Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Superman #19

Superman #19 came out this week and was a different sort of issue than we have seen recently. Why is it different? I actually enjoyed it!

Now I have been very critical of Scott Lobdell's work on this title in the past thinking that his characterization of Superman was off, that Clark was rarely seen and when he was he was portrayed poorly, that Lois was a nonentity, that the supporting cast weren't being utilized.

This issue, which concentrated mostly on Clark and the supporting cast, actually did a much better job with that characterization. Now, admittedly, it is seen through the haze of psionic hallucination and decreased inhibitions, but that allows us to maybe see deeper into a character than we would typically see. By removing a layer of stoicism, you get to see the passions and truths that lie underneath.

Superman is strong and smart. Clark is likeable. Incredibly, this even gave me a moment where I actually liked the Clark/Diana romance. And I also think it nicely showed that despite the power couple, Lois still holds a pretty big place in Clark's heart. Now this isn't a perfect issue by any means. But it is far from the incomprehensible and muddle H'El on Earth.

If there has been one thing that has been stable on this book it has been the incredible art of Kenneth Rocafort. This issue is just beautiful, chock full of crazy designs, good action, and nice smaller more human moments.

The book starts out with Superman battling the 'Sunturians', an alien race composed of red sun particles. I love the imperial pomp of this race, adorned in their Incan like helmets and armor. There are several things I like about this fight.

First off, it sounds as if the Sunturians sought out this fight simply because they heard the reputation of Superman and wanted to prove they were tougher. While I love Superman as being an Earth hero with Earth values, I also grew up with stories where Superman was a universal entity, known in all corners of space.

Second, I like that Superman actually outwits the aliens despite their obvious advantages over him. It is an easy solution - water snuffing them out briefly - but it is more that he started his plans before he interacted with them, being proactive in implementing his plan.

I thought this was a fun scene showing Superman's presence, powers, and intelligence nicely. Plus, Rocafort's designs here are wonderful, especially the languid lying Solaratrix.

The battle with this force delays Clark from being on time for Lois' housewarming party. The party is to celebrate Lois moving in with Jon, something which can't be easy for Clark to see.

Of course, he has brought his own date ... Diana Prince. Diana arrives before Clark and stuns the crowd with her presence. No one has met Clark's new 'girlfriend' and everyone is shocked into silent staring. Diana certainly has a physical presence to her, both beautiful and regal, so I thought this was a fun response. I mean, I am sure no one expected simple Kansas Clark to bring someone like her to the party.

It must take a lot to shock Lois Lane. I think she must still be harboring some feelings for Clark as well to be frozen like this.

Now if there is one thing I am having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around it is the characterization of Perry White, who suddenly comes across as an aging Don Draper from Mad Men. Now we learn soon that everyone in the party (maybe the city) are being subtly affected by some mind control, losing their inhibitions and actively hallucinating.

So maybe this player Perry is some deeper layer of his personality. I do like how Diana parries his advances by swiftly bringing up his more 'mature' state of being.

But I always thought of Perry as being a hard core newsman, not such a schmoozer. And there is more to come.

Now along the way we learn that Hector Hammond's EEG has flatlined. He is officially brain dead. But his psionic presence is enough to bring Orion in to investigate. Remember in the last issue Orion was shown that Superman is a planetary threat that must be stopped.

But Hammond is obviously behind the wild feelings and hallucinations that everyone is dealing with.

For example, when Clark finally arrives, he is greeted by Lois dressed up in a Wonder Woman costume, all winks and open arms. Lois as Wonder Woman? Clearly Clark still has feelings for Lois, blurring the lines between the women in his life. Even at the door he says he is nervous around Lois.

Tawdry? A little. But it shows just how conflicted Clark's heart must be, shown front and center in this telepathic dream state.

Because that Wonder Woman Lois is only a mirage. In fact, the door opens up again to reveal a more normally dressed Lois. Now it is time for us to maybe get a glimpse into Lois' true feelings. She asks for Clark's blessing in regards to Jon and tells him that she loves him. It is fascinating. How deep is this bubbling under the surface.

Does it lessen Lois a little, seeking approval from Clark. Maybe a smidge. But these are the feelings we try to hide or bury or protect ourselves from. I think it strengthens the Lois and Clark relationship more than hurt it.

Nice of Clark to pick up on the fact that something strange is happening, the only explanation for his visions and Lois' actions, so unlike her. Again, it shows a savvier Superman.

Now a lot of time is spent on these fever dreams but I thought a couple more were worth looking at.

Again, I am going to have to get used to this swinging Perry White. Three ex-wives and an enlarged prostate?

But again, it is what is slipped in to the dialogue that is interesting. Perry implies that he knows that Clark is Superman, although he back-pedals a bit, saying he knew Clark was a guy who isn't afraid. But then he also slips in an insult, calling Clark a sanctimonious punk.

So how much of these conversations are pure fantasy versus buried true feelings versus drunken rants? How much of this should I be paying attention to? I have to assume that there is some kernel of truth in all these things. It smacks too much about stuff that people keep hidden until intoxicated.

Now most people know that I am pro-Lois and think that there should be more tension between her and Clark. And I think those earlier scenes show that there is still something there.

I also don't think there is anything too interesting in the Clark/Diana relationship. But this panel actually made me think there might be something more substantial there. Again, while fueled by whatever mind control is happening, Clark and Diana head to the balcony for some kissing.  But while out there Diana says that meeting Clark's friends makes their relationship more real. And I have to agree.

There really can't be a long-term relationship built on the adrenaline of super-heroics and physical attraction. There has to be more to it for me to think about this romance more realistically. So I was glad to see that line. She even teases him about being too serious as Clark. It shows there is more to these two than just circumstance.

Now I still think this is all wrong. But at least the relationship is being explored a bit.

Before the smooching can commence though Superman is pulled away ... literally. Orion tugs on Superman's cape tossing him into the river. The dunking snaps Superman out of his psionic haze. But Orion isn't there to talk. He is going to fight Superman.

After months and months of basically complaining about Superman, I was thrilled to finish this issue and feel entertained and satisfied. This was a well-paced issue, opening with some action, showing some good (if addled) character development, and ending with a good cliffhanger. As I said before, it is hard to know just how much to make of all the odd conversations in the party ... but I think that something is there. At the very least, I get the sense that Clark and Lois still have intense feelings for each other even if they aren't openly admitting it to each other.

And Kenneth Rocafort really crushes it here. The art throughout the book just sizzles.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

(You know, if either of us ever fancies a month off reviewing a book, we could likely just say 'See Supergirl's Comic Box Commentary' for my view or vice versa)

Top review! Incas, huh? I never did know my Romans from my Aztecs. Er ...

You know, if this had been pre- Crisis Clark would likely have taken Cousin Linda to Lois' do ...

How I'd laugh, and applaud, if it turned out that Hector Hammond (and please let Lobdell be kidding when he says he's changing his villain name lot - ugh - Mindstorm) was a red herring, and Jon simply makes very potent cocktails.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I agree with pretty much everything except that the panels between Clark/Diana read horribly out of character for me on her end. The Clark just does not read like the Wonder Woman I know. It felt very OOC particularly as the dialogue was basically ripped off from previous Lois and Clark scenes and I'm kind of tired at this point of things that were done iconically with Lois being ripped off. It just does not work for me. It's also just not how I view my Wonder Woman. I just don't feel anything here.

To be frank, the more Diana appears in this book the less likely I will be to buy it. I don't buy Superman to read about Wonder Woman anymore than I buy Wonder Woman to read about Superman. To me, as a Superman fan, she's just in the way of the real supporting cast every time she is shoved into the book.

It was an ok issue. But just....yeah. This is still where I am. And I know that makes me stubborn but I just won't budge on this. Sorry. :(


Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Shades - I chalked up her responses to the same mini-mind control happening. Yes, it was out of character and that is why it read strange. And yet, it also showed me that maybe deep inside there is more to this than 'we both feel alone and we fight together' - they want to be included in each others lives completely.

Listen, I want Clark and Lois. And I have thought the Diana stuff before this has been rough. But I thought this at least made me just a wee wee bit more open to exploring Clark/Diana.

Anonymous said...

I just hate this Superman/wonder woman thing so much I can't even reply properly.

Anonymous said...

Anj, I'm sorry. You wrote such a nice reply back to me and then I got super busy and forgot to respond.

I think you make some great points.

Here's my issue with it and I'm trying to explain it without just going..grrr. LOL

The problem I have with it is that "we want to be in each other's lives" still reads to me like they are interacting with peasants or something. LOL That's the only way I can put it.

It's like they are these two beautiful creatures who live above us but every once and a while they lower themselves to coming down and hanging out with the human folk.

And it's like she wants to be involved in his life...and yet...what does she really KNOW about his life? Clearly she has no clue that he was so intensely close to Lois and that he harbored such intense feelings for Lois for so long. (And still does.)

And on her end...does he have any clue about HER life? Has she opened up to him about how she felt about Steve Trevor and what happened there? We have no idea.

She's saying words but they don't mean anything. These two still feel like they are "above" us. Like they lowered themselves for one night to hang out with the lowly humans or something.

It also doesn't help that, unfortunately, they continue to steal openly from Lois/Clark history to try and pad the relationship.

Part of the problem is that Lois and clark's history is so intense that no matter what they do with Wonder Woman...I've already seen it done better.

"Shut up and kiss me?"--I've seen it done 10 times in scenes that made WAY more sense with Superman and Lois Lane.

Kissing on the balcony? "Lois and CLark: The New Adventures of Superman, Season 3."

Wanting to know each other completely? Again, I can count 10 different Lois and Clark scenes from across media where it was done better and with more sincerity.

No matter what they do---I've already seen it and I've already seen it done better. So I just can't be open to it when I don't feel there is anywhere to go that isn't truly poaching on something I've ALREADY seen with Lois and Clark 10 times better.

Does that make sense?


Martin Gray said...

Shades, pretty much any Lois and Clark romantic scene, you'll have seen previously. The TV show didn't actually invent the romance; it wouldn't exist without the comics. So if the comics occasionally take a cue from. L&C, how is that bad? Call it homage, call it synergy ...though, if the 'Shut up and kiss me' bit is an example, you're claiming stuff for the TV show that it certainly didn't invent. Same goes for the movies.

Anj said...

Thanks for the thought out response Shades.

I will reiterate that I agree with you 1000% that Clark and Diana don't make sense to me. I think that the Lois relationship means so much more ... that Superman would love a human, be inspired by Lois, has so much more punch behind it.

And the prior interactions between Clark and Diana in the comics seemed off. It felt like they were thrown together out of desperation or loneliness or adrenaline rather than love. The scenes in this book, for once, looked like they might be interested in something more.

Do I think this is a great depiction of Diana? Do I think the whole relationship makes sense? No. But at least this felt a little better.