Superman #20 came out last week and I thought it was a pretty fun read with some very interesting moments. I certainly have had my complaints about Scott Lobdell and his treatment of Superman but one thing he shows here is just how vulnerable Superman would be to telepathic attacks. With the upcoming Psi-War storyline, I think this is just a sort of hors d'oeuvre to that larger arc.
Now as usual, I have some small problems with the characterization of Superman. But with the shroud of 'altered mental status' hanging over the Man of Steel, I am a bit more willing to roll with things here.
Add to that the tried and true comic plot line of two heroes slugging it out, something I am willing to accept when done rarely, and the big action, I thought this fun in a Michael Bay movie sort of a way.
There is one thing about the book that I am still on the fence about. I have never been a fan of the Superman/Wonder Woman romance but whether I like it or not, it is happening. One thing that has bothered me is that the characterization of Diana in mainstream books like Justice League and Superman is so different from her character in her own book. I had actually started to read Wonder Woman as though it were an Elseworlds title. Lobdell brings her book and plot into this book. On the one hand, as someone who doesn't mind continuity, it made me glad to see this. On the other hand, it doesn't explain the difference of her character in the different books.
Aaron Kuder is on art here and I like his style. He isn't quite Frank Quitely but he quietly brought a Quitely sort of feeling to the issue. And that cover, with the bright yellow background certainly leapt off the racks.
Now the book opens on a very intriguing scene. Ma and Pa Kent are alive. Clark is married to Lana Lang. And they have a 'little girl', a cute little puppy. It seems like the perfect life ... loving parents who understand you and a loving wife who accepts everything about you. There are some nice lines here like Lana saying she knew how crazy her life would when she agreed to be married to Clark as well as Pa talking about Clark's stubborn streak, like not giving up against Doomsday.
But we know this is fantasy or telepathic-induced dream state because the Kents are long dead and we haven't seen much of Lana outside of a few scenes in Morrison and Fisch's Action Comics.
What is interesting to me is that it is Lana that is the 'dream wife'.
Is it that she would be the 'safe choice' for this idyllic life. That a life with Lois and Diana would never be this calm? Or does Clark still feel that Lana is the one that 'got away'? Hmmm ...
I might be overthinking this. But I find that Lobdell chose Lana for this scene extremely interesting.
As I said, the art here works for me.
I love this title page with Orion's fist shattering this fantasy world and smashing Superman. The huge fist destroying that world completely works as it jars Superman and brings him back to reality.
I also like that the title is simply 'WHAM!', keying me in that this is going to be a knockdown drag-out brawl.
Orion and Superman certainly throw down pretty fast. I suppose I can understand why. Superman has been dealing with people acting crazily, his mind tampered with, and then out of nowhere someone he doesn't know attacks him.
And the action is beautifully rendered in wide screen panels and splash pages. Orion punched through an empty building and skipping across the bay. Orion hoisting an aircraft carrier as a club. Big art for big action.
Now I don't mind Superman using his fists against a presumed bad guy. But he should be above pettiness and this sort of chest thumping.
If there was one thing that stuck out as feeling wrong in this issue it is this line from Superman talking about pounding Orion until he'll be in an ICU drinking from a straw. Superman shouldn't say things like that no matter how ticked off he is. This bothered me. Superman should inspire and no one would say this sort of thug-talk is inspirational.
I do love how Kuder draws a huge S-shield. That is how it should be.
During a pause in the brawl, Diana shows up.
When she realizes that Orion is the 'villain', it leads to an awkward interaction. More than anything, this shows just how separate Wonder Woman's title has been. You would think that if she was in a close relationship with Clark that she would talk about Zola, the war of the gods, and Orion. But it is clear from her dialogue that Clark knows nothing about it. She says Orion is helping her with a 'project' ... not 'protecting Zola' ... not 'helping figure out Olympus' ... 'a project'. It basically means Clark knows nothing about her life. It really makes the relationship that much weaker in my mind.
That said, I understand Superman's response to Orion. A beefy guy shows up who clearly has a history with your girlfriend, a history you know nothing about. I know I would feel awkward and respond icily. I think it humanizes Superman a bit.
It turns out that the prophecy Orion heard about, the one where Superman destroys the Earth, was based on Hector Hammond possessing Superman. Orion actually apologizes for hitting first without talking.
I absolutely loved this panel where Wonder Woman uses her lasso to coax Hammond to reveal himself. You can feel the surprise on Diana and Orion, both flinching away. And Hammond's head on Superman's body is just horrific. Funny how Hammond says he made a 'world of peace' for Superman and that was the Lana world.
I don't know if I will ever understand the powers of Diana's lasso but this seemed an okay application.
What I didn't necessarily like was how Orion is able to use his Mother Box to force Hammond out as well as build up psychic walls so Superman can't be possessed again. That all seemed deus ex machina to me. I suppose that I should say novus deus ex machina as this is a new god in a machine. It seemed a bit too easy.
Okay. So while Orion continues to feel out if Diana has feelings for him and Diana keeps him at a distance, Superman sulks. Artistically, this panel works sublimely with Superman tiny in the distance.
As a guy who once felt like he was miles away while bruisers wooed wonderful women, I actually empathized here. For me, Superman is Clark, the shy nice farm boy. I could understand how he might be intimidated or feel hurt from this. She is a princess. Orion is a god. Clark is a farmer's son. It's why he didn't think he should date her in the Byrne era. I said it before, it sort of humanized Clark a bit.
And, I suppose it shows just how awkward I must have felt in my adolescence if it still surges to the surface now and then.
I do wonder if I am in the minority here. I wonder if this whole interaction seems off for other people. I especially wonder what Diana fans think.
Orion leaves and Clark and Diana promise each other a quiet night together. Hopefully she will tell him something about her life! And I would have been okay if the issue ended there.
But instead we get this weird image of a decaying Lana from the dream world apparently still somewhere in the deep recesses of Superman's mind. Pretty scary image, especially given the more pristine Lana seen in the reflection.
Will this seed left by Hammond be utilized by someone in the upcoming Psi-War? I hope so. I would hate for this page to never be referenced again.
So where do I land with this issue. Certainly there were parts that I enjoyed - the big action, Superman feeling spurned a bit, the intriguing Lana world, and Aaron Kuder's art. But Superman saying he was going to smash Orion felt off. And this issue weakened the Clark/Diana relationship more since it is clear she doesn't talk to him at all about anything happening in her life.