Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Superman #36

 Superman #36 came out this week, the fifth chapter in the inaugural storyline by megastar creative team of writer Geoff Johns and art team of John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson.

Five issues. And luckily two more to go. Because the story here is coming out in drips as each issue is filled with more and more huge paneled pages and splashes by Romita.

I guess I keep hoping for a meatier issue, an issue where there is more story, more plot reveals, and maybe even exposition. The first issue of this arc set up the concept of Ulysses being an Earth child 'rocketed' to an alien world where he obtained super-powers. It is a new take on Superman and is a great hook. And I have loved Johns characterization of Lois, Perry, and Jimmy. I have liked this story.

But slowly, each issue, we have only been given a little crumb of new knowledge. If this story is a jigsaw puzzle, I would say the frame is built but not much else. Who/what is the Machinist? Is s/he part of this Ulysses plot or separate? Who is the man overviewing things and talking about Clark like a son? Who is the Klerik? What is The Great World? And can all of these questions ... at least those pertinent to Ulysses ... be answered in 2 more issues? What does it all mean??

In this issue we have 8 pages of Ulysses fighting Superman, one third of the issue! Think of the story that could be told there! Maybe I am being impatient. Maybe I don't know pacing. Maybe ...

This is a good cover for the book. Superman is often seen as a messianic figure. So having Ulysses in his costume, an upward point of view, human hands held high hoping to touch him is a nice wrinkle. Ulysses is sort of a Superman analogue. So this cover works.

Remember, last issue, disgusted by humanity, Ulysses called upon the Great World to send a transport ship, an ark he would use to take 6 million deserving Terrans to a more perfect world.

Now at its best, comics can act as allegories, discussing 'real world' problems in the context of super-heroes and villains. And sometimes, unplanned, things can completely resonate.

This issue came out in the same week that the Ferguson grand jury decision was released, a week where there were protests with and without violence, a week where maybe people in general were feeling lousy about humanity. So to hear Ulysses talk about how prejudice and violence permeates our culture, how we still live in a world with homeless people suffering in the elements, and how he promised to take a group away from that ... it gave me chills.

Why are we our own worst enemies? Why wouldn't someone want to run away to Eden?

There is massive 2 page splash showing the ship from Ulysses' dimension. And everyone on Earth is reacting.

One thing I have loved about Johns' book is the place of importance that he has place Perry White. Before we have seen him being a mentor, a father figure to Clark. Here I thought we saw him still being a good news reporter, someone with the eye not only for the story but also for the headline.

"Exodus of Earth" ... perfect.

Of course, Clark isn't there because he has gone to confront Neil about this offer.

It is a great scene, showcasing what I love about Superman. He can help Earth with some problems, but he can't solve them all. Only humanity can move forward together. And, as Superman, he always has hope, regardless of the grimy events that sometimes mar the world. There is always hope.

But I wonder, why is Superman against this? It is only 6 million. And Neil isn't kidnapping people. Is Superman worried that violence will erupt around the offer? Is he worried that people would be running from their problems? Is it a problem with the size of the offer? If Neil offered this to 10 people personally, a group to study his dimension, would Superman oppose it?

Sick of the discussion, Ulysses simply flies off.

As much as I have loved Perry, I have loved Johns' Lois. She has been hard-hitting and strong. She has been out there investigating. And she hasn't shied away from the hard details.

Is there any better depiction of Lois than literally running towards trouble to cover the story. With the ark landing in Metropolis, with throngs of people trying to get on board, Lois grabs Jimmy to see how it all unfolds.

After years of Lois being in the background, a slave of Brainiac, or missing, it is great to see her back. And that is especially true given that Superman Unchained and Smallville is ending, the other two places I could get some 'real' Lois.

And the scene had more of an air of desperation than beneficence. People are fighting each other to get on board ... and then pushed aside by the inky aliens of Neil's world. There will be no hate or violence in the perfect world.

People are holding their sick babies up, hoping they will be taken.

But there is also something so judgmental as well. Only the best will be taken. The downtrodden and desperate will have the stay.

It made me feel a bit cynical, as if people are looking for an easy answer rather than making things better here.But it also made me sad that people would be sooo forlorn that they are willing to run to an unknown new world.

But the progression of the issue makes me worry that this isn't the sunny offer of paradise that Neil makes it out to be.

His first stop is to the Klerik, the genocidal villain that Ulysses and Superman stopped in the first issue of this arc. Klerik has been imprisoned since.

But this seems like a personal visit. Neil and Klerik carry on a conversation which, unfortunately, we as readers aren't privy to. We can only get a feeling of the substance by their responses. Ulysses is initially vexed by the content ... and then more resigned to what was said.

Maybe he and Klerik aren't enemies? Maybe this was an act? This seemed to civil a discussion to have been had by two arch-enemies.

What does this all mean?

And things get even more murky.

Superman had gone to Neil's parents to try to figure things out and eventually Ulysses arrives back at the home. Ulysses tells Superman and his parents to not get on the ark to the Great World. He doesn't want them hurt and the way to do that is to NOT leave Earth.  That flies in the face of all he said in that televised plea.

In fact, Ulysses has said that he has 'done this before' ... I assume going to a planet and offering a ticket to paradise. But this is different because it is Earth, his home world, and his parents are alive.

Unfortunately, Ulysses acts like there is no turning back. He pounds Superman. A perfect world has a cost ...

I assume he means that the perfection of The Great World isn't without a price and mining other worlds is the payment.

So that is a big reveal. And worthy of a cliffhanger. But next issue better be a huge exposition issue to explain everything, leading to the ultimate climax in the final issue. I worry here ... as I worried with Lobdell ... that I will have to fill in a lot of gaps myself. I don't need everything handed to me as a reader. But plot essentials are ... well ... essential.

This issue moved things along as much as prior issues , a couple of baby steps. But the finish line is approaching. I keep hoping for more 'story' to be packed into my 20 pages.

Overall grade: B/B-


Martin Gray said...

Yeah, I do agree that this is slow stuff indeed. Isn't the final part extra sized?

It's unbelievable to me that Americans - too suspicious of socialism to even back universal healthcare - would embrace some shady idea of a 'perfect' world where everyone is equal, but there you go.

I'm not surprised that Neil is a bad lot, the hair told us as much.

I want more of Lois, Perry, Jimmy and co, and fewer big panels.

Anonymous said...

This beyond decompressed story is going slower than a snail's pace. WHY is the big ? for me.

It didn't surprise me that Uly went 'bad' but Johns has him at a psychopathic scale if he's done this before. Clark prizes life too much to allow people to go to their 'deaths.'

People in real life do not have discernment. They do not ask the tough questions so it was no stretch of the imagination that people all over the world would want to go to this great world. Uly is a charismatic leader but they know nothing about him or what his world is truly like.

They didn't want to take the people who fought because they would be problematic later. They would rebel or mutiny. The Great World could just be getting some slave labor or lunch with the six million.

This story has been about Ulysses and Johns told us that from the beginning. I'm more interested in Klerik and who he actually is. But have to wait like so much else in the new 52.

I would love for Clark and Lois to share the same breathing space at some point. This jumping around to keep them separated is ridiculous.

Good review.

Jay said...

I like the way Clark and Lois are being portrayed doing their own things now. What's the point of not having them married anymore if writers were still forced to have them attached to the hip? Writers not using her at all is one thing, tbut I don't fault guys Johns and Pak over in Batman/Superman capitalizing on that by having them as professional rivals again, going after stories and mysteries in their own ways. I also like the opportunity of fleshing out a dynamic between Lois and Jimmy.

Jude Deluca said...

This is a small comment, but, is it me or do the beings from the other dimensions resemble Mr. Nobody from Doom Patrol?

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I like the Lois in this comic but I do wish there would be more scenes with both Lois and Clark, or Lois and Superman in the same room. I am hoping the Johns integrates the supporting cast. Everyone seems more 'classic', but I would like them interacting now.

Mart, I think the big panels are just another way this story is being slowed down. Not every of these moments deserve big art.

And yes Peter,they do look like Mr. Nobody. Could the male/female Machinist be Rebis?

Anonymous said...

@Jay, If Lois and Clark are going to be true professional rivals (something I'm very much in favor of) then that would require them to actually share page space and challenge and push each other.

The bottom line is that, for whatever reason, DC has decided with rare exceptions like Unchained that Lois Lane is too much a threat to the Superman/WW stunt they are still desperately trying to establish to allow her to actually have her rightful role in the story. It speaks to just how much DC ::knows:: this that they truly refuse to allow her to take that rightful role.

Lois was never just a love interest nor a wife. She was and is Superman's foil both in the suit and in his CK guise. Whether there is romance yet or not (and one could argue that there should always be at least the hope for it) they need to be allowed to interact and share scenes.

Jimmy, while a great character, is not Lois's foil. Clark is her rival. Clark is her foil. Jimmy is a great supporting character but he, as another male in the story, has never played the role that Lois does and regulating her to only interacting with him is limiting to her and suppressing her story potential.

It is not asking too much for people to ask that at this point, 3 years into the reboot, that Lois Lane be allowed to actually interact on a regular basis with Superman and Clark Kent. Do not undermine the legitimate concerns of others bc creating a straw man of what they are asking for. Dismissing their concerns bc they don't personally concern :::you:: as a Superman/WW fan is disingenuous.


Anonymous said...

First and foremost, when reading this my first thought was the classic Twighlight Zone episode "To Serve Man"

Martin: I guess I could see a stampede of the desperate people who long for a better life or who are dying, etc.

That said, yes, I thought it was a little over the top in execution.

I thought this was very classic Lois & Jimmy with Clark running off to be Superman. I love what Jimmy had to say to Lois, yes, if it's trouble Lois is indeed running toward it.

This is moving at snail's pace though, but I've had issues with Johns and deconstruction before.

Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

*Twilight Zone

Anj said...

It's a cookbook!!!

Anonymous said...

Right?? I was thinking noooooooo when they were all rushing the ship. Don't you people watch Twilight Zone???