Superman/Wonder Woman #19 came out this week, a part of The Truth, and labeled with the word Justice (as all the chapters have been this month). And I have to say it, right here, I liked this issue.
People who come to this blog and have read my Superman/Wonder Woman reviews know that I have struggled with this series. Almost every review ends with my saying 'maybe this is my last issue.' I have never cared for the Clark/Diana relationship, thinking it was a forced pairing. And, in this book which focuses on their relationship, I have never felt why these two would be together. Their interactions and their dialogue in this series haven't helped matters. The dialogue has been odd or off-putting. Most interactions are cringe-worthy. I have been waiting for someone to make me understand why these two are in love and together.
And I have to say that finally ... finally ... this issue made me feel like these two actually care for each other. Their dialogue feels natural and personal. I might not want these two together but at least here writer Peter Tomasi writes them as a couple.
As I have said in prior reviews as well, the art by Doug Mahnke has been spectacular in this book and maybe has been one of the main reasons why I am still here. Mahnke gets to completely shine in this issue. The first half is an incredible battle sequence with palpable action. The back half is a quiet interaction between Clark and Diana and allows Mahnke to use more subtle body language and expressions.
The cover is a fun look at Harley Quinn skipping rope with Diana's lasso. In this Harley-obsessed world I suppose this might be a money grab. We barely see Superman (his hand) and Wonder Woman (her unconscious body) on the cover. One minor quibble is the Superman shirt Harley is wearing. It just looks like a Cobra symbol from GI Joe. She looks like Harley cosplaying The Baroness.
Last issue we learned that the bodies of the Kents in the Smallville cemetery have been removed. With Clark and Diana mulling over what to do next, the Suicide Squad arrives. And all hell breaks loose.
Now looking at this crew, Diana alone should be able to wipe them out. This could be written with the fight being over in two panels. But the depowered Superman is effected by the bullets and laser blasts here. I think one of the reasons we see this fight is to show that if Clark was alone he might have lost to this group of (predominantly) street level fighters.
But I also think that Tomasi does a good job of prolonging the fight by showing that Diana isn't purely on the attack here. She is acting as a defender of Superman, here being a literal human shield for Clark.
Even Deadshot notices that she is acting as Clark's angel. By concentrating on defending Superman rather than wiping out these guys, the fight may have dragged out a bit more.
I have to say that I don't like this new Finch-costume on Diana. And I would have loved at least a little 'bullets and bracelets' action here.
Initially it looks like the fight is over so Superman has takes the time to try to interrogate Black Manta (the one villain still conscious).
One of the plot threads weaving its way through the otherwise divergent Superman books has this new cruder, brasher, angrier Superman. This Clark seems to revel in using his powers and seems a bit darker than usual.
Here he is threatening to crush Black Manta's head in the metal helmet unless Manta talks. Grimacing and 'very unhappy', this isn't the Superman I am used to or want to read long term. Do we want a Superman threatening to crush a guy's head to beat information out of him? Brrrrr ...
Deadshot turns out to be faking. A mini-skirmish breaks out again.
When the fight finally really ends, Clark and Diana regroup and recover.
Before they leave the cemetery, we get this wonderful moment by Diana. She picks up the Kent's mailbox to remind Clark what he is fighting for.
Diana has mostly been a two-note song in this series. She is either blood-thirsty warrior or doe-eyed passionate Stepford wife. I don't know if I have felt her be heroic or compassionate. So this tiny moment was wonderful. This felt like Diana.
Back in Clark's safe house root cellar, Diana acts as a medic for the battered Superman. Mahnke and colorist Wil Quintana do a great job showing how depowered Clark is. His body is a bruised, burned, battered landscape. If Deadshot can do this to Superman, what would a tank do? A missile?
But I love the body language her by Diana. She looks like someone caring for someone who she loves, someone horribly injured. And I liked hearing her say how terrifying it is to see Superman like this. This felt real. This looked and sounded like what real people would in a similar situation. In other words, it felt natural.
Again, look at how awful Superman looks. Talk about trauma!
Superman tells Wonder Woman that he can't worry about her worrying about him in combat. If she is thinking about him, she might get hurt and he can't have that. He cares too much about her. This also felt very natural.
That said, Superman might say he can pull his own weight but those words ring hollow when you see how battered he is.
And then even Diana says something I have been thinking. What if Superman gets weaker? And she says outright that she doesn't want to lose Superman. Mahnke gives us a lot to chew on even in this tiny panel. Superman isn't looking her in the eyes. I don't think Clark wants to think about this and maybe can't bear to look Diana in the face.
But now the reader complaint.
We are almost two months into this arc. We don't know why Superman's powers are off. We don't know the order of these different titles. We don't know how or why his identity was revealed. As readers we have been sort of floating along here, waiting for the foundation of this story to be revealed. I don't know need everything ... just something.
Superman decides how to deal with all this Smallville mess and the Squad attack. He hints about how this isn't above board and as a result he needs Wonder Woman not to get involved. He doesn't want her hurt in battle. He doesn't want her sullied. He wants her 'staying in the light'.
Wonder Woman doesn't want to hear it but Superman is firm. There is 'no discussion'. He loves her and is going alone.
Now I am sure that people might say this is Superman being sexist. But I have to say this whole scene read completely natural. He cares for her and doesn't want her being hurt or vilified. That is being caring.
Again, this scene was the first time in this series that I felt like these two loved each other and would be in a loving relationship.
If only the issue ended there!
During the issue, we see officials behind screens talking about how their plan for Superman is proceeding. Here Superman decides to head to the top to ask the person behind these attacks why they are happening.
That person? The President of the United States. Just what I want, a red-eyed angry Superman threatening the President.
So what can I say? I don't like Clark being with Diana. I don't think I like this angry Superman direction I am seeing in his books. I don't know enough about the foundation of The Truth to think I am on stable ground. And I certainly don't like a comic where Superman is threatening the President.
For once, it felt like Clark and Diana cared for each other and loved each other in a real sort of way. As I was reading that scene, I could see how these two might be in a relationship. And I have never ever felt that way before.
Add the fun fight scene and the wonderful art and I have to admit I enjoyed this issue.