Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: Superwoman #4

Superwoman #4 came out a week and a half ago and I have been remiss in taking this long to get to this review. I have completely enjoyed this comic since its debut. It is complex and dense. You get your money's worth with this book. And the conflicted and unstable nature of the title character is fascinating.

You knew there was a but coming ... right?

I think this issue was the weakest of the title so far. And part of that might be my own inability to read the book's nonlinear timeline and have it make sense to me. We know that Lana is battling PTSD and anxiety. We know she is on medication. And we know the loss of Lois has been debilitating. In this issue, we learn that Lana is having some visual hallucinations, interacting with her Lois, the one who died as Superwoman. These visions happen in Lana's farmhouse. And so, throughout the book, the scene of the book switches to the farmhouse. It is jarring. It took me out of the story as a reader. I switched back and forth so many times I was trying to figure out if the visions were happening as the book progresses or a flashback. The conversations don't flow to give a clue. The whole thing felt disorganized. And maybe that is on purpose? Maybe we are supposed to feel as unsettled as Lana?

But I have to say, I flipped pages back and forth a bunch of times, wondering if I skipped pages or missed a dialogue box, while I was reading. It was, frankly, confusing.

Emanuela Lupacchino is on art here and her work is quite lovely. Lupacchino brings a beautiful panache to all the characters. I love Lupacchino's Lana! Just lovely. But the book still read like a Phil Jimenez book with a lot of panels per page and a ton of story told in the issue.

On to the book.

We start out at the Lang farmhouse. Lana says that despite her jobs in Metropolis, she tries to get to Smallville as much as possible as a way to collect herself. She considers herself a farmer at heart.

And then, out of the blue, Lois appears.

At first Lana thinks this is the Convergence Lois who has not only co-opted this world's Lois' identity but now her very look (longer darker hair, etc.).

But then Lana learns Lois isn't tangible. Her hand goes right through Lana.

It is a prickly interaction, much like all the interactions we have seen of these two in the book. Definitely friends, but with some philosophical differences.

I do like that this Lois acknowledges the comic elephant in the room. How is it that no one notices a Lois who is 10 years older just stepped in?

Lana then tries to come to grips with what this Lois is. Is it Lois, reorganized from some subatomic particles? Is she a Bizarro? Is she the ghost of Lois?? A figment of her imagination?

It is an interesting question.

I like how Lois uses her signature line 'Now that's a good headline'.

But it turns out that Lana is the one who said 'that's a good headline'. This farmhouse scene took place in Lana's head. She is actually in Bibbo's restaurant with Steel and Natasha. The fact that Natasha tells us that Lana said that 'headline' dialogue puts these scenes in the same time ... not a flashback. But does this mean Natasha and Steel heard her do the entire 3 pages of dialogue to herself at this table? That would be weird. So did most of happen in her head? Jimenez doesn't let us know.

Instead, the television on in the restaurant recaps the recent events of the last issues. We are reminded that Lex went missing after his Gestalt ship went out of control. We hear that the news knows about Lena being in the basement, experimented on by Lex. And we hear how Superwoman and her friends (Steel, Natasha) were able to defeat the Atomic Skull.

Everyone bad mouths Lana but she tells people that much of what was said is wrong. This rubs John the wrong way. After all, Lex is a horrible person. Why does Lana defend him?

I think the scene was good to catch us up on all that is happening as well as showing that Lana's relationship with Steel isn't perfect.

And then we hear that Traci Thirteen is missing. Natasha needs a codename.

But Lana sees that the story about super-villains being mistreated by LexCorp at Stryker's is a mystery to be solved. It doesn't sound like Lex. And Lois (her ghost) agrees with her. It is a reporter's question to ask.

So has Lana 'absorbed' Lois somehow? Does Lana now have Lois' instincts?

Hmmm ....

So Superwoman heads to question Maggie Sawyer and the villains just captured. And there is Lois right behind her.

And we see that Maggie at least hears Lana's side of the Lois/Lana conversations. It sounds like Mercy, Lex's aide, is a person of interest.

Okay, this is where things get even more wonky. We are back in the farmhouse.

And Lana's first line is about Lois maybe being a ghost which seems to be a callback to that first conversation. So I thought this was a flashback, a continuation of that scene. But I simply don't know.

But the content of the conversation is fascinating. Lana is still trying to figure out what Lois is. We learn that Lana still won't admit to Jon that she is on meds. She still misses Lois greatly.

Still. Is this happening just now? In the past? While she is talking to Maggie?

I still don't know.

Because the next scene is at IronWorks. John is scanning Lana and it seems inevitable. Lana is dying because of the energy she houses.

Maybe there is some anomaly inside her, something she detects? Is that anomaly Lois?

But it seems like a foregone conclusion. Lana is dying.

This tender, sad moment is broken up when Traci Thirteen teleports in.

 But after that page, we have another page of Lois and Lana now in the farmhouse kitchen. She looks out the window and sees Lex's ship the Gestalt.

But then we blip back to Traci Thirteen. She has been talking to the city. She knows that Lena, still in her new armor, is going to use the Gestalt to level Metropolis. We see Lena taking over the ship.

So did that one page in the kitchen take place in Lana's mind between lines of dialogue by Traci?? I guess. But again, it felt like that page was in the wrong place. I was flipping back and forth trying to understand. But in the end I had to roll with it.

This was confusing. Not confusing in the 'Grant Morrison', intentionally confusing way. Just tough to read and know where and when all the scenes were happening. And those questions kept pulling me out of the book. And that isn't fun.

Still, the concepts are fascinating. The art is beautiful. But this was a step back for the book.

Overall grade: C+


Martin Gray said...

Yeah, you're right. I was reading it assuming the Lois scenes happened before the Metropolis bits and Lana was recalling them and occasionally muttering some dialogue... the book really needed transitional captions. I don't care if they're considered to be interrupting the flow, story comprehension is vital.

Great idea about Lois being inside Lana, I took it that Phil was nodding towards Lana's Silver and Bronze Age reporting days, but I like your idea better.

Anonymous said...

I agree it was confusing.

You know, when Lana told "Isn't that what happens when women like us get power? Ascension. Insanity. Oblivion" I wondered if the writer was taking a dig at "Dark Phoenix Saga" (which I love) and "Avengers Dissassembled" (which I dislike).

Don't worry, Lana. In the DC universe, women don't get crazy when they become unimaginably powerful. At least not permanently. Kara, Diana, Mary and M'Gann are clear proof of it. That is what happens in the next universe. I am/used to be a Marvel fanboy, so I should know.

You'll be all right.

I hope.

I have a crazy theory: Maybe Mr. Oz seized the soul of Post-Flashpoint Lois and is letting Lana see her in order to achieve... whatever goal he is trying to achieve.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments. I feel relieved I wasn't the only one confused!