Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: Superwoman #9

How do you remake a book that was just made? How do you reboot something which was just booted?

It can't be easy.

But that is what is going on in the Superwoman book. Phil Jimenez idea of Lana being infused with energy from the dead New 52 Superman couldn't exist anymore in the post-Superman Reborn world. And frankly, the first arc of Superwoman ended in such a jumbled, over wordy, preachy, and confusing manner that maybe erasing that and semi-starting fresh makes sense. I know I am trashing the prior arc but the truth is I enjoyed the opening chapters. It just all seemed to lose its way.

Superwoman #9 has the difficult task of somehow continuing the title, building on some of what has come before, all while trying to explain away the inconsistency of the recent past. Enter writer K. Perkins (of Supergirl Crucible fame) and artists Stephen Segovia and Art Thibert. Can they pull it off?

At least for this first issue, for me, the answer is yes. Instead of immediately trying to explain how Lana had powers, what adventures she has had as Superwoman, and what truly happened, Perkins instead concentrates on who Lana is as a person. The powers and the missions are important, but the character of Lana is the foundation of this book. We need to learn that first.

In Jimenez book, Lana was an extremely complicated character. She was a begrudging hero. She had anxiety issues. She was struggling with the pressure of all aspects of her life. And she was hiding all of this fear from those who loved her. I didn't always like Lana in the book. She seemed to have a hair trigger to lash out at those supporting her. She seemed ashamed of her problems. But always, she eventually tried to rise above. Perkins seems to embrace all of that complexity. Complicated and conflicted characters are always fascinating to read. Indeed there are wonderful bookend moments in this issue.

The art by Segovia and Thibert suits the book nicely. There is a lot of kinetic energy in the action sequences. But the quiet scenes, the conversations between characters, look great with solid expressive work.

On to the book.

The opening page starts where the last issue ended. Lana is in the healing fluid of Kryptonian armor.

The internal monologue here works on multiple levels, a fantastic way to open up this arc. Lana talks about being safe and comfortable but now, hearing Clark, she feels tapped and needs help.

That works for this moment. She was safe and comfortable in the fluid. Clark is calling her from outside the armor. Now she is trapped and needs to get out. So on the superficial level it works.

But this could be Lana talking about her life. She was safe and comfortable as an electrical engineer. She heard Clark's voice, perhaps a nod to that Superman energy fusing with her. Then she felt trapped and needed to get out. She is trapped in this life of being a hero, of living up to the S-shield. There is pressure there she might want to escape from.

Great hook.

Then she is dumped out of the armor, 'cured'. But while she is no longer dying, she no longer has powers.

We don't know why she was dying. We don't know how she got her powers. We don't know how she got there. All the events leading up to her being put into the armor have been changed. But rather than tackle all that now, Perkins just puts us here and moves on. A mystery. That is another way to grab me.

But what I love here is that last panel. Lana's expression is one of doubt or contemplation. She doesn't seem sad to have lost her powers. She doesn't seem happy to have lost her powers. She has to process all this. Great work by Segovia and Thibert.

Cutting to Metropolis, we see that the Atomic Skull has now become a special operative in the Metropolis Special Crime Unit. He works for Maggie Sawyer to help with super-powered threats. This all comes out of the prior arc as well. So some elements of that arc clearly happened.

But he is a recovering villain and probably not used to working for someone else. He has to be put in his place by Maggie Sawyer. I love seeing Maggie, a 'normal' person, just take control of the situation and show that she is in charge.


Meanwhile, we are back to sullen Lana. Back on the farm, she is struggling with who she is. She has no powers. And she might like that. She once again shuts people out.

When John Henry Irons, her partner, tells her that he empathizes with her and wants to help, she snaps at him.

This isn't a good moment for Lana. It is hard to sympathize with her here. That said, this feels natural. Sometimes you need to work things out yourself, be alone in your thoughts, without someone else trying to 'help' you. She could have said it better ... 'John, I love you. But I just need time'. But we have seen that she isn't that level-headed in this book. She is irritable and anxious. You feel her venom in the art in that top panel.

I'm sure she'll apologize at some point.

But enough is enough. John calls Clark to come visit and see if he can get through.

Finally Lana voices how conflicted she is. She liked having powers and helping people. But she is also free of that responsibility. Maybe a simple life would be better for her.

When you look at this Lana, she started out in the Pak/Kuder Action Comics run as someone who was inspired by Clark to do more. She was an action engineer, running into adventure. Then her story takes a dark turn with her parents being murdered and her heart filling with anger. And then she got powers and was still struggling with anxiety and PTSD. This simple conflict ... what do I want to do with my life now ... fits the character.

Leave it to Superman to bring her on a victory tour of her recent life.

He flies her over Metropolis which is draped in Superwoman banners and electronic news billboards. This is a little visual shorthand to show that Superwoman did indeed save Metropolis, the core of the first arc. So that stuff still probably happened.

And then we see that she has inspired the youth of Metropolis as well. They are wearing s-shields and playing Superwoman in the playground. It is eerily similar to a recent scene in Supergirl where we see the kids of National City playing Supergirl.

But this is a recruitment tour.

Yes, Superman is trying to show Lana how much good she did as Superwoman. That shouldn't be forgotten or belittled by her.

That said, he needs her. As he did with Supergirl and New Super-Man, he tells Lana that something is coming, a threat he will need the whole Super-Family to help fight.

He needs Lana.

I have been enjoying this scene being repeated around the titles. It shows how much Superman relies on his comrades. But maybe he should recruit her when she has powers.

The MSCU ends up fighting Remnant in the streets and Superman has to intercede. While the melee swirls around her, Lana does what she can, herding some kids out of the way of the tossed cars and energy beams. She is a hero, even on this civilian level.

That pep talk seems to work. Back on the farm, she says that the hard parts of being a hero are worth enduring, knowing the role a hero plays in the world. (I don't know if I quite get her declaring her love for Clark. And I don't know why he is calling her his hero. But the sentiment is right.)

I love that last panel. There is sudden resolve in her positioning. She is striking the famous 'hands on hip' heroic pose. But there are still shadows here. She isn't standing in the sun. She is going to be a hero, but it isn't going to be pure or easy.

For me, that panel is the perfect bookend to that opening page of panic. We know who this Lana is.  Now we need to learn who Superwoman is.

Congrats to Perkins, Segovia, and Thibert. This could have been a jumping off point. But I'm still here.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

I've posted my comments elsewhere, so shall simply commend you on 'Lana Lang Action Engineer'!

Anonymous said...

I don't know... Superwoman's opening arc was a mess, full of bait-and-switch moments, preachiness, character assassination, unexplained subplots and a secondary character suddenly promoted to main that walked the line between "flawed and conflicted" and "unlikeable".

You know, it reminds me of Post-Crisis Kara's book. "Hey, let's give Supergirl her own book and turn her into a mood-swinging jerkass!"

I hope Perkins can right the ship, but it'll be a tough task. Much like Bedard, Puckett, Gates... inherited a book had become an unreadable, directionless mess, and had to work hard to rehabilitate the character.

Unfortunately Lana is still behaving as a jerkass, so people may not feel inclined to give her a second chance, right like they never gave Supergirl another chance after the Kelly's run and Lobdell's treatment.

I know I was miffed after seeing her mistreating John, so I lost interest after that scene. I'm not sure those panels where Clark shows Lana she's inspired people worked out for me. I get why and how Supergirl became a popular, inspirational figure to the locals of National City, but Lana has become popular enough during her short Superwoman tenure to be the subject of banners and news billboards?

Also, a Superman Homepage reviewer wondered why Superman completely ignores Steel in favor of recruiting a powerless Superwoman to fight alongside him. I find this is a good question.

Anyway, I notice he didn't tell her the whole story. Superman has only revealed the whole story to Supergirl, Batman and Wonder Woman. It has to mean he trusts them more than everybody else, right?

Of course, when you think about it, Post-Flahspoint Superman, the guy who ignored Supergirl for months, is only a part of him. This version of Superman was absolutely giddy when he found her long-lost cousin, wanted her to live with him and his wife and was there for her while Kara grew into a hero, trusting her when no one else would do. So it's easy to understand why he trusts her and is close to her.

Anonymous said...

A good review Anj, although I personally feel it's more glowing than this comic deserves. Lana is still written as quite sullen and catty in a Mean Girls type way. She snaps at John Henry Irons when he's trying to talk to her and the previous issue did not show her feelings for him in a good light. She cuts off Lois for reasons unknown, all the development between Lana and Lois is out the window and they're rivals again. And whilst Lana not wanting to go back to being a hero isn't a bad thing of the writing, Lana is kind of written as selfish and self centred in that exchange. This first issue definitely has me feeling that Superwoman is the weakest of the Superman Family titles. I don't think I'll be paying any attention to it unless it's involved in another crossover.


Anonymous said...

"Jumbled Mess" is being charitable to be sure, I buy the book out of mute loyalty to the notion that either Lois or Lana could always step up to super hero status in an instant given the opportunity. Part of the problem here is that years and years ago, Lois Lane "won" the fight over Superman....and Lana has been ping-ponging around since conceptually speaking. But I always adhere to the "Weisinger Rule" IE there are no bad characters only bad writing....and the quest to regain powers in the fight for right is always a good story IMHO, so for the moment I'm still on board.


Anonymous said...

Nope, not falling for this one again.
Superwoman as a name has a too messy history of a jumble of meanings. It feels like investing myself in a character that has failed to stay relevant at every pass in history. I knew it was going to be bad before I picked it up, I wasted my money on it, and now they try to lure me into buying it again. Also, that costume is still terrible. Give Supergirl a twice monthly instead.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

I think I might be looking at this through rose colored glasses based on early issues of the book, an overall like of Lana, and a trust in Perkins.

This book has been a tough read from outset. Hoping things look up. But understand if readers say 'enough is enough'.

Anonymous said...

"I think I might be looking at this through rose colored glasses based on early issues of the book, an overall like of Lana, and a trust in Perkins."

Maybe you're remembering what happened to Supergirl's book in 2008 and you're hoping someone like Sterling Gates comes along and saves this book.