Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: Smallville:Alien #4

Smallville:Alien #4 came out last week, the conclusion to this mini-arc/episode depending on your nomenclature. I have been effusive with my praise for this title in the past as it showcases a more classic Superman tone, a strong Lois, and a growing universe rushing to a Crisis. And this chapter continues to showcase all of those things.

This episode felt more like a middle episode of a series, or the middle chapter of a long arc. It was odd to think of this as a conclusion as I felt there were so many plot threads happening that none dominated. Writer Bryan Q. Miller has certainly stuffed this arc with them. Clark reveals he's an alien. A monitor crash lands. A dead Clark shows up. Nightwing is dating and worried about sharing her life. Rocket Reds show up! Whew!

We certainly get plot progression here. But I think I ended up with more questions than answers. That isn't a bad thing! This book is getting more complex as the Crisis comes. But I felt like maybe my attention was split a bit too much in Alien. So this 'finale' didn't feel like one. I suppose this is a ludicrous comment. I loved this issue.

And as is typical of Smallville, the character moments are wonderful. In particular, I love how Miller is making Lex a very complex and convoluted character. He isn't all evil. He certainly isn't good. He is obsessed with Superman but doesn't really know why. He is struggling to figure out who he is and it seems he only knows how to lash out. Fascinating.

Edgar Salazar is on art here and does a very fine job. This is a fine-lined detail style that works well in both the big action super-sequences and the more street-level Gotham side of things. And Cat Staggs showing the two main fights in the issue circling a splitting world is perfect.

As I said, there is a lot that happens in this issue on multiple fronts. And I promise I'll get to the Superman, Batman, and Lex stuff soon.

But one thing I felt I had to comment on again is the growth of Otis!

At first he seemed like the standard bumbling henchmen. But over time he has grown. We see Lex relying on him. We see Otis become less inept. We hear of a possible interesting back story. And now we see him become proactive. With Lex missing, at the mercy of the Monitor, Otis decides it is up to him to rescue his boss. And if that means stealing a Red Rocket suit ... so be it.

Character development ... in Otis Berg! Just a tiny example of what makes Smallville so great.

With Clark in the water, the Monitor retrieves Lex only to chastise Luthor for being weaker than his multiverse counterparts. It seems that this Monitor is here to eliminate the planet and anyone he finds wanting. But before the Monitor vaporizes Lex he allows Luthor to ask one question.

What does Lex ask? Nothing about himself. His unknown past? The upcoming Crisis? What other and supposedly superior Lex's are like in other universes?

Nope. He asks 'Why Superman?', why does Superman vex him so. He is so obsessed by Superman that truly it is the first thing he thinks of.

And that makes this Lex interesting. He doesn't seem to relish doing evil. I don't think he necessarily likes doing evil. But he can't move past this obsession. And that leads him to do the wrong thing.

Meanwhile, Clark regains consciousness, charges up in the sunlight, and is able to rescue Lex.

It turns out that the Monitor's energy is from a different universe/dimension so doesn't have to play by the standard rules of Kryptonian invulnerability.

I have come to enjoy the banter between Tess and Emil. There is still some Luthor in Tess. She seems to have a bit of an edge, some sarcasm in her. And he is all straight lace until he gets exasperated. I like them as a pair of techies back home.

Clark heads back to discover the Monitor ship in the air and gearing up to destroy the Earth.

But this story started with a dead Clark from another universe. Last issue we learned it was a Jokerized Batman from that world. This Bruce is clearly insane but equally matches the true Batman. Luckily Nightwing is there to back him up.

Or maybe that is unluckily! My 'Crisis death-sense' was pinging like mad about Nightwing last issue. Figured the 'gymnast boyfriend' would take up the Nightwing mantle when Steph  Babs got injured or killed. Turns out maybe I was thinking to far away. In a very Elektra sort of way, anti-Batman stabs Nightwing. It isn't easy to come back from that wound.

Once captured, the anti-Bruce says that on his world Clark was a human who tried to become a hero. He got killed for his efforts. This Bruce also killed Thomas and Martha. And may have killed his Barbara.

Also, his world is gone, destroyed by the Crisis. he and Clark were able to hop through a portal to get here.

What a weird moment for the real Bruce. How odd it must be to look at yourself who has become so twisted.

And nice take on this human Clark hero. I guess on almost all Earths, regardless of powers, Clark tries to do what's right.

The Monitor is controlling his ship from the ground and is readying its weapons when Superman shows back up. He overpowers the Monitor but the ship continues to rise.

Lex knows the easiest answer it to kill the Monitor. He begs Superman to do it. That death will also scare the other Monitors from coming back to end their Earth. But Superman says that killing isn't his style.

Instead, Superman risks his own life to fly directly into the Monitor cannon, destroying the ship from the inside out.

This is such a classic Superman pose and sequence.

Otis arrives in the Red Rocker armor to whisk Lex away. But the Monitor ends up dying. (It is odd, he stands there, arms open as the ship explodes, not even trying to escape or protect himself.)

But I like this panel sequence as well. Clark looks at the dead body. Then his clenched fist. He might not have directly killed the Monitor, but his actions did. I think it is a moment of reflection, reminding him what his power can do.

Then he closes the eyes of this guy who was about to destroy the Earth and apologizes that he is dead.

That is Superman!

With anti-Batman caught and the Monitor threat ended, there is nothing  left but the wrap-up.

There is a great scene between Clark and Lex. Lex concedes that his need to know about his past endangered the planet. It is a moment of reflection.

But Clark seems to have had enough. He tells Lex that he keeps hurting himself (in this case physically) when he puts his own needs over everyone else's.

I get the sense that in the true Crisis in this book that Lex will be forced to make a decision for right or wrong.

Anti-Batman ends up in a cell with Vandal Savage, being guarded by J'Onn. Steph  Babs ends up recovering from her wound and is able to date 'the Gymnast' some more. I guess my 'Crisis death sense' was wrong. That leaves Batman free to head to Metropolis and join Clark's team to save the world.

You know what I love about this. The fact that Clark's team is Tess, Chloe, and Lois. Sure Emil could be there, and Oliver, and maybe Con and the Titans. But the main team are these three strong women.

I especially love that Lois is completely frustrated by her inability to spread the word about the Monitors and the Crisis.

Despite that nice little moment of self-awareness, Lex just can't help himself. He palmed the Monitor's communicator and is now reaching out in the multiverse to see if there are other Lex's out there. Surely one of them knows Clark is Superman. Will they share that info? But this seems like a bad idea, once again putting his needs above the universe's.

It was good to see Diana Prince in this issue briefly. She is the one that notices that the communicator is gone from the crash site.

So overall, a lot of good stuff happening here. A dramatic fight between Batmen. A fight between Superman and the Monitor. A lot of nice character moments, especially for Lex. Overall, another great issue in this title.

I suppose it is only a matter of time before there is a big enough team to get to the actual Crisis. I don't think Supergirl is going to die. But now I am worrying about Jay Garrick. The old saying is 'you can't have a Crisis without a Flash dying'. Maybe he dies and somehow Impulse returns, dons the Flash guise.

This book is really clicking on all cylinders.

Overall grade: B+


Starsaber said...

I was kind of iffy on this "episode" in general. I'm looking forward to Lantern (the next episode) a lot more.

Anj said...

I was not blown away by it like I was with the Wonder Woman episode.

I felt like it was an appetizer, setting up the big Crisis entree in the future.