Monday, September 19, 2016
Review: Super-Woman #2
Superwoman #2 came out last week and was another dense, meaty read by writer/artist Phil Jimenez. If there is one thing you can count on from a Phil Jimenez, it is that you will get your money's worth. Between running subplots, inset panels, amusing side scenes, and incredible characterization, Jimenez seems to squeeze two comics worth of story into one. And in this day and age of decompressed storylines, it might even be three.
This isn't an easy task. Superwoman is a new character. Sure, it is Lana Lang. But this is a conflicted Lana, struggling with anxiety, depression, and a new power set which seems to be killing her. Jimenez needs to build up the supporting cast surrounding her. She has to be plugged into the greater Superman universe of books. And there has to be a story, with villains and conflict. This is no simple task.
And oh yeah, let's not forget that this book was marketed as a Lois book only to have Jimenez pull the rug out from under us at the end of last issue. While I actually liked the ending - I was utterly surprised, and that isn't easy to do - I can imagine that has turned off some readers.
But for me, this book continues to impress. In Superwoman #2, we get a harsh fight with a Bizarro clone, the addition of several well-known Superman characters to the supporting cast, some staggeringly powerful character moments, a couple of chuckles, and a great villain reveal at the end. And this is with my not really liking the whole 'my powers are slowly killing me' plotline, one of my least favorite themes in comics.
And while all of this has been about the story, I'll add that Jimenez continues to shine with art as well. Just brilliant.
On to the story.
For me, Lana's internal monologue is the bedrock of this book. Here she talks about how she wasn't best of friends with Lois. But Lois promised to be with her forever, to help her with this hero gig and life in general). And Lois' fate is most likely Lana's fate as well. There is an undercurrent of depression and fatalism even in this brief sequence. Lana has been left by almost everyone she loves. And she thinks she is dying.
This Lana, from the New 52, has been through a bunch of character changes even in the few years she has been around. She started out as the spunky, heroic electrical engineer in Pak's Action. But then she became bitter and angry during the Doomday arc, turning her back on Superman. And now she is depressed and anxious, reeling a bit from life.
For me this makes her a complex character. She is trying to be a hero, to live up to the inspiration of both Superman and Lois, but she is hurting.
These Bizarro clones not only are incredibly strong but they can shape change as well.
But they aren't automatons. This one asks Lana to help her! Are these humans transmuted? Sentient duplicates? Something else?
When a second Bizarro shows up, one who has replaced Lex's body guard Mercy, Lana needs to retreat and regroup. But whoever is pulling the strings of the Bizarro superwomen calls them back.
With the super-battle over, Metropolis needs to recover from this attack.
I like how Jimenez shows the spirit of Metropolis. The people don't loot or riot. Even though 'asshats' exist in all sections of society, most people in the city help each other out.
This is Superman's city after all. People are there to help.
Superwoman is brought to the Metropolis SCU headquarters to debrief with Maggie Sawyer. This is one of the best scenes in the book.
For one, it starts out with Lana complaining that she doesn't have pockets on her costume. I remember a time when there were innumerable pouches and pockets everywhere. Maybe new costumes need one or two pockets for convenience.
But the drama is Lana talking to Maggie. Sawyer has a sense when Lana is lying or stretching the truth. She can tell that the second Superwoman has been lost. And Maggie knows what it is like to be in a relationship with someone in the super-game.
After a little bit of a dance of an interrogation, Maggie says she is looking for allies. I really hope that Maggie remains a presence in this book.
When Lana depowers, she begins to bleed from her nose and nearly collapses from fatigue and pain. Her powers are killing her.
She heads back with Steel (who joined her earlier) to the Ironworks. There John's niece Natalie shows up. She is upbeat, and a bit self-absorbed. But her energy is infectious. I love how Lana sees a bit of herself in Natalie.
Nat shows Lana that she has built her a suit should her powers fail. And, of course, it is an insect queen outfit, riffing on many prior versions of Lana.
(In fact, we have seen a dying Lana become Insect Queen back in Sterling Gates Supergirl run!)
But it is clear that Lana is dying. John begs Lana to rest until they can figure out what is wrong with her. He loves her and wants to help.
Of course, he has to qualify his love of her and his desire to help her by saying he isn't mansplaining to her.
I know I come at this from a white male perspective. But I can't believe that wanting your dying significant other to rest and get help and treatment is considered misogynist or controlling. If she was fine and he told her not to go out heroing, if he was condescending or hateful, if he was actually mansplaining, then I can see it.
Anyways, Lana understands that maybe she does need to recuperate. While she won't stop heroing, she will get some rest now.
But Lana does not get fitful sleep.
She sees horrible visions of Lois dying, sinking into a field of skulls.
It is oh so very Snyder.
But it is terrifying. Lana awakens in a panicked state.
And then we get the most powerful moment in the book.
It is clear that Lana is feeling lost, depressed, and suicidal. She looks at the sedatives she has and wonders if she can't be saved. She dumps out the bottle. But there is only one pill.
Basically, Lana is going to try to commit suicide here. You don't turn a bottle upside down like that unless you want to have access to them all. The only thing that stops her is literally the quantity available.
It is clear that Lana needs more healing than just on her physical power. She needs counseling and now.
John and Natalie have been called to a parade in Midtown which is being torn apart by the Atomic Skull. He escaped Stryker's Island when the EMP hit the city last issue.
But the Skull, while doing a lot of collateral damage, is actually looking to talk to Superman. He won't return to jail. He says that he was being tortured at the prison, treated like animals. And that started when LexCorp took over.
In some ways, Skull is pathetic. And scarred. And scared. I actually felt sympathetic toward him.
Earlier in the issue we saw that the person commanding the Bizarros is cruel and domineering. We saw that the Kryptonite Man has been vivisected while somehow staying alive.
And the issue ends with the Mercy-Bizarro revealing her evil nature and dragging Lex back to the LexCorp headquarters. There he sees that his sister Lena is behind all this evil. She has corrupted Lex's B-Zero tech to create her drones. She has his old battle armor. She has taken root in his castle. And she is going to replace him.
Now we're talking!
So much happened in this issue. I glossed over a ton of cool moments and brief scenes. I love the action sequences. But it is the character moments that shine for me. Lana's scene with Maggie. Lana's struggles with her guilt and sadness. Lana's scene with John. And now this cliffhanger. It all is thought provoking. It is heavy stuff with out feeling stiff or maudlin. It just works.
I have to admit, I am liking this book more than I anticipated. Kudos to Jimenez for creating a very mature book which still has the room to breathe to include some humor and action.
Overall grade: B+