Friday, March 6, 2020

Review: Superman Villains

Superman Villains came out this week, the bookend to last week's Superman Heroes. The focus of this book is to see how Superman's villains are responding to the news that he and Clark Kent are the same.

And I am a bit torn about this book.

There are several stories that I actually love. There is the reintroduction of Ma and Pa Kent into the DCU (post Doomsday Clock). There is a hilarious short with Lex Luthor. There is a giant plot progression that will certainly dramatically impact the main books. And there is a redemption of super-villain, spurred along by the inspiration of Superman. All good. Brian Michael Bendis and Matt Fraction have such a handle on these characters now that it just all clicks. Add solid art, with particularly effective visuals by Cully Hamner and Michael Gaydos, and you think this would be a win all around.

But there is a downside, one that particularly stings for me. Supergirl has a story here, explaining why she is doing what she is doing in Smallville in her own book, a prologue to a story that is now 3 months in. And she is doing it because she is angry at Superman, a response to his reveal.

I want you to think that last paragraph over. Realize this, in a book called Superman Villain, a book looking specifically at his foes response to his Truth, Kara is the lead in a story. Supergirl is a Superman villain right now.

That is inherently wrong. It is simply terrible.

And yet, once again, here we are. Same as it ever was.

That is such a monumental failure for me, on all levels, that I can't help but have it muddy my feelings on the rest of the book.

It is ridiculous.

We start with the patented sepia-toned Smallville story where Superman thanks his parents for raising him the way they did. I am a sucker for Pa Kent wisdom stories. I love how thrilled Ma Kent is because raising Superman makes her look wonderful.

Frankly, it is just good to see the Kents around again.

Now I have to somehow wrap a new timeline around in my head, one were they were around for the birth of Jon, gave advice to Superman during his career, and weren't killed by Vyndktyvx in hopes of snuffing out Superman's hope.

I loved ... and I mean LOVED ... Morrison's Action Comics run from the New 52. But one thing I didn't agree with was his killing off of the Kents. So glad to see that reversed.

The most effective story is one written by Bendis with art by Michael Gaydos.

In it we see Clark and Lois setting up an interview with Ms. Leone, an apparent puff piece so Planet readers can learn about her.

They ask that Clark's salary get donated to the Metropolis Fire Fighters.

Perry White then crashes the proceedings wondering if Clark should get a raise.

I love the dialogue here as people try to unravel the mystery of Clark/Superman. Does he need to eat? I love Lois' exasperated 'you've seen him eat!'

But it turns out this meeting with Leone is something of a trap, a little bait before Lois and Clark drop the real bomb.

A while ago we saw Trish Q hug Clark for saving her in his Superman identity earlier.

In the pit, Clark apologizes for the possibility that his truth will endanger the Planet Staff or their families. Trish Q nips that in the bud.

I think this is a great moment, everyone raising their hand to say they feel safer.

I wonder if they will have the same response when Clark and Lois drop a press bomb later in this book.

We do get some quick hit shorts from Superman villains to see their response.

Here, it is fantastic to see just how enraged Lex is that he was fooled by Clark's glasses. His voice mail is filled with people laughing at him. So many people shoving it in Luthor's face. A Lex that feels ridiculed is a dangerous Lex. But I can't remember it being played for this many laughs.

And these timelines are so wonky. Is this post Apex Lex? Before? During? Is he back to being a businessman? Is he a super-villain? Both? 

We also get bullet responses from Steve Lombard, Mongul (with a nice new wrinkle on the passing on of the title Mongul) and Bizarro.

As a Leviathan guy, I liked this story involving the Toyman. Riley Rossmo's art, all weird and stylized, fits the story perfectly!

First off, I am a big fan when Superman tries to talk down his opponents, or tries to inspire them to do more.

Here, he tells Winslow (nice use of first name to humanize) that he has so much to offer.

Later when Schott sees the reveal he looks at Superman in a different light. Superman is just a normal guy trying to help people. Superman was really just talking to Schott as a friend.

That leads to Toyman turning himself into the police to do his time.

And in a great turn, he gets recruited by Kingsley Jacobs to join Checkmate and fight Leviathan.

In a nice closure, Schott thanks Superman.

Any times we see one of the Supers inspire, I am happy.

Then the odious Supergirl story.

I don't blame writer Jody Houser for this story as she was handed this plotline.

But Supergirl is enraged that Clark revealed his secret.

And she twists that into some convoluted reason to show Superman that living as a human weakens him. So off she goes to attack Smallville. (Of course, in her own book she says she is doing this Smallville plot to 'save' people.)

So we get a 'Supergirl as a Superman villain' story.

When will DC learn?

This doesn't work.

At least there is a palate cleanser.

Earlier we saw how Perry felt hoodwinked by Leone. He was so thrilled she was paying people, even giving Perry a raise, that he feels guilty. But he knows, as Clark and Lois know, that they can't bury the story that Leone owns the Planet and runs the Invisible Mafia. Even if it brings down the paper and hurts the staff, they have to go ahead with the story.

And they do. Lois publishes her story. Perry writes and editorial. And it hits all media.

This can't end well for the Planet.

But more importantly, I wonder how the staff will feel about Clark now. They might hug him and love him being Superman. But costing them their jobs? That's different. I wonder if the sentiment will change dramatically.

And can I say that Gaydos' art, a sort of 'painter over photos' look, is just compelling. It fits this 'real life' story perfectly.

Okay, if I expunge the bitter taste of villainous Supergirl from my mouth, I would give this a different grade. But that Supergirl story, not even the actual story but the ill-conceived concept of Supergirl as a Superman villain' has to be figured in.

Overall grade: C+ (probably an A if the Supergirl story didn't exist)


Anonymous said...

Well I'm all mixed up. Maybe I'm angry.

We saw a non-infected Supergirl cheering at Superman's identity reveal in Superman #18. You put it in your review: "We see a very happy Supergirl watching with Krypto." And you scanned the panel.

But now that has been retconned out of existence?

It is true that Supergirl got infected in #36 which was published several weeks before Superman #18, but I just assumed the events of Superman #18 occurred first, even if published later. That kind of publication date glitch happens often enough.

But now? Is DC saying that the panel in Superman #18 was wrong? Will they replace a cheering Supergirl with a sneering Supergirl in the trade? (Do they even realize the mistake? And if they do, would they even bother to try to fix it?)

On a separate topic, I wish we had the art credits! I can recognize the work of Gaydos, Lieber and Rossmo, and am pretty sure Mahfood drew the one-page Bizarro story - these are all distinctive styles. But I'm not sure which parts were drawn by Godlewski, Hitch, or Hamner.


Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of Supergirl,

The author of 99 message, it's the Joker ! He is the only one who use the name "Lexie" for Lex Luthor and all laughes are written in green.

If i remember, Supergirl followed Superman on the planet with the familly's Zod. He told her for his revelation, she knew ... and she was fired of catco, no ?

I have a question for an fan of supergirl and the Flash. I sometimes read this comic and i saw twice supergirls toys. It's a coincidence ?

Professor Feetlebaum said...

"well I'm all mixed up. Maybe I'm angry."

You're not mixed up, T.N. DC is. So what else is new?

Okay, here's a possible explanation that might help: Supergirl and Krypto are watching the ORIGINAL live broadcast in Superman #18. The infected Supergirl in Superman Villains is watching a REPEAT broadcast sometime later. A big story like this would most likely be analyzed and repeated for several days, even weeks.

Does that work?

And it WAS good to see the Kents back.

Anonymous said...

Strange observation:
Despite being a redhead and completely devoid of powers, Marvel's The Amazing Mary Jane is a better portrayal of Supergirl than DC's Supergirl has been since Orlando left.

Stranger observation:
Fat Thor is a better representation of Supergirl than DC's Supergirl have been since she was infected.

Martin Gray said...

As with the Heroes companion piece, this failed to stay true to its title, shoving in loads of regular Superman stuff; I mean, it was fab to see the Kents definitively alive, but I don’t like Pa Kent’s new voice, ya know? Plus, what is this Batman protection, a force field? Unless the Kents have moved, they’re going to be found - and since when did he Batcave have a cloaking field? And the art was pretty wonky, who was that? I know Cully Hamner is in here, it could be his work, but if so it’s not his best.

The Leone business was a good-looking - well, in that coloured-in photographs, stiff way - decent read, but in what world would Lois press ‘publish’ the second Leone failed to comment? Have Lois and Clark told the police about her, even? And why would the Planet lose jobs, guilt by association isn’t likely. I tell you, sales and page views would soar... this is the time to have an online subscription push.

If Mongul Jr is back, may we have Mon-Gal please, she was much more fun. And maybe the Mxy twins... As for his reaction, that was pure Byrne Luthor.

Speaking of whom, that short with the Joker laughing was priceless. And the sad Bizarro strip made me smile, the Jim Mahfood art was fab.

My favourite story was the Toyman piece, I do think they should have waited awhile until he’d had a psychiatric assessment but, hey, comics. And Riley Rossmo’s art did indeed work really well. Nevertheless, I still can’t forget what Toyman did in the Triangle era.

But... but... this comic really was ruined by the Supergirl business, the optics of Kara being in here are so bad. And doesn’t she remember that Clark took her into his confidence? Plus, as you say, when are things happening? We’ve seen previously that as Infected Supergirl enacts her Smallville plan, Superman is tracking down other heroes gone barking, not dealing with secret ID stuff.

Martin Gray said...

PS for TN, I think Hamner did the Kents tale, Godlewski the Supergirl stuff and Hitch produced Life With the Monguls.

Anonymous said...

French fan - do you mean you've seen ads for Supergirl action figures in Flash? DC usually prints the same ads in all comics released the same week.

And you are right - Supergirl already knew about the reveal, as Superman started to tell her when they were visiting Zod. Then she cheered when it happened.

Professor - Your solution to the timeline is a good try! Except, she's watching the TV along with a lot of other people who are expressing disbelief. It seems to be the first time they've heard it. Well... let's keep working out the details :).

Martin - thanks for the art credits. It seems right.

I didn't care for the art in the Smallville story either. Pa Kent looked grotesque, small and frail.

Dialog with "yer" and "youse" etc. used to be common in DC books, maybe reflecting the New York City background of the writers. It was often used as a working class or lower middle class voice. If it's intended here to try to capture a midwest rural accent, it doesn't sound right.

As for the cloaking - were we supposed to be seeing the tech that Superman says "runs itself"? All I noticed were cloudy skies at dawn or sunset. But perhaps the best cloaking device is one that is able to cloak itself. And then it had better run itself, because you'll never be able to find it!


Anonymous said...

Why do you keep punishing yourself buying these books Anj? Infected Supergirl isn't going to surprise you with a good Supergirl story. This is what it is. It's an arc about not-Supergirl. Giving DC money for this is why it is going to keep happening.

Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

I am explained myself : in the flash N°58 page 9 and N°750 page 11 you can see a young girl in the story who played with wonder woman and supergirl toys.

So, one is the ester egg. Twice, there are something.

Why the flash is the only comic where you can see supergirl's toy inside the story ?

Martin Gray said...

Hi French fan, I’ve just had a look, I’d guess the giftsd artist of both issues, Rafo Sabdoval, is just having fun - it’s not the same girl, the Supergirl and Wonder Woman toys are different. I love the Supergirl toy bunches in Flash #750!

I’m impressed with your noticing, but I’d say this is a ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’ situation.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

I was trying for the kind of answer that Mort Weisinger used to come up with back in the day, when he had to explain away errors and inconsistencies.

So, along those lines...

Maybe the people watching here missed the earlier broadcast?
And...maybe Supergirl's mind is so addled from the infection that she forgot she already knew about Superman's big revelation?

Or maybe DC really goofed! The S.C.P.A. (Super Continuity Patrol Agents) failed to do their job!

Words like "yer" and "youse" ARE more New York than Midwest. There was that Beatles song "Yer Blues" on the White Album. The character Brooklyn in Simon and Kirby's Boy Commandos said "youse" a lot. So did Happy Hooligan in the comic strips of the early 1900s.

Ben said...

Anyone getting the impression that DC's writing staff are more enamored with their villains than their heroes? It's like The Batman Who Laughs infected all of their brains with his evilfying toxin.

Crap. That can only mean TWBL has invaded our reality too, and we'll all be turned into a bunch of obnoxious edgelords before next Sunday rolls around.

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments, especially around the jumbled timeline of Kara both cheering and complaining about the identity reveal. Ridiculous. I think it is another sign that DC just doesn't care about Supergirl ... the editors probably never asked 'was she seen at the actual reveal time already?'

Anyways, I take comfort that there are still fans out there hoping they'll see better!