Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Superman #23

Superman #23 came out this week and is the next part in the Black Dawn arc. It also reveals at last the enemy behind all the craziness that has been going on in the sleepy hamlet of Hamilton. And while I am not the biggest fan of the 'big bad', his goals behind his scheme actually makes sense for his character. We'll have to see how it all plays out.

This reveal shows story-tellers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have had a long play in mind. And it kind of all clicks into place. With the super-couple moving back to Metropolis (as seen in Action Comics), I guess this is the swan song for the Hamilton locale. So why not tear up the place?

The issue also includes something of a dramatic turn for Lois. Her portrayal in this title has been sort of up and down. She has been a bad-ass laser-firing hero. She has been a pie-serving 50's house wife. And she has been everything in between. In this issue we learn what it means to be a non-super-powered combatant in a chaotic city-wide brawl. Whether this plot twist has any legs will be determined. I doubt we will see a long-term change here.

But overall, while the big beats where solid, the issue overall is something of a muddle. For some reason, it feels rushed. Maybe that is because the middle pages seem to be inked in a more thick-lined style than I am used to seeing. Doug Mahnke's pencils are solid throughout, they always are. But the fight in Hamilton felt a bit muddier than I am used to seeing.

On to the book ...

Last issue, we learned that Farmer Cobb and his grand-daugher Kathy have had diabolical plans in mind for the Kents. And Superman has found the evil lab where Cobb has encased town folk and Batman and Robin in his weird black milk tubes.

But things get interesting when Lois confronts Cobb about it. Cobb says he has never had plans to hurt the family. He loves them! He thinks of Jon as his own son. He is trying to prepare the family for the evil to come.

It doesn't feel like Cobb is fibbing. I think that he means it, even if his methods are strange. But who is he? And what is he preparing the family for? All this just makes Cobb a bit more fascinating to me. While I don't mind villains that are just happy with being evil for evil's sake, I also like complicated villains. I don't mind villains that think they are the heroes.

But Lois won't debate. She blasts away with the Bat-Gauntlet.

This confrontation is happening on the ground. Superman is below ground, in the black milk lab/cavern. Cobb uses his telekinesis to crush the gauntlet into Lois hand causing her to scream. And Superman always hears Lois.

He tunnels up through the ground and batters Cobb. I thought this was a great splash page. I think the 'red eyes of death' look on Superman is over-used. But I think threatening Lois warrants it.

Cobb and Superman also talk while the battle. Cobb again says that he is trying to help the family. Meanwhile, Superman says he 'never trusted' Cobb. I don't know if that was evident early on. And if so, why let Jon hang out there? Why drink his milk?

This is a pretty ticked out Superman. He overpowers Cobb, wrapping him up in metal. And then, to keep him subdued, he backhands the guy knocking him out.

I cheered a bit when I read this. Cobb has been do for some comeuppance. And the idea that he is taken out with a simple, understated slap was just fantastic.

Clark and Lois now know that Jon needs rescuing but they can't find him anywhere. Before the search can happen, a bunch of kaijus crawl up through the Earth and endanger the town. I don't know where these things are coming from. Could Tomasi and Gleason be bringing back the Subterranean kingdom we saw in the Pak/Kuder stories?

While Superman flies in to skirmish, he is met by other super-powered beings, the Super Elite. As Superman interacts with them, he realizes that these beings are important people from Hamilton - the town doctor, the teacher, etc. All the quirky citizens we have met have powers.

And moreover, they don't mind using these powers lethally. They use their powers to slice, dice, and execute giant turtles and bats. Superman tries to convince the Elite that they can subdue and not kill. But they won't hear it.

These are the pages which just didn't work for me. The are seemed just a smidge off.

But there is Lois right in the middle of it. She is always a journalist. She pulls out her phone and starts taking pictures of the melee.

And being so close to the fight, Lois suffers a grievous injury, losing her right leg. Superman has to cauterize the wound with heat vision so she doesn't bleed out. Screaming in pain, Lois tells him that he needs to find Jon. Her thoughts are not about her but rather her child.

Now I don't know if I like Lois being maimed in this way. But she has no powers and was standing in a super-powered war zone. So this was realistic. But maybe not necessary? I can only hope that somehow this all gets turned back. Lois was forgotten in the New 52. She finally was re-asserting herself as a force in the DCU. I really didn't need this.

Early in the issue we see that Jon is helpless, strapped into a chair and forced to watch everything that her parents are going through. He is forced to watch his mother injured in this way. That is chilling.

And he really is forced to watch. When Jon tries to turn away, his gaze is forced back on screen. There is something very 'A Clockwork Orange' about this.

But the words of the person who has imprisoned him say that the time to swallow anger is over. In other words, it is time to let all your anger out. Who would want to preach a lack of restraint? Who would want to teach Jon to lash out angrily?

Okay, it's Manchester Black. We all knew this as it was leaked a while ago.

And it all makes sense now.

Black ran The Elite, a group of 'heroes' who decided that they would simply kill villains. They'd bully people into obeying. They didn't mind collateral damage as long as their goals were accomplished. It all came to a head in the brilliant 'What's so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way' story in Action Comics #775 by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke. Eventually, Superman defeats Black and does it without lowering himself to Black's cruelty. If you haven't read that issue, please go out and find it.

So I think the idea of Black 'preparing' Jon, trying to convince the young hero that his father's methods are antiquated is kind of brilliant. And all this time, the idea of a slow persuasion is just nefarious.

I'm not a big fan of Black as a character. But he is the perfect foil for Superman. He is 'might makes right.' He is 'the ends justify the means'. And he is the personification of the cynical current 'anti-hero'. This is where you need Superman to rise up and inspire, proving to people that his way is the right way.

I often list Superman #775 as one of my favorite Superman stories ever. So odd given how much I dislike Kelly's Supergirl run.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

I love that our thoughts on the splash page were identical!

It was evident Superman didn't trust Cobb Branden as early as the issue in which Jon fell out of a tree and Superman was very short with him, and we've certainly had significant glares since then.

I love the idea of these monsters being from the Action Comics subterranean kingdom, it'd be great for the monster boy to meet Jon.

I don't for a second see Manchester Black getting Jon onside without mind control, so where on Earth is it going?

We agree on the wobbly art in the middle, hopefully things will be smoothed out next time

Anonymous said...

Well written review Anj, that was a good thought about these monsters being from the Subterranean Kingdom. That would be a neat New 52 connection. I guess I enjoyed this issue more than you and more than some of the people who will be commenting on your review. Manchester Black is one of my favourite Superman villains due to the kind of challenge he poses to Superman. He is the embodiment of "The end justifies the means" in the DCU. And he knows how to push Superman's buttons and challenge his morals so I can't wait to see how he might use Jon against his own father in the next two issues.

Lois' dismemberment caught me off guard when I saw it, I really didn't expect to see it all. It's definitely valid criticism to call this too dark or an unnecessary shock value gimmick. But I haven't been a fan of those rushing to demonise this moment on social media just because Lois got hurt. Alfred got his hand chopped off by the Joker yet he got it reattached via surgery. Cyborg's origin is his body being destroyed yet that doesn't make him any less of a hero. I prefer to wait to see how it plays out in the story. It's likely to be a telepathic illusion anyway, Black tricked Clark into thinking he had killed Lois so he could get Superman to kill him in Ending Battle but Lois was really fine.

Minor correction; the issue you're thinking of is Action Comics #775, not Superman #775.


Anonymous said...

We'll see how it plays out, but the Kents are definitely NOT staying in that "town".

I'm not a fan of heroes getting maimed. Often it's done badly and by shock value.

I'm not thrilled to see Manchester Black. Some fans see him as a strawman and a middle finger aimed at "The Authority". I don't think Joe Kelly was lambasting that book (although he's been known to flip fans the bird coughSupergirlVolume5Issue18cough), but I thought Manchester was... well... lame. At the beginning he wanted to show off, proving Superman was weak because he wouldn't cross the line. Then he wanted revenge, proving Superman can be pushed to cross the line. And now he wants to help, showing Superman he should cross the line? I agree a good villain needs to challenge the hero at some ideological or emotional level, but Manchester Black is an one-trick pony. He isn't good or complex enough to challenge Superman's beliefs on a constant basis.

Anyway, Superman's current books look like a hodgepodge of different eras. On the one hand, Superman's origin is steeped in the Pre-Crisis universe, Kara Zor-El is around -even if peripherically-, and the Kents are gone. On the other hand, several supporting characters and villains that faded after the 90's are being seen again.

I find funny that John "I'll fix Superman" Byrne's reboot's influence is all but null, though.