2011 ended with the release of Superman #4, the start of the second half of George Perez' opening (and only) arc on the title.
This arc has been intriguing to me for several reasons and this issue continues those trends. First off, I find it interesting that the first arc for Superman in the new DC Universe should focus on the people of Metropolis being distrustful or frightened of the Man of Steel. This should have been something of a coming out party for Superman, solidifying who he is moving forward in the DCnU. Instead, we are dealing with tropes seen in Grounded and even New Krypton. Not exactly a glittering debut for the primary hero of the DCU.
And while there is this ongoing plot of aliens/elementals attacking the city and Clark, the more compelling plot threads have been the reintroduction of Superman's supporting cast. Seeing the new Lois and Perry and Jimmy working hard and trying to figure out what is going on with Clark has been a nice sidebar to the action heavy fights we have seen.
Lastly, unlike some of the more decompressed books, Perez has really stuffed each issue with a lot of story ... a lot of dialogue, a lot of exposition. I love this aspect of the book as I feel I am getting my money's worth of story.
Jesus Merino continues to do solid work here on the book. In particular, I love his versions of Lois and Jimmy so far.
In the aftermath of the attack by the ice creature/Heather Kelley, the Metropolis police tries to sort through the details by interrogating the people at the epicenter. That means grilling Jimmy and Miko to see if they will shed some light on the event. It also means asking Superman some tough questions about his actions.
These aren't chats over coffee. They sound like pointed and biting questions, an inquisition of sorts. And the undercurrent seems to be trying to get Superman or is friends to implicate him in murder or assault.
Again, this feeling of treating Superman like a threat, like a liability rather than an asset, has worn thin for me. The last time that Superman has been treated like a true hero in his own book was way back in the Johns/Frank Brainiac arc at the end of 2008! Since then we have had Superman leave Earth, be branded an alien and targeted by the military, fight his own people while they tear through Earth, and then walk across the company disillusioned and sad.
The interview ends with the Police Commissioner springing Superman. At least the mayor seems to have Superman's back.
And luckily, Heather Kelley has reappeared clearing Superman of murder.
Things get murkier when Superman slips into Clark mode. Everyone seems to be wondering why he wasn't at the Kelley story site. Lois knows he was in Smallville when he told her he was on his way to where Heather was reporting. (Jimmy had GPS'd Clark's cell phone). Why would he lie to her? More importantly, I don't know how I feel about Clark's friends trying to dig into his business so much. A little weird ... although maybe out of concern.
To make matters worse, Clark barely has any memory of the Smallville visit anyways. Everyone has been saying how scattered Clark has been recently. This is the first time we are aware that he is confused himself.
And lastly, I suppose this once again shows how tough it would be to maintain a secret identity.
Things go from bad to worse. Jimmy, Miko, and Heather have all been invited onto a tell-all news show to answer questions about the ice attack. Lois doesn't want Clark's absence brought up.
Perhaps this was the most compelling panel sequence of the issue. Lois knows 'Clark' was in Smallville at his parents grave. She also seems to have images of Superman flying out of the Smallville cemetery. Does Lois know Clark's secret? Is she covering for him?
The interview takes a left hand turn when the host seems to focus on Clark's absence rather than the near destruction of the city, the next ice age, the presence of a giant winter woman. I don't know if that really would be such a crucial angle to be explored on a tabloid style sensationalist news show.
Regardless, Heather covers for Clark, outright lying. Nice poker faces by Jimmy and Miko. Off the air, the host decides to pester both Heather and Clark (who is standing off camera in the wings). I doubt this guy McCoy is going to just drop this story. Is this an opening volley for this character to start shadowing Clark?
Heather also confronts Clark and the two leave the studio. Suddenly Clark finds himself in his Superman togs, in his old apartment, surrounded by the monsters he has been dealing with. And he doesn't recall getting there.
Moreover, the creatures say he went there on his own, per the plan.
At last we finally get some insight into the purpose of these things, even if it is extremely cryptic.
They are here to recalibrate, reformulate, and adapt the environment. That which can't be adapted must be eradicated.
Okay, I don't know what that means. But the word eradicate sticks out like a sore thumb. Is this the DCnU Eradicator? Is this environmental purging similar to that Eradicator's mission to recreate Krypton? Now I am intrigued.
Superman battles they creatures in his old building but they adapt to his attack, changing form into a swarm of insects to 'inoculate' him. And then, the big reveal. These beings were created ... by Superman. Very nice cliffhanger.
So this really is just what an issue leading to a penultimate chapter should be. The reveal that Superman created these things here means that Perez has all of next issue to explain just what all of this means. It also means that the entire last issue can be spent wrapping everything up. I hate when the explanation and the wrap-up are both stuffed into the last issue; one of those elements always suffers.
But just why would Superman create these things? And why doesn't he remember doing it? And why such violent and malevolent entities? Unless they have outgrown what his original programming was and have become self-aware. While the fights scenes with these things have been well done, this origin piece is the most interesting things about these characters.
Overall, this arc for me has been more up than down. The supporting cast stuff, the action scenes, even this reveal of the 'Eradicators' have all been solid. The story has been dense in a good way. And Jesus Merino brings a sort of scratchy sensibility to Perez' layouts. The only downside has been this theme of people not trusting Superman or wanting him around. It's time to put that plotline back into the store room and move on.
Overall grade: B+