Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Superman #33

Superman #33, the second issue by megastar team of Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr, came out this week and continued to be a revamping and re-solidifying of the Superman mythos while exploring the new arc of Ulysses and Klerik.

I will admit that I am thrilled to see Johns bring back some classic consistency to Superman, something lacking since the New 52. So to see the Daily Planet staff -  Jimmy Olsen as a young photographer (not billionaire slacker), Lois as a dogged reporter (not missing or a Brainiac), and even Ron Troupe and Steve Lombard - was wonderful. It felt right. And that goes a long way.

And the Ulysses arc moves along nicely with a very interesting wrinkle at the end.

For me, I thought this was a perfect sort of second issue for a new creative team and a new arc. It was a bit exposition heavy but that is what second issues often are. Think about this new arc like you would a James Bond movie. The first issue was the opening action sequence, tied into the overall plot but more to grab the reader with a pulse-pounding sequence. After that opening salvo in Bond movies, we get exposition to help set up the plot. Again, the pace and sequence of the story felt right.

I have to be up front and say that I don't like Romita's art.  And this issue doesn't change that much. There are some nice panel set-ups that I liked. But some other places this seems rough.

The book opens with a classic scene, Perry White chewing out his staff for being scooped on the Ulysses story. While it doesn't move the plot forward, it feels like a role call by Johns. We basically go around the room and meet the characters who sometimes give a sort of one-sentence definition of who they are.

Lois Lane is the hard investigative reporter but she gets 'invited in' to get her stories. Steve Lombard is a laidback sort of oaf. Jimmy is the hard-working photographer who always seems to miss the big shot. Ron Troupe is a more of an activist. And this new reporter, whose name escapes me ... sorry, seems more like a hot-shot, attacking reporter, kicking doors down and pouncing. Heck, even Cat Grant seems ready to re-sign with the Planet.

Okay ... the supporting cast is set and defined. Check off that box.

I will say this was the one panel I very much liked. Perry has thrown the rival newspaper in the air. And those floating papers become sort of panel borders. And, as usual I may be over-reading things, I think the paper also helps define the character. Lois is truly surrounded by the paper. She is the most defined by it. The new reporter, looking at her phone, has less paper surrounding her. She isn't as invested in the 'paper', the phone a nice addition. And Ron ... he's in front of the paper. He isn't a news reporter, he's writes opinion pieces, being in front of the news.

Clark arrives at the paper and talks with Perry in private. Clark is working on something on his own and asks Perry about the Ulysses lab, the site of Ulysses birth and journey to Dimension 2.

Talk about exposition! You barely can see the characters as Johns gives us the backstory of Ulysses' parents. But we need this information to move forward. In fact, Perry was the reporter that covered the Ulysses' disaster 25 years earlier.

Perry really wants to bring Clark back into the fold and so cuts a deal. He'll help Clark as much as possible with this story if ... and only if ... Clark gives the story to the Planet. I like this wrinkle very much. It is clear Johns wants Clark back at the Planet. But how to get him there after the impassioned speech Lobdell had him give when he left the Planet? It needs to be done right.

Unfortunately, the middle part of the issue stumbles a bit when we see more of Ulysses.

He arrives at the Planet looking for Superman and finding Clark. Luckily Clark is able to smooth things over, saying that as Clark he is interviewing Ulysses ... finally named to the public. (I do hope that Perry is able to put 2 and 2 together - Clark asking about Ulysses labs, then introducing Ulysses.)

I do love seeing the curiosity raised in Lois when she sees Clark and Ulysses together. Suddenly it really does feel like home again - Land and Olsen are a team again!

Ulysses seems a bit befuddled by Earth and our culture. He asks about secret identities. Later, he is amazed by hot dogs and doesn't understand the concept of money, etc. I suppose it makes sense.

But it makes Clark's actions that much more perplexing. He left Ulysses alone in his apartment when he went to the Planet? He wants Ulysses to stay there when he goes to investigate the lab. He is told by Ulysses that Klerik (the alien the two pounded last issue) is in prison but probably healing.

Why would he leave this powerhouse, who he just met, who he knows nothing about, who doesn't understand our world, whose enemy is healing ... why would he leave him alone in his apartment?

Johns has set this Superman up to be more of a loner. But this seems silly.

The lab is a disaster. But something seems amiss to Clark to the point he calls Perry while there.

I put this in because I thought this sequence, mostly wordless, worked well for Romita including this panel. Amazingly, it mirrors the cover. The cover actually happened!

Meanwhile, Ulysses - calling himself by his birth name Neil - decides to walk the city in civilian clothes, blending in, the explanation Clark uses for needing a secret identity. It is here we see Ulysses acting out of place.

But during his stroll, giant robot army men storm the city. Ulysses springs to action to defend the 'other humans' and eventually Superman joins in. Superman says the soldiers are similar tech to the Titano robot.

Looks like the Toyman is coming back!

We learn what shocked Clark in the labs. Despite the apparent disaster, it seems that Neil's parents (assumed dead in an explosion last issue) survived! And given their history, they assumed new identities. Superman reunites the family.

I have to say I wasn't expecting this. Part of the hook for me in this story is that Ulysses is sort of Superman in reverse, an Earth couple rocketing their son to a new place which will make him super-human. Now I suppose that Neil's birth parents being alive will be used as a foil or as a plot point in the arc. But I am surprised to have this revealed so soon.

This is one of those panels that doesn't seem to work for me. The POV is slightly looking down but it looks like there isn't enough room for Superman at this angle. His head seems small, or his neck small, or something. But he looks odd enough to pull me out of this moment.

But the evil mastermind behind it all, the person I think is the real Klerik, the New 52 Cleric from Superman lore, is watching it all. And he seems to have some stake in this difference. Remember, he said he 'taught' Clark last issue. Now he says he might not be 'alone' soon. Could this be like the old Cleric, using the Eradicator to show Clark his parents in memories?

Overall I thought this was a good issue, the Daily Planet scene being the high point, the action sequence with the army soldier robots also being very good.

I do have some slight worries about how Johns is characterizing Superman. Last issue he moped alone in his apartment. Here he leaves Ulysses behind while he investigates. We barely see Clark interact with any of his friends. I hope we see things turn around. Maybe this arc, looking at a reflection of himself in Ulysses, might move him.

Still ... this felt like a Superman comic, something I haven't always been able to say in the New 52.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Great review, fascinating thoughts on the tossed newspaper panel. And if you want overthinking, check out my review of (not actually saying, I'm far too self-promoting) this week.

I had similar thoughts about the apartment business, you're right, it's dumb. The mopiness of Clark bothers me more, but I had my say on that last time ... it does seem the point of this story may be to 'socialise' Clark, so I'll give it a pass this time.

And yep, that panel towards the end is indeed awkward, Clark looks very hunched.

Jay said...

I hate to be a killjoy, but while I too thought Toyman at first, I remembered the later solicits, which mention a new villain going by the name of the Machinist. I think the robot Titano and these toy soliders are his creations (and I think the Machinist is this hooded figure who keeps acting as if he knows Clark).

Martin Gray said...

Oh Indeedy, he or she was mentioned in Anj's solicits post - but that doesn't mean they're not a new take on the Toyman.

Jay said...

Hey I certainly won't complain if that ends up the case. :)

Anj said...

Yeah. I saw the Machinist solicit and heard Johns talk about it on DC All Access.

So I guess my Cleric/Toyman guesses are wrong.

Jay said...

Seeing that silhouette of the Machinist, and the hints he's been dropping thus far (if indeed he and the hooded guy are the same), I'm guessing he's some sort of robot in the guise of Jonathan Kent. With his maker actually being a significant reveal down the line.

Anj said...

I think you are dead on Jay. The 'I taught you better than that Clark' makes me think this is some robotic Pa Kent.

And the fact that Ulysses parents are alive would also add to that wrinkle. What would Superman do to have his dad alive. Will he accept a faux Pa.


Jay said...

Thanks! Heh, wouldn't it be something if Johns was planning on bringing back Kenny Braverman/Conduit, and he's responsible for creating the Machinist? Hell, in the old continuity the guy was obsessed enough to create an entirely robotic Smallville. A new take delving further into sci-fi and mad science could be intriguing.

Anonymous said...

Very nice review Anj, I just read this issue yesterday and also really liked it. It definitely did feel like a Superman comic and only Unchained and Morrison's Action Comics run have really earned that title in the New 52 so far for me.

On Johns characterising Superman as a loner, it's something he's done a lot when writing Superman and I understand, if not slightly like it. In Superman and The Legion of Superheroes, there's a page from the final battle where Earth Man accuses Superman of not being an outsider and after Superman knocks him out, he says he's been an outsider all his life. Not to mention that Chris Kent was another way to make Superman seem less alone amongst humans. Still, a lonely Superman can lead to an angsty Superman and that's not right for the character.

But I agree with most of your other points and for me, the slow pacing and plot were the weak points of the issue. Everything else was good and Johns looks like the best person to redeem Superman. Plus there's also that Supergirl inclusion I tipped you off about ;)

Louis Seymour.