Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Superman #698

Superman #698 was just released and marked the 3rd part of the Superman:Last Stand of New Krypton story arc. While Supergirl #51 looked at the war from the perspective of New Krypton, this issue takes place almost exclusive on the second 'front' of this war, Brainiac's ship.

It's hard to believe, but there is basically one issue left on James Robinson's run on the title and only one more issue 'starring' Mon-El. This issue seemed to showcase the upcoming transition with both Mon-El and Kal-El having some big moments. While I have, at times, been a critic of Robinson's work here, one thing I have appreciated has been his handling of Mon-El. He really felt like a fully realized three-dimensional character.

Javier Pina and Bernard Chang split the art duties for the issue, with Pina handling the Superman heavy pages and Chang working on the Mon-El pages. Unfortunately, it distracted a bit from the flow of the issue, especially at the end when the two characters finally team up. But on to that in a bit.

The issue starts on the ground with the shocking announcement that 10,000 Kryptonians have been killed in the first few hours of the war. The population of New Krypton has literally been decimated.

It rightfully frightens General Zod who knows that Brainiac would have anticipated the results of this battle. If this is only the first volley, what is coming next?

You know what I keep thinking ... that feeling in my gut that New Krypton is going bye-bye. That the planet is going to explode. That would be something 'worse'.

On the ship, Superman remains trussed up by a Green K powered Brainiac drone while Brainiac and Luthor gloat over their victory.

Superman doesn't quite understand what Luthor hopes to gain out of this battle and asks him outright what it is he wants.

I love Luthor's response. It is creepy and malicious as he tries to use his poker face on Superman. Now I don't know if there is anything tangible that Luthor hopes to procure from his agreement with Brainiac. But at the very least, isn't slaughtering Kryptonians and emotionally injuring Superman it's own reward?

In the meantime, Mon-El has broken onto Brainiac's ship the same way Superman did. As he scours the ship to find and rescue Superman, he is contacted by a telepathic race captured in a Brainiac bottle.

He also has to fight against Brainiac's organic defense systems ... giant white baboon like creatures called Koko. Comic historians will recall that way back in the early Silver Age, Brainiac had a cute little pet white monkey called Koko. Clearly these are the 21st century upgraded models.

One thing that has worked well in the first chapters of 'Last Stand' have been the use of splash pages when appropriate. This one works well as we see a small Mon-El facing off against the masses of Koko's climbing into the room. The background even works here, giving this part of Brainiac's ship and arena-like feeling.

As if fighting off all those baboons weren't tough enough, the next line of Brainiac's defense shows up, alien races which have sworn allegiance to Brainiac in return for being freed from the bottle. You might recognize these races as the components of Ultra the Multi-Alien.

During these fights, the telepathic race continues to contact Mon-El imploring the Daxamite to save them. They are the Lanothians. I don't know that race off the top of my head. Are these new to the DCU? Or a race I don't know about?

Still wrapped up by the Brainiac drone, and weakened by the nearby Green K, Superman shows the villains why he is who he is. He never stops trying ... and actually overcomes his imprisonment, breaking free.

Again, a semi-big moment given a splash page for emphasis. Big moments deserve big art. Frankly, I am still giddy just from Superman being in his costume. But this moment, with Superman showing his toughness and temporarily wiping the smile of the faces of Brainiac and Luthor, was good to see.

Despite this bold moment, Luthor reacts quickly and with malevolence. He stops Superman in his tracks by threatening to simply blow away a whole race simply by aiming his sidearm at a bottled city.

Luthor is such a wonderfully evil character. I absolutely have no doubt that he would do it. He has such clarity in his thought ... able to turn most situations to his advantage, with no depth he won't go lower himself to.

In true heroic fashion, Mon-El flies in, wresting the city from Luthor's grasp and saving the Lanothians.

Here we have yet another splash page. And here is another moment I think will end up deserving it. Mon-El says to himself that somehow he knows that saving this city, this world, was part of his destiny on Earth.

With his bargaining chip out of his hands, Luthor slips away.

And Brainiac calls out his army to combat the Supermen. Nice double splash page here.

So, overall I would say that I enjoyed this issue, although maybe just a smidge less than the prior two issues. While this issue did progress Mon-El's story, it did not necessarily move the whole Last Stand story forward that much. That's okay, there are 2 more months to get to the finale. It's just that the Last Stand #1 and Supergirl #51 had such a fast pace.

I have talked about the duality of splash pages here before. They can be spectacular ways to focus on an event in the story. Unfortunately, they cut down on the space for story-telling. Think of how much story you can fit into 6 panels instead of one. As this is such an important storyline, the culmination of two years of Superman stories, I have a little bit more mental leeway towards creators use. (For example, the moments here where a splash page was used just feel more important than let's say the double page splash of Quislet shooting lasers or the Chameleon Boy reveal from last issue.)

Bernard Chang is slowly becoming one of my favorite artists, especially for fight scenes or post-fight scenes. That shot of Mon-El holding the city, his uniform ripped and wrinkled, his expression focused and angry ... that's good stuff. Javier Pina's pages looked like a mix of Jim Starlin and Pete Woods and didn't have the 'ooomph' of the Chang pages. The back and forth art styles did distract a bit as I read this.

Still, Last Stand has yet to disappoint.

Overall grade: B+


Mart said...

Great review. I think you're right in that there was good use of splashes - I'm usually a proper old moaner if they seem random, but the ones here flowed from the story, so much so that I didn't even pause to think 'is this splash necessary'?

I only got round to reading this issue last night but loved it so much I had to do a review too - did you like the cover as much as me?

Anj said...

I think you're right in that there was good use of splashes - I'm usually a proper old moaner if they seem random, but the ones here flowed from the story, so much so that I didn't even pause to think 'is this splash necessary'?

The proper use of splash pages hasn't always been try on this title. I can remember just a couple of issues ago where I complained about the overuse on them.

But they felt right here.