Friday, May 1, 2015

Review: Superman #40

Geoff Johns run on Superman is over. Gene Luen Yang's 'The Truth' starts after Free Comic Book Day and Convergence ends. That means there was room for one issue to be sandwiched between these writers.

Superman #40 is an attempt to bridge the gap between these two arcs. Written and penciled by John Romita Jr. with inks by Klaus Janson, 'Powerless' gives us a story where we see Superman try to embrace humanity in a new way, by losing his powers and enjoying every day life. He hangs out with his Justice League friends and seems to relax for a bit. It all sounds so good, a break from the weird distant Superman that has been seen in the New 52 universe.

And yet ...

It makes little sense to me.

See I am one of those old school readers who thinks that Superman thinks of himself as a 'normal guy' who just happens to have powers and is here to help. I think of him sitting at Ma's table and enjoying her apple pie, maybe kicking back and having a brew with his friends, and sitting around with friends when he can. I think of him loving Lana and hurting when the broke up. I think of him loving Lois and aching they aren't together.

So to hear Superman talk about these things as novel experiences, like he hasn't experienced this, makes me wonder if I will ever understand this particular Superman.

The issue starts with Superman again super-flaring, this time in a remote area of the world, and becoming depowered. Kal is experimenting, hoping to control this power, learn how to trigger it at will, and wondering if his powers are evolving. He loses his powers, and flight is slow to return. (Until then he jumps like the 1938 Superman as he rejuvenates.)

Batman arrives in the batplane to pick up Superman. It turns out that Batman has had to fetch him this way several times as Superman keeps experimenting this way. They head to the satellite where the Leaguers talk to Superman about this change.

This just smacks of old school JLA, the heroes hanging out and drinking coffee. Barry is playing video games (seems like a Wally thing to do). And they are just hashing out what this new power means. The concept of this scene ... of heroes being friends ... is wonderful.

But then Superman says 'I'm aware of human feeling but I'm not aware of feeling human.' And that sounds 100% wrong. I can't imagine the boy raised in Smallville by the Kents, who helped on the farm, who loved and lost and worried in his youth would ever say that. I just can't believe it.

Okay it has been a while since Superman has had the vulnerability of humans. But that isn't the same as feeling human.

It leads to the most classic of superhero tropes, the sparring session in a Danger Room style facility. To test if Superman's powers have come back after the last flare, the League 'attacks' him in the rec room.

And then they decide to check the power of the flare by having Superman unleash it on the Watchtower. It is massive, a huge energy burst and EMP combined.

Romita has a surprising grasp of the casual dialogue of these old chums. Flash deadpanning about the clean-up is great.

We again hear how Superman is intrigued by this flare power, what it means, and how he is changing.

It makes sense that Clark wants to understand this ability. He'd hate to inadvertently flare in the middle of Metropolis.

While I half-smiled at this moment with Aquaman trying to shield Diana's eyes from Superman showering, I wondered why they were all in the shower with him anyways. Couldn't they be just outside the stall talking? Or wait the five minutes? And aren't Diana and Kal dating. It's not like she hasn't seen this before. Why would Aquaman feel compelled to block her vision unless he is joking around.

Regardless, this is a League I would read, enjoying each others' company and having fun with their powers when they can. Not a drop of grim and gritty here.

But then back to some of the off-putting humanity stuff. Earlier Superman talks about enjoying food when he is depowered. So while depowered, he heads out for a bite with his pals.

I always assumed he ate, and enjoyed eating. No Ma's apple pie? No Bouef Bourguinon? No corn dogs? Ice cream sodas? Nope, instead he doesn't know what a cannoli is. It seems weird. By saying he doesn't eat, doesn't know what a cannoli is, DC is playing up the alien portion of the character a bit too much.

And then he decides the right thing to do is to get drunk (albeit on just half a beer).

Ah, but acting 'human' has its drawbacks. Like hangovers, dehydration, and headaches.

Just barely repowered, Clark hears about an incident downtown. Criminals armed with high tech weapons are shooting up the town. Superman has to pull himself together and jump across town.

Knowing he is depowered after the flare, would Superman risk something just like this? What if Darkseid invaded on this day? Or Luthor? Or Brainiac? Wouldn't Clark feel awful?

And really? He hasn't eaten French Fries before? Is the inference that his powers deny him taste?

Whoever these crooks are, they are packing serious heat. Laser rifles hurt this Superman, bringing a building down on the Man of Steel before he can apprehend them.

But he is bloodied and battered. And the Metropolis public is there with their cell phones, capturing it all.

I actually like this panel by Romita. I think this sort of panel, an angry Superman, grimy and bruised, lifting the wreckage.

And with all those pictures of Superman over social media, Lois can't help but notice that Clark is sporting bandages in the same places.

You'd think this might be a lesson for Superman. That maybe the transient joy of alcohol isn't worth the downside. Maybe fries shouldn't interfere with the never ending battle?

Or maybe DC could write a Superman who doesn't need to lose his powers to savor a cannoli.

So there was plenty of upside in this issue. I loved the camaraderie of the League, sparring, joking, and having a bite out.

But that is built on the foundation that Superman has never felt like a human. And that just isn't how I imagine Superman. That's not what I want in my Superman. So I am even more worried about 'The Truth'.

Overall grade: C+


Martin Gray said...

I do agree that it's unlikely Superman can't really taste food when empowered. It should be the opposite, super taste.

As for the 'feeling human' business though, I read that entirely as a comment on his physicality; there's no way he wouldn't feel like a human being in his psyche for the reasons you give.

The only off-moment was Superman stopping to clean his teeth when people are in danger, but then again, if I can't clean my teeth I'm in such a mood...

So, not perfect but certainly the most enjoyable issue for me in an age.

And I don't know what a cannoli is either!

Anonymous said...

I found this to be an infuriatingly trite, cliched and dumb issue myself. I decided months ago that I wouldn't waste my money on this issue and I'm glad I did so. As poor as some of the New 52 Superman comics have been, I found this issue to be one of the worst written.

Not only did Romita unnecessarily play up Superman's alien side as you pointed out, I felt like the characters were just mouthpieces for whatever Romita wanted to say. They didn't sound like themselves at all and even lighter depictions of Batman don't have him down as a Joker. I'm all for a casual down time JLA story but writing them with stilted and cheesy dialogue falls flat IMO.

For an artist, Romita really failed to show the reader what his story was and relied more on telling the audience about Superman's new power, his ability to be normal and what this means for Superman in the future. Makes me dread the Truth storyline even more.


Jay said...

Actually Martin, you're right, he DOES have super taste. Johns explained it in the prior issue. When eating with Jimmy he explained it as being able to distinguish between every single ingredient in what he eats. And apparently that's not as good as the way we taste.

In any case I loved this issue. It was just fun to me and the dynamic between the League was just fantastic. Everyone was smiling, cracking jokes, just really good to see.

Martin Gray said...

Aha, thanks Jay, it's sad I can't keep these things in my head for, oh, a month. Glad you liked the issue as much as me - I reviewed it over at my blog, Too Dangerous For a Girl, plug, plug, with Anj's unasked permission!

Anj said...

Forgot that as well. Thanks Jay.

I think everyone seems to agree that the 'down time' JLA scenes were the best part of the book.

Ross said...

Nice review!

It's been a while since I read it but didn't Kara go on a dinner date with Silver Banshee's brother and rave about how delicious pizza was? Strange that the girl who'd been on Earth for a few days had more human senses than her cousin who'd been here for three decades...

I agree that the alieness is overplayed here but I do like the Justice League shenanigans. A lot of fun to see them hanging out in a bar in civvies.