I haven't had much good to say about Scott Lobdell's work on Superman. His Clark has been petulant and creepy. His Superman has been condescending and haughty and feared by people. His Lois has been superficial and tough to take seriously. And his Kara has been bratty and mean.
But one thing I think Lobdell does have a grasp on is Lex Luthor.
Superman #15 came out this week, an issue which shines the spotlight on Lex Luthor and returns him to arch-villain status in the DCnU, a vicious brilliant man who has no problem standing up to Superman as an equal. This Luthor is deranged and malevolent. And he reads very well, making me understand just why Superman would fear him.
On top of that, for once I felt that sort of inspiring Superman, the sort of hero whose simple presence can help people try to do better. In this issue, we see a sort of warming of Superboy as he sees just who Superman is.
Now some of the other warts that have bothered me about this run are still present in this chapter of H'El on Earth but this was definitely my favorite issue by Lobdell so far. And I have to admit I bet a big part of that is that Supergirl isn't anywhere to be seen here. And since she isn't here, she can't be misrepresented.
Kenneth Rocafort's art remains top-notch. I will say that at times the crazy panel shapes lead to a lot of negative unused space on the page. And sometimes a crazy panel isn't necessary when the picture is simply someone talking. But the images themselves are beautiful. On to the story.
The title of the issue is 'Because I'm a Scorpion', the final line of a fable where a scorpion stings a turtle carrying him across a river dooming them both. He is a scorpion, foolish destructive behavior should be expected. It is a cautionary title and reminded me that, as a reader, you have to take everything Luthor says with a grain of salt. Anything he says might be a lie to lead to Superman's destruction, even if there is significant property damage.
The issue opens with Superman heading to the prison Luthor is in, a secret facility, heavily defended, with exactly one prisoner.
Now one thing I have complained about in Lobdell's book ... heck in the DCnU in general ... is how Superman is feared and not trusted by a bulk of the populace. Here the military surrounding Luthor's prison open fire on Superman.
Not talk to him.
Not warn him.
Heck, isn't Superman responsible for imprisoning Luthor? Why would he break him out?
Even the military staff treat Superman pretty poorly, firing some bile about how superior Superman acts and how that is why people hate him. Sigh ....
As I said before, one of the things I like about this issue is how Superboy warms up to Superman throughout the book. Despite being saved by Supergirl (who told H'El to spare him) and Superman (who whisked him to safety and gave him the life-saving super-suit), Superboy isn't really down with being part of the super-family.
In fact he says it outright. And Kon's expression is perfect, that slightly raised eyebrow giving a feel of sort of ennui about the El family.
Earlier Superboy asked Superman if was a prisoner of the Man of Steel. Here he calls Superman a 'colossal butt' because Superman is literally dragging Superboy along with him through the death-traps of this prison. Superman isn't even sure if Superboy's powers will help him survive. So there is a bit of that haughty Superman here, racing ahead with at least some disregard to Superboy's health ... even if it is a little.
And I also don't like the fact that Superman has already written off Supergirl, thinking she has already been manipulated into following H'El. Of course, given how she acted in Superman #14 I guess I shouldn't be surprised he thinks that.
But it again brings back the old argument. Why has Superman not reached out to Supergirl earlier? Maybe if he tried harder to befriend her, she wouldn't fall into H'El's arms so quickly.
Despite this, Superman is still a pretty good guy here. And there is some country boy charm in him. He tells Superboy that he had Luthor design his own prison. Superboy thinks it's crazy but the look on Kon's face says more. There is a half-smile. Maybe that craziness appeals to Kon.
Of course, the lunacy of trusting Luthor to make his own prison is ... well ... lunacy. Even if you 'play to his vanity', how do you trust that there aren't a million back doors?
This is a good example of how the crazy panel shape seems unnecessary here and leads to a lot of dead space.
And finally we get to Luthor, scarred and in shackles.
Earlier we see Luthor shaving and preparing for this encounter. I thought that was a nice touch. He will always want to look his best in front of Superman, as if this stretch in isolation hasn't broken him in any way, even stubble.
Shockingly, despite being cut off from the world, Luthor seems to know everything that is happening in the world. He even knows just what Superboy is. The 'pale shade of the grandeur of its donors' certainly hints at the Luthor being the human DNA 'father' of Superboy even here in the DCnU.
Luthor's emotions all reek of a superiority. Whether it is this aloof smug smile or an angry outburst, all of Luthor's talk is aimed down at the recipient. And that makes him all the more intriguing and all the scarier. If we are all ants ... even Superboy ... then Luthor has little regard for us.
And Luthor even knows about H'El. And he has figured out his plan. To get enough energy to go back in time to Krypton, H'El will need to collapse our solar system into a big bang-esque event. So now there is a very real threat to Earth. Hmmm ... maybe Supergirl should have asked H'El about these details before getting siding with him.
Of course Superman could press Luthor on how he knows all this and has figured all this out. But he doesn't.
And Superman accepts it all as truth. In fact, Luthor thinks Superman knew all of this anyways.
At the very least, we as readers now have something more to cement H'El being a bad guy.
Now throughout this issue, we see that Luthor's face is pretty badly scarred. We finally get some answers.
Luthor thinks Superman came to Lex to see if there was an way to stop H'El without killing. Because, after all, Superman tried to kill Luthor they last time they tangled, the end result being those scars.
Now I can take a lot. But I can't take a Superman who tried to kill someone. Hopefully Luthor is grandstanding. But we don't have a denial from Superman, just a piercing look at his eyes.
Seriously ... Superman doesn't kill, doesn't try to kill, shouldn't be tempted to kill.
Superboy seems to have turned the corner a bit, siding with Superman and even willing to call in the Titans to help. That edge, the 'I don't care about your family' 'why are you a colossal butt' sentiment seems to have softened a bit.
And that is even with Superman getting a bit high and mighty, questioning 'unsupervised super-humans'. Seems a bit too Big Brother-ish for me. After all, wasn't Superman himself in the Legion, a club for young super-heroes?
And Superman doesn't want the Titans help. Not when he has the League.
But read that purple prose in the corner, the overly sentimental saccharin text box where Superman and Wonder Woman want to fall into each others' arms ... if it weren't for the secret nature of their love and the impending doom of the solar system.
I don't know, it reads a little hammy, especially given the tense tone of the rest of this issue.
But with the League (minus Green Lantern) behind him, an assault on the Fortress is imminent.
I know I only scratched the surface of the Luthor interaction but it really is the high point of this issue and well worth reading. Even in chains you can feel the menace of him. And that is how you should feel about Luthor. He is a man who can challenge Superman. He should be scary.
But I also felt that, for the most part, Superman was done fairly well here. There is a quiet strength in him that plays off nicely in comparison to Luthor's rants. And, that steely resolve in the face of this villain seems to inspire Superboy.
It isn't a perfect issue. It is better. But there isn't Clark here, or Lois, or Supergirl. And as those have been some of the biggest weaknesses of this book, I am not surprised that this read a little better.
Unfortunately, this cliffhanger means we are going to see Supergirl vs. the JLA. And at some point, H'El must be partially successful because we know from the zero issues that the super-family end up on an intact Krypton. How do they get there?