Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Superman #13

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.

Overall grade: C


Saranga said...

I have only read the preview from last week's books, so can't comment in full, but my thoughts are thus:
The comments between Veritas and Supes about him being a visitor read to me more as a flirty exchange, an in joke, rather than a dig, or a worry.
veritas interpreting Supes comment's as a threat bothered me, especially in light of my reading the prior exchange as friendly flirting.
Lois working on fluffy stories, not meaty ones, is wrong, plain wrong. That is not Lois.
The spying is out of character.
Supes being grumpy is out of character. He should see the best in people. He shouldn't snark at his cousin.

Superman treats people fairly. He's optimistic. He's gentle and his trusted by (nearly) everybody. He inspires hope and positivity. He's an everyman who shows us how good we can be.

He shouldn't be flirty. that implies a worldly wiseness that is wrong, seeing as I formly believe he's only ever slept with Lois.
He doesn't make people feel sexy, he makes them feel valued, worthwhile.

This comic appears to have got him all upside down and turned about. I have no interest in reading about this character.

S said...

Not sure why your review is a little on the biased side.

"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."

This hasn't been really fair. Superman has always been written like a christ like character. From his origins to his character. From All Star Superman to Death of Superman. He has always been written as a saviour of some sort.
Also, the only difference is that half of the world still fears him and this has also been done before and its acceptable. G gordon has been shown to lead the public to hate aliens like supes, earth one has been shown to have public not fully trusting supes.

"He talks about preferring to soak up the sun in space than head to work."

This has also been done before, Kal has mentioned that staying on earth lets him save people, but his super hearing allows him to constantly hear distress calls and as of such he hears almost everything. He has flew out to space before and said that the peace and tranquility is something that he love but he knows he can't stay there forever because he still got the world to save.
And again, he has this messiah figure being written about him that wasn't new or out of character.

These are just some points to me, that I found your review to be a tad biased, especially when it starts with "Having read plenty of Lobdell books, I didn't know if his style was right for the character."

Hopefully you would give lobdell a chance.

Anj said...

And again, he has this messiah figure being written about him that wasn't new or out of character.

Thanks for the post.

I understand that Superman has always had a messiah like feel, even down to the 'so loved his son, he sent him to Earth' part of his origin.

I guess my complaint is more that the Superman I like is someone who wants to be among the people, not above them. So only saving the world, only being in space, and not being 'one of us' albeit with special gifts seems the wrong approach. He shouldn't be worshiped or isolated. He should be inspiring and with us.

But more importantly, it is the aggregate of all the things that don't jibe with Superman (for me) that just pile on.

And, of course, my review is my opinion. I do hope that Lobdell is going to turn this around. As I have said elsewhere, I hope H'El on Earth is some transforming arc, bringing the supers together and proving to the people of Earth they are heroes, here to help.

I'll read other reviews and hope for dialogue here so I can see what other folks say. Because it is this critique from everyone that makes me a better reader.

Martin Gray said...

Hi Anj, cheers for the detailed review. Of all the points, it's the world's distrust of Superman that's the most disturbing. As you say, he's been publicly helping people for years - mind, who knows how many times he's been mind-possessed to do terrible things, or wherever it was that was going on in the George Perez issues.

Really though, he should inspire trust simply by his presence, almost to the extent of having an indefinable aura.

S said...

Yup, I get that its really your opinion, I've been reading your blog for a few months and I really enjoyed it. I just thought that some of what you're saying might have been a tad harsh. I did enjoy Superman for the first time since #1 and I thought its great.

PRgirl1294 said...

I agree with S. I think that you need to go a little easy on how Superman is portrayed in this book. Again, the Superman that you're more familiar with is the more experienced, more mature Superman. The Superman that they're portraying is the younger, only-been-on-the-job-for-five-or-six-years Superman. You can't expect those 2 Supermen to act the same way and you certainly can't expect other people to act the same way towards them.

On a sidenote, to those of you who would like to see DC Nation return before January, please sign the "Bring Back DC Nation" petition and then pass it on to everyone you know. I'd put the link on this comment, but Blogger's not letting me.

Anonymous said...

Not for nothing, but do you know how many giant kryptonian dragons were loosed on Earth during the Silver Age?
A good FIVE of them! And Supergirl was in on the disposal of the lot!
That is if she wasn't the outrightkey actor when her glory-hound cousin wasn't available.
NOT ONCE did she ever take a swing at him for "lying to her about they being the sole survivors of Krypton"...
That is the act of a paranoid schizophrenic, and say what you like about the Silver Age Kara, but she was alert, oriented to time and circumstance and keen to the job done!

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I think after 5 or 6 years of being Superman, I would expect him to be a bit more seasoned and not so reactionary.

I think that all this distancing of Superman from humanity, his friends, his job defeats just what Superman is.

And I didn't mind the action sequences. But I still can't reconcile how the two survivors of a race, who are family to boot, aren't working harder to get closer.

There are just a ton of things that add up to me thinking this wasn't a great first issue ... that is with me thinking long term.

As I said, maybe this is simply to show things as they are in the DCnU now, not what they will be. Maybe Lobdell wants to rectify all these things.