Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Superman #24

Superman #24 came out last week, the 'finale' of the Psi War storyline that Scott Lobdell has been weaving through both super-titles recently. Lobdell has backed off this story the last couple of months, maybe so he could write all of the upcoming 'Krypton Returns' books. Our old friend from Supergirl, Mike Johnson, once again steps in as writer on this chapter. I do wonder if Lobdell plotted this finale. Johnson does a fine job here, wrapping things up and tidying up some of the hanging questions I have about the plot.

Eddy Barrows is on art here and does a great job. I'm not surprised. Barrows stuff is always sharp and slick. It just seems he can never stay on time with a monthly title. With the wild psionic action and crazy physical brawls in this finale, Barrows really is able to shine here.

I put 'finale' in quotes above because while the acute problem of the various psionic factions vying for control of Metropolis was stopped, all the villains escape, slinking away to plot more. Also it is a brutal issue with some horrific imagery when the Psycho Pirate cuts loose on the citizens of town. It seems a bit much for a Superman comic. Lastly, there is one key panel which shows the new 52 attitude towards the man of steel, something mirrored in the recent movie.

I still think this was one of the better arcs in the 2 years of Superman stories in the New 52 (Morrison's run is exempt from inclusion in my mind). These villains with mental powers just pose a bigger threat in my mind than Mongul for instance. And Lois has a decent sized role here, albeit with powers. I want to see Lois the reporter more than Lois the novice psionic.

The book opens up right where the last book ended. Lois, infected and energized by psionic power, battles the Psycho Pirate who simply shut down Superman last issue.

There are some leaps here. The Psycho Pirate is powerful enough to have defeated Hector Hammond and Queen Bee. He is strong enough to be battling Superboy in a High School somewhere (still idiotic given what he is doing here. What would he gain from antagonizing teenagers). And he is replete with power having sucked Superman dry. So how Lois, who just inherited her powers, is able to parry effectively for a bit.

This opening splash is a great representation of Barrows' work here. The snakes from the Medusa mask, the cityscape. The odd angle, putting Lois and the Pirate upright when really they are at wild angles (Superman being the 'ground' X axis) all works.

And this page works as well, the panels formed by the splayed out psionic snakes. That is nice. There is even a sort of 'emotional spectrum' here, with the panels colored vividly with one major tone.

The Pirate is impressed enough with Lois to leave her alive. He tells her she must decide quickly ... join him or be killed by him. It is a bit of hubris on his part. Perhaps that is his flaw. But off he goes to strip the citizens of Metropolis of their civility and let their emotions run wild.

Lois uses her new powers to jump start Superman's mind. He is shocked by her appearance and her willingness to fight the Pirate. Before they can dwell too much, the other villains show up.

First Hector Hammond arises.

And then we see the Queen Bee in her real form. I have to say I was very happy to see this. All of the Twenty, those touched by psionics, have slowly mutated into monstrous forms with bulbous brain-heads. I wondered how the Queen Bee could be so super-model perfect. Turns out that was just her glamour. She actually looks more like the Aliens Queen. So thanks to Johnson for removing that slight problem I had.

With the Pirate being the biggest threat amongst them, Superman and Lois decide to team up with the Queen and Hammond.

Sure I have read Superman stories where he has briefly teamed up with villains to fight villains but it is usually with a wry smile. It usually ends with Superman imprisoning all the villains, even his temporary allies. We don't see that here.

And I suppose the Pirate is a bigger threat. Hammond and the Queen simply want to enslave the city. Heck, the Queen wants them to be fodder for Brainiac. These 'allies' aren't saints.

But the Pirate is the more pressing issue. He has removed all civility and reason from people. And it is here that we see some terrible imagery. People fighting and shooting and looting and lighting fires. Okay ...

But children becoming cannibals? Gnawing on the recent dead like the Vendol from The Thirteenth Warrior? It seems excessive. It reminded me of the horror we saw in the last arc of Alan Moore's Miracleman. This seemed gratuitous.

And now my biggest problem with the book ... once again we see Superman willing to kill if the threat is big enough. Or at least willing to consider a killing move before exhausting all other options.

Lois deduces the mask is what is making the Pirate so powerful. Superman has to remove it.

Look at his face as he acknowledges that removing the mask might kill the Pirate. She even says it might effect the crowd. So what does Superman do? While the Queen and Hammond distract the Psycho Pirate, Superman flies and rips off his mask.

It might kill the Pirate. It might make things worse for those he controls. But that is the first thing he does.

Not fly him away from the crowd. Not fly him up to the thin air to see if he can knock him unconscious. Not fly around him like a cyclone to shock the air out of his lungs. Not use his superbreath to make him hypothermic. Nope ... head straight for the jugular, human life be damned.

It is a subtle change in Superman isn't it. Now it is implied that if the threat is big enough he could kill.

And it feels wrong.

Of course, it doesn't kill the Psycho Pirate. But that isn't the point. The point is Superman was willing to do it knowing it might kill him. Especially when other options hadn't been explored.

Then a very nice wrinkle.

The mask seems to have a will of its own and tries to seduce Superman into putting it on. That would be a decent wrinkle alone.

But then psionic Lois uses her power and influence to have Superman take it off. And she ends her plea by calling him Clark! Shaken free by her voice, he removes the mask and incinerates it with his heat vision.

But Lois knows Superman is Clark! Was it her psionics? Did she 'know' deep in her heart and her psionics revealed the truth to herself? Who knows? But that is a great twist.

Of course, with the adrenaline rush over, Lois lapses back into her human form and her coma.

So we get this scene at the end where Superman proclaims that Lois is his best friend. So tell me, is this a case of him protesting too much? Trying to convince himself not to be in love with her because she is with someone else? Or is this DC shoving the Clark/Diana thing down our throats more, pushing Lois away more?

I suppose best friend is better than enemy or absent.

Lois ends up back in the hospital, brought there as Clark who happened to 'stumble upon her'. As for the villains ... they all get away. All of them. Sure, they are hurting and weakened. But Superman let them all escape to wreak havoc later.

So it is sort of a non-end. The Pirate and Lois know now that Clark is Superman. And Superman is willing to use a kill option to end a threat.

The action scenes were engaging and the art was vibrant. So overall this ends up being a decent issue. The ups are high. The lows are low.

Overall grade: B/C+


Martin Gray said...

Excellent point about Superman and the kill option. Your alternatives should all have been tried. I don't know whether it's the writer not being smart enough to think of these things - pretty obvious to a longtime reader- or more likely, DC wanting Superman to be 'edgy'.

I expect Lois will forget the secret once she's out of the coma, darn.

I'd like this issue to have ended with the bad guys in jail and Clark actually filing a story!

Anonymous said...

Re: Clark calling Lois his "Best friend"---I suspect it's DC trying to have it both ways with Lois.

First off, it probably should be noted that Lois and Clark have ALWAYS been close friends before they were lovers. It's one of the refreshing things about their relationship because they had both a friendship and a romantic love which is why it always looked like their marriage would go the distance.

Remember that the famous line from Superman: The Movie was Lois saying, "if you need a friend...I'm the one to fly to." They were openly best friends on "Lois and Clark" before 2 seasons before Clark got off his butt and did something about it. And they were extremely close friends on Smallville for 4 seasons before anything romantic happened. So it's not actually inaccurate to say that she probably ::is:: his best friend and that that doesn't actually stray from canon.

Clark used to call Diana his best friend prior to the new 52 too but that was always much more in a sibling context. They came across like brother and sister. (Enchanced by the fact that they look like brother and sister.) In the new 52, Clark and Diana don't really have a "friendship" at all. That's a sad change from their previous interactions.

Right now, DC basically wants to play it both ways witih Lois. They set up 2 years worth of narratives where we were repeatedly told that Clark wanted more and that he couldn't have Lois. He turned to Diana in a moment of extreme loneliness. Now, they are playing a game. People can deduce what they want.

Shippers of Clark/Diana can pretend that Clark really does view Lois as ONLY his friend so that they don't have to feel threatened that Lois is still out there and that Clark might still love her.

People who aren't fond of Clark/Diana can look at the way Clark was clearly in love with Lois for the last 2 years and deduce that he's still in love with her and would ultimately rather be with Lois and is just biding his time.

They are playing both sides of the fence with Lois. They want access to her in case they need her for drama or love triangles. But they also want to push their new agenda with Superman/Wonder Woman. It's clear as day that they want people to argue about who Clark truly loves. Jim Lee has openly said as much when he talked about "Team Diana" and "Team Lois." It's unfortunate bc in their haste to create "teams" for the women I think they miss that so many fans just want both women treated with dignity and are tired of these games. Great review, as always.---Shades

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Shades, I am with you all the way. As someone who thinks Superman is more Clark than Kal, being with Lois is the only thing that makes sense.

I thought this was a bone that DC was throwing to Lois fans, making her 'important' ... the best friend. But it isn't enough for me.

Anj said...

Yeah Mart, is definitely to make him edgy and that's a shame.

Superman shouldn't need to be edgy.

Anonymous said...

I think he's both Clark Kent and Superman and Lois is the bridge between both personas bc she falls in love and connects with him as both Superman in the costume and Clark in the glasses. And he loves her in both distinct identities.

Lana Lang loves Clark Kent. She does not love Superman and Superman is an equally real part of who Clark is.

Diana loves Superman but she doesn't love or understand Clark Kent. How could she? She didn't grow up as one of us and doesn't need a human identity to be whole.

Lois Lane loves Clark Kent but she also loves Superman. He's her hero. Lois Lane is Clark Kent's Superman. She is his hero. And she's the glue between his two identities and the only woman with which he is able to be whole.---Shades

Jay said...

Its establishing their currently relationship, really. Yes some people aren't happy with it and thus can constitute it as "shoving it down their throats", but I mean, it is what it is. DC wants them friends, so yeah, they're going to hammer it home when they can. I can't really see the fault in it either. They made a decision and are standing by that decision. Its certainly better than "You'll always, I don't know exactly what you are to me." Kinda ruins the moment. ;)

In regards to Lois calling him Clark, I want to think this will continue into a status quo of Lois knowing, but I'm not convinced. There's the all-too convenient amnesia route they could go once she loses her powers, and Perez tried this in the beginning and it was eventually nixed. So I'm tempering my expectation. In my opinion though I definitely feel she should know and should be his only human confidant in that secret. It'd be a new dynamic considering the Kents are gone, and the two are not romantically linked. And new dynamics for 75 year old characters aren't a dime a dozen.

Anonymous said...

@Jay, You are missing the forrest through the trees again, my friend.

First of all, "new dynamics" are only a good thing if they don't disrespect fundamentals of the 75 year old narrative. Superman and Lois Lane as romantic partners who eventually can't deny their love for each other is part of the core of the Superman story. The attraction was part of Action #1 and is the only thing in the narrative that is actually 75 years old besides Superman himself. Lois and Superman will only be "just friends" for so long and frankly, I don't believe they are "just friends" even now.

The reason DC has to keep "shoving it down our throats' is because they know this too. They know that Superman/Lois is way, way too powerful and they feel threatened. They go over the top with aggressive promotion for Superman/Wonder Woman and continue to shove Lois aside because they are desperate and threatened by the popularity and power of the Superman/Lois love story. And they are right to be. Superman/WW can never hope to compare. The only thing it can fight for is second place.

But here's the real issue: Lois Lane being Clark's only human confidant is NOT new. It was part of the core of the narrative that DC refused to follow through on back in 1940.

Jerry Siegel wanted Lois to be Clark's partner and know his secret in full as early as 1940. He wrote the K-Metal storyline with this intention but DC refused to publish it. Jerry Siegel ALWAYS envisioned Lois as being the person that Clark trusted even when his parents were not in the picture. Lois was his only human confidant again when they were married on Earth 2 (Golden Age canon in retrospect) in the late 70's.

So this wouldn't be "new" as much as finally setting things right to what they should have been decades ago. I agree that it makes sense. But, make no mistake, they will, at some point, be romantically linked. To refuse the love story between them would not be "new" it would be a complete change of the core of the narrative and a complete disrespect to the characters from their moment of inception. The characters were created together to be together. And they'll be together again.

Every time I see DC comics go over the top telling me how Lois is Clark's "friend" I just want to laugh. Because it reminds me how threatening Lois is to their current status quo. So you're right about one thing: DC is "standing by their decision." But it was a bad decision that frankly, to me, panders to the lowest common denominator of comic book male readers. It's a decision that has been ripe with misogyny and poor behavior from men across the comics community and has resulted in horrific gender commentary and sexist behavior and has been rightly and intelligently struck down by a lot of really intelligent, thoughtful people. And I can't wait for the day when new leadership who is more supportive of women and less tone deaf to feminist issues has their day at DC Comics so this can be rolled back and everyone responsible for it can be fired. :) Until then...poor Lois is stuck in limbo. But she won't be for long. Superman/Wonder Woman won the battle but they will lose the war. Superman/Lois Lane will win the war.

Jay said...

To make a long story short, to me, it doesn't disrespect the fundamentals of the 75 year dynamic. There is absolutely nothing, in my mind, disrespectful by not having Superman and Lois Lane in a romantic relationship. There were many, many periods in Superman lore in which they were not. I don't get why people act like they've been together the entire 75 years.

Jay said...

And with all due respect, I think you're being incredibly reckless and irresponsible with your use of the term misogyny.

Anonymous said...

@Jay, with all due respect to YOU, you have some serious privilege issues that you need to check. As a man, you have absolutely no right to tell me or any other woman that we are being "reckless" in expressing why something triggers us or upsets us.

I would suggest you take the time to educate yourself on why so many feminists (including feminist writers like Simone and Rucka and Jiminez) have been outspoken about the gender problems with what has been done to Lois Lane and Wonder Woman in the new 52.

Now, I'm sorry that this goes against something you enjoy. You enjoy Superman/Wonder Woman so I'm sure it's frustrating to you that so many people who advocate for women in the genre are so intensely against the relationship and have pointed out how problematic it is. But you have ZERO right to imply that the people who continue to speak out about this are being "reckless" and you have zero right to straw man their arguments. That is intensely problematic behavior and it's behavior that continues to keep the comics medium a place where women don't feel welcome on equal terms.

As for Lois and Superman, you are AGAIN incorrect with your history. The Triangle for 2 was part of the core concept of the Superman mythos and was a driving force in the Superman story for 75 years. Now, let's put aside that Lois and Clark were a committed couple for over 20 years in the modern canon. Let's put aside that prior to that they were a committed couple in the Superman family books throughout the 80's and ended both the Golden and Silver Ages as a committed couple. Let's put aside that every single successful adapation of the Superman property has centered around their love story and/or ended with the affirmation of their partnership in some capacity.

This isn't actually ABOUT Lois/Clark being a committed couple. It's not about them being married. This is about the underlying drive of the narrative for 75 years. Superman has been in love with Lois Lane for 75 years. Even when he was dating other people. Even when SHE was dating other people. Even when they were fighting. Even when they weren't together.

Their connection has driven the narrative. It's been a baseline. To remove Lois LAne from being that baseline and marginalize her and push her to the side is a really crappy, offensive thing to do.

Now, I would strongly suggest that you examine your privilege her and really try and educate yourself on WHY so many women have written about this issue and brought it to light and why what has been done to both Wonder Woman and Lois is considered so problematic. BC if you are going to talk about this issue then I think you really have some reading to do to understand what is actually going on. Bc right now? You aren't getting it. You are missing the point and, in the process, you are exercising some severe gender privilege. There are a lot of well written resources available to you if you would like to take some time and learn a bit more about the issues a play. Let me know if I can help you in any way.---Shades

Anj said...

Thanks for the intelligent discussion here.

It is obviously a hot button issue, something DC probably knew would happen leading to all the discussion and publicity it has led to.

I still think that my Superman is a 'man of the people' and would want a heroic woman like Lois more than Diana. I think there is something about how special she is that he would devote himself to her.

Anonymous said...

And the litany of haters continues:

mimimi Clark loves Lois
mimimi Superman needs Lois
mimimi Wonder Woman does not love Clark


Jay said...

I'm sorry that you're getting so offended, Anonymous. This is not my intent. But my feelings stand. Its a hot topic, with passionate feelings on both ends, and they're all valid. But I'm sorry, when we start accusing people of woman hating because a ship they like isn't taking place, that's too far to me. I find it very inappropriate. That's my feeling. I'm not law, you can say what you wish, but its how I feel.

Jay said...

Ugh, and once again I hit reply too soon. Sorry for flooding Anj.

But I just wanted to point out, I'm not incorrect in my history. I never said a triangle nor romantic tension hasn't been a part of the Lois and Clark dynamic for 75 years. I said they weren't together for all those 75 years. Which is accurate.

Anonymous said...

Jay, I think you are confused by what misogny actually is. It's not as simple as "woman hating". Sexism is not always so obvious. It's deeply connected and linked to our cultural constructs and shapes both our narratives and how we treat women in those narratives.

You are belittling the concerns of women by implying that this is just about "shipping" and that gender concerns aren't a part of this.

Again, I really urge you to take the time to really educate yourself on why this goes far beyond a shipping dispute. Right now, you are being flippant and that's problematic.

I'm not offended by you btw. I genuinely hope you take the time to listen and learn.----Shades

Anonymous said...

Which changes nothing. They weren't committed for the entire 75 years but they were always working to ::get::there. The back and forth was the beating drum underneath the story even if they were seeing other people. Their interactions personally and professionally drove the narrative.

This isn't about Lois and Clark being marries or committed. It's about a fundamental marginalization of a push and pull that drove the story for 75 years. It's about the marginalization of the female voice in a 75 year old narrative and the re-porpoising of our greatest female superhero as a male fantasy object.

You still don't get it and you aren't listening when women try to put the issue in clear terms for you. And I give up. ---shades