Monday, July 13, 2020

Review: Superman #23

Superman #23 came out last week and was another winner by writer Brian Michael Bendis. Once again we see just how hard it is to be Superman. And as a result, we are that much more impressed with the Man of Steel.

Perhaps most interesting for me is how this issue shows you just how crazy life is within the DC universe. We get a pretty specific timeline here letting us know just how compressed the insanity in Superman's life is.

But on top of that we get a follow-up to an off hand one panel line in Superman:Heroes. In that comic Dr. Fate says he needs to meet Superman in the Tower of Fate. And this issue picks up from that. It is hard to read the emotions of Dr. Fate at times given the blank helmet. Then I read it as an almost threat or order. Here we learn it is simply to help.

We also get a new villain, Xanadoth, a sort of Lords of Chaos version of the more Order-ly Dr. Fate. Fate having an opposite number makes sense. And I can't help but hear the word 'Thanatopsis' when I hear Xanadoth, making me feel all the more death-tinged dread.

As for the art, it is a joyous mix of John Timms' stylized action and Kevin Maguire's expressive mastery. Usually two artists on the same book can pull me out. But given Timms' work on flashback sequences and Maguire's present day material, it works beautifully.

Feels like the Superman books are firing on all cylinders these days. On to the book.

 We start out at the DEO with the tagline three weeks ago.

I'll repeat that.

Three weeks ago.

A DEO agent Veronica Bissette is coming in 'hot' with a powerful artifact of unknown origin. No denying the weird ankh like image on it.

But before she can enter the building, the DEO Headquarters is obliterated by a Leviathan Enforcer. In fact, the only folks to escape are Adam Strange, Director Bones, and a few others.

This scene should look familiar. It is a riff on the same scene from Action Comics #1008 (review here: ). Action #1008 came out in March of 2019.

Think about that. This scene is from the Leviathan Rising arc. That means in three weeks we have had Leviathan Rising, Event Leviathan, The Truth, the formation of the United Planets, and the whole Perpetua nonsense.

All that ... in 21 days.


Superman's life is crazy.

Timms' art crackles with energy here.

In the present, Superman is heading to the Hall of Justice to meet Dr. Fate for a 'mystical check-up' to make sure that he isn't being compromised by any unseen magical attacks given everything that has happened to him over those three weeks.

But this might be my favorite moment of the book. Despite being there on business and kid of stressed, Superman takes the time to meet and greet the locals visiting there. He even does a photo op with a young fan.

That last panel *IS* Superman.

Within the Hall, Superman and Fate walk into the basement and have a short interaction with the rest of Justice League Dark.

Guess what, Zatanna can't simply magically the reveal that Superman is Clark Kent from the world. Love that. After all, Zatanna has got in trouble in the past for mind-wiping. And frankly this is too big for that to work easily.

We get some Constantine mischief and a look at the other members as well before Supes and Fate head to the Tower.

And Maguire nails the expressions. Zatanna's overly nice smile in the second panel just making sure Superman gets her point is precious.

Meanwhile, three weeks ago, the artifact merges with Bissette forming the new baddie Xanadoth.

For old schoolers like me, I remember when the Fate helmet took over the body of Kent Nelson. So this sort of possession rings true.

Again, this pic of the entity being melded with Bissette, brimming with Kirby crackle is brilliant work by Timms.

In the Tower of Fate, Dr. Fate quickly assesses Superman and proves there are no mystical intrusions. It takes one panel.

The rest of the issue is Khalid Nassour and Clark having a talk.

Just think of how incredible and confident Khalid has to be to have this person-to-person conversation with Superman.

But it is clear, Superman has dealt with a lot of stuff recently. Leviathan isn't even mentioned! Jor-El was evil, sent back to Krypton to die. Sam Lane died. Jon was gone for 'years' and just when he returned, he left again. That has to crush someone like Superman who probably couldn't wait to be his own version of Pa Kent.

It is a lot of stuff.

And Khalid won't let Superman sidestep.

When Superman tries to change the subject by starting a super-hero story about an adventure he had with Adam Strange, Khalid brings him back to the topic.

Superman has a lot to mentally unpack and he doesn't have the time to do it. He needs to have that time. And no one can judge him for that.

No surprise about Maguire's art. That look of consternation on Superman's face in the last panel is right on target.

But while there talk is happening, Xanadoth is working his way through the mystical strongholds of the DCU from Madame Xanadu's shop to the JLD HQ to know the Tower of Fate. And he claims he own the helmet of Fate.

Ooohh ... nice cliffhanger.

But the action stuff is really secondary to the very personal discussion Supers is having. And kudos for Bendis for answering the 'does Superman eat' and 'does Superman sleep' question for new readers. I always feel like I could use a refresher since things change so rapidly.

No big reveals here. I loved this issue. Another crackling entry. Let's hope DC doesn't reboot everything again and sweep these runs off the board.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Agreed on all points, this was a smasher! As regards Doctor Fate having an oppo, do you remember that chap in New Adventures of Superboy, Doctor Chaos, he was fun... I always love the simple flipping of a hero’s costume for an arch enemy.

Definitely, Khalid has confidence, and the approachability of Superman that you note also plays a part.

Anonymous said...

Are all the Doctors doctors?

Not all bios list it, but Kent Nelson is a psychiatrist (or, alternatively, psychologist). He treated Supergirl once to help get her out of a Dark Supergirl period. Khalid too is at least a medical student and/or medic, describing himself as pre-med here. But I dunno, seems like he's more advanced than pre-med, unless the helmet absorbed some skills from Kent and has passed them to him. He provides Superman a pretty decent counseling session.

I was surprised by "3 weeks," though when I stop to think about it, short time frames always do make sense. And out here in the real world, this is issue #23 - as if Bendis is saying each issue occupies around 1 day of in-story time, so 23 days is around 3 weeks.


Daxam1978 said...

Really enjoyed this issue,lots of guest stars
& fantastic art!
Up there with ACTION no.1022 methinks 🤓👍