Superman #34 came out last week, the third issue by the superstar creative team of Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr, and Klaus Janson.
The thrust of this arc so far has been comparing and contrasting Superman to Ulysses. We have seen how their origins are similar but their lives are now very different. There is no Krypton for Superman to return to. There aren't parents that are alive and well for Superman to meet and be loved by. That should be great grist for the literary mill. There should be enough there to keep me attentive for a long time. And, in the end, it is those character scenes where the traits and lives of Clark and Neil are contrasted, that I find the most interesting.
But simmering in the background is the Machinist and his evil doings, the captured Klerik who is Ulysses' other dimensional advesary, and this otherworldly figure peeking in on Superman's life and acting like they have a history. The truth is I don't know enough about these characters and their motivations to be interested yet in their stories. And as a result, the action scenes seem empty. I need these villains' stories to progress more for me to care about what they are doing.
And, I have said it before, I have never been a big fan of Romita. So there isn't much about the art here that grabs me. The issue plays out fine. There is nothing horrible about it. But I simply don't care for the style.
The issue opens up once more with the staffed, mysterious individual peeking in on Superman's life. He seems like he has been there for a lot of Superman's life, from the voyage to Earth to the battles with Ulysses. This is the same person who said that he had taught Clark a lot about life.
Just who is this guy? While I like that he recognizes Clark's hope as being a strength, I don't have the slightest idea about his story. Is he simply observing? Is he involved with Ulysses' story? Is he part of the Machinist's story?
I don't know what I should feel about him, not even vaguely.
The beginning part of the issue is Ulysses ... nee Neil ... catching up with his parents. They shot him into another dimension when they thought their lab was about to explode. But, it turns out that the scientists were able to close the rift. Neil was shot accidentally. It would be the equivalent of Jor-El having rocketed Kal away but then be wrong about Krypton's discussion. Now that is a great hook.
I know that I have said that I don't care for Romita. But I loved that first panel. There is so much information with Ulysses' body positioning. But is he upset? Fatigued? Angry? Sad? I didn't know what to expect ...
Turns out he is thrilled. He is happy to be home with family who is alive.
And then we get a little bit of Ulysses' origins. His parents look like black ink smudges, hardly humanoid. They lived in a paradise ... except for some insurrection by Klerik every millenia. Klerik is one of the beings from the Five Dimensions who would attack The Great World.
But there is something odd about this story. If these guys attack every millenia, how could Neil defend the world 'several times'. Does time work differently there?
And he killed Klerik's brother. So he isn't exactly a 100% nice guy.
I don't know ... my Anj-sense is tingling. I don't think Ulysses is everything we think he is. Is he a robot? A clone? An ink-blot being fused to Ulysses? Something just isn't sitting right.
And that will be a shame because Mrs. Quinn is a great character. She had Neil's room set up and untouched with mobiles and toys. She has mourned him for so long and hated herself for sending him away.
The guilt of rocketing him away and then surviving must be crushing.
And there is Superman to hold her up. I loved this interaction.
In fact, I loved this whole opening part of the book.
But then we need some action.
While Clark sleeps, Ulysses sneaks into his room and watches him. Ummmm ... awkward.
Clark seems to roll with it. Who knows what the norms are for Neil.
It turns out that Neil doesn't sleep as his energies don't require it. It also means he can't dream. And that is never a good thing. Remember that time Supergirl couldn't dream? Does he not have to sleep because he is a robot?? Or will his lack of dreaming effect him more on Earth? I promise you this isn't going to end well.
I did like what Johns did here, having Superman say that he is Clark in his dreams. For me, he is Clark. Superman is his other identity.
Ulysses can tune into the energy signature of the Machinist's robots that he and Superman smashed last issue. That leads them to a municipal junkyard where all the destroyed evil-tech is stored. Seems a little iffy to me. "Let's put these destroyed weapons in a dump. I'm sure no one will salvage them."
Well, the Machinist has not only salvaged them. He has set up shop there, churning out mechanical weapons like a factory. He even has 'tech ticks' which can control an organic being ... including Ulysses.
I suppose it is a comic trope that the two heroes must fight at some point. It felt a bit cliche.
And then, again, Ulysses crosses the line and kills (presumably) the Machinist. I don't think Superman is going to be too happy about this.
And more importantly, he isn't going to be happy when we learn that this Machinist is an innocent being driven like a drone by a tech tick. This guy was basically a bystander.
I have talked about how contrasting the characters has been a big part of this story. This is a huge deviance in character. It even felt big with the page split going down the center. Even the opposite poses of the characters, the front of one and the back of the other, highlights it.
But is it me or does the background here look very similar to the background of the flashback where he kills Klerik's brother? Something isn't quite right here.
I enjoyed this issue more when I read it the second time. It moves the story forward. But it felt like a baby step. And I was hoping for a stride.
I know. I can't have it both ways. I can't like the long character scenes and then bemoan the lack of story progression. But I thought the first issues by this team struck that perfect mix.