Friday, April 14, 2023

Review: Superman Lost #2

Superman: Lost #2 came out this week and was another intriguing read for me. Once again, I have to say that I am of two minds about this comic. In the end, I think the good stuff outweighs the bad and it will get a favorable grade. But I have to be consistent in my critiques and this book suffers in one particular way that probably knocks it down a peg. 

Christopher Priest is a great writer and the overall plot of this book, Superman having been lost in the universe for 20 years (even though he was 'gone' for only minutes on Earth) is an interesting one. By having Superman back on Earth right away, Priest is able to run two plots at once. For one, we see Superman on Earth still suffering some of the emotional trauma of his being gone. We get to see Lois working on a news story. We get to see the League's response to Superman's 'return'. That is a wonderful set-up, especially given the fact that I thought the entirety of the book would be Superman's trip home. By putting half the story in the 'now', we get to see the ramifications of his journey.

We also get to see the actual trip in flashbacks. Superman is in deep space and probably doesn't even know how to get home. There is a lot of deep science here as Superman throughout his interactions with the alien races he comes across talks about his powers and their reliance on both solar energies and gravity. It is another interesting wrinkle to see Superman adapting to the different environs he is put in.

This issue we get to see two legs of Superman's trip, two alien races he interacts with. One of them is a not-so-subtle metaphor for Earth. (The story is called 'Kansas', the name Superman gives the Earth-like planet.) The 'zealots' are face down in their cell phones. Their world is ravaged by pollution and war. They couldn't be bothered with how their planet is dying out from underneath them. No one was willing to cooperate to save the place. Ok ... ok ... I get it. This place is, in some ways, Earth. But this is a pretty blunt metaphor. And it felt a bit fatalistic. And ham-fisted social commentary just always gives me pause.

The book is lifted by the incredibly detailed art by Carlo Pagulayan. From deep space to the Metropolis apartments, the art is just gorgeous. And his aliens and his human expressive work is great as well. Put him on a Lois Lane book and I'd be thrilled. 

We have a long way to go in this book and this is a very solid set-up for a plot. I love Priest's work. So I am hopeful. 

On to the book.

The book opens with Superman in a fetal position on the floor of the apartment. He is basically catatonic, not even breathing. It is learned behavior from his long times in space when he didn't/couldn't breathe.

Lois continues to investigate the political intrigue from last issue but before she goes, she tries to give her clearly unsettled husband some support. 

I think this is who Lois is. She has to get the story. She loves her husband. She can support and work. Superman would do the same thing.

But seeing Superman this devastated makes me think this journey home isn't going to be easy. We have a lot of time and space to cover. What could have effected him this much?

Floating in space, Superman and some nearby tech are picked up by a group of alien scavengers. They think him dead and hope to plunder a bit. He awakens and after some linguistic tech help, he communicates his story. He tells them he is able to survive because his body interacts with gravity and solar radiation. We flashback to the inciting event.

An alien vessel was creating a miniature black hole on Earth. Superman flew in to try and stop it. But he realizes once there that somehow he can use his body to both implode the thing and send it off planet. He unties the magic lasso, his tether. 

That last panel of the loose rope, all in black, the words 'I'll be right back' is a great simple image. We know he won't be right back already. This blackness sinks that point home.

More importantly, we see Superman think about this moment, his undoing the lasso, throughout the issue. Perhaps he regrets the decision, or thinks about it as the moment his life changed immensely. Seeing it throughout the issue brought home the sacrifice this one moment means. Will this be a theme throughout?

The tech he carried with him, a massive chunk of the alien ship engine, was infused with liquid oxygen, aiding him on his way. 

When he won't barter his cape away for information, the aliens jettison him on what they think is Earth. So already we aren't meant to identify this place with our planet.

It has two moons so right away we know it isn't Earth. But it could be. The cities look similar enough. The place is grimy and polluted. The citizens are face down in their devices, chittering away. But take away their respirators and they die.

This could be Earth.

When Superman tries to fly to get more information, he plummets. The aliens laugh at him. They are more interested in observing than helping.

Again, we hear Superman talk about gravity and solar radiation being the source of his power. 

I'll admit I did like this panel. He is used to flying on Earth with it's unique solar/gravity combo. He simply has to adjust to the new variables of this place. He has to learn all over.

He describes flying here like being weighed down with a tank.

I haven't heard this before in all my years of reading Superman, that on other world he probably has to micro-adjust what he does to that environment. 

Flying around the world, he finds someone whose name translates to 'Victor' in what seems to be the last idyllic area of this polluted world. But Victor says the place is toxic.

I will say, it was hard for me to wrap my head around this verdant paradise, this very 'Kansas' looking area, as being as poisoned as the rest of the world with its pea soup atmosphere. It was a disconnect I still struggle with. 

Is it toxic?

For the third time, we hear him talk about solar radiation and gravity being the source of his powers. He used the engine for both support and as a way to catapult around gravitational fields to speed his way home. Without a sunrise/sunset, Superman has no idea how long he has been gone. 

So three references about sunlight and gravity? Even if thought-provoking, I thought we went to the well once too often.

And then the ham-fisted ending.

We already have heard Superman describe the place like Earth. It is filled with war, many cultures, extreme environmental change.

When Superman asks Victor why the people of the planet didn't unite to try and solve all the problems, Victor asks if Superman's planet works that way. I get it. This place is Earth ... or at least where Earth is headed. I know it is a metaphor. But it just felt a touch too on the nose.

The issue ends with Victor giving Superman some supplies so he can continue his trek home including the white suit from the cover. Off we go.

I think this story has a lot of potential and I especially like the 'now on Earth' and the 'away for 20 years' parallel plotlines. I think seeing Superman this vulnerable is fascinating and I want to read more. But I hope this isn't going to be an 'obvious social metaphor of the month' book. Give me some nuanced stories or straight up science fiction. 

And keep giving me this art. I know artists don't necessarily like to be compared but this has this slight feeling of 'Ivan Reis meets Kevin Nowlan' and I am here for it. Raises the grade.

Overall grade: B- 


Dick McGee said...

"I will say, it was hard for me to wrap my head around this verdant paradise, this very 'Kansas' looking area, as being as poisoned as the rest of the world with its pea soup atmosphere. It was a disconnect I still struggle with.

Is it toxic?"

This is a stretch, maybe there's a Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind thing going on with the farmland and the plants are some kind bio-engineered organisms that are sucking the toxins out of the environment and slowly rendering them inert, but until the process is complete the area remains dangerous? The fungal forests in the manga/anime were beautiful but still super-lethal turf for humans while they were still scrubbing all the pollution and fallout, but when the process ended they just broke down harmlessly on their own. This could be a greener, more cultivated version of the same idea?

Or Victor might be lying.

I'm kind of liking this story so far, but I think I'd appreciate it more if I didn't read a webcomic called Starhammer. They spent most of last year doing a "major character gets lost in space" story as well, and frankly they've done a better job so far than DC is here. No cheat with the character getting back home with no time passed there, so they're believed dead and we get a funeral and all sorts of drama. The starlost gal is adapting to a galactic civilization so distant that they've barely interacted with Earth as yet (and that only because an enemy of theirs invaded Terra recently and got beaten back) and new superpowers that have her joining a sort-of Lantern Corps organization that focuses on disaster relief over fighting villains.

Starhammer is still ongoing and has a lot more pages than Superman Lost does, but I still can't help but compare the two and think the little indie comic has told a better story so far. Maybe Lost will pick up, but it just doesn't have the room or time to let the story develop the way a webcomic does.

Martin Gray said...

Top review. I was OK with the clunky social metaphors as I was raised on Denny O’Neill comics.

The science was fascinating, let’s have More of This Kind of Thing!

I wonder if the Lois news story subplot is going anywhere, I find it deeply uninteresting.

And yeah, luscious art.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

Perhaps Victor was saying it was toxic because he had no idea if Superman was a threat.

And Mart, I did love the gravity/solar stuff too. But three times in 20 pages seemed like a bit much. I suppose it might be being brought up this much because at some point he'll be in a place without solar/gravity forces.

Anyways, I was perhaps a bit too hard. I trust the creative team.