Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Review: Superman #32

Last week, I reviewed Action Comics #1032, written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson. I raved about it.

Superman #32 was also released last week, also written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson. And while this was a fine issue, it wasn't as mind-blowing as Action. This story just comes to a sudden sort of ending with a couple of bizarre twists that had me stroking my chin.

Prior Johnson stories have focused in on the father/son relationship of Clark and Jon. There is this known turn coming up where Jon takes up the mantle of Superman and takes over. It seems that the purpose of this Shadowbreed story is to once again showcase that relationship but now with Clark realizing his son is not a child anymore and a worthy successor. It also brings in the relationship of the Qarath family and how Thrakkamites have a different parent/child relationship as well. A contrast will always make the focus that much brighter.

But the story built on that premise is a bit muddy. I don't know exactly what the Shadowbreed is. I don't quite understand the aftermath of their defeat. I don't know why Qarath O Bakkis waits as long as he does to make his play in this tale. I don't know how Superman survives this encounter. 

That's a lot of 'I don't knows' to roll with.

The art by Scott Godlewski is quite good. He has a good handle on Jon, portraying him as a youth nicely. The action sequences are well paced and drawn. And these aliens look ... well ... alien.

On to the story.

We start by hearing one of the tenets of Thrakkamite life. Iron against iron leads to sharpness and strength. Iron against flesh is leads to wounds.

It is clear, for them conflict toughens someone up, makes them stronger. As a result, fathers and sons don't have loving or nurturing relationships. This is clearly the opposite of Pa and Clark. It is the opposite of Clark and Jon.

So seeing that Qarath O Bakkis is hated by his father because he has embraced knowledge and friendship stands out. This could be a statement against toxic masculinity or gender norms.

But this is clearly not how Jon and Clark interact.

In fact, ultimately it is this attitude of Qarath O Daanim that leads to the release of the Shadowbreed.

Qarath O Bakkis and Faldr Poornam have captured the Shadowbreed in some sort of technical sphere. But Qarath O Daanim is irate that his son has decided to go down this scholarly route. In a pique, he smacks O Bakkis which causes the sphere to fall and open.

This terrible tradition of trauma leading to strength results in this alien parasite to break free.  Strange that the device is so fragile. But okay. Strange that O Bakkis is just carrying it around too.

Regardless, the Shadowbreed recognizes that O Bakkis has been traumatized and therefore might be a willing participant of the Shadowbreed's takeover. And, in fact, we have seen that last month.

But then things get a little wonky.

Superman, supposedly taken over last issue, turns out to not be taken over. It is dismissed as 'Kryptonians being tougher' than the usual victim.

Also, he emerges from this ship(?), biorepository(?), Shadowbreed commune (?) and says that this thing is filled with billions of beings who are alive, every being the Shadowbreed has taken over.

So is this filled with alien beings? A billion Thrakkamites? The souls of these beings? 

I am very confused by this ship/thing and what is in this?

And then another twist.

Qarath O Bakkis flies up in some mini-ship and tells the Supers how to defeat the Shadowbreed. The light grenade that worked last time was based on Superman's heat vision and only on a specific wavelength.

If he intended to backstab the Shadowbreed why not say that immediately when Superman and Superboy arrived??

Why let this Shadowbreed do all this terrible stuff since they arrived?

And then, the battle is just over.

Jon figures out how to tune his heatvision and defeats the Shadowbreed.

But I am very confused. Did Jon just kill the Shadowbreed? Force it out of these beings? Does the Breed then go into one of those spheres?

What about the 'billions' of beings in this ship? Are there now a billion beings on this planet? Are their souls freed? 

And this extremely powerful being is beaten in one panel.

I am just confused a bit. Please help me figure it out.

Very slick work by Godlewski here.

In the end, the planet is freed.

Qarath O Bakkis decides to leave the planet and find his own path.

It reminds Superman how lucky he is to have had the parents he did.

Again, that contrast definitely highlights the Kent's upbringing of Clark. And, of course, Clark's raising of Jon.

I did love the ending.

Clark reminds the reader that Jon was aged up when he was tortured for years by Ultraman. Despite that trauma, he remains the bright happy kid he is. 

It's funny. It would have been very very easy for DC or Tom King to put Superboy into the 'he is cynical because of his trauma'. In fact, with his short history, it might have perfect sense for King to write his True Grit story with Jon and not Kara.

But no way DC would do that ...

I am glad that Jon has overcome his trauma and remained true to his heroic nature. Just as, in the past, I have been glad that Kara has done the same.

Okay. So there is a nice ending to this story. But I feel like I missed a lot of the plot points while understanding the themes. 

Overall grade: B-


Martin Gray said...

Great review, and I’m in awe that you could be bothered with the details - I’ve just wanted this to be over since the first issue, so let stuff drift by as we headed for the exit.

I know you’ve not been reading the back-ups, but I would love to know if you found the Tales of Metropolis sequence as unsatisfactory as did I? Maybe other fans of this blog could chime in.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a thankless task, being asked to end a title, and was probably just as boring to write as to read. I kind of let it wash over me without trying to remember who the various alien characters are or make sense of the story.

It's just sad watching this artifice, weakening Clark and powering up Jon.

Waste of good artwork!

My answer to Martin's question is - the backup has been poor. I've been reading all of the backup stories, and some are better than others, but none of them are great. The one in Green Lantern is different - it's part of the main story, so I'd say GL buyers are getting their money's worth.

That's at least one good thing we know in advance about the upcoming Son of Kal-El book - it will have no backup story.