I have been reading comics for a very long time. I thought I had seen every twist and turn. I thought I could anticipate where a story was going. It has been almost 2 score years since I started this hobby. I have seen it all.
So when I comic actually surprises me, when I am gobsmacked by a plot twist or cliffhanger, it is akin to gold.
Phil Jimenez's Superwoman #1 came out yesterday and it surprised me twice. Maybe in retrospect I should have only been surprised once. But nope, twice. That alone made this a great opening issue to a book I had been looking forward to.
But when I add to that the layers upon layers of characterization that Jimenez puts in this first issue and I have a winner. But Jimenez also did a fine job of mixing old classic tropes with this new universe, the very purpose of Rebirth. And when I take a step back and realize that this is a heavy read, almost two issues for the price of one when you think of what happens, a compressed story in a world of 2 minute reads, I was even happier.
This is the first chapter of an ongoing serial. There is a lot to digest. There is a lot to mull over. But from an entertainment point of view, I was thrilled. And entertained. And surprised. And impressed. And frankly, the older I get the harder it is to do all of those things.
The issue runs parallel timelines as we work our way through the action.
One bit is Lois and Lana talking about their futures while Lana spruces up the Kent farmland.
Lois confesses to Lana that she now has super-powers. And she needs someone to teach her how to effectively use them. Lana has a long history of that, not only teaching Clark how to manage things when he was a kid but also more recently in terms of her friendship with him.
It is interesting to see these two interact. Lois has to cajole Lana into this idea, throwing out catchphrases and scenarios. Lana seems less interested. In fact, she almost seems irritated with Lois. How well do these two know each other in this continuity? Are the acquaintances? How does Lois know all this?
In fact, initially I was wondering why Lois even went to Lana. Surely there were others she could go to for this advice - Steel, Diana, even Supergirl (who unfortunately is never mentioned in this issue). But more on this decision later.
We then cut to Metropolis were the Daily Star is putting together a package of Superwoman clips as they report on the new superhero defending the city.
Jimenez does a great job of immersing us right into Superman lore. We see the Guardian, he name drops Kurt Schaffenberger. We see classic scenes like helicopter rescues and talking to kids. It drips with 'classic' Superman, a nice way of showing that Lois is honoring that ideal of the Man of Tomorrow.
I also liked that there are no clean shots of Superwoman's face, it always seems blurry. That seems to be an homage to the earliest Byrne issues where we learned he vibrates slightly to keep pictures out of focus.
It all reads like an homage. And the television screen motif here is a bright reminder of things, not the usual dismal fare we see with this format in dystopian, Miller-ian books.
As for Lana, gone are the days of her being an adventuring electrical engineer. She is back in front of the camera as a science reporter for the Star.
Once again, this has a nice patina of old school Bronze Age to it. Back then Lana was the co-anchor on WGBS news. Here Jimenez melds that old with the new identity of Lana being a science whiz. I like it! It makes more sense than her being an independent contractor who ends up in all sorts of mischief. And it gets her out of the sorrow of Smallville.
Lana is on hand to report on Lex Luthor's latest monstrosity The Gestalt, a military ship designed to help defend the city. While it looks like an aircraft carrier, it has more of a feel of one of the helicarrier airships Hydra was going to use at the end of Captain America:Winter Soldier. I can never trust Lex.
The ship and all adjacent technology suddenly goes haywire. Lex's armor shuts down, the ship begins to lilt and move, planes begin to fly off the surface. This is a job for Superwoman.
Talking to Lois via comlink, Lana tells her 'partner' that the time has come to make an appearance.
Once more, Jimenez gives us some old school fun. Lois actually says 'This is a job for Superwoman' as she streaks in. When she saves this plane, we get the classic 'who's got you?' line, this time delivered to Lois rather than from her.
This all feels like light to burn away the dreariness of recent years.
Back in the past, Lois and Lana continue to debate Lois' idea of going into the super-hero business. They still squabble a bit with Lana calling out Lois on revealing Clark's identity. Here, Lois admits regretting it.
But then we get the flashback of the famous panel where the New 52 Superman died, exploding in energy and striking Lois and Lana. This is the origin of Lois' powers. And she intimates that Lana might have more to herself as well.
Of course, we've known this for a while since blog friend Mart Gray pointed out this actual panel from The Final Days of Superman.
Back then I was worried that Lana might be the villain of this piece.
But in my first surprise, we see that Lana also has powers.
I really really shouldn't have been surprised by this. But I was.
Again, riffing on classic tales, Jimenez as split Superman's powers into a sort or Red and Blue version. Blue Lois has the 'tank' powers, flight, superstrength, breath weapons, etc. Red Lana (perfect) has solar energy manipulation powers, more of the electric side of things. This is a new spin on an old (and rather wonky) idea. This makes more sense than any of the other takes on Red/Blue.
Lana needed to spring into action because Lois alone couldn't stop the Gestalt from careening down the river, potentially leveling a bridge. Working as a unit, invoking crossfit, the stop the ship.
It is a fun moment.
But it is contrasted by the sort of uneasy alliance the two have. Lana seems to be in a bad place. No big surprise given the recent events of her life. Her parents died. Her town was literally dug up and moved. And then Superman died. She is in a dark place.
And she isn't even sure if she likes Lois. They aren't enemies. They aren't friends. They have nothing in common but Superman. (It reminds me of that great line in Moore's Swamp Thing where Liz Tremayne says to her husband 'we have nothing in common but the horror in our lives'.)
And then Jimenez really hits that point home. Lana has been having anxiety issues. She is taking medication. She isn't sure that she deserves these powers, attaining them more by accident than by Superman's wishes.
Lana talks about needing Lois to be there as a sort of rock, to keep her together. Lana has always been fiery. She hates that Lex is corrupting and co-opting the Superman legacy.
Lois agrees to be there for Lana. But Lana needs to honor Clark as well. She needs to help the world.
It is a powerful scene, dripping in sepia and orange, evoking nostalgia. We've seen this scene a number of times before (my fave being Pa telling Clark he wasn't put on Earth to score touchdowns).
But then, the big big big surprise.
Investigating the ship, Lana and Lois come across strange Bizarro-like women. And when Lois engages one, she seems to overload her powers. Like Clark did before, she explodes in energy and turns to sand.
I mean whoa.
I did not see that coming. This book has been touted as a Lois as Superwoman book. To have her 'die' at the end was like having the rug pulled out from under me. It took me a second to process it.
Now I doubt Lois is truly dead. Much like the dead Superman, I get the sense she will eventually come back.
But it opens up a lot of story possibilities for this book. Because now we have a rudderless Lana, who now has to deal with more tragedy, set loose on the world. And that will be a fascinating book to read. I hope we at least get a couple of issues of that. I want to read a Lois book ... trust me. But I want innovative stories too.
So all I can say is kudos to Jimenez. Action. Characterization. Surprises. This one has it all.