritual', guess that's another editor not having notes on where the character stands in her own title.

No biker shorts.. better that way.

Anonymous said...

"No biker shorts... better that way"
Agreed. Hope they go away for good.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the shot "BizarroGirl" took to Bizarro #1's "magic parts"...That was magic.
Otherwise I am a contrarian on Trevor McCarthy's Supergirl artwork...Kara didn't sound right with all her self conscious "I am an alien" here monologuing....and she didn't look right with a decidedly Powergirlish frontage. And the "monkey take" when Brandon makes his play was silly and gratuitous.
Overall I give the story a C, but with a good shout out for the strong Karatharsis from the battle with the beastie...that much was golden.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

"No biker shorts... better that way"
Agreed. Hope they go away for good.

DIDn't write that, you did, try not to be a @ss.

Jason said...

OK...I totally dig the homage to Laura Vandervoort's Smallville promo outfit. I thought that was cute.

collectededitions said...

Color me curious -- who's Perry White's son in the Wildcat story? Pre-Infinite Crisis, at least, Perry's son Jerry died at the hands of Blaze, and we haven't seen his adopted son Keith in I don't even know how long; maybe since Lois and Clark got married.

Gear said...

Loved the many Jimmies! Wonder if that 100 is represented in the Hall of A Thousand Jimmies? Jimmy Olson is getting all of the fun stories these days.

Bizarro Supergirl is growing on me, and that's saying something since I'm not a Bizarro fan. "Me just float her for awhile..." Hee hee.

One thing that I had trouble with the original Silver Age Kara was how easily she adapted to Earth culture, so I'm glad to see references to culture shock. But yes, the "Earth ritual" comment was a bit much, particularly since she says it out loud. But she was told it was a ritual, I guess I can accept her taking that at face value.

On the other hand I had no problem with the ending at all. Everything Kara's gone through has helped her adjust to and accept the Hero's path, having a family that cares, and knowing she has a home. But there hasn't been much time for relationships outside of that other than the Legion and JLA and even those are the Cape and Cowl set, mostly business. When you're that age getting dumped like that can hurt. It's only natural she would fall back for a bit in the self-image department. Now's the time to give Steph a call, or have a sit-down with Lana.

By the way, the guy that was trying to pick her up said something about her going to Metropolis U. Did I miss something? When did that happen?

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I also was confused about Perry's son.

I figured Kara's figure was more artist preference or based on Vandervoort so I let it roll. The rest of his art was very good; that helped. There were plenty of panty shots though, I wasn't too happy with that.

And the Metropolis U comment made me think this may have been done back when Gates was going to still be on the title. Remember in Superman #700, Gates said his next story was having Kara go to college. In this story, she never really answers the question.

TalOs said...

Jor-El, Supergirl & Bizarro tales had to be my personal faves out of this year's annual! :-D

P.S. Unfortunately been really sick with "summer" flu which is why i havent been posting as of late. :-(

Martin Gray said...

Good to see you back TalOs, stay well.

Anonymous said...

Just when Kara gets some romance there HAS to be a villian ruining her day! ^_^ (Meant this a joke,folks.)-ealperin