Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Action Comics #600

It's all over the news ... everywhere. Superman and Wonder Woman are going to be an item in the DCnU. We have seen clips on Good Morning America. We have seen ludicrous on-line dating pages for the heroes.

Even though the comic comes out later today, we even know the dialogue. Superman says 'Don't you ever feel alone?' and Wonder Woman says 'Of course I do'. (Hat tip to DCWomenKickingAss for that tidbit.)

And it feels all wrong.

It feels all wrong because the dialogue implies that it is their isolation, their feeling of not being part of humanity on Earth, that has thrust them together. Once again, it seems like DC doesn't understand any of their characters. And this theme of isolation is just so pervasive. Even love is built on isolation.

It is wrong because as part of the DCnU Lois and Clark were broken apart because Superman in a relationship didn't make sense to DC's editors. So let's put him into a relationship one year later.

I just don't know if these two would work in a relationship. This is a longish post.

And so I thought I would  look back at Action Comics #600, a comic which came out about one year after Wonder Woman was re-introduced to the DCU in Legends and looked at a Superman/Wonder Woman tryst. Interesting that both stories about a Kal/Diana romance came out one year after a reboot. This story in Action nicely sums up why I think Superman and Wonder Woman might not make sense romantically.

I love this issue's cover, a throwback to the old 80pg Giants, from the panels showcasing the stories inside right down to the classic font and coloring of 80pg GIANT.

The opening page looks like the originally planned cover, perhaps before it was decided that this issue would be an oversized anniversary issue. Interesting to see this version of 'the kiss' and compare it to Jim Lee's cover from today.

It is a dazzling picture and certainly would have got some attention back then. It would have been easy for DC to run this as the cover with some blurb about 'other stories'. As for me, I like the one that was used, a fitting cover for a landmark issue in which this kiss is just one of a handful of stories and pinups.

This story is also interesting for the art choices. The breakdowns are done by John Byrne who was driving the Superman ship creatively. The finished art is by George Perez who was driving the Wonder Woman title creatively. So there is a sense of institutional collaboration with these characters.

I wonder if Geoff Johns got to make the decision about this romance on his own without asking Brian Azzarello or the Superman writers if it effected their plans.

The story opens with Superman and Wonder Woman kissing passionately ... followed by Superman apologizing for being 'out of line'. There is so much said in this opening conversation. Wonder Woman didn't expect such passion. Superman says he isn't good with this romance stuff, falling over himself to apologize for the kiss. Just solid characterization there.

The two then talk about how while they have only met briefly they have been on each others' minds for weeks. Wonder Woman has gone out of her way to not think about Superman. Superman even admits to having an (ahem) intense dream about Wonder Woman. It seems like they would be a natural couple ... so why fight it.

With the awkwardness of those first few moments out of the way, the two decide to give it a whirl.

It is interesting to hear Wonder Woman here, talking about how she has a warrior's heart that has been softened by Superman's words of love. And then she states that they are looking for understanding of their feelings for each other not consummation. So why not have a 'first date'? That just sounds like Diana.

And so they start chatting about themselves in a classic 'blind date' sort of way. Superman takes her to his favorite hangout spot, flying over the fields of the midwest.

And he talks about how important his humanity is to him, how he has fought hard to be a person of Earth, one of the people. That is what Superman is all about, feeling like he is one of us and wanting to help. It makes little sense, even Wonder Woman says it is a strange sentiment. But that is what makes Superman who he is and why he is an inspiration.

Before the two can go any further, a portal opens up in front of Diana where a wounded Hermes tells her that Olympus is under attack. Diana knows her responsibility and leaves Superman, flying through. Superman follows through and finds himself on the twisty, turny, Escher-like Olympus from those Perez days. Even Superman's vision is wacky in this place. Incredible stuff by Perez here, making the home of the gods difficult for us mortals to understand.

Since the two heroes entered the portal separately, they arrive at different places in Olympus.

As for Wonder Woman, she arrives at Hermes' side and learns that the threat to Olympus is Darkseid.

Darkseid hoped to take over Olympus and enslave the Greek gods only to find none of the gods at home (outside of Hermes). So his troops are scouring the place looking for any of the deities. Now that Superman and Wonder Woman are also around, he can have even more fun.

In the classic switcheroo, Darkseid decides to use some deception to have weaken the spirits of the heroes. So a tranfigured Amazing Grace goes to seduce Superman in the guise of Wonder Woman. And Kalibak in the form of Superman, shows up to throttle Wonder Woman.

I am glad that DeSaad was around for this plan because it seems more his style to torture the heroes emotionally.

In one of the more innovative parts of this story is Byrne's explanation why Darkseid is interested in Olympus at all. According to Byrne, the old gods died and an explosion formed New Genesis and Apokolips. Some of the energy scattered across the universe, including one beam that struck Greece, in essence, creating the Greek gods.

I don't know if I particularly like this explanation, adding Fourth World plots to Earth history. But it is interesting.

Superman fights the phony Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman fights the phony Superman. And then Kalibak and Amazing Grace sneak away, setting up the real Superman to fight the real Wonder Woman. There are several pages of the two brawling across Olympus until finally they crash into Darkseid's control room.

It turns out that the heroes were smarter than Darkseid anticipated. They realized early on that they were fighting each other and so shadow-boxed across Olympus to get closer to Darkseid's lair.

These are some really beautiful pages by Byrne/Perez showing just how equal in power Superman and Wonder Woman are.

The gods aren't around. He has been outwitted by Superman and Wonder Woman. There is nothing left for Darkseid to do except some property damage. And it turns out he lined Olympus with Apokoliptian explosives. I find it amusing that sometimes Darkseid is this bigger than life Universal force. And sometimes he is just a galactic thug, offing his own men and planting bombs.

But Olympus is eternal. Despite the explosion, Olympus remains untouched.

And here is the ending that I love so much.

After this little adventure Superman realizes that Wonder Woman is out of his league. He really is 'just a boy from Kansas'. He doesn't feel comfortable walking among the gods. That isn't who he is.

And Wonder Woman realizes that their philosophies wouldn't necessarily jibe either. But they can be friends.

You know what ... that makes sense!

But in the DCnU, we have a distrusted Superman floating over everyone all the time. And his isolation is the common ground for this relationship in the new Justice League book. It reminds me of the sad and twisted relationship between Dennis Barclay and Liz Tremayne in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. She once said "All we have in common is the horror in our lives, Dennis. That's what holds us together." That isn't healthy.

Perhaps most ironic is the interlude in this story where a sleazy tabloid editor decides to run a story about a Superman/Wonder Woman romance because it will be a publicity sensation and will sell copy.

Is there any different motive in the current book?

Anyways, I love this issue and this story because it does such a good job with the characterization and personalities of Superman and Wonder Woman while showing why they wouldn't be a couple. Of course, this was when Superman embraced his humanity and thought of himself as a boy from Kansas.

The rest of the issue is a treat as well, especially a Mike Mignola drawn story teaming up Superman and ManBat.

As always, I will hope that this new romance is written well and I will give it a shot. But I don't know if it will be my cup of tea.


Dave Mullen said...

"I wonder if Geoff Johns got to make the decision about this romance on his own without asking Brian Azzarello or the Superman writers if it effected their plans."

I am pretty sure the answer is 'yes', he might have run it by them as a courtesy but this is what was going to happen and they would have to roll with it or ignore it. Their Choice.
I'm not at all against this romance in principle, the two are perfectly matched after all, but that's the problem - they're TOO perfect together. There's a reason previous writers have never pursued it as there is both nowhere to go with this relationship and it constrains options in the two's own books if they are in such a serious relationship. This is why I am convinced it will be largely ignored outside of Justice League.
For another thing as Action #600 showed when you get right down to it the two are from very different walks of life, Superman needs Clark Kent and his friends to tether him to humanity and enable readers to identify with him. Wonder Woman is different as her home and the Gods come first, secret identities and human connections are a distant consideration.
I'm giving DC the benefit of the doubt here and will be happy to see where they take it, if they are true to their word this is the new status quo. As such I will expect this development to be reflected in both characters books. If it's just a Justice League conceit then I will be unhappy, to put it mildly.

Action #600 was great I fully agree, the 'romance' was built up to beforehand very carefully, in fact it sort of came across as lust on Superman's part but given his power it is not at all surprising he'd see Wonder Woman as a worthwhile chase, with her he can be more open and relax. Not the case with Lois at that time.
But the current Superman.... I don't know, he seems so damaged as a person. He isn't remotely the same strong character that that Superman was and this Wonder Woman flirtation will likely add to the problems, I have enjoyed some of the new Superman but it really is a deeply flawed treatment for the charcter If I'm honest.

Anonymous said...

It isn't a very original idea, and it undercuts certain abiding sub rosa aspects to both characters....mainly that Superman though a demigod can only find happiness with a mortal woman ergo Lois Lane...conversely Wonder Woman an Amazon raised free of patriarchy suddenly turns boy-crazy for the strongest male in the room??
Doesn't do either of them any good in the long run, but as a short term boost to sales I"m sure it's sheer genius.


Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I agree that the DCnU Superman seems like a troubled guy. I'm not very happy with that. The whole idea of him embracing his humanity seems gone here.

And I also agree that there is something wonderful about a 'normal' human being the one who Superman loves.

It is one thing to throw this against the wall for some sales bump and publicity. But all this talk about it being the 'new status quo' makes it sound more lasting.

mathematicscore said...

Alan Moore said it best "Why don't we do that more often?"
"I don't know. Too predictable?"

Diabolu Frank said...

I haven't read this story since I bought it off the newsstand in 1988. At the time, I was a big Superman fan, and at best a casual Wonder Woman one. I thought it was a drawn out but solid story that asked and answered an obvious question. You want to see Superman and Wonder Woman kiss now and again because they're the ultimate heroes of their respective genders. On the other hand, it's boring and kind of icky because they're too similar in the wrong ways. Despite their different worlds, each could adapt and overcome any obstacle, thus leaving them with nowhere to go dramatically. The undercurrent of inherent Aryan superiority to all other potential mates doesn't help. There is literally no one else in existence less interesting to match with either character. Clark shacking up with Martha Kent feels less incestuous. They look less like blood relatives, for starters.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

Predictable and boring sums up this relationship perfectly.

It also completely devalues Lois.

I guess we'll see how it goes.