Friday, September 26, 2014
Review: Superman:Doomed #2
Superman:Doomed #2 came out this week and I am going to be honest and say that I am thrilled that this arc is over.
It isn't as if there weren't fine moments in this somewhat drawn out mega-crossover. There were. In fact, there were plenty of fine moments in this issue, many of which I will share. But finding those moments felt at times like panning for gold. You need to work your way through a lot of silt to find the treasure.
For every great character moment, for every nuance, for every bit of heroes acknowledging what an inspiration Superman there were many more empty cliffhangers, dropped subplots, and character gaffes.
Perhaps most annoying was the concept of the 'infected Superman' which changed issue to issue ... page to page. Was it an infection out of control? Could he will himself back to normal? Was he cured by 'good feelings' at one point? Was he dying? Without clearly understanding the threat of this Doomsday virus, I didn't feel invested. In one issue Superman is so out of control he exiles himself into space. In the next, Baka's warm feelings completely cures him. Huh??
And then there is the 'real villain' of the piece Brainiac. His plot is also something of a jumbled mess. He is draining the minds of humans starting in Smallville and Metropolis. He sends down drones that are a feint. He has the Cyborg Superman as a sort of misdirection. And he has a ship that in some issues is 4x the size of Earth but in others is like the JLA satellite. At least in Doomed #2 we find out his plan.
As if adding to the disjointed feeling of the overall arc, this issue has 9 credited artists. Each page is beautiful. But you can't go from Lashley to Churchill to Herbert without feeling a little dizzy from the stylistic changes.
Now listen ... I am about to show you the high points. And they are good high points. But as a whole Doomed was like a runny omelet. Some bites were delicious. But mostly it was a mess.
Last issue ended with Brainiac's ship arriving and Superman deciding the only way to break into the Collector ship and stop him is to go full-Doomsday mode. He sheds his humanity and lets the Doomsday in him surge. See ... maybe I am trying to think about this a bit too medically. How does this even happen? From human to Doomsday because he willed the infection to go out of control??
There are only a few free minds on the planet and Lana and Lois are among them. I like that first panel with the two most important women in Clark's life looking up, confident he will save everyone. It is nice that they have faith in him.
And I also liked the next panel explaining the coloring snafu of a couple of issues back when Lois was her normal skin tone. She turns green when she uses her psionic powers. Nice recovery.
Superdoom basically begins tearing through the ship, hoping to get to the core and disable/dismantle the Brainiac tech.
While Lana and Lois were on the same page just before, here we see how they differ. And it might be the first time I haven't liked Lana in the Pak era.
Lois tells Clark to not lose himself to the monster, to not do something he might regret. But Lana ... she outright tells him to kill Brainiac. It makes me think that maybe Lana doesn't understand Clark quite as well as I thought she did.
Like much of this arc, a lot of time takes place on the mental plane. Brainiac might be safe in his control room and Superdoom might be running through walls but the real confrontation is taking place in the mind as Brainiac tells Clark his plot.
It turns out that Brainiac is gathering all the sentient mind energy he can. He knows that observation can change reality. He hopes to have enough 'observer power' to recreate the universe.
It is a riff on the old 'light will behave like a wave or a particle depending on the belief of the observer' experiment. But it is a bit much to swallow.
But let's say that I decide to swallow it. Let's say that Brainiac needs lots of minds to do this (indeed he says he has already drained billions). The last place you would ever go is Earth!! Why go to the place with the guy who has trounced you over and over? Drain every other planet you find. Why poke the beehive?
Back on Earth, Brainiac discovers that the resistance is hiding in the Fortress. So he sends his troops in hoping to distract them. One of his army is the Cyborg Superman.
Now after being sullied and mistreated in the prior big Superman crossovers, Greg Pak and Charles Soule treat her very well in her few moments in the book.
First off, the Cyborg tells her of Brainiac's plans, saying that Brainiac could give them back Krypton. He asks her who would even care about Earth when that could happen. It is basically the same hook that H'El tried to get Kara to help him The same.
And yet it is clear Kara has grown a bit. She isn't lured by that anymore. She cares about Earth and wallops him with a nice left jab.
Again, conversing in their minds, Brainiac warns Superman what is going to happen if the fight on Earth continues, if Superman doesn't allow Brainiac to rewrite history.
Supergirl will kill her father the Cyborg. Then she will be forced to kill Superman who will be out of control as Doomsday. Then she will become infected by the spores and become Doomsday herself.
I had to include this page. There is something very meta about this page with an enraged Kara, having killed her father, splitting Superman in two and becoming a monster. It is drawn by Ian Churchill who drew the Jeph Loeb and early Joe Kelly Supergirl issues, the one where she is a monster who gunned down her classmates and was trying to kill Superman.
That has to be why he was chosen to draw these pages right? It would have fit right into the last Supergirl series, somewhere around issue #10 I would say.
That said, Churchill does draw the bottom of the costume differently. Look at the second panel. The red area is broader and it looks more like gym shorts than a bathing suit. I like that way more than the usual interpretation.
This is a very good page by Pak with a very good moment for Supergirl.
Superman tell Brainiac is that he doesn't understand the cousins. Kara might have been a little out of control at one point but she won't kill the Cyborg.
And she doesn't. Instead she just pounds him and is victorious.
After seeing him utterly defeat her and kill her in her own book a couple of times over, it is great to see Kara finally win here.
But this is Superman and Brainiac's battle on the psychic plane.
Brainiac enters the marauding Superdoom's mind and shows Clark possible futures ... if only Superman will let the Coluan recreate the universe. In one of them, Steel and Lana marry and become the heroes of Metropolis allowing Superman to retire.
In another, drawn by Dave Bullock, Superman's very presence has an effect on humanity. The world becomes a better place, inspired by Superman. Crime and evil fades away. And Batman gets to retire!
But these glimpses into a possible peaceful future doesn't change the fact that the universe would be rewritten by a tyrant. Superman is able to shrug these off as folly.
Bullock's style is pleasingly like Darwyn Cooke's. It works for this sequence.
Oh yeah ... remember that subplot where Wonder Woman went into the Phantom Zone to convince Mongul to use Warworld to attack Brainiac? Remember?
Well, we get reminded of it for 2 pages. Diana fires Warworld from within the Zone, blasting Brainiac's ship, weakening Brainiac's defenses and resolve.
Can you fire a weapon from within the Zone, through a portal, and out into the universe??
And I think of the time spent in the Phantom Zone over the issues - hunting Dr. Xa-Du, fighting Mongul, etc. It all seems like a waste of time as none of it seemed to impact the story greatly.
With Brainiac weakened by Superdoom beating him up, the mental plane becomes something of an even playing field. In fact Lois is able to join Superman there to try to battle Brainiac.
In this state, Brainiac's true intentions are finally revealed. His origin includes him losing his wife and child. He is anguished by this. He wants a universe where they are still in his life. And that touches Superman. When Lois is about to psionically kill Brainiac, Superman talks her down.
They should want peace, not punishment.
It is a nice moment showing the core of Superman's beliefs.
That said, I am a bit tired of the 'sympathetic back story for a villain'.
This stay of execution is something of a pause. Brainiac ends up continuing his assault on Earth, is killing the population by draining them, and still wants to recreate the universe. There is no easy way to stop this plot now that it has gone this far.
The only solution is for Lois to drain Brainiac of all his power and then shove it into Superman.
Again, I have some problems with this. Brainiac is the most powerful psionic in this universe (personally I just miss him being super-intelligent). So how can Lois, a neophyte given powers by Brainiac be capable enough to drain him.
And then giving them to Superman?
Look at this panel. Is this what we want Superman to be? This monstrous amalgam. Can't we just have Superman? You know what it reminds me of ...
That's right. Morrison looked into the future.
And then a whole bunch of things happen that I don't know if I quite follow.
Superman, energized by his powers, Doomsday strength, and billions of sentients mental energy, grabs Brainiac and flies him to a black hole. Or maybe he creates the black hole with his 'observation powers'. Somehow all of this strips Lois of her Brainiac power and rids Superman of all the Doomsday virus particles.
It may be that both Brainiac and Superman head through the black hole ... it's hard to tell. At the very least Superman shoves Brainiac through it.
So is it the black hole or the observation powers that does all this. I guess I have to roll with it.
But once again, the whole 'Doomsday infection' is so convoluted that it is hard to wrap my head around. Gravity cured him? Good feelings? And as this infection was the crux of this whole arc, I am both irked and underwhelmed.
But within the black hole, Brainiac seems to have been placed in a Hypertime like area of alternate realities.
There is a lot to digest here. That's a pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths JSA (based on Huntress costume). That's Plastic Man and Uncle Sam on Earth X, also pre-COIE. There's Lord Volt and Lady Quark, peri-COIE. But also a red trunked Superman, the Flashpoint world, the vampire Batman from the Red Rain Elseworlds. And a classic Harley Quinn!
This really had nothing to do with Doomed and might be the best page, with great art by Aaron Kuder.
So, mercifully, Doomed ends.
For this issue, we have Lois having faith in Superman, that great moment of compassion by Superman, the future sequence with a retired Batman, and all the Supergirl stuff as high points. But I have to weigh that against all the low points here ... the concept of rewriting the universe, the Lois power levels, the cure at the end. And against the big issues I have had with the Doomed arc itself, the feints, missteps, and inconsistencies.
Overall grade: C