Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Flashpoint: Project Superman #2

Flashpoint:Project Superman #2 came out last week and so far, this has been one of the high points of the Flashpoint event. This is basically an Elseworlds look at Superman, a rethinking of his origins, and therefore continues to grab my attention. There are some interesting wrinkles to some of the usual Superman origin points.

I mean, I have seen all sorts of Elseworlds like this. Superman as Russian communist, as Quaker, as adopted son of the Waynes, as adopted son of Darkseid. So this 'adopted by the military' storyline can provide some of the same beats. Is Superman Superman because of who he is? Or because of the upbringing the Kents provided? Is it nature or nurture? It is an important question to be answered not only here but in the relaunched Superman as well.

Writer Scott Snyder continues to bring us up to the present as we see Superman's past in this world. We aren't at the point of the Atlantis/Themyscira war yet. This story is working forward to that point. So we are seeing a young Kal-El here, basically a captured and tormented young man. Snyder also does a great job introducing more of the Superman universe into this book. We see some of the familiar faces we have grown used to, but here in this strange universe. And we see some of the basics of Superman's persona despite the psychological and physical trauma he is suffering in this military lab.

I am also enjoying Gene Ha's art on this book very much. He is thick lined and chunky where he needs to be. And there certainly is a flair to what he is doing here.

You may remember that last issue, Agent Sinclair was evolving and losing control of his rage. As a result he was locked up by the military. And that happens at around the same time that Superman landed in Metropolis.

This issue takes place about 8-10 years after that event. Here we see a school age Superman, a young Kal,  being tested and probed in an army secret weapons base. But basically he is being held prisoner. There doesn't seem to be any joy in his life. And during these tests, it is clear that Kal has not mastered his powers. After being fed some yellow sun rays, Kal lashes out uncontrollably with his heat vision, melting the machinery and nearly killing some of the staff. Look at the wide eyed panicked face on Kal in that second panel. He looks like a caged and abused animal.

But here is the plot thread I like the best in this book. General Lane is a loving almost fatherly character here. He does his best to treat Kal like the son he doesn't have. Here he runs in to protect Kal from the big bad mad scientists. This is just a great thread in this book. I am used to seeing the xenophobic Lane. Here we see the potential for him to be a family man, a loving father.

And Lane tries to have a personal relationship with Kal. He calls him Kal when everyone else calls him Subject One. Lane wants a son. The government wants a weapon.

Despite the psychological trauma, despite this dehumanizing treatment, Kal won't become a robotic weapon. Instead he becomes a frazzled appearing introvert. Again, Ha is able to convey that tortured interior with a simple wide-eyed expression here.

It is an interesting difference from JMS' Supreme Power book in which the government 'weaponizes' Hyperion by faking a Kent-like upbringing, subtly making that Superman archetype love home and country by sheer repetition. It was almost brainwashing. That seems like a better way to gain some semblence of control.

But this government instead treats Kal like a lab rat. This panel is frightening. Imagine being an eight year old boy being incessantly injected and poked like this. Your life would be a horror show.

Unfortunately for the establishment, Sinclair's powers have continued to increase despite his imprisonment. He has been whispering in Kal's ear for years, promising freedom. Sinclair gives Kal some confidence, telling him he can survive all this testing and escape. Together they can make it. And Sinclair tells Kal to spy on the task force. So suddenly Kal knows what the military has planned. Kal hears them talking to Lane about his training, about how they want to 'weaponize' him. What a sad life.No wonder he is a cringing mess.

As I have said before, I love seeing a loving General Lane here. This is such a different take on the man, and maybe the first glimmer of love I have seen in this Flashpoint world, certainly in this book.

So something as little as a baseball trophy, a souvenir of Kal's power, shows a personal side of Lane I haven't seen before. Lane realizes that there are pressures to make Kal take part in the experiments but Lane also wants to keep him a little boy. He wants to let Kal have Krypto as a pet. He promises Kal a game of catch if Kal will comply. Lane clearly loves this little boy but is still trying to do what he is ordered.

This sort of change in persona is just what these Elseworlds are built for.

I also liked this Smallville riff on the Luthors. Here, Lionel seems to have stepped right off the show's sets. Instead of being a drunk, killed by Lex, Lionel is instead a powerful man in the government. But little has changed in Lex  who still seems to be planning his father's death.

While so much has changed in this world, it is interesting to see Lex remains the same. 

As the Luthors tour the facility, Sinclair somehow incites Krypto to attack and presumably kill (or at least dismember and maim) Lex. The government has no choice but to euthanize the dog. And of course, this shatters Kal spirit. There is no doubt, the military lost him in that moment. Suddenly the time is right for Kal to try and escape. All of Sinclair's lies and now this murder of his beloved pet have made Kal want to rebel.

I love the panel with Kal wailing, the empty space around him making him small, indicating his powerlessness.
Now how Sinclair was able to imbue Krypto with that rage and power is unclear. And it is creepy to hear that Lionel is more interested in the Krypto carcass than in the health of Lex.

Kal uses his powers to burn out the lock on the cage holding Sinclair in place. Sinclair emerges, suddenly massive, towering over the tiny Kal. But Sinclair is simply an inhuman killing machine, crushing heads and ripping soldiers apart as he strolls through the base. Sinclair is relentless and remorseless. And this butchering is horrific to Kal who runs away as the bodies fall.

Does Kal's response show that some internal compass of what is right still burns within him?

Now last issue I said that Sinclair looked a bit like Super Saiyan Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. But in this issue he is even more powerful.

Sinclair looks more like Super Saiyan 3 Vegeta with the flowing locks. Even the suit looks similar.

While Sinclair is rampaging through the base, Lois has somehow slipped on the grounds to wish her father a happy birthday. So I want to look at this as a positive, that even at that age Lois has enough ingenuity to sneak onto a highly guarded top secret military base. On the other hand, I could look at it as an unrealistic way of shoving Lois into the story. How does this young girl even know where the base is, let alone have the skills to get in?

Sinclair is happy to see her though, thinking killing her will teach Lane a lesson. This is perhaps the best moment in this book. Kal actually stands in front of Lois, between her and Sinclair. It is clear he is going to defend Lois, his fists clenched. Lois might be the only other child he has ever seen. He is not going to let her die.

But this clearly shows that the hero is within Kal. Is this his nature? Is this the nurturing from General Lane? I'd like to think that Superman is Superman no matter universe he is in.

This also added a blush of Silver Age stories where we would learn that characters happened to meet when children. It seemed like everybody just happened to have a stopover in Smallville in those books.

But before that brawl can happen (I think Sinclair would crush Kal), General Lane runs in with his ace in the hole, a Phantom Zone device which shoves both he and Sinclair into that realm.

Again, these are lessons for Kal. His 'father', Lois' father, did the right thing and defended them despite being clearly outgunned. Lane is a hero here, saving untold numbers of people. What better example for Clark to witness and learn from?

With Lane gone and the scientists (weird plant like hybrids) slaughtered, General Adams comes back on board as the head of the site. And he feels safest with Kal put in a cell, deprived of yellow sun rays, and basically forgotten. With his last iota of power, Kal burns a doodle of Lois onto his wall with heat vision.

And that is probably where he has stayed until we see him rescued by the Flash in Flashpoint #3. We know that at some point London is burning and a fight with Sinclair happens. Or maybe Sinclair is simply watching this unfold from the Phantom Zone.

But the big thing here is seeing the beginnings of this Superman, the formative events that made him become the skittish prisoner of war who ran at the first chance. His life has been one torture after another. But even in the darkest moments, he still seemed to have the right impulses, to defend the helpless.

Hmmm ... where is Supergirl in this world though?

I will say, I have very much enjoyed this look at Superman, seen through a mirror darkly.

Overall grade: A


Gear said...

I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying the Project Superman portion of Flashpoint. It was nice to see a different side of General Lane; he seems willing to sacrifice himself for his goal in each incarnation, but is much more sympathetic here. I like the characterization a lot.

Lionel mentions one prisoner "in chains" at one point. If Kara appears that might be her, but if so it doesn't sound good. But I am actually looking forward to more of this part of Flashpoint. And I'm a bit surprised!

Lowell Francis said...

Thanks for the excellent review.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Anj said...

It was nice to see a different side of General Lane; he seems willing to sacrifice himself for his goal in each incarnation, but is much more sympathetic here. I like the characterization a lot.

He has been one of the few sources of inspiration in the Flashpoint world. It is odd for that role to be Gen. Lane but I guess that is how crazy this world is.

Anj said...

Thanks for the excellent review.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks for stopping by! I have really been enjoying this mini. Promise to include you in the creator list next issue!