Action Comics #52 came out this week, the next chapter in the #Rebirth prologue The Final Days of Superman. Writer Peter J. Tomasi has been given the keys to the super-kingdom, sifting through the plot lines and mega-arcs that has preceded him. Tomasi's charge must be to hit a mini-reset button, bringing the Superman mythos back to a more classic, more established, and slightly more stable super-books.
For the most part, Tomasi has done a fantastic job here. Gone is the brutish Clark from The Truth. Instead we have an almost repentant Superman dying, settling his estate, and trying to bring in the 'flare avatar' Superman. Seeing the Trinity acting as friends here, seeing an incredibly brave Lois, seeing the older pre-Flashpoint Superman using his brains before his fists all feels right.
Unfortunately, at least for me, Tomasi brings back the Clark/Diana romance. And, unfortunately, it still reads incredibly awkward. No one has been able to write this relationship in a way that makes me accept it. It just doesn't make sense for a Kansas farmboy and an Amazonian princess/goddess to easily be together. And I still don't know why Supergirl isn't part of this posse chasing the avatar.
The art on the book is by Dale Eaglesham and Scot Eaton and they do fine work here. There isn't anything that wowed me on the book. But nothing was distracting either. I don't mean to damn with faint praise. On to the book.
As I said earlier, the Clark/Diana relationship has rarely been written in a way that feels natural. And I have to say Diana has got the worst of it.
Superman is dying. There is a madman wearing the S-shield and killing people. Superman is trying to say goodbye to everyone and stop this villain.
So what does Diana say?
"I wish we had some alone time rather than you saying goodbye to everyone and searching for this thing."
Ugh. While maybe I can understand her thinking that once and a while, how could she voice it? It made me cringe. Of course Superman wants to say goodbye to friends. Of course, he wants to make sure he stops the Superman avatar. He is trying to be a good person and a hero.
She sounds selfish. She admits it's selfish!
I hope this relationship runs its course and finally ends.
Another of my quibbles with the arc (and this truly is a quibble) is Superman's fatalism. He is dying. But he isn't trying to figure out a cure. Did he ask Zatanna? Get hit with the purple ray? Ask Green Lantern to imagine a cure? I mean, within the last year, Wonder Woman has had the Greek pantheon save Superman's life.
Tomasi addresses this a little bit, at least from Batman and Wonder Woman's viewpoint. Wonder Woman asks about a dip in the Lazarus Pit as a cure. But Batman knows that cure might be worse than the disease. Knowing the madness that has struck Ra's temporarily, and Red Hood permanently, I don't think it is worth the risk. But at least they have been thinking about a cure.
My favorite part of this issue is Lois.
Here, despite knowing that this fiery Superman has serious anger issues and has killed people, Lois calmly talks to him. That is bravery. Not only does she keep her senses and not say anything to rile him, she also keeps reminding him what Superman stands for. If this thing truly believes that he is Superman than he needs to know that Superman doesn't hurt people. Superman is a hero.
I can only imagine how scared Lois would be. And yet, she is a pillar of strength.
These scenes also show how important Lois is to Superman. This avatar has Superman's memories and feelings. He says Lois is the only person he feels safe with. Maybe this Superman is showing the real Superman's feelings.
The page is constructed with random panels, rhombuses and parallelograms. No squares. It adds to the unease of the conversation. Great stuff.
The avatar decides to show Lois a secret he has discovered. They head to Salinas,California to the White homestead. There Clark and Jon White are trying to enjoy a pancake dinner. Lois is appropriately shocked by seeing yet another Clark.
Just like Lois, Clark White tries to talk the avatar down. He invites the avatar to sit and have breakfast.
The avatar is emotionally anguished. Again, he says some of the New 52 Clark's hidden thoughts. We hear how he wanted a family but could never find the time. That idea of wanting to be a father, a husband isn't something that we have necessarily seen in the current Superman. Hearing him voice it while in the presence of a Superman who did take that time is a very interesting hook to me as a reader. Maybe there is a 'classic' Superman deep inside the New 52 Kal.
That doesn't mean this thing is Superman. He is troubled. And has a fiery temper literally.
He accuses the pre-Flashpoint Clark of wanting to be Superman. And the avatar believes he is the only Superman.
It lashes out at Superman, blasting his clothes away, revealing the black costume and S-shield.
Batman has been able to track the solar flare energy to California so the Trinity streak there in the Bat-plane. This Superman is too ill to fly. Tinged green, he is close to death.
I love how Batman feels guilty for the erroneous flight to China. That was wasted time, precious time for this dying Superman. Again, I love seeing the Trinity acting as old friends. Batman should show some emotions, knowing his best friend is dying.
How different is this moment from Diana's from earlier.
The plane arrives at Salinas.
At last we have the meeting of the two Supermen.
I love these panels. So much is said in these three small panels. Sometimes big stories need small art.
But there isn't time to hash this out.
The pre-Flashpoint Lois arrives at the house. And the older Superman flies away from the avatar to take her and Jon to safety.
I like the panel construction here, the soundwave of Lois' voice heading straight to Clark's ears. This sort of creativity is why I love comics!
Now maybe that seems a little selfish. But this Clark knows that Wonder Woman, Batman, and this Earth's Superman are there to fend of the flare being.
Overall, this was a very good issue, moving the story forward nicely. The threat of the flare avatar feels very real, striking at the heart of Superman's extended family. The New 52 Superman's deterioration is palpable. The two Supermen meet. Lois is strong and impressive. And the Trinity continue to act as a unit. That is all good.
Only Diana's line at the beginning felt off. To be honest, if it was in a thought bubble, if she was thinking 'I wish I had time alone with him in these last moments but I understand why he is doing what he is doing' I would have applauded. But to say it out loud? Brrrr....
Still, The Final Days of Superman has been the best arc running through all the books for some time. I shouldn't let minor problems outweigh the overall excellence.