Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: Superman #39

Superman #39 came out this week and was a heartwarming issue, a wonderful little human delight in the midst of the comic world. Since Rebirth, writers Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi (for the most part) have brought us a kinder, more inspirational, more down-to-Earth Superman. Issues like this one definitely fit that mold.

In many ways, this felt like the occasional Christmas issue we used to get with Superman, an annual issue where we saw Superman struck by the holiday spirit and spending an issue helping the common citizen as opposed to staring down galactic threats. Here, Superman enlists his JLA friends to give a number of pediatric cancer patients a day to remember. It might sound schmaltzy but for me, these things work. While I enjoy universal punch-em-ups as much as the next guy, I want my heroes to be linked ... to care for ... the average working person.

After the Mr. Oz issues and the battle on Apokolips, this was a pause to take a breath and remind me who Superman is and what he stands for.

The art on this issue is done by a favorite of mine Barry Kitson. His low-key style works very well for such a personal story. I don't need hyper-stylized art here. Kitson brings it here. The kids look like kids. The pages flow well. And our heroes look great.

This is one of those issues I think I need to buy multiple copies of, specifically to give to non-comic people I work with. On to the book.

The book opens up with Superman taking on the C-list villain group The Demolition Team. They are one of those silly teams that I grew up with. I think I have a weird fondness for them, all built on Dave Gibbons excellent Who's Who page for the group.

It is a quick fight as it should be. The thing that struck me is that Superman is oddly quippy, sounding more like Spider-Man as he belittles these bad guys while he mops the floor with them. I liked it. These guys aren't in Superman's league; they should have simply surrendered.

When the fight is over, Superman hears cheering from the nearby pediatric cancer ward and decides to give the kids a thrill. Love the art and color here, showing the reflection of Superman floating before the patients.

 Later, Superman signs out the patients for a day away. Green Lantern arrives with a ring-slung plane to transport the kids to the JLA Watchtower.

Now I did pause a bit. Maybe I am transferring some jealousy but I would have loved if Superman brought some medical person on the trip. While I am sure the Justice League are well-versed in first aid and standard triage, some doctor or nurse should have accompanied these kids. I'm available!

The rest of the issue is Superman and the League giving these kids a chance to be kids again, experience something amazing, and forget their troubles for a little time.

Here, Superman tells a wheelchair bound boy named Lateef that he should take advantage of the anti-gravity and fly. There is something beautiful about Lateef liberating himself even if it is for a small time.

And Kitson sells that joy perfectly.

But this isn't a cure or a long-term break. Reality is always just a thought away.

As much as Lateef is loving this, his thoughts go to Gail, another patient he knew who passed away recently. The fact that kids have to deal with their own mortality, that they see their friends die, is heartbreaking.

But there's Superman to help him get through this sadness. Gail is somewhere and she is enjoying this day because Lateef is.

It is a small moment, but powerful. This is the Superman I want.

Once at the headquarters, the children enjoy a day of hanging out with their heroes and just having fun.

This is a section of the two page spread showing all the heroes joining in and giving these kids a once-in-a-lifetime day. And this is a great page layout. I love that Flash cutting down the middle. I love the oddly shaped panels. It just gives the page a feel of crazy energy which it should have. This should be a wild day for everyone.

 And then Superman gives them a new challenge, a scavenger hunt. The key item, a picture of Batman smiling.

Of course, Batman looks perplexed/constipated/uncomfortable for most of the issue. That is, until Lateef tells Batman a joke which makes him grin, breaking the granite visage!

So question for the group ... what was the joke?

I love that panel of all the kids with their phones out kliking away. How I wish there were a couple of Leaguers in the background snapping some too! This is a rare enough event they might want proof too?

While that was a lot of fun, Tomasu and Gleason end the issue on a more poignant note.

The kids are taken to the moon where they scrawl their name on a rocks on the surface. When asked, Superman tells them their names will exist on the moon forever and ever. The meaning is clear. Their lives might not last long but at least there is some permanence somewhere.

How sad that kids have to grapple with this stuff.

I love this issue for the 'very special' story it was. You can't do issues like this all the time. But now and then, giving us the human interest story that reminds us what a great guy Superman is reminds me why I still read the comics, why I am still inspired.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

'Of course, Batman looks perplexed/constipated/uncomfortable for most of the issue.' And here we have an early contender for Line of the Year.

You know I loved it. And those final pages had me weeping - so much heart, so well-paced.

I'd better start compiling another Year's Best Comics Stories post...

Anonymous said...

A great issue, better than the last story arcs.

"Superman is oddly quippy, sounding more like Spider-Man as he belittles these bad guys while he mops the floor with them."

Pfff... Superman was a snarky fighter decades before Peter Parker got bitten.

"And then Superman gives them a new challenge, a scavenger hunt. The key item, a picture of Batman smiling."

Oh, that was great.

"Their lives might not last long but at least there is some permanence somewhere."

Beautiful scene.

It reminds me of a scene of "The Lord of the Rings". The book, of course. Frodo and Sam are trudging through Mordor, feeling starving, thirsty, exhausted and hopeless. Then Sam sees a star twinkling in the sky and feels more encouraged because, as bad as things are on Earth, there's everlasting beauty not even the Dark Lord can touch, sully or ruin.

Once again, excellent issue. It's nice someone reminds us every so often why our heroes are heroes.

Anonymous said...

Great review of a wonderful heartwarming issue of Superman. My favourite in recent months too. You made me think more about the ending than I originally caught on about the children leaving their names in moon rocks so thank you for that part in particular.