Superman #19 came out this week and was a different sort of issue than we have seen recently. Why is it different? I actually enjoyed it!
Now I have been very critical of Scott Lobdell's work on this title in the past thinking that his characterization of Superman was off, that Clark was rarely seen and when he was he was portrayed poorly, that Lois was a nonentity, that the supporting cast weren't being utilized.
This issue, which concentrated mostly on Clark and the supporting cast, actually did a much better job with that characterization. Now, admittedly, it is seen through the haze of psionic hallucination and decreased inhibitions, but that allows us to maybe see deeper into a character than we would typically see. By removing a layer of stoicism, you get to see the passions and truths that lie underneath.
Superman is strong and smart. Clark is likeable. Incredibly, this even gave me a moment where I actually liked the Clark/Diana romance. And I also think it nicely showed that despite the power couple, Lois still holds a pretty big place in Clark's heart. Now this isn't a perfect issue by any means. But it is far from the incomprehensible and muddle H'El on Earth.
If there has been one thing that has been stable on this book it has been the incredible art of Kenneth Rocafort. This issue is just beautiful, chock full of crazy designs, good action, and nice smaller more human moments.
The book starts out with Superman battling the 'Sunturians', an alien race composed of red sun particles. I love the imperial pomp of this race, adorned in their Incan like helmets and armor. There are several things I like about this fight.
First off, it sounds as if the Sunturians sought out this fight simply because they heard the reputation of Superman and wanted to prove they were tougher. While I love Superman as being an Earth hero with Earth values, I also grew up with stories where Superman was a universal entity, known in all corners of space.
Second, I like that Superman actually outwits the aliens despite their obvious advantages over him. It is an easy solution - water snuffing them out briefly - but it is more that he started his plans before he interacted with them, being proactive in implementing his plan.
I thought this was a fun scene showing Superman's presence, powers, and intelligence nicely. Plus, Rocafort's designs here are wonderful, especially the languid lying Solaratrix.
The battle with this force delays Clark from being on time for Lois' housewarming party. The party is to celebrate Lois moving in with Jon, something which can't be easy for Clark to see.
Of course, he has brought his own date ... Diana Prince. Diana arrives before Clark and stuns the crowd with her presence. No one has met Clark's new 'girlfriend' and everyone is shocked into silent staring. Diana certainly has a physical presence to her, both beautiful and regal, so I thought this was a fun response. I mean, I am sure no one expected simple Kansas Clark to bring someone like her to the party.
It must take a lot to shock Lois Lane. I think she must still be harboring some feelings for Clark as well to be frozen like this.
Now if there is one thing I am having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around it is the characterization of Perry White, who suddenly comes across as an aging Don Draper from Mad Men. Now we learn soon that everyone in the party (maybe the city) are being subtly affected by some mind control, losing their inhibitions and actively hallucinating.
So maybe this player Perry is some deeper layer of his personality. I do like how Diana parries his advances by swiftly bringing up his more 'mature' state of being.
But I always thought of Perry as being a hard core newsman, not such a schmoozer. And there is more to come.
Now along the way we learn that Hector Hammond's EEG has flatlined. He is officially brain dead. But his psionic presence is enough to bring Orion in to investigate. Remember in the last issue Orion was shown that Superman is a planetary threat that must be stopped.
But Hammond is obviously behind the wild feelings and hallucinations that everyone is dealing with.
For example, when Clark finally arrives, he is greeted by Lois dressed up in a Wonder Woman costume, all winks and open arms. Lois as Wonder Woman? Clearly Clark still has feelings for Lois, blurring the lines between the women in his life. Even at the door he says he is nervous around Lois.
Tawdry? A little. But it shows just how conflicted Clark's heart must be, shown front and center in this telepathic dream state.
Because that Wonder Woman Lois is only a mirage. In fact, the door opens up again to reveal a more normally dressed Lois. Now it is time for us to maybe get a glimpse into Lois' true feelings. She asks for Clark's blessing in regards to Jon and tells him that she loves him. It is fascinating. How deep is this bubbling under the surface.
Does it lessen Lois a little, seeking approval from Clark. Maybe a smidge. But these are the feelings we try to hide or bury or protect ourselves from. I think it strengthens the Lois and Clark relationship more than hurt it.
Nice of Clark to pick up on the fact that something strange is happening, the only explanation for his visions and Lois' actions, so unlike her. Again, it shows a savvier Superman.
Now a lot of time is spent on these fever dreams but I thought a couple more were worth looking at.
Again, I am going to have to get used to this swinging Perry White. Three ex-wives and an enlarged prostate?
But again, it is what is slipped in to the dialogue that is interesting. Perry implies that he knows that Clark is Superman, although he back-pedals a bit, saying he knew Clark was a guy who isn't afraid. But then he also slips in an insult, calling Clark a sanctimonious punk.
So how much of these conversations are pure fantasy versus buried true feelings versus drunken rants? How much of this should I be paying attention to? I have to assume that there is some kernel of truth in all these things. It smacks too much about stuff that people keep hidden until intoxicated.
Now most people know that I am pro-Lois and think that there should be more tension between her and Clark. And I think those earlier scenes show that there is still something there.
I also don't think there is anything too interesting in the Clark/Diana relationship. But this panel actually made me think there might be something more substantial there. Again, while fueled by whatever mind control is happening, Clark and Diana head to the balcony for some kissing. But while out there Diana says that meeting Clark's friends makes their relationship more real. And I have to agree.
There really can't be a long-term relationship built on the adrenaline of super-heroics and physical attraction. There has to be more to it for me to think about this romance more realistically. So I was glad to see that line. She even teases him about being too serious as Clark. It shows there is more to these two than just circumstance.
Now I still think this is all wrong. But at least the relationship is being explored a bit.
Before the smooching can commence though Superman is pulled away ... literally. Orion tugs on Superman's cape tossing him into the river. The dunking snaps Superman out of his psionic haze. But Orion isn't there to talk. He is going to fight Superman.
After months and months of basically complaining about Superman, I was thrilled to finish this issue and feel entertained and satisfied. This was a well-paced issue, opening with some action, showing some good (if addled) character development, and ending with a good cliffhanger. As I said before, it is hard to know just how much to make of all the odd conversations in the party ... but I think that something is there. At the very least, I get the sense that Clark and Lois still have intense feelings for each other even if they aren't openly admitting it to each other.
And Kenneth Rocafort really crushes it here. The art throughout the book just sizzles.