Superman/Wonder Woman #21 came out this week, another chapter in 'The Truth', another issue where I again try to understand why these two are in a relationship. Things have been awkward in the past. Things have been tense in the past. In this issue, things are outright volatile.
Since 'The Truth' started, I have had problems with Superman's personality. His reliance on the solar flare power, knowing it would weaken him, seemed misguided. He has been downright stupid dragging Jimmy into danger and blaming Lois for his problems. And he has been overly angry in almost all his books.
This issue seemed to showcase many of the flaws in Superman's character these days. Diana and Lois come across much more caring and rational here. It is even mirrored on the cover with Superman, bathed in fire, brow furrowed, glares off the cover. Meanwhile, Diana looks calm and collected.
Peter Tomasi advances the story, introducing another of the big villains and driving a wedge deeper between Clark and Diana. We also reach the point in the story for the 8-page post-Convergence preview for this story. But we also have a similar path as last issue, lots of talking punctuated with a semi-needless brawl at the end.
Thank goodness for penciler Doug Mahnke. Aided by a bevy of inkers, Mahnke continues to bring sharp art to this book. In particular, a new element of the villains attacks, energy sucking black hole creatures, look monstrous.
The issue starts with a look at Mr. Bend. He has to run off to a meeting with the President. But before heading off, he heads to what looks like a classic villain's headquarters, complete with a wall of monitors. Bend has located Firestorm and sends the hero's coordinates off with the order to 'ingest'.
Who is Mr. Bend?
Well, my guess he is Angelo Bend, the Angle Man. I usually think of Angle Man as a Wonder Woman villain, making his presence here appropriate. But he has been more of a D-lister in the past. Here he feels more like the Calculator in the pre-New 52 universe.
And his orders are carried out.
We see Firestorm lured into a rescue mission that is a trap. The 'victims' morph into these black hole looking creatures, beings that turn into a huge mouth and glom onto the nuclear man.
Just like that, he's gone.
Now I think of Firestorm as a pretty powerful character. So defeating him like this, draining him and then 'ingesting' him, sets the stage that these things are powerful.
After that opening scene, we head back to the government prison where Diana is interrogating Clark's friends.
Lois has the best moments here. She might be forced to answer the questions because of the Lasso of Truth, but she doesn't have to do it nicely. She talks about how she is a reporter. It is her job to report the news, like Superman.
And yes, she understood the backlash her story of Superman's identity would bring. She answered that question truthfully. What they didn't ask her is why she did it.
But when it gets to questions about her relationship with Clark, it is getting personal. Even Diana knows they are going off the ranch.
I have to say, Lois shines here with her righteous indignation.
Now one of my problems with last issue was Diana's decision to interrogate Clark's friends. I assumed it was Diana's way of trying to ferret out people who were going to betray or try to hurt Clark. Others assumed it was to help speed up this process. The truth would come out, satisfying the government, and freeing the people.
Tomasi lets people like me off the hook. Diana was doing this to help free Lois and everyone else. Now it is a blunt way of doing it. It isn't foolproof. Someone might say something she wasn't anticipating.
But I feel like, in her way, Diana's heart was in the right place.
The Superman arrives. And he isn't happy.
We then get a couple of pages of Superman chastising Diana for not listening to him, for using the lasso, for not understanding his feelings. Even when she explains her thoughts ... how she asked everyone if they would allow it, how she wanted to get this over with, how she wanted to free these friends to help Superman.
But boy, this is an angry Superman. He could say 'I understand why you thought this would be good but I don't agree with you.' Instead he just berates Wonder Woman.
He frees all his friends and we get to see Jimmy, Lana, and Lois all hug Superman and thank him for coming. It seemed too warm a response from Lana given her recent unhappiness with Clark. And we get a great moment where Cat Grant tries to get a little too close.
But it is Perry's response that stuck with me. He stops Clark from talking. Perry is still ticked off. Remember when Geoff Johns seemed to be setting up Perry as the confidante? Was making Perry a source of wisdom? Now we have a grumpy old man.
Deeper in this place, we see that the government has a bunch of super-villains in stasis pods. Why would they bring Superman's friends here? With all these villains? It seems like putting a blowtorch near explosives.
Sure enough, the black hole beings blip in. They free all the villains and begin 'ingesting' all those that have energy powers (like Livewire). Mahnke really shines in this battle, showing the beings shift into a shape that is mostly mouth. Brrr ...
Again, Superman wants to protect everyone so he asks Steel to shepherd everyone out. But Superman isn't the old Superman. He can't fight these things on his own these days. They kick him around a bit, almost swallowing him whole.
And, as before, Diana feels like she needs to be with Clark to protect him. She is angry that Steel would let this depowered Clark try to win this fight alone.
Everyone ends up returning to the fight to save Superman. This includes a ridiculous panel of the Planet staff lined up shooting giant energy rifles at the monsters. Are they trained? I don't know if I think the quaint Smallville folks would know how to operate these things.
Anyways, this is Diana trying to protect the man she loves. This is Superman's friends trying to protect him.
But throughout this story we have seen Superman still trying to be a self-sufficient hero. He doesn't want anyone to put themselves in danger for him. And looking around, he sees everyone he cares about in danger.
Here is the rub. Did he think about this when he kept flaring like mad? Did he think about how he was making himself weak every time he used it instead of his other powers>
Plus, this seems a little selfish. He doesn't thank them for saving him. Instead, he gets angry ... at himself as well as them.
Frankly, I am a bit sick of it.
And then, the last straw for me.
He tells Lois she betrayed him by telling the world his identity.
He tells Diana she betrayed him by going to this place to help his friends.
That is a powerful word. It leaves no wiggle room for understanding why they did what he did. It carries a weight of disappointment and anger.
And it is wrong.
We know that by heading to the JLA satellite, he is flying that ship near the sun to try to recharge. This is the lead-up to the 8 page preview where he tells Diana he doesn't love her any more.
The issue ends with Mr. Bend joining Vandal Savage and Wrath in that interdimensional room.
So I don't think I quite agree with Diana's methods here. While fraught with danger, it was effective. And her intentions were good.
I loved Lois' attitude during the interrogation.
And the addition of Angle Man and these energy leeches is a nice wrinkle to this big villain plot.
But the character of Superman here just felt off to me. This is a far cry from the Superman in Action Comics. It is closer to the less than rational guy in Superman. And I suppose a lot of this stems from self-loathing. He knows he did this to himself. And now everyone else is paying the price.
More than ever, I am wondering why these two were together to begin with. This has never felt like love.