Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Smallville #18

I found it very interesting that last week DC released 2 comics starring Superman and Wonder Woman. One was the highly publicized Superman/Wonder Woman #1 comic by Charles Soule and Tony Daniel. That certainly had the hype machine churning and lots of opinions. My review of that comic will be up tomorrow.

The other was Smallville #18, the print version of the on-line comic. With much less hype, this comic has chugged along providing fun stories with a more classic take on Superman and Lois. And, in this Olympus arc, we are also getting some impressive Wonder Woman characterization as well. Here Diana isn't just a strong warrior but also an ambassador of peace.

I have been thrilled with this book and with how writer Bryan Q. Miller has brought me back to the Smallville world. This book has the right mix of humor, action, characterization, and Easter Eggs to keep an old school Superman like me happy.

And add to that Jorge Jimenez' tremendous art on this arc. At time Jimenez seems to be channeling J. Scott Campbell without the Zenescope lens. There is a stylistic flair here. The action sequences are powerful. Hopefully Jimenez gets a monthly gig from this soon.

But for me, the real thrill of this story arc has been Diana. She shines her. She is such a multi-faceted character,  a warrior for peace, that I can understand where some people fail to capture her. Miller just has her 'be', showing us how you can be complex and simple at the same time.

Take for instance this opening flashback where we see a young Diana as a stowaway making her way to America to track down her mother and Steve Trevor.

I love how Diana seeing Lady Liberty as her first vision of America would make her more confident that there is hope for 'man's world'.  Of course seeing a female avatar of libery and justice and compassion would be comforting.

This arc main antagonists, Felix Faust and Mr. Bones, have been mired in a storyline that I haven't quite followed up to know. Former colleagues, now frenemies, both suffered some worse fate after messing with the occult in the 1940's.

We finally learn that Faust and Bones made a deal with Hades back then. They would serve him and be granted eternal life. Bones reneged and as a result became the skeletal being he is now. Faust is blackmailing Bones, telling him to eliminate Diana or be killed himself. And so Bones has Diana chained and electrocuted.

But who is playing who here. I love that sly smile on Diana's face as she tells Bones that he probably isn't torturing her. She is gleaning information from him, just as he is trying to do with her.

Meanwhile, Clark ... using Super-ventriloquism (!!!) ... let's Diana know that he is looking for her mother in the DEO headquarters. While talking to Agent Cameron Chase (nice), Clark is scanning the building. I thought this list of floors he has scanned is such a Clark thing to do.

But Super-ventriloquism? Awesome.

And the DEO is preparing for a magical attack. Clark notices young sorcerors chanting defensive spells everywhere.

Diana was brought into custody by the DEO with some help from the U.S. Army and General Lane.

Now Lane has perpetually been portrayed as something of a jerk pretty much everywhere in the last 10 years. But Miller, amazingly, makes him seem a little sympathetic.

I love how here he admits that maybe he is losing touch with a new world, that he isn't sure how to deal with magical creatures and super-heroes. He even apologizes to Lois! Incredible.

The panel works even better with Lane in shadow like this. It makes him feel older, out of the light, and let's me fill in his expression. Art complementing story is always nice!

Finally Clark's scans reveal where in the DEO HQ Hippolyta is being held, in suspended animation.

It isn't quite explained but just as Clark discovers where this 'black room' is Faust attacks sending in troops and monsters from the water coursing below/around the building. I have to assume that somehow Clark breaking in broke some cloaking spell, allowing Faust to bring his forces to bear.

And Faust himself arrives and finally reveals his plot. He needs the jewel on Hippolyta's tiara, a component of a spell which has banished Hades from the world. In return for Hippolyta helping battle Hades, she was given Paradise Island as a gift. Faust serves Hades and wants him returned to power.

It is a small touch, but this version of  Hippolyta's tiara with the round gem is exactly as her tiara looked in the earliest Moulton/Peters stories. So nice little touch.

As I have been saying, the characterization of Diana is perfect here. Turns out she was just toying with Bones. As soon as Clark finds Hippolyta, she breaks out of the 'torture device', heads to the Black Room, and slugs Faust. Alas, Faust's powers instantly heal him. But that is a vicious panel.

And Faust is able to use the tiara gem to free Hades who heads to the surface to start bringing Hell to Earth.

And then another wrinkle to the Diana personality.

She is here to save her mother. With Hippolyta free and stable, she wonders if she should help battle Hades.

Clark has no such conflict. Though outnumbered and outmatched, he takes off to engage. And he hopes Diana will join him.

In this universe, Superman is an inspiration, helping other heroes reach their potential. Nice, especially with the classic 'Clark becoming Superman' motif in the panel.

But this isn't an aloof or omnipotent Superman. Hades is powerful, raises the dead, and starts ... well ... raising Hell.

And Superman knows he can't do all this alone. He is trying to reach anyone who will help him ... calling the Watchtower and begging for back up. He needs help ...

And Diana is just the hero to help!

As expected, Diana dons the Wonder Woman costume, the tiara now with the classic star, ready to fight. So we get the best of all worlds. A white jumpsuit Wonder Woman and a classic Wonder Woman. A peace loving and a warrior Wonder Woman.

And we get Superman in a bit over his head but striving to do what's right.

Miller knows all the strings to pull, ratcheting up the action this chapter, but also still giving us some small moments that make this such a great book to read.

Now this is how Superman and Wonder Woman should relate to each other.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

You have said it all. This is how Superman and Wonder Woman should relate. Both of their missions and worlds and mythos are intact. And because the human heroes of the story (Lois, Steve) are given agency and worth the true "super" and "wonder" of these two figures is powerful. That's what strikes me most that DC has gotten wrong and Miller understands. Without humanity's tethers---without that deep love for Lois----Superman feels...,ordinary. And so does Diana. They are so similar that their wonder gets lost bc we no longer see them through our eyes. But Miller gets it. ---Shades

Anj said...

It really is great.