Superman Annual #1 came out this week, done by the Superman title's main creative team Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and artist Jorge Jimenez.
It is hard for me to wrap my head around the book. In the end I think it will get a high grade on review. There are plenty of high points. The art is probably the biggest hook for the issue. This is a new sort of book for Jimenez who brings big splash pages, double splash pages, innovative page designs, and delightfully trippy images to really make it visually pleasing. Tomasi and Gleason answer an early mystery from their run. They pile on some intrigue about whatever the underlying enigma of Superman's origins here. And they add a nice sentiment about the fact that this is a new world for this Kal-El.
They also have this act like a DC Comics Presents issue, teaming up Superman with Swamp Thing. The new DCU is still too fresh for me to know exactly what the history is between these two. The New 52 Superman (I think) knew Swamp Thing. But does this Convergence Kal know him?
But it is hard to link the original threat that spurs Superman into action to all the good plot progression that it brings. This feels like a sort of forced team-up.
Still, the art alone makes this an issue to look for. And I liked the ending and what it was trying to say. On to the book!
The issue starts with Clark looking around the farm at Hamilton and noticing that everything is parched. This isn't a natural phenomenon. Water is being driven away from the ground and there is no clear explanation. And so he goes off to investigate.
While seeking the answer Superman is shocked to see the visage of Swamp Thing made from the earth itself telling him the doesn't belong.
It is a nice shot, big double page thread, shot looking from above, giving the Swamp Thing face the sort of scope and size it needs.
This Superman asks if he should refer to Swamp Thing as Alec or Swamp Thing. The elemental says to call him Holland. So is Superman just leaning on his interactions in the pre-Crisis world?
Swamp Thing tells Superman that there is a disturbance in the Green caused by Kal. We get a nice page here. Superman back lit by the sun, looking angelic. Swamp Thing in close up below looking monstrous.
And then those ragged panels in the middle, the root of the problem (nice touch). Mr. Oz and the presence of this Superman is off. And we are reminded about the blue hand print Kal left way back early in this run at the grave of the other Superman.
At the time I wondered if the color somehow related to the blue energy of Dr. Manhatten. Now we know that somehow Mr. Oz is involved. I am glad this little mystery is at least being moved forward here.
Superman tells Swamp Thing he isn't a threat, laying his hand on Swamp Thing's shoulder. Somehow that collection 'infects' Swamp Thing.
Holland glows blue, begins speaking Kryptonian and attacks Superman. It is a simple excuse for a drawn out brawl. Ah, two heroes fighting, a classic comics trope.
But it is what Holland says that is striking. After a little translating we get:
I'm Superman and I can do almost anything. Except, of course, raise the dead. I'm here to say goodbye Clark.
I know you are not coming back. You and your family are not what you believe you are. You may not be here in body but you are in spirit.
This adds to the mystery of who all these Supermen really are. My guess is that this is some possession of Swamp Thing by the dead Superman who has realized everything that is going on (just like Lois said she finally understood before dying in Superwoman #1). But it certainly adds a thick layer of intrigue. What does it mean that Superman isn't what he believes himself to be?
In the end, Superman knows he needs to plug Swamp Thing back into the Green to have it purge this possession. And that works.
Jimenez does a wonderful job with these fight pages, using splashes, odd angles, and the mutable nature of Swamp Thing to keep things fresh. I especially like how huge Swamp Thing is in these fights, almost Kaiju-esque.
But then turnabout is fair play. Swamp Thing realizes that Superman also needs to be brought into the Green to help fix whatever is going on that is making the water recede. He could explain this. Instead it leads to another fight where Swamp Thing forces it onto Kal. That seemed weird. Use your words people!
But it does lead to this fascinating double page spread (which I can only show part of). Holland realizes that Superman is out of synch with this Earth because he is from another world. When this Earth's Superman died it somehow altered how the Convergence Superman processed the sun's energy. Okay ... I guess I'll roll with it. It can't be a longstanding issue because the current Superman has been on Earth for years. I suppose if Superman dying gave Lana powers, it could also alter this Kal.
But the imagery is fantastic. The two different colored eyes of the Superman in the middle hints at some dual nature of the character. The multiple Earths also is a nice touch, slowly separating to a shot of Superman crying blood. And the Superman with two colored eyes? Well maybe the dead Superman (represented by the blue eye since Swampy turned blue) has been living in this Superman all along?
All weird and stupendous. It just hints at the origins of these Supermen ... especially since Oz is shown so prominently earlier.
Swamp Thing knows that this Superman hasn't 100% felt this Earth is his home and that sentiment has led to this dissonance with the planet. (Huh??) With a nudge from the Parliament of Trees and with a new understanding of home, Superman emerges from the Green and the water returns to the land.
While the metaphysics of it all is wonky, I love the sentiment. This is Superman's home now.
Add to that the psychedelic sequence which brought us there and I have to say I like this a lot. I won't dwell on details; they don't make much sense. But the whole is bigger than its parts. The hints towards the ultimate mystery really whet my appetite for more. And, once again, the art is spectacular.
And it makes me think that we will learn more of Mr. Oz soon!