Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: Superman Beyond

Superman Beyond #0 came out last week, a one shot setting the stage for the character in the 'Batman Beyond' universe as well as hinting at possible future things to come for this version of the character.

Now I will admit that I don't know how closely the comics version of this universe meshes with the cartoon. And despite reruns being on The Hub these days, it has been a while since I have seen the Batman Beyond cartoons where Superman was being controlled by Starro. Did he leave Earth after that episode? And I didn't buy the referenced Superman/Batman Annual #4 where Superman also leaves Earth.

Either way, whether by planning or by serendipity, the issue actually comments on more classic Superman riffs, a bit ironic given the upending of things currently going on. In particular, this issue reads like a compressed version of 'Grounded' as well as 'Doomsday'. It is as if, now that those stories aren't canon anymore, we are getting one last look at them albeit through the lens of Batman Beyond. Writer Tom DeFalco teams up with veterans Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema. That gives this comic a sort of classic feel to it which works with the revisited material.

On top of that, we also got a wonderful sort of expressionist cover by Dustin Nguyen.

Having no idea what I would find in a Superman Beyond book, I was pleasantly surprised.

The opening pages set the stage nicely.

Superman originally left Earth to explore the universe peacefully. But being who he is, he has found himself caught up in righting wrongs, in bringing justice where it was needed. He puts it best when he says 'being Superman is a lifetime commitment.' Here he stops a marauding race from overrunning a peaceful civilization. It even includes him wrecking an alien tank in the famous car-crushing Action Comics #1 pose.

After cleaning up that mess, he realizes he can't shirk his duties. It is time to go home.

And he is needed. Crime is up around Metropolis and the world. The youngish JLA needs someone o help them get things cleaned up.

Batman declines their offer to join the League. He is needed in Gotham.

And we also meet the 'villain' of the piece, sympathetic as he is.Mangler Macarro is in prison, trying to clean up his act because he wants to be a better father for his daughter. He has been a model prisoner, doing his best. Unfortunately, his ex-wife and mother to his daughter decides to pull the plug on his relationship with the family. She isn't going to bring their daughter Mina around anymore. There will be no more visits.

Despite doing what was right, for trying to atone for his misdeeds, the one thing he cares about is being taken away.

With a belly full of anger and nothing else to lose, Macarro douses himself with some toxic mutagenic sludge he comes across in the prison. As happens in comics, it doesn't kill him ... instead it covers him with rock like skin and spikes letting him escape with ease, killing anyone who stands in his way. This quick obtaining of powers was the one low point in the book.

Meanwhile, Superman tries to re-acclimate himself to being back on Earth. He takes a job at the Daily Planet.

He pays his respects at the Kent's graves. Again we here Clark extol the Kent's upbringing. 'You made me the man I really am ... and helped mold the legend I still strive to be.' Funny to hear those sentiments time and time again knowing that the new Superman is 'edgy' and has no tether to Earth. I worry that the Kent's morals, the 'Kindly Couple' in Morrison's 8 word Superman origin, will be lost in the DCnU.

It is the Kent's that made him Superman, made him optimistic, made him know right from wrong. I still hope we see that in the new DCnU.

Even more ironic is Superman asking himself here in this scene if the world still needs a Superman. That was what Grounded was all about. Or is DeFalco asking if the world still needs this sort of Superman.

While the JLA gets routed by Macarro, now calling himself Armorgeddon, Clark continues his tour of the things that kept him on Earth before. That includes going to his old apartment, the one he and Lois shared. Here he call Lois his anchor. He is empty without her.

Again, the Lois relationship is gone. Here he mourns that loss of a tether to humanity. the DCnU seems to embrace it.

But duty calls. Clark hears about Armorgeddon and springs into action. Hmm ... armageddon is just another name for doomsday. Is Armor-geddon a Doomsday stand in? The two battle through the nighttime streets of Metropolis just like Superman and Doomsday did.

But Macarro just wants to make it home, just wants to see his daughter one last time.

I love the compassionate Superman here. When Armor-geddon frightens little Mina, Superman doesn't fly in to pound him senseless. Superman gives Macarro the chance to come in on his own, to not become the monster he tried so hard to avoid becoming, to still be the loving father he was.

It just shows who Superman is, always trying to help people first.

There is too much anger in Armor-geddon though. He turns down the chance to end things peacefully.

Superman realizes that he needs to take the fight away from the populace and with a classic 'up, up, and away' he takes the combatants up into space via a superspeed cyclone.

Armor-geddon completes his Doomsday role by apparently killing Superman, impaling him on a massive spike. But up in space, his mutated armor molts away, leaving Macarro dying in the vacuum. With tremendous effort, the grievously wounded Superman grabs the prisoner and flies them both back to Earth.

Back on the ground, Macarro finally realizes what a good man does. He doesn't kill, maim, destroy. He tries to save anyone he can, even his enemy.

But the Doomsday riffs are their strongest here. Recognize the pose?

Yep, it is pretty much the same as the famous Jimmy Olsen 'Superman is dead' photo from Funeral For A Friend.

Luckily though, this Superman has probably guzzled up enough yellow sun energy that he is made of sterner stuff. His wound has already healed.

He remains Superman. And if Batman won't lead the new League, he will. This adventure shows just what a role model he could be for young heroes.

The book ends with Batman and Superman catching up. There is some good banter here as the two quip a bit about the other's style. It is clear they are old friends. And even the old veteran Bruce has to welcome Superman back.

Funny, he is welcoming this Superman back just as we are bidding this sort of selfless guy, committed to Earth because of his human relationships ... we are saying goodbye to him. Okay, I am not going to be glum or a cranky old fan. I just hope that Morrison and Perez write Superman like Superman.

There is a lot to love here in Superman Beyond #0 as it touches on a so many themes that have followed Superman for his 75 years all while returning him to this alternate universe.

Overall grade: B+


Lisa said...

"Funny to hear those sentiments time and time again knowing that the new Superman is 'edgy' and has no tether to Earth."

I don't think you need to worry about that. Check out Swamp Thing #1. There's a panel where Superman (the adult one; not the adolescent in Action #1) says: "My father, he once told me that when we're feeling lost, it's the work we do--that little bit of good in the world--that gives us back that sense of self. Makes us who we are".

So even if his parents died before he went to Metropolis (like they did pre-Crisis), the new Superman still has the morals they instilled in him.

I'm a little less worried about Kara as well. I always thought it was a little odd that right off the boat, she went shopping like a regular high school girl. There should have been some lasting culture shock, and I'm glad that she's going to *learn* to love humanity, rather than starting out that way. It seems more realistic to me.

Gene said...

I wonder where Kara is at this time?