Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Superman #14

Superman #14 came out this week and was the next chapter in H'El on Earth. We finally get all the members of the super-family together, dealing with the wild card in all this, H'El himself, and the conflict he represents.

Pulling off a crossover probably isn't easy. But this is a three title crossover, all related - not something company-wide. It should be relatively easy to bring the creative teams together to make sure that everything in the story is smooth. I say this because everything that I loved about Supergirl #14 ... the cousins slowly becoming closer, Kara slowly accepting Earth, wanting Kal to be part of her life, rushing to her Earth friend to tell her what happened, recognizing Kon as a person ... it all is basically undone by writer Scott Lobdell here. And as a result, this issue has a completely different feel to it, even though it is the next chapter, picking up immediately where the last one left off.

Say what you will about New Krypton, James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Sterling Gates all presented the characters in the stories the same way. Thara was Thara and Zod was Zod and Supergirl was Supergirl regardless of what book they were in.

But here we get differing personalities of the main characters in each title. Add to that the continued characterization of Clark/Superman in Superman portraying him as a sort of emotionally stunted and clingy individual, a sort of whining and insulting guy. And that isn't Superman either. I can't believe how he interacts with the people around him, whether it is Lois or Kara or even H'El.

Kenneth Rocafort provides the art here and it is truly stunning in some places. In particular, his H'El looks monstrous with massive scar tissue marring his face.

The opening scene has been previewed lots of places on the internet. In it, Lois confronts Clark about his quitting the Planet and Clark confronts Lois about her new living arrangements. And Lobdell actually starts out okay with a splash page of Lois and some exposition showcasing just what an amazing woman she is.

But the dialogue quickly changes, Clark sounding petulant, like a jilted potential suitor who can't understand why Lois can't love him. It is initially passive aggressive and kind of creepy.

Here, for example, Lois says Clark's bed is untouched. He responds 'just the way you left it' meaning Lois hasn't rumpled Clark's sheets. Really??It sounds like something in a bad teen drama. There is plenty to cringe about here.

And when Lois tells Clark he should come back to the Planet, he gets a bit snippy and asks why she didn't tell him she was moving in with Jonathan, something he learned when he creepily read her texts. He can't own up to that so he has to back track and say he was able to infer what was happening.

At least Lobdell has him question why he did that bit of stalking! That feels like damning with faint praise. How about having Superman not read her texts instead and respect her privacy.

And it gets worse. Lobdell actually has Clark say that Jonathan seemed like a 'booty call' for Lois only to suddenly become 'the love of her life'. Did Clark just say 'booty call'?? It is clear throughout all of this that Clark feels dismissed as a potential suitor because of this. If Lois loves Jonathan where does that leave him? Again, it reads a little too Gossip Girl for my tastes in Superman.

As for Lois ... she thinks Clark is her best friend. It is clear she doesn't look at him romantically at all. It unfortunately makes most of what Clark said even more cringe-worthy. And she pushes him about his own love-life. She also can tell he has found someone ... and she is right. After all, he has been kissing Wonder Woman.

So does Superman love Lois and Wonder Woman is a fling? Does he have feelings for both? If so, can he begrudge Lois from having feelings for someone else too? I am all for a Clark and Lois relationship. I want them to be together. But this seems uncomfortable. And the dialogue seems juvenile or tawdry. Why would Lois want to hang out with this guy?

 And that takes us to where Supergirl #14 ended. You might remember that in Supergirl #14, Clark told Kara to call him anytime. Kara thought that she should let Kal into her life. And she was going to Clark's apartment to tell him about H'El.

Okay, so this is a bad time for Kara to show up. But read the captions. According to narrator Clark, Supergirl is 'awkward at best' and 'antagonistic at worst'. Does that sound like the Kal from last issue, the one who has time and again tried to welcome Supergirl into his life over in her title?

After rushing Lois out (she assumes he is interviewing comely cosplayers for his blog), Clark gets downright irate with Kara. He shushes her! Then he whisks her away as Superman, insulting her by asking her if she was denied oxygen in her pod, and then yelling at her saying it is 'an INSULT' to 'FLY INTO MY DOORWAY and blow a lifetime of secret identity'. It seems rash and harsh and not at all like the Kal in Supergirl.

As for Supergirl, last issue she seemed unsure of H'El and his plans. Here she seems to have bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Here is a great look at Rocafort's H'El. Disturbing, scarred to the point of being horrific.

And he again tells his origin as a test pilot for a prototype rocket Jor-El made to escape Krypton's destruction and head to Earth! The path sent him to black stars and quasars and that hard trip made him who he is today.

Clark is appropriately skeptical of all this, reminding Kara that Krypton had no space travel program. H'El is lying. Maybe these are implanted memories? Maybe he is the failed 01 clone from Superboy? It would explain the similar powers and his increased animosity to Kon.

Ready for more bad Supergirl characterization?

She sternly tells Superman that H'El arriving and promising to go back in time to stop Krypton's destruction is the first good news she has heard. Earth is a 'floating ball of mud and sweat'. And then she has him talk to the hand.

I don't think I have seen this callous or flippant a Supergirl in her own book. It doesn't sound right.

It is clear, Lobdell is going to make Supergirl be the patsy in this story, the character easily swayed by the bad guy.

H'El offers Superman the same proof of his loyalty that he offered Kara, by producing Superboy out of thin air and promising to kill the evil clone, just as he did last month.

Superman acts quickly and decisively, punching H'El away from Kon, sending him flying into a used car lot where H'El's flying body causes explosions and flying debris.

Supergirl chastises Superman for the move since it jeopardizes his 'precious humans'. I can only assume that Lobdell hasn't read Supergirl's book at all since from the very beginning she has always valued human life. She stopped fighting in  Supergirl #2 when she saw it might endanger bystanders. She defended the city and its people from the World Killers. She befriended Siobhan. She also seems to think their lives are valuable.

And Superman defends his punch saying he knew exactly where H'El would land. So he knew he would wreck cars and come close to hurting people?

When H'El pushes the attack, Superman flies off after he makes Supergirl promise not to hurt Superboy. She dehumanizes Kon by calling him 'the clone'. Again, remember just last issue when she saw him as a person and told H'El not to kill Superboy? Here she 'acquiesces' not to hurt Kon until Superman comes back. It is completely different from the last chapter!

Of course, H'El isn't happy with this response. He anticipated that Superman wouldn't be in on the plan. And so a brawl ensues.

So here is the deal. H'El just compared humans to insects. How could Supergirl back him?

And did Superman just say he was going to kick H'El's butt back to space?

And a brokeback pose for Superman!

During that fight, Superman emerges out of an explosion and yells at Supergirl saying this situation is all her fault. He calls her a 'peroxide brat' (would Kara even know what that means?) and a variety of other insults.

It turns out this is H'El who feels he needs to divide the cousins. He needs Kara to help him and therefore he needs her away from Kal.

Here is the deal ... I was honestly surprised that this turned out the be H'El. Because, unfortunately, I could completely see Lobdell's Superman talk like this to his cousin. Isn't that horrible that this wouldn't seem out of character for Superman these days?

With Supergirl unconscious and out of the picture, H'El begins hammering Superman. Superboy decides to jump in, defending Superman, only to also be crushed by H'El's presumably psionic power.

The dialogue about being less than a clone as well as the look of his powers makes me think he is a failed NOWHERE project both jealous and angry at how Kon was created.

I put this up because somewhere in all the interviews Lobdell has done he said he had a moment where H'El took Superman to someplace in the city and said 'in one year your greatest failure will happen here'. I wonder if that was changed to this 'three years ago you failed here' moment instead. I suppose if H'El knows the future he might realize he wouldn't be successful, especially if Kal is still on Earth a year from now.

Disgusted with Kal, H'El simply leaves.

Okay, maybe I have been a little rough here. Superman sizes up someone powerful and unhinged and tries to stop him. That skeleton is fine I suppose.

But the whining 'why don't you like me and mess up my bed' talk to Lois didn't feel right. That whole scene was odd to read. And Supergirl's characterization here seems almost opposite of what it was in Supergirl #14. The conversations between the cousins seems rude and over the top. They might not have ever been best friends ... but they have never been obnoxious and snippy. Where is editor Eddie Berganza in all this? Doesn't he note the different tones in the books? Didn't he see that Supergirl and Superman act completely different here than they did just a week ago?

And we didn't learn anything new about H'El in this issue. What is his plan?What exactly are his powers? Why leave when he did?

We are three issues into H'El. I'll try to remain hopeful.

Overall grade: C-


Martin Gray said...

Ha, you're spot on about how easily the 'Superman' making 'peroxide' comments could have been the Lobdell Superman. By the time he was wrapping Kara around the lamppost, though, I was thinking H'el.

It's certainly true that the Kara/Kal relationship took a step back from last week's Supergirl, but the more I think about it, the more I reckon H'el is psychically damping down Kara's empathy for Earth people. Lobdell can't really believe this gal is the one Mike Johnson wrote last week, can he?

Please say no!

PRgirl1294 said...

I think that you're being a little too rough with this. Superman may have been a little harsh with Kara, but he was tired and he was in an awkward situation with Lois and coming to his apartment unannounced was uncalled for. Plus, I don't think that the Supergirl here was that different from how she was in Supergirl #14. Remember that how distrustful she was of most humans. Also, she might have thought of Superboy as human for a split second, but she still had her underlying views about clones. She said "Not yet", remember? And honestly, I thought that the way that Superman attacked H'el for threatening Superboy was less brash and more "Papa Wolfish". Asking nicely for H'el spare the kid wouldn't have worked and Superman did say that he wanted him to land where no one would get hurt. I think that you need to stop being so selective with what you pick up and start paying attention to everything that's being said and done. Either way, I'm excited for the rest of this crossover.

Kim said...

"Here is the deal ... I was honestly surprised that this turned out the be H'El. Because, unfortunately, I could completely see Lobdell's Superman talk like this to his cousin."

Yeah, the way he insulted her earlier... About revealing his Clark Kent life... When he had not even revealed to her before that he had a secret identity. Superman insulting her was asshole-y in the extreme. This issues basically showed Kal as a complete ass.

Lobdell should be kept as far away as possible for the Superfamily. He actually showed some basic understanding earlier this year, when he dismissed the claims of Superman being too powerful or unable to relate to in exactly the right way. Superman is far more relatable than Batman, and only 2nd rate writers thinks hugely powerful characters are limiting.

But here, he demonstrates he has no idea whatsoever who Superman is... I mean... The insults he threw at Kara... Who is that man cosplaying as Superman? It sure as HELL isn't Clark/Kal.

Mike Johnson writes Kara in a good way. Why the heck does Lobdell have to try and sabotage that? And remember an earlier interview, where he and Mike (I forgot who) said Kal would be closer to one and more distant to one of Supergirl and Superboy after the crossover. It's clear it's Supergirl they want to be the outcast. Because that worked so well the last time, and they didn't retcon it with bad kryptonite and other stuff.

This crossover, at its core, is brilliant. The execution... Well, Lobdell has good ideas. He shouldn't ever be allowed to put them into scripts for actual comics.

God, this comic made me seethe.

Unknown said...

I fully agree with the assessment. Perhaps I would give even an assessment below. I do not know if it is a fault that after a very bad numbers "Superman" from 1 to 12 I expected that Scott Lebdell show us something special, or maybe crossover will develop differently than we see now. It is very unfortunate that what Grant Morrison in Action Comics, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar in Supergirl build on the plus in Superman universe, Scott and Kenneth Rocafort Lebdell, for now, unfortunately, pulled down.
I'm sorry if my english is not entirely correct. I'm still learning.

Greetings from Poland.

Anonymous said...

Wow talk about jobbed out! This Supergirl is rather easily manipulated by the Big Bad eh?
Sort of like the way The Incredible Hulk was routinely tricked into attacking The Avengers, The Fantastic Four or whoever.
In both cases no great respect is admitted by the writers with respect to The Hulk or Supergirl's intellect...which are fast making the parallels depressing as far as I am concerned.
Don't see this mini doing Supergirl any good whatsoever...


Christie said...

I don't like this Superman!! He's mean and cruel!! And he's impatient!! He dumps all over Kara, but when it's her turn to dump on him, he can't take it!! He's the one that's not fair!! "Peroxide brat"?? How stupid is that?? Supergirl's hair has always been blonde!! And, excuse me, Superman saying, "Booty call"???!!! Woof!! Superman is supposed to be a role model to kids, not a rap/hip-hop spewing creep!! And he also chokes Kara into oblivion!! THIS IS NOT SUPERMAN!! I'm telling DC now, change him or you'll be sorry!! 'Nuff said!!

PRgirl1294 said...

@ Christie: Like Anj, you really need to pay attention to everything that is happening. The guy who choked Kara and called her "peroxide brat" wasn't Superman; it was H'el in disguise, trying to turn her against Superman.

Kim said...

"The guy who choked Kara and called her "peroxide brat" wasn't Superman; it was H'el in disguise"
Superman: "I'm going to put this as politely as possible, Kara. But did my uncle send any oxygen with you in your pod?!"

And that was 100% Superman, at least in Lobdells mind. Anybody sane knows that's completely wrong. Superman would never say something like that, even to his worst enemies. Having him say it to Kara is... So bad.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments. One thing is for sure, this issue got a big reaction.

I don't think I am too off the mark with the assessment of an overall different tone with this issue from the last. That look of clarity on Kara's face when she calls Kon 'he' last issue is replaced by a sneer as she calls him 'clone' when Superman says 'boy'.

And I think that Superman's speech is still off with the 'booty call', 'did you have oxygen', 'kick your butt into space' jargon.

But it is clear that Supergirl is being set up to be the patsy here. And that saddens me.

So where will this story go in the next chapter in Superboy?

Kim said...

"So where will this story go in the next chapter in Superboy?"

I'm still extremely mad about this, but I have a slight shred of hope that Kara will come out of this okay. Because this crossover isn't 100% Lobdell, Mike is still in there, and he knows what he is doing. I really really hope that he somehow can rectify this.

Also, Gail Simone said a few days ago on her tumblr that she had been asked to write an iconic character she'd never written before. She's under exclusive contract with DC, so that excludes Storm/Invisible Woman. And she's written almost all iconic DC women. The only two exceptions I can think of are Supergirl and Catwoman. And Catwoman got a new creative team recently. So, I think Gail is set to become the new Supergirl writer. Even though I love Mike's take on her, this fills me with hope, because it's Gail.

Anonymous said...

In the "Super Family Franchise", we desperately need an editorial level commitment to the notion that Superman IS NOT a zero sum game. In other words his gains in popularity etc cannot come at the expense of Supergirl. I kinda feel like it has been a zero sum game since COIE #7, and it needs to stop for the good of both characters.


Anj said...

Thanks for the post Kim.

Interesting thought about Simone.

As much as I like her stuff, I don't want to see a creative upheaval on this SG book which is progressing nicely.

Anj said...

Thanks for the post John.

I do wonder why this has to be an internal struggle within the characters as opposed to a true team-up.

Like the Matrix/Supergirl or not, there were years where she was independent in her own book but occasionally crossed over as part of Team Superman as a partner in heroism.

I hope we eventually get there in the DCnU.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see Gail Simone on Supergirl, she writes the best cliffhangers in the business bar none.
BUT the above remarks do not caption the specific gender of the "iconic character" under discussion, she could easily be talking about The Green Lantern.


Gerry Beritela said...

I had to laugh when you asked "where is editor Eddie Berganza" in all this. Berganza to me is notorious for just this kind of mischaracterization and ignoring of continuity. Remember, he was in charge during the "Crystal Hell-Kill Kal-el" phase of the previous Supergirl until DC wised up and brought in Gates to fix it.

Anj said...

I had to laugh when you asked "where is editor Eddie Berganza" in all this. Berganza to me is notorious for just this kind of mischaracterization and ignoring of continuity. Remember, he was in charge during the "Crystal Hell-Kill Kal-el" phase of the previous Supergirl

I know this all too well (and comment on it tomorrow).

I just hoped he might ... you know ... edit.

Martin Gray said...

I take it you've heard the news ...