Superman #13 came out this week, the first Superman-centric issue in the Scott Lobdell era. And there has already been a lot of coverage of this book with the first 5 pages previewed in DC Comics and the 'quitting the Daily Planet' plot revealed in the mainstream media.
And as my reaction to this book is strong, I'll warn you know this is a long review.
I had mixed feelings when I heard Scott Lobdell was taking over the character. Having read plenty of Lobdell books, I didn't know if his style was right for the character. Then there were plenty of interviews where Lobdell sort of said the right things which made me think that maybe he knew how to handle Superman.
After reading this issue, I am more down than up. There are a couple of nice moments here. A couple. But most of the issue continues to increase the divide between Superman and humanity. Yes, there is a lot of Clark in this issue and Clark and his relationships, of course, are his most important links to mankind. But comments here and there, Superman's internal monologue, how people react to him ... it all just seems to be leading to an isolated Superman.
It feels so off sometimes that I wonder if anyone at DC right now is a Superman fan. Does anyone over there understand just who Superman is, what he represents, and just what his priorities are?
One thing to compliment the book on is Kenneth Rocafort's art. It is dynamic and kinetic. The page constructions with crazy panels overlying each during the action sequences flow nicely and are in contrast to the more standard right-angled panels seen in the more quiet dialogue heavy scenes. Rocafort is a great choice for a Superman book.
The issue opens up with Superman testing the limits of his powers under the supervision of Dr. Veritas, a brilliant scientist I have never heard of before. Did I miss her prior appearances?
It is a return of the Silver Age Superman, at least power-wise. For five days, cut off from yellow sun rays, he has been bench pressing the weight of the Earth.
Veritas clearly knows Superman. She even seems attracted to him, asking him if she can take advantage of him in his exhausted state. And yet, even this person who seems to have a close relationship to Superman calls him a 'strange visitor'. Now her saying it alone makes me wonder if she identifies him as a citizen of Earth. But more importantly, his defensive response, his need to correct her so quickly, it makes me wonder if this is a sore point for Kal.
So he is lifting the weight of the Earth on his shoulders. It is a decent metaphor about what he feels about defending the planet.
But why the point of stating the five day limit away from the sun? Because we know, based on the zero issue, that at some point Superman is on Krypton. So know we know he will have a 5 day window to still have powers there. (Of course, the geek in me thinks it would be less time because he would be expending more energy fighting the heavier gravity of Krypton.)
Lastly, Kal's throwaway comment about trusting Veritas is interpreted by her as a threat. So even Superman's friends are cautious around him. It is the wrong sort of feel ... and that is in the first scene.
I do like that Lobdell has instituted a Morrison-esque name dropping style of prior events. Here it is the 'Stream of Eternal Maelstroms'. Later we read about things like 'The Talking Sun of Alktos Prime' and 'The Seven Sisters of Sin and Avarice.'
Thrilled with the workout, Superman speeds home. But his inner monologue is worrisome.
Half the planet thinks he's a savior. Not a hero, not someone there to help us lift ourselves up, but their savior. Savior ... that is a weighty word, as if people look upon him as a messiah.Not an inspiration, but a panacea.
The other half thinks he is a vanguard for an invasion, despite doing heroic work for 8 years now. Eight years of half the world distrusting him.
And nothing can change those 2 views.
This isn't who Superman should be ... worshiped by half the world, hated by the other half.
What's worse Superman seems to want to be away from people. He talks about preferring to soak up the sun in space than head to work. He is only going because he has to 'pay the bills'. If only being Superman all the time was his job. He actually says that! That he would rather be Superman all the time if he got paid! He is Clark first in my mind. He would never want to leave that part behind.
And what about his life as Clark? Does that help him connect to humanity?
Well, almost everyone seems to treat him poorly.
First off, he walks in on Jimmy having sex in the shower with an unnamed woman. Is there any real reason why this scene needs to be here? It feels completely gratuitous. It feels wrong in a Superman book.
What's worse, Jimmy actually complains to Clark for a lack of privacy ... despite Clark helping Jimmy out by letting him stay there. If your friends treat you like a jerk ... if they use you ... can you have any respect for people?
But really ... a shower sex scene in a Superman book? There are a million other ways you could get the point across that Jimmy isn't being a good friend. But a shower sex scene? Seriously??
At work, Clark is surrounded by hypocrisy and disrespect.
Clark is worried that the Planet is more like an entertainment tabloid than a true newspaper. And he is going to hammer that point home by telling Lois she wouldn't recognize news anymore. This, just two issues after Lois stood up for journalistic integrity against Morgan Edge. It again reads wrong.
And her response is just as bad. Clark complains about the lack of truth or substance in the news these days. She 'shows him the hand' and calls his concerns a 'nominal idea' ... an idea in name only. Not a real concern. Lois waving off journalistic morality?
That's not Lois! In fact that is the antithesis of Lois.
Clark wonders what could be so important that Lois remains with her face buried in texts.
So he uses his powers to read her private communications. She is moving in with her boyfriend.
But step back ... Superman just used his powers to spy on Lois, someone he supposedly has feelings for. So now Superman is something of a stalker, using his powers to invade Lois' privacy? Is that something Superman should be doing? Was that a lesson the Kents taught him ... to use his powers to spy on people?
What's next? Floating outside her house and using his x-ray vision to watch her, like the cringe worthy scene in Superman Returns??
All of this leads up to the well-publicized 'Jerry Maguire' moment of the issue when Clark stands up and basically says 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!!!' The news industry has lost its way and someone needs to sheperd it back to its ideals.
Unfortunately times are tough and not many want to rock the boat. Clark quits.
It is a nice moment I suppose with Clark standing up for something important. But this sort of 'rage against the machine' approach rarely works.
Rocafort does solid work here showing everyone other than Cat Grant trying to look busy. The muted colors of those folks makes Cat stand out, almost as if a light is being shone on her. The use of falling paper between the panels also worked, invoking an image of Clark tossing all his desk papers in the air, out of frustration.
And it is somewhat hard to believe that of all people, Cat Grant follows him out the door. She seems somehow sweeter in this brief scene than the Cat we are used to. She even has a nice line saying if their work is meaningless than they are meaningless ... profound.
That last line by Clark where he wonders how Cat will support ... something. It makes me wonder if her son Adam is still around in this new 52 continuity.
The conversation is cut short when Clark uses his super-hearing as a sort of Daredevil like sonar to 'see' that a giant shape is coming in at high speed. It is an odd but massive dragon-like creature, one with three heads (although the 2 minor heads are actually feet).
It's immensely powerful, throttling Superman. It also is genetically decaying and not truly alive. So Superman feels okay immolating it by tossing it on an oil field and exploding the underground oil reserve with his heat vision.
So a couple of things here. I suppose it is an innovative use of his heat vision. But super-hearing as echolocation/radar?
The decaying DNA here reminds me of either a Bizarro-like creation or a faulty clone made by H'El. So add a mystery to the mystery.
But you know what happened when Superman tried to clear the oil field of its workers when the dragon is heading to them? One of them says they should be running from him since he's an alien. I am so sick of an untrusted Superman. This person would rather run away than be saved by a massive dragon by Superman.
Remember at the end of Supergirl #13 when she saw Superman battling a monster? Well, her response isn't to rush to help Superman. It isn't to save the people from a dragon.
Nope. Instead it is to yell at him, calling him a liar since this dragon is from Krypton and he told her it was gone. Sooooo .... all those retained memories of Zor-El talking about the planet's destruction; the visit to Argo City, ripped from the planet; the AI at Sanctuary, a goodbye gift from Dad ... all that data about Krypton's fate is tossed out the window because she saw this creature. So we once again get to see 'angry Kara', prepared to fight with her cousin. This isn't the Supergirl we have read in her own book recently.
What's worse is Superman's response! Not 'hey Kara', not 'I'm glad to see you.Can you help'. Instead it's a snarky 'great' and how he doesn't want to fight her again. This response seems especially wrong since in her book he has reached out to her; how their last conversation was emotionally draining but physically calm. How he has wanted to see her and talk to her.
Do I really want super-cousins who don't want to see each other??
And here is the cliffhanger, H'El observing everything ... invisible to Kal and Kara while they argue.
You know, before I read the issue, I questioned the wisdom of Clark quitting the Daily Planet, thinking it as one more layer being peeled away from who I think Superman is.
After reading the book, that was the moment that probably bothered me the least. At least that is Clark standing up for something and trying to inspire.
It is the bulk of the rest of it ... people fearing Superman (Veritas thinks he threatened her, half the people distrust him, people he is trying to save scared of him), his wondering about being Superman full time, a Jimmy Olsen shower sex scene, Superman snooping on Lois, Lois more interested in ratings than truth, echolocation, not wanting to see Kara ... that just felt wrong.
Read that list sentence again and ask me if you think any of those belong in a Superman book. Any one of them. Instead we get them all.
There are all these tiny little phrases and scenes that just chip away at the foundation of who Superman should be as a character. Who wants this floating Superman, disconnected from humanity? Someone with no job, no friends, no Lois, no family? Who thinks this is the Superman that comic readers want? Is it Didio? Is it Berganza or Idelson? Is it Lobdell? Is this their understanding of Superman?
I suppose I will hold out hope that H'El is some sort of transfiguring arc, that things will be better after this trial. But somehow I don't think I'll be happy.
Again, let me say that the artwork is strikingly beautiful. The images are wonderful even if the story content isn't. Rocafort should be commended.