Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Smallville Season 11 #6

You know my biggest complaint with the Smallville comic? It is so good.

I know, on the face of it, that statement makes little sense. But the truth is, this is a very good comic. And it makes me wonder just how good Smallville the show would have been if the abandoned the 'no tights, no flights' nonsense of the early years and let the show mature to a Superman show. Because frankly, what I am reading in this comic is solid writing with great plots, characterization, and action. And I don't think I was always able to say that when I was watching the show.

Smallville #6 concentrates on the Superman/Batman crossover story including the near-mandatory fight between the heroes. But writer Bryan Q. Miller continues to let the other plot lines percolate in the background, moving things along. We also get to see Miller write Steph Barbara and see how her upbeat attitude plays off the grim Batman.

As if the story wasn't enough, this issue is a special treat because old friend Jamal Igle provides the art and really brings it. And we get to see Igle draw Steph Batgirl Nightwing again.

Despite the last issue ending with a prison brawl between Superman and Batman, Miller opts to start the issue away from the battle. We haven't seen much of Chloe lately so I was glad to catch up with her and Oliver. Remember, these two know about the imminent Crisis and are trying to figure out just what is happening.

Remember, the Earth 2 Chloe was shot and killed in that cornfield. And seeing that has clearly effected this Chloe greatly. I love how the picture of her corpse is in the background, looming. It helps the reader know just how big this is for Chloe, how it is literally always in the background. That pained face on Chloe in the second panel is just wonderful expressive work by Igle.

As is usually the case when two heroes meet for the first time, Superman and Batman fight. They both have an interest in talking to Bruno Mannheim. Supes want to question him about weapons in the city. Bats wants to know about Joe Chill.

But Miller does a great job here showing the different approaches the heroes have.

Superman is absorbing blows but basically doesn't want to fight. And he is so polite about it, even adding 'if you don't mind.'

Meanwhile Batman shows he has researched Superman extensively, studying Kryptonian glyphs, studying Zod's solar tower plans, and building a red sun generator into his bat suit. It is that attention to detail that borders on paranoia that makes Batman Batman.

But he also knows strategy. So while they fight Steph Barbara tries to corner Mannheim.

Green Arrow arrives to help out and squares off with Nightwing.

Seriously, this is Steph 'she-who-can't-be-named.' I absolutely love it.

Realizing that Batman is Bruce Wayne and hearing why Batman wants to talk to Mannheim, Superman takes matters into his own hands. He stops the hero-on-hero skirmishes and takes Mannheim for a conversation several thousand feet up.

Another great moment. Miller has always infused just the right mix of humor into his books. First he has Superman voice how he will be in trouble for using such crude interrogation methods. Then he has Superman drop him.

Such a great moment with Steph Nightwing adding the quip and Batman dead-panning his response. Fantastic. Moments like these are sprinkled through the book at just the right times.

Mannheim admits that he pointed criminals towards Chill so that the criminal element could arm themselves appropriately against the explosion of super-heroes in the world. Chill decided to make a deal with the Feds and so is in custody.

It's Lois who figures out that the weapon maker is Oswald Loomis, a savant like the Toyman. Loomis is, of course, the Prankster.

As I have said before, I love the Lois in this book. She is strong and independent and has a 'guy everywhere' for information. You are right Lois ... you are awesome.

Batman and Nightwing try to find Chill's safe house leading to this great exchange.

I love how Steph Barbara teases him about his 'Bale-voice', a mix of whiskey, cigarettes, and razors.

And I love his retort that she can always join the super-team as Supergirl. She remarks she wouldn't use that name (she didn't want 'Batgirl' either) and besides there already is a Supergirl.

We better see that Supergirl in this book soon!

The safe house is located and both Superman and Batman have reasons to head there.

What I love about this is that Miller doesn't have Superman back down to Batman. Superman says that Metropolis is under jurisdiction and that Batman has to play by the rules. 'It isn't our job to determine justice, only to make sure it exists.' That's Superman.

A begrudging team-up emerges from the conversation. Again Igle shines here. Superman's country boy grin shows he thinks he has made a new friend. Batman is basically frowning and just seems so rigid. This isn't an easy alliance.

My favorite subplot in the book is Tess' possession of Lex. She is gaining more control over his body, taking him for walks in the night, and trying to email Oliver (although it is gibberish she is sending).

Unfortunately, Lex hears about the emails from Oliver who thinks he is being punked. Luthor knows his body is being used. I wonder where all of this will go.

As I said it isn't an easy alliance. At the safe house, Batman tries to go solo and confront Chill on his own. This Batman seems even more unhinged than the usual version. He kicks the elderly Chill forcing Superman to physically put a stop to it.

It is so refreshing to see Superman actually not be outsmarted or beaten up by Batman.

Unfortunately, the heroes probably led super-villains to Chill's safe house as well. Mr. Freeze and The Prankster arrive. Nice cliffhanger.

There are a lot more worthwhile, funny, and powerful moments in this issue ... probably my favorite of the run. Seeing Ollie get bruised up from Nightwing, Steph's Barbara's constant quips, Batman's straight man responses and one good zinger about why Superman must like him ... it's all there and more. I would watch this show ... I wish I was watching this show.

And Jamal Igle is the perfect choice here, bringing great expressions to add to the words and plot, filling in so much subtle information by his art choices.

Another month ... another very good Smallville issue. Just the right mix of action, seriousness, and humor. Wow!

Overall grade: A


Gene said...

Anj wrote:

"As if the story wasn't enough, this issue is a special treat because old friend Jamal Igle provides the art and really brings it. And we get to see Igle draw Steph Batgirl Nightwing again."

I see what you did there (crossing out Steph.)

Glad to see Jamal Igle back in action. I hope he draws the Smallville issue where Kara appears.

LJ said...

You know Anj, Brian said that Martha Kent would come back around issue 14, and most likely she'll be back with Conner, Superboy, so, if we're lucky Kara will show up then too and we can have a Super-family, Smallville style. That would be cool to see, Conner and Clark are in great terms and Kara and Clark too, so it would be cool to see them as a family.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments. Love this book and would love to see Conner/Kara/Legion/Clark all fighting against whatever menace is behind Crisis (presemably AntiMonitor.)

Anonymous said...

First time reader who just just spent a few minutes reading over your reviews for all the Superman books over the last year.

I have to commend you. You do beautiful job of talking honestly and calmly about what the truly ::serious:: problems are with DC's understanding and mistreatment of the character right now across the board in a way that is so clear and mature.

I agree with your comments on the Smallville book. For me, it's the only story that DC is publishing right now that feels like a true Superman story. I miss this Superman so much and it's so frustrating that DC doesn't seem to understand that this Superman is loved and marketable.

Smallville was a flawed show. Seasons 5-7. in particular, (with the exception of bright spots like Kara and Lois) were not that great. That said, I found the later seasons to be a true pleasure. Yes, the plotting was often flawed but the characterization was often spot on.

Smallville did a beautiful job with Lois and Clark---a much better job, to be honest, than I actually thought they would do. I'm sure much of the credit for that goes to the actors who had beautiful chemistry together that just seemed to work so well once the show was finally read to go there.

And the thing is...the moment the show started to really feel like Superman had alot to do with Lois Lane. And I think there is a lesson there about Superman and who he is. Lois and Clark were created together by Jerry Siegel back in 1938 and there is a piece of both of them that just feels...empty..and off...if they aren't revolving around each other in some capacity. You can be at different stages in their relationship: tense work partners, friends, lovers, spouses. It's a journey. But that push and pull is so central to who Superman :::is:: that without it there you don't feel like you are watching or reading about Superman.

So it's sort of fascinating to me when I think back on the later years of Smallville how it did feel like Tom Welling's Clark Kent sort of blossomed into the soul of Superman as he fell deeper and deeper in love with Lois Lane. And by proxy, Erica Durance's Lois Lane became more and more like the iconic heroine we knew as she fell deeper and deeper in love with both "Smallville" Clark Kent and his hero alter ego.

I feel like there's a lesson in there somewhere about what happens when you take a myth (as Smallville did) and you put a "new" spin on it. There are core emotional elments that drive so much and not understanding them can be detrimental to your themes and narrative.

Smallville ultimately redeemed iteself as a series and a Superman story because it ::did:: understand this in the end. Yes, there were still plot holes. Yes, they didn't have a huge budget. But go back and watch that moment in the series finale when Superman flies up to Lois in the plane and just smiles at her that huge, joyous smile and Lois smiles back at him with love and awe. THAT is Superman.

I think about that core emotional pull there and then I think about these images being released of Superman kissing Wonder Woman as a way to sell comics and it all just feels Where is the soul? Lois was the soul. Single, married...she's the soul.

Thank you again for your insightful commentary. I'll be a regular reader from now on.

Anj said...

Thank you for the kind post and the great analysis Anonymous. Glad you like what you found here.

I also abandoned Smallville in the middle only to return when Supergirl showed up. I thought the show had it's ups and downs, especially around the mopey Clark.

That said, I just wonder if the show could have been as great as this book if the 'no flights, no tights' edict was abandoned. Who wouldn't want to watch this book live action?

I wasn't sure what to expect in this book but I have loved it!