Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Superman #31

Superman #31 came out this week and was a huge surprise. Why? It was a Deathstroke story that I liked.

A brief history. I liked Deathstroke back in the earliest days. Okay, sleeping with Terra was completely creepy. But he was a guy with a haunting past. He was clearly deeply troubled. In the end in New Teen Titans when he has a sit-down with Changeling, he feels exhausted. And that was good.

Then, the 90s happened. And everything was extreme. And suddenly Deathstroke became the ultimate badass. He killed everything. He skewered people. He assassinated Firestorm. And he was everywhere.


And that character archetype, the cool as the other side of the pillow, heartless killer? It doesn't work for me. And I am sure that in the 30 years hence, there are good Deathstroke stories.

So when I saw this story solicited I kind of groaned. "Let me guess, Kryptonite shuriken?" was going through my already bored mind.

Then I read the issue. I had never read anything by writer James Bonny, someone who has a chunk of Deathstroke on his resume. Suddenly this more complicated Deathstroke was back. Here was a guy that seems to be going through the motions of life, almost bored or mentally exhausted with his life of violence. And he has a little bit of honor. And he treats Lois with respect. In fact, this is a Lois story, not a Superman story. We see her at her finest. Brilliant.

Tyler Kirkham is on art and I have waxed his car before. His art is just so beautiful. His Lois is gorgeous and strong. The action sequences feel a little static but they portray a freeze frame of the battle wonderfully.

On to the book.

 The book opens at STAR Labs in Metropolis. A man is holding hostages, threatening to blow up a new technology unless he gets to speak to Lois. Suddenly Superman arrives.

There is a lot in this scene. The fact this guy wants to talk to Lois and not Superman is a hat tip to her. She is the voice of truth in Metropolis. He knows she'll cover things correctly. I love she is held in that regard.

Second, this guy only brought this weaponized tech to the public after he was turned down for a promotion and his wife left him. His morals only kicked in when he didn't reap the benefits of his work. I don't know if I totally think this guy is a hero.

And then Superman talks him down and he leaves peacefully. I love that.

But the opening line about Lois sets the town. She is a big deal.

We then cut to Lois and Jimmy on scene in South America tracking down 'The Grave Maker', an assassin named Gorzman who kills anyone who threatens his drug empire. He is described in a way that makes you think he is ruthless and unstoppable.

Lois finds Gorzman and his crew slaughtered. And evidence shows it was Deathstroke.

And so she has a new mission, to interview The Terminator. She convinces Perry to let her do it.

That last panel, her confidently walking out saying it is her job to know things ... that's Lois.

And she won't let Clark dissuade her. He can't tell her it is dangerous when he does what he does. She is off, armed with a taser Clark gives her.

We cut to Prague where Lois is on the job. In a perfect use of small inset panels we actually see Lois working, tracking down leads and getting closer to Deathstroke.

I can't remember the last time we actually saw Lois truly on the job like this. I love it. And this is the beauty of comics. So much is said in these small panels; there is a second set I didn't show.

A group of warriors, armed with hand-to-hand weapons, shows up led by someone named Cestus. They are also looking for Deathstroke. They thought she could lead them to him. And now they'll kill her.

Without pause, she pulls out the taser and says 'Back off buddy! I'm a journalist!!' Awesome.

But then Superman arrives, called in by the use of the taser, the equivalent of Jimmy's watch. He quickly mops up the baddies.

I like that Lois is a bit torn by this intrusion. She needs to do her work. She is glad that he wasn't hovering or stalking. She needs her space. But she thinks it is sweet he made this device just for her.

It's okay for him to help here. She was about to die.

 But her legwork worked. Deathstroke arrives to talk to her.

And Cestus arrives again with more troops. The Terminator wades in, killing all the assassins while working around the innocents in the way. He could have killed that little kid. He could have used that kid as a shield. But he didn't.

It is enough to make Lois wonder how much honor is in him. Does he have a conscience?

I still don't need to read this all the time. But adding some layer of humanity to Slade is appreciated.

 But this is the page that got me.

Lois is taken to his headquarters and interviews him. Just read this page. This is a guy who seems deadened to his life, pun not intended. He doesn't want to die. But killing people is simply worked. He is inured to it. He sounds bored. Or tired.

Now that is interesting. Really really interested.

 He then turns the tables.

It is weird that Superman arrived. Does Superman love her?

No doubt this will come back.

In the end, Cestus and troops arrive again (Cestus seems to be able to teleport). Slade tells Lois to walk away, not run in the presence of these predators. Meanwhile, Deathstroke just dives in. More gore happens.

But this whole scene, Lois as reporter interviewing world-renowned merc Deathstroke. This is a Lois moment, something I haven't seen in a long time. It is welcomed.

The story is a huge success. Perry is thrilled. Lois is pleased.

But then Deathstroke arrives, apparently targeted by the Terminator. And Clark gives her the exact opposite advice, telling her to run.

I've read enough comics to know that Deathstroke isn't there for her but most likely to protect her. She is probably targeted by Cestus and his crew now. Or, Cestus saw her be rescued by Superman and came to the same conclusion that Deathstroke did. Superman loves her. If you want to hurt Superman, hurt her.

And if this is true, then Deathstroke indeed has honor. Why should he care that Lois dies ... unless he cares?

The world needs more Lois stories. The comics need more complex Deathstroke stories. And the world needs comics that look this good.

I am happy. Kudos to Bonny and Kirkham.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

"Then, the 90s happened."

Funny how you could preface most of things wrong on comics nowadays with the above sentence.

It was a great issue, showcasing Lois. The Superman books and mythos usually suffer when important female supporting characters are sidelined.

I never cared very much for Deathstroke, but I'm glad that he's being well used right now.

Martin Gray said...

Ah, of course that’s why we had the opening sequence, to show what a big deal Lois is.

Definitely try Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke series, it’s fascinating and fun.

Anonymous said...

This issue was crazy good. I'm not a big Deathstroke fan either, but wow, just wow. Action Comics big event the Oz effect is being upstaged by a well written story in the regular Superman series. A+

Anonymous said...

It was nice to get a Lois focused issue. Although Rebirth has given Lois more involvement in the Superman comics, this was the most Post Crisis Lois that Lois has been in Rebirth. Finding new stories, tracking down leads, getting the questions and answers that she wants out of a person, that was classic Lois.

I'd also recommend Priest's Deathstroke, and he's writing Justice League in December so that should be good.