Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Superman #18

Superman #18 came out this week and with H'El on Earth behind us, I was hopeful that things might be moving forward and in a better direction.

I was wrong.

Now maybe I have been sensitized by Scott Lobdell to be hyper-critical with his books. I think his take on Superman is simply so far removed from what I think Superman should be that his books are always going to fail for me. There are parts of this book that just feel wrong. Superman shouldn't be feared by the world. He shouldn't sneer at Congress. Clark shouldn't be confused by 'Earth feelings'. Nor do I think that he should be approached at a club by two women looking for a threesome.

And maybe all of those things make me 'old-fashioned'. Maybe I am out of touch. I don't think so. I certainly like my anti-heroes in other titles. But Superman shouldn't be a grim avenger who frightens the world. Because that isn't Superman.

The good news is that there are some things in this issue that feel right. Supporting characters Orion and Cat Grant are written well. And there is a Lois sighting ... and she is doing some reporting! Plus Lobdell also introduces us to a perfect deus ex machina to eliminate almost all the things that bug me the most about the book.

The art of the book is split between Tyler Kirkham, who has a soft pencilish feel to his work, an almost Francis Manapul type vibe from his Senate scenes. And the New Genesis scenes of the book are beautifully rendered by upcoming artist Aaron Kuder who brings a more Frank Quitely/Geof Darrow detailed work on his pages. I think Kuder is coming on the book as regular artist. The nightclub scenes are slickly done by Robson Rocha whose work shines with inker Jaime Mendoza, looking sharper here than he did on Supergirl #18.

The book starts with Orion back on New Genesis, fighting a giant dinosaur-like crature which is threatening Undertown. Unlike his time in Wonder Woman, this Orion read like the troubled son of Darkseid, doing the right thing by defending the town but then yelling at those he saved for not fighting harder.

He has been called back to New Genesis by Highfather but he misses the complexities of Earth and its people. Interesting that a god would find us fascinating.

My worries here is that Lobdell's Orion will sound nothing like Azzarello's version. One of my bigger problems with H'El on Earth was the complete inconsistent characterization of the players. I can only hope Lobdell has at least flipped through WW.

Meanwhile, Superman has been called in front of the Senate. Our government has decided that the 'Fortress of Solitude' is probably just that ... a Kryptonian Fortress, a weapons cache from which Superman can start his plans of world domination. They throw his granted American citizenship in his face and demand that international inspectors get to see and catalogue the contents.

I mean, it makes sense that after 5+ years on Earth as a hero and having not done any imperial maneuvers, that Superman would want to conquer. Yeah, I am being sarcastic.

Then, to make matters worse, Superman not only refuses the inspectors (saying it is safer for inspectors not to know), he sneers at the panel and says all they will get is his word. Because that is what I want my Superman to do ... sneer at the US government and refuse to be open. Sarcasm again.

And this isn't new behavior as Perry White says Superman isn't a good diplomat. Because that's what I want my Superman to be ... a poor communicator who rubs people the wrong way. Sarcasm trifecta.

Everything about this felt wrong. And don't tell me because it is 'realistic'. You know what isn't realistic? A guy who can bench press islands with laser vision. I don't need pure realism here.

Lastly, how about ... given how much we see people who are afraid of Superman ... we see the other side. How about we see some Senators, citizens, international figures who come to the defense of Superman.

At the very least, we get to see that Lois has left her television producer's desk to return to her investigative reporting roots. While she still is working for Morgan Edge, she can still work for the Planet.

It is all too brief. But at least we see a Lois searching for Truth and not snarking about ratings and texting her boyfriend.

The bottom line is this Senate scene is nothing I want to see in my Superman. My Superman is 'here to help' and is considered the pinnacle of selfless heroism.

Back in Metropolis, Clark decides to meet Cat Grant at a trendy club to discuss their future together.

Read those captions and you will understand why I think Lobdell simply doesn't get Superman. "The longer he's lived on Earth, the more he's come to understand their desperate need to connect to one another."

Ummm ... he has lived on Earth all his life. This is his world, his country. He has nothing to compare it to.

And the fact the he says 'their need' speaks volumes. Not his need, or our needs, but their needs. Because he is different and considers humans different.

Now I know he is different. But part of the joy of Superman is that he was raised here, has the upbringing of the Kents to form who he has become, considers himself one of us, and embraces Earth as his home. Not looking at himself as different and above the petty clutching of those of us who aren't invulnerable. It is wrong.

And now Clark is being propositioned for a menage a trois. Because I want that in my Superman books too! Sarcasm quadrophenia.

Cat shows up in a little black dress and tries to talk to Clark about what they should do since leaving the Planet.

I suppose I don't know enough about their relationship but it struck me as odd that Clark immediately thought she was hoping to get romantic with him. Makes him seem a bit smug.

I don't want a snivelling, meek, 'running to the bathroom from stomach pains' Clark. But sure don't want a cocky one either. Where is the small town humility?

And after his passionate speech about truth in the Daily Planet, after the only person who stood with him was Cat, he belittles her plan to actualize it. When she shows Clark her idea of a news/entertainment blog call (and I thought Comic Box Commentary was a tongue twister) he says she shouldn't have wasted her time on a joke.

That just isn't being a good friend. And it is thinking the worst of people's intentions. All this after she supported him so much.

This is another one of those moments that shows how Lobdell just doesn't get Superman.

While on the rooftop restaurant, customers begin to jump off en masse forcing Superman to fly down and save them one by one. When he puts them back on the roof they simply jump off again.

Using his powers, he realizes that the music the DJ is playing is somehow tapping into the minds of these people. Stop the music, stop the roof diving.

So instead of hitting the off switch or unplugging it, Superman decides to immolate the music system. That is what our smart hero decided was the right move ... to light a fire on a skyscraper roof and destroy equipment. Now I know that unplugging something isn't dramatic ... but this seemed foolish. And the poor DJ. Hope he can afford a new rig.

And it seems like Lobdell has just decided to pile on.

The people that Superman saved from splattering themselves on the pavement think he pushed them They talk about how no one can stop him and about his 'ice dungeon'. Yeesh.

And, as if it wasn't bad enough that Clark snubbed Cat, Superman does as well.

Ahhh ... but then a ray of light parts the dark clouds.

Hector Hammond seems to have active brain waves when all this is happening. Maybe he is responsible for all this negativity. Maybe he didn't just make those people jump. Maybe he made them fear Superman too. Maybe he is making the Senate so wary. Maybe he is nudging Superman into be a jerk.

Hammond could be a reset switch, a deus ex machina to set things right.

Okay, I can hope.

And in another epilogue just as intriguing, a new Highfather shows Orion an image of Earth exploding, the result of a threat on Earth. The threat? Superman.

One thing I will say about Lobdell ... he aims big. Another planetary threat and now a New God gunning for Superman. There is potential there for a big story.

Still, the problem with this issue is that Superman, again, comes off as aloof and kind of angry. Clark comes off as a bit of a narcissist and kind of a jerk. And for me that will never read right.

On the other hand, Orion, Cat, Highfather, and Lois all read on the money. I am afraid this simply might be that Lobdell and I have very different views on Superman. As a result, I fear that his stories might never jibe with me.

Or he could play the 'Hammond card' and reboot!

Overall grade: C+


Martin Gray said...

Nice one Anj, I agree that Lobdell's Superman and Clark are off, miles away from who he is.

That threesome bit slipped past me - I just thought they were being sociable ...

Anj said...

Thanks Mart.

Now I wonder if I am being pervy??

PRgirl1294 said...

1. I doubt that Hector Hammond is gonna be that deus ex machina. That would be too much of a cop-out. Besides, as far as I can tell, that kind of fear of Superman has been going since before Hammond came into the picture. And like it or not, it does make sense that some people are gonna distrust Superman, especially authority figures.

2. I'll admit that in this issue, Superman seemed a bit jerky to me, but even outside of Lobdell's books, you can't expect him to be perfect. And as for how he was with Cat, I can understand why he would react that way because that blog was not how he wanted to go about his reporting career and even to me, it looked a bit ridiculous.

3. As for the explosion, I took it as an image of Krypton exploding, not Earth. In the issue, Orion and Highfather were speaking as if it had happened in the past and they believe that the threat that came out of it was Superman.

Jay said...

Gotta disagree with the negative assessment here. I thougth Superman's portrayal was fine and fit within the established mythos that Morrison created in his just-finished epic. He was every bit man of the people here, defending his home while showing knowledge of how our politics work while at the same time speaking off the cuff. A man of the people Superman shouldn't sound incredibly diplomatic. He should sound like you or me being questioned by the government. Not to say he should be stupid and unknowledgable..just normal in this regard. That's what's great about him. He's so incredibly not normal. But at the same time he can be very down to earth.

That's not to say I don't understand the government's stand here. There's nothing wrong with their concerns. They are of course wrong, we know for a fact that the Fortress can contain the dangers it houses way more than American tech can, but all the same, their concern is noted. Its noted by Superman is well. Doesn't make Superman any more wrong in his stance. What the Fortress houses are things that he can keep safe better than them, and they haven't the authority overrule his decision.

Jay said...

Rats I forget when I leave out a thought. I was going to close by pointed out that, were he approached to allow a government liason to visit the Fortress, under Superman's supervision, like a guided tour, I think he might consider that. Because there's a difference between asking and telling. I could see him agreeing to at least get a peek inside, to see some things and how they're taken care of but certainly not to take anything. But he's not going to be bullied, and that's a core theme of the t-shirt and jeans Superman we saw in the early Action issues. And that's what they were trying to do. Again their concerns are understandable but they were trying to bully their way in and take his things from a place Superman knows is safer than any place else for said items.

Martin Gray said...

@Jay 'That's not to say I don't understand the government's stand here. There's nothing wrong with their concerns. They are of course wrong.'

They may be wrong, but they're right based on the knowledge they have. Look at the trouble the existence of the Fortress brought in H'el on Earth. Superman needs to increase his security, and show the world he's done so - cooperate, not insist. He really is putting himself above everyone else with his attitude.

Anj said...

I agree.

While I can understand a cautious approach by governments, etc. Superman has been helping the Earth for years. So it seems off that they would be so confrontational.

And Superman should respond with an open hand of friendship, not a closed fist. Sneering at the Senate can't be good, even if the content of the message (keeping them safe) is correct.

It also seems strange to read one week after in Action, the entire populace of Earth rejects an offer of immortality if they betray Superman. Instead they join him.

Jay said...

Reading my post again I got a chuckle how I worded that. "They're not wrong to be concerned, but they're wrong." D'oh. More apropos would have been to say they're not wrong in their concerns, but their incorrect in their belief their interference would make the situation safer. And again, I totally get why they'd feel the way they feel. With what they just saw, they have every right to be concerned. When I say they're incorrect I'm simply speaking as a third party who has knowledge they don't. Superman also has that knowledge and may have been direct and curt about it but nonetheless spoke his decision clearly and decisively.

And again I think Superman would cooperate if cooperate was how the hearing came across. They were demanding not only entrance but taking items. Regardless of their status, it stays true to one of the core concepts of this Superman: he doesn't like bullies.

I'm not painting the government out to be bad here, their intentions are far from it. I'm just saying they were demanding, and Superman doesn't do demanding, not when he's within his rights as an American citizen.

Anonymous said...

Clark not understanding nightclubs although he was raised on Earth isn't strange at all. I was raised on Earth and I don't understand the appeal either.


Saranga said...

I'm glad I'm not buying this.