Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Superman #46

Superman #46 came out last week and was one of the better chapters of The Truth, a story that has been going on for a bit too long for my taste. There are hints in this issue that things are changing, maybe inching towards an ending.

Writer Gene Luen Yang introduced the idea of Mythbrawl last issue, a fight club were nearly forgotten gods gain some life from the 'followers' of their skirmishes. Clark, in a sort of fallen god/fallen hero way, decided to join up. It didn't make much sense for me to have Clark join this sort of WWE for deities. He has a mission. And he is still a hero. Fighting for money felt off. In this issue, we find that Clark is still investigating, using Mythbrawl as a way to discover why one of the Mythbrawlers, Apolaki, was working for Hordr Root. I don't know if this is the best way to fight Hordr Root but Superman is also broke and needs to eat.

This isn't the Superman I want to read, depowered, rasslin' for money, and trying to do good when he can. It is far from 'the most iconic version' of the character, something Dan Didio has always said was his vision. And I also think the nonlinear way this story has rolled out in the 4 Superman books has muddled things up a bit.

But I'll reiterate, this was a better issue.

It doesn't hurt that Howard Porter and Hi-Fi are on pencils and color. Porter really brings a dynamism to the proceedings. And he gets to draw one of my favorite classic Superman villains/characters!

The book opens up with Superman in a match of Mythbrawl where he clobbers a god named Crow. That left hook to the chin look devastating. And I love the way the story title 'Knocked Out' is a crumpled layout. Looks nice!

It is the last statement that sort of irks me. Superman is finding this time in Mythbrawl 'fun'. He gets to give a big speech. The crowd cheers. There are signs. It really feels like a super-pro-wrestling match.

But 'fun'?

I might not find it so offputting if we didn't get Clark saying how much he loves the darkness in Action Comics. Or how much he loves his anger in Superman/Wonder Woman.  These feelings aren't classic of Superman.

While victorious, Clark did get bruised a bit. Mythbrawl organizer Shahrazad uses her powers to heal him. She can probe a person and tell a 'true story' from their history and somehow that will heal them. Now that is interesting. I like that.

But her story is a sort of warped review of Clark's life. He always felt out of place. He isn't loved because he is good, he is loved because he is strong. That isn't the Superman I know. And even Clark tells Shahrazad that she is wrong. But she points out his face is back to normal, a sign it is true.

Maybe he is protesting too much? Maybe she is working with Vandal Savage and feeding him lies? Or maybe this is 'The Truth' in these cynical days. Sad?

So we get a classic image, baby Clark lifting the truck, practically lifted from the Donner movie, mixed with a new darker history.

Lois is nowhere to be seen in this book. But we get plenty of Jimmy. He is working with Condesa to track down Superman, hoping to rehabilitate Clark in the press.

The two have some nice moments interacting, sort of flirting sort of working as partners. I like it.

And I like Jimmy flashbacking to time before he knew Clark was Superman, seeing Clark slip out of a diner booth to stop a giant death robot only to reappear seconds later. It's a nice reminder of simpler times, maybe remind Jimmy how much Clark did to be everywhere and everything.

This tiny slice of life moment was appreciated by me. I miss that Superman.

Clark ends up heading to a bar with his new friend Haemosu. This is a bar for the 'old times' where gods and heroes all congregate. Haemosu is a fun pal, hoping to drink and flirt and just have a good time.

Meanwhile, Clark is hoping to ask around about Apolaki. Was Apokaki brainwashed? Or kidnapped, killed, and cloned? Regardless, Clark is going to kick over some stones here.

He and Haemosu down some shots and chat up a couple of girls who were amorous with Apolaki. It turns out that Apolaki was seduced and trapped by a woman named Yurei.

This is sort of old school detective work, the sort of stuff Bruce Wayne might do in his Matches Malone persona. It seems weird for Superman to be doing it. But at least we didn't see Clark drunk and lecherous.

It turns out that Condesa has been able to talk to street lights and track down Superman. The two run into Superman in the street. Jimmy begs Clark to come back to Metropolis and tell his story, explaining to everyone what is going on and why he has been doing what he has been doing. (And trust me, given the events in Superman/Wonder Woman and Action, there is a lot of explaining to do.)

Unfortunately Jimmy has been let go by the Planet. Jimmy can only tell the story on his blog. And Clark says 'I don't think your blog post will have the effect you're hoping for.' I can't help but think this is a not so subtle jab at on-line reviewers (like me) complaining about this arc. Clark (and maybe by extension Yang) doesn't care what people think anymore.

But even Jimmy and his unbridled support of Superman is shaken by the Mythbrawl reveal, of the fighting for a living.

Who is this Superman anyways? Is he still Superman? Isn't that the question Didio said would be answered by The Truth? Is Clark still Superman without his secret identity and powers?

I don't know any more.

Clark does track down Yurei and it was here that I got some hope.

Hordr Root has been collecting Superman's energy. They hope to clone him. And they have been allowing Superman to slowly regain his power so it can be drained!

As far as I know, this is the first time that I have heard that Superman has been regaining his powers. I thought they were ebbing. But we definitely hear Superman say that he has been repowering slowly.

Hordr's cloning techniques have been better than anticipated.

We finally see a Sand Superman! Someone who is 80% of Superman's powers.

Everyone should know that I love the original Sand Superman storyline from the 70s. We already had the energy absorbers called Quarmers so why not bring in a true Sand Superman.

Superman repowering! A Sand Superman! Maybe we are nearing the end? Maybe?

And then we get a very good cliffhanger.

Jimmy has tailed Superman. And during the battle, the Sand Superman blasts Jimmy Olsen in the chest with heat vision, what is seemingly a killing blow. How terrible if the one person who has defended Superman  vehemently will die, especially if Superman could not defend him. Is this the last straw?

So how to rate this.
There are parts of this issue that I very much like. I like the Jimmy flashback. I like Shahrazad's power. I like the interactions in the bar, sort of a fun look at super-hero clubbing. And, of course, Sand Superman.

But I am still sort of tied down to this Superman. The guy fighting for money. The guy telling his best friend to take off and stop defending him. The guy who is told that he has possibly lost faith in humanity.

We have seen the deconstruction and the coarsening of Superman for a decade now. I don't think I need to see it anymore. And even when done well, like this issue, it remains a chapter in an overly long story that doesn't seem to want to end and get to the Superman I want to read.

In a vacuum, this is a decent and fun issue. But it is tucked in a mega-event I can't get behind.

Overall grade: C+/B-


Martin Gray said...

Really fine review, sir. I agree with it all, dang ... where's the fun in that?

And I think S/WW has answered the question as to whether it's still Superman. No. It's an unrecognisable, vicious, selfish thug. Thank goodness at least this mag has a more recognisable Clark.

Jay said...

I've really liked these past two issues as a standalone story arc. But as part of the bigger crossover, indeed it suffers, as pretty much every issue in the Superman line has suffered lately, from a feeling of spinning its wheels. It felt like we were closer to figuring out the major machinations of this plot line two months ago than we do now. Everything's regressed on that front. Nothing's meshing between the titles as they by now should since its an interconnected crossover. But as an individual title I thought this was good, as I still like the Mythbrawler concept and it was nice seeing Jimmy's unwavering faith in his friend.

And yeah Martin, I agree with you on SM/WW lately. Tomasi's gone overboard. I hated seeing Parasite essentially tortured. I like a bit of a grittier Superman and Wonder Woman than many of you like, but that was too much for me. That's not what I want when I think of a Superman with attitude. I like the guy who has no problem going against the grain of authority when he feels it right. I like the guy with a bit of a sharp tongue. I don't like beating on a bound prisoner. That's punching down, as as Pak eloquently had Jonathan teach to Clark a long time ago, you don't punch down.