Superman #35 came out this week, the next part in the Ulysses storyline, written by Geoff Johns with art by John Romita Jr, and Klaus Janson, This has been an interesting story as it has contrasted Ulysses as a boy 'rocketed from Earth to a strange planet where he gained powers' and Superman who was 'rocketed to Earth'. Last issue we saw Ulysses sport something of a temper and apparently kill The Machinist, only to have it turn out to be an innocent pawn. Now that is a contrast.
Johns has done a good job moving these stories along in the opening chapters. We certainly have seen plenty of Ulysses and his family (another contrast to Superman). But the Machinist and his motives remain a mystery. We also have been hearing from an onlooker, someone I have labeled the Cleric someone who appears to know a fair amount about Clark. Add to that the reconstruction of the Daily Planet and the supporting cast and I have been enjoying this story. I haven't been floored by it ... but it has held my attention.
I freely admit that I am not a John Romita Jr. fan but there were a couple of panels in this page that made me take notice. This was a well drafted story as well.
I thought the super-books suffered during the early years of the New 52 and part of that seemed to come from DC taking Superman away from what makes him great. And one of the things that Superman has had classically is one of the best supporting casts in comic. I am glad that Johns is Clark back to the planet and bringing back the old crew.
So it feels right to have Steve Lombard talking about Superman as a hero. And I even like Ron Troupe having the opposite view, wondering if people rely on Superman too much. That sort of distrust seems pervasive in the New 52 world, a place were people and the military are ready to attack. It will be interesting to see an actual character voice that, especially in the company of Clark and Lois.
I also like in this scene a sly smile we see Lois put on her face when she hears that Clark is coming back to the newsroom. I miss 'Clark and Lois' and Johns seems to be rectifying that.
And that smile ... so coy.
Ulysses does show some remorse, kneeling and almost mourning about possibly killing the Machinist-controlled man. I worry that Ulysses is a super-villain-in-waiting. So seeing him upset at this made me wonder if my initial response on Ulysses is wrong.
It turns out that the person Ulysses 'killed' was pretty much
already dead, a techno mind-tick already burrowed into his brain. In
theory, Ulysses isn't a killer. And Superman gives him a mulligan on vaporizing this guy.
I like how Superman seems to be in mentor mode here. Throughout this issue, we see Superman giving Ulysses advice on the right way to do things. There is always another way; you don't need to resort to lethal force.
A couple of meta-things about this though. 3 years in and we still haven't seen Kal be a mentor to Kara. And you would hope that Geoff Johns is sending these books to Zach Snyder.
The two heroes can track the Machinist. The villain is on a tanker truck with his cronies.
I include these panels just to showcase the second panel as an example of great art. It is so out of the ordinary. The Machinist's face is off panel; the cronies look like they are dancing. What the heck is going on?
The next panel shows Superman and Ulysses hoisting the tanker out of the water. This panel shows the crew losing their footing. Without a sound effect I didn't know that at first. Once I turned the page, I realized what it meant and turned back.
But it is the panel construction that adds to the mystery, to the unsettling feeling. Contrast it to the standard panel next to it. That last panel 'shouldn't' be a panel ... until you know what effect Johns and Romita were going for.
Ulysses holds the boat up while Superman brings the fight to the crew. The Machinist unleashes a murder of giant robot crows.
And what of that Cleric character who has been watching things from afar? He is still out there.
Who the heck is this guy?? We have been given almost no clues. I thought he might be working with the Machinist. But maybe not?
The tanker gets driven ashore and finally the heroes get their mitts on the Machinist.
Johns gives us a very creepy wrinkle to the Machinist's origin. It isn't a 'him'. It is two brilliant minds sewn into one. Sewn ... brrrrr....
So will be know the 'two brilliant minds'? Is the Machinist an amalgam of two characters we know? One male and one female?
I initially thought that the Machinist was something of a Toyman rip-off. Maybe he is half-Toyman? And half-Dr.Psycho? Or Veronica Cale?
The Machinist is pretty tight-lipped about who he has sold weapons to so Ulysses tries to gather that information directly from his mind.
I thought this was another good panel by Romita. Ulysses is overwhelmed by just how many weapons are out there. It is an affront to his mind so I like how the weapons seem to be attacking him. And keeping Ulysses small in this big panel makes the weapons seem all the more enormous. Nice.
And this effect seems to have addled Ulysses.
Now we get to see more differences between Superman and Ulysses again. Ulysses wonders why Superman has never just up and destroyed all the weapons in the world. When food and pollution and disease are huge problems, why do humans need weapons. Why fight each other?
Of course, Superman is all about leading by example. He tells Ulysses that you can't force people into doing what's right. You have to inspire. Now that's Superman.
But Ulysses doesn't want to hear it and takes off.
Could Ulysses be nearing a super-villain role? Could he try to be a fascist, wring control of this world?
One more wrinkle about The Machinist. We learn the name of his boss ... Mr. Oz.
Could it be that the Oracle is the 'man behind that curtain'? That he is pulling all the strings?
Does the reference to Oz mean that all this stuff is just a feint? Could Ulysses himself be a robot of some sort? His parents too? Could this all be a ruse?
We won't get any more information from the Machinist though. He detonates the whole ship and slips away in the blast.
I was thinking that Ulysses would end up circling the world trying to destroy all weapons. It would be a simple plot turn, one well traveled, with the 'hero' crossing the line to tyrant.
Instead, Johns throws a curve ball. We see Ulysses flying by a number of war memorials (WWII, Vietnam) and then makes a statement to the world. Earth is flawed. There is another world ... there is a better world ... there must be. And he can take 6 million people to his dimension, a paradise.
This is an interesting ending. Will Superman feel compelled to stop this? Who will judge the 6 million most worthy? Will people line up in droves? Will they attack each other to get on this bus?
I have been up and down about this story arc. I don't feel floored by it the way I was floored by the 'Legion'/'Brainiac' Johns run. But I am very interested. There is a lot of story and potential here. Ulysses is a great foil.
And, shockingly, I was impressed by Romita here. More on composition than anything else.