Superman #26 came out this week and was the first issue post-Krypton Returns for the character. I had lots of issues with the story-telling in that arc and was glad to see it put behind me.
Writer Scott Lobdell may have felt the same way. There is nary a mention of the crossover or the story in this issue. You would think that meeting a version of his father, battling a warped megalomaniac like H'El, and bringing about the destruction of Krypton again might have effected Superman. Instead, we simply move forward.
That said, this issue has the most Lois in it since the inception of the title. Moreover, Lobdell informs us more about the Clark/Lois relationship. You really get the sense that both them realize that something could have happened between them but nothing ever materialized. For the most part, this all felt quite natural with only one moment sticking out as feeling a tad off.
Kenneth Rocafort has the issue off. Ken Lashley provides the art in this book. His style is a bit rougher and less stylized than Rocafort's but it works here. There are some nice small art flourishes in the book that complement the words nicely. And Lashley uses Rocafort's unique panel layouts to give the book a sense of artistic continuity.
The issue opens with Clark having a quiet night at home with Wonder Woman. I suppose Lobdell is trying to show us that there really is a romance here, that these two are a true couple. But it still feels a little bit forced. Clark made her rhubarb soup, something that Diana begrudgingly tries, the implication being that if it weren't by Clark she would never try it.
And she can't stay because she has to battle a demon horde, unless Superman can tempt her otherwise.
It still doesn't feel right. They seem too different to click romantically. I mean even their wardrobe says it. He is wearing his glasses and dressed for a comfortable night at home. She is in her battle gear ... for a romantic dinner. Other than the clear physical attraction here, I just haven't found a hook as a reader that makes me think this would work.
But it is here that I wish Lobdell inserted some reference to Krypton Returns, even if it was a phrase saying they had talked about it. ("After seeing Krypton destroyed again, I needed some comfort food ... rhubarb soup.") Instead, it feels as if that didn't happen at all.
But Clark's temptations are rebuffed by the arrival of Lois' astral self. While Lois' body might be in a coma, her Brainiac-enhanced brain is still tremendously active. She still has psionic powers and therefore sends her spirit/astral form to Clark.
Clark pauses to talk to Lois and Diana excuses herself so they can have some private time. This was one of the moments that felt a little bit off, a little below Diana. There is no doubt that her expression is one of a spurned lover, jealous. And the clenched left fist does little to take away that impression. This felt icy to me.
And maybe jealousy in this scenario is a normal reaction. But I don't need Diana and Lois to be vying for Clark's attention while being catty to each other. It diminishes Diana.
But the Lois and Clark side of things seems right. These two obviously care about each other. Even if this is a Lois-ghost, they hug. She needs him to be a rock for her, to tell her that everything will be okay.
Funny how comfortable this relationship feels in comparison to the 'hot and bothered' but unseemly Clark/Diana one.
I guess even bumbling Clark could feel the tension as Diana walked out of the room. Lobdell has her in the bathroom adjusting her tiara when Clark arrives. Maybe she should have said she was going to powder her nose?
He asks if this Lois interruption is okay and she says all the right things, sealing things with a kiss.
This still feels off to me. I suppose this also is what would happen in real life in the early parts of a relationship. It would feel more normal to me if I thought they were on a solid foundation.
Superman picks up the Lois astral form (out of habit) and carries her to the hospital where she is staying. She laments being able to read everyone's minds all at once. She can see the horrific things happening but can't do anything.
She asks Clark how he can deal with it and he gives some good old fashioned Pa Kent wisdom. 'Do what you can' is different from 'Do everything'. I agree. Superman can't be everywhere or do everything. But I'd actually like to see this explored a bit more some time. How does he prioritize? Is he constantly scanning?
I thought it was a nice moment.
And then the odd moment. Outside the hospital window, Superman and Lois overhear General Lane (visiting his daughter) that he is going to take up the empty Senate seat left when Senator Hume died (of Brainiac poisoning). That is a nice future plot. Clark wonders if he can run with the story on his blog since it was obtained via super-hearing.
He then asks Lois if she will run with her story ... that Superman is Clark ... when she awakens.
Look at that middle panel. An angry face and an 'absolutely Smallville'.
Not 'I need to think about it.' Not 'my journalistic ethics say I have to' with a troubled expression.
Nope ... anger and a derisive 'absolutely Smallville.'
Even if her integrity says she should run with it, I don't think she should be angry or insulted.
As off as Diana's clenched fist was above, this was even more off.
But then Lobdell seems to right the ship.
We had an issue where Lois and Clark seem to be friends, maybe wishing there was more.
Then the odd angry moment.
Then this moment where Clark tells Jonathan that Lois loves him, not Superman. You can see the 'what might have been' look on Clark. Helping Jon was the right thing to do to help the Lois/Jonathan relationship. But it might not be easy. Maybe Clark wishes he was at that bedside.
It makes me think the Lois/Clark romance isn't quite dead yet.
In a bit of exposition, Dr. Veritas reveals that Lois isn't healing, but transforming.
I don't know why this should necessarily be a surprise to Superman. In Action Comics Annual #2, Lois told him that all the 'Twenty', the Brainiac infected citizens, were transforming into giant headed freaks. He has seen the 'true form' of the Queen Bee. I suppose hearing that it is happening to Lois at least makes it official.
One part of this issue I have been neglecting is the new Parasite being drawn to Lois' hospital.
It turns out that her power is like a beacon to the Parasite. Here he is draining her.
I suppose it will be an simple answer on how to cure her. She can be drained of all the Brainiac energy. She will probably lose her memory from that time. Everything nice and easy.
It will leave a bloated psionic Parasite for Superman to deal with.
It reminds me of this arc from the mid 1990's where Superman was overcharged and needed to be drained by the Parasite.
So after a rough 'Krypton Returns', this was actually a mostly decent issue. I thought that the Lois/Clark interaction was actually handled fairly well ... outside of that irked 'absolutely'.
But it also once again showed me just how awkward the Diana/Clark romance reads. It just never sounds natural or right. And it seems to make the characters seem lesser than what they should be. Wonder Woman is just not right here.
And even the slightest mention of Krypton Returns would have been appreciated, some reminder that this story happened, mattered, and effected Superman in some way.