Monday, August 1, 2022

Review: Superman Space Age Book One

Superman Space Age Book One came out last week, a big 80 pager at the hefty cost of $9.99. It is an interesting book, a sort of Elseworlds. But I don't quite know if it is my cup of tea. And at nearly $10 a book, I was hoping I would really love it.

Writer Mark Russell gives us an Elseworlds look at a DCU where the heroes ascend in the early 60's. As such, you can put it in the same category as New Frontier. But there is a different feel to this one. The Superman here isn't the Superman I know. The origin and the upbringing is starker. And as a result, there is a void in this book of love and even hope. In particular, Pa Kent is very different here, almost Snyder-esque. And that pains me. This is the first book, of course, so maybe things will get better as Superman enters the prime of his career. The best bits are seeing Lois as a reporter in the changing times of the Sixties.

Russell is a known commodity and so if you like his works this probably will work for you. I have found him a bit hit and miss and right now I am on the fence here.

One thing I can say is the book is beautiful. Mike and Laura Allred are at the top of their game here. I suppose Allred is also a known commodity. If you like his art, which I do, you'll love this book. 

As always, this is an alternate reality, an alternate Earth. So I don't have to worry about these things sticking. Because, at least after this issue, I don't know if I would be a Superman fan if this was who he is.

On to the book.

The book starts in 1985. Superman in space is looking down on an Earth cloaked in red skies. Any DC fan worth their salt knows this is the Crisis. That means this Earth isn't long for the world.

And in a depressing opening scene, this Superman knows it too. He heads to the Fortress, tells Jon that things are not all right, and sits there to accept the end of things.

There is an internal monologue where Superman talks about how he has lived with purpose. How it is important for people to live their lives with purpose and make the world hear 'I am here'. Sometimes that act is heroism.

Now I don't know what has come before this scene. Perhaps Superman has fought against the destruction of the world here and realizes it is useless. And yes, being with your loved ones is important. But this is a Superman who seems to have given up. To tell your school age son that things aren't going to get better and to sit and wait for the end to come seems ... I don't know ... passive for Superman.

Flashback to the 60's. Clark is living on the Kent Farm. Inherently, Clark knows that he should be out in the world, using his powers for good. 

But in this world, Jonathan doesn't want that. He should stay on the farm. This is the Zack Snyder Pa, who thinks that people should die instead of Clark getting out there.

Clark shouldn't try and save the world because in Jon's experience, people who try to save the world get it wrong. That's because in WWII, Jonathan was in the army and was trying to clear the Pacific Islands of the entrenched Japanese soldiers. In that conflict, he accidentally shot a child. 

He tells Clark he can never forget the faces of the people he killed in that time. In the collage of faces we see civilians and women. 

People who come here know I love Pa and his wisdom. For me, it is the Kent upbringing that made Superman. We are on the other end of the spectrum here. 

But then JFK gets shot. On broadcasts, news reporters wonder if Russia will nuke us now in a national moment of weakness. 

It is the death of JFK that spurs Clark finally into action. As Clark flies off, we hear Pa say 'we can't protect him from the world or the world from him'. This is not my Pa.

He flies off, trying to fly to Moscow to tell those leaders to not fire their missiles. With little training, he almost makes it. Until Hal Jordan shoots him down hoping to avoid an international incident.

This seems foolish and naive of Clark. But this is the character we have. Someone who has been told not to act so when he does, it makes little sense.

Now if there is a voice that Russell seems to get, it is Lois.

She is initially on the 'kooks and cranks' detail of the Planet. But she happens to be in Dallas when JFK was shot. That means she is the Planet's only reporter on site. 

Lois is a crusader in this book. She is on the right side of history for some of the uglier sides of the Sixties, fighting for rights of people. And she talks about the need for hope. 

I don't know if I like Russell's take on Superman. But I'd read a Lois book from him.

Shot down in the Arctic, Clark stumbles onto his Fortress.

A Jor-El AI tells how Krypton lacked hope. How Clark can help be Earth's salvation. How maybe Clark wasn't ready before but he will be ready soon. We even see the suit.

As for Clark, he realizes his fathers, both of them have seen too much death. Perhaps that is why Pa tries to shield him. 

And so, almost like in the Donner Superman movie, after some instruction from Jor-El, Clark heads to Metropolis. 

With Lois now hitting the big time, Clark gets the 'kooks and cranks' assignment. 

On it, he meets Pariah, rather dapper in his green sweater vest and suit. Remember, we start in the Crisis so Pariah is just here early. He knows this Earth will end in 20 years.

I am not a Pariah fan. But this snazzy dressed guy drinking to forget his sorrows is just about the best version I have seen of him. 

I said, I love Russell's Lois.

This was the best scene in the book for me. She is off to the next story and reminds Clark to keep fighting for the story. As she leans out of the train, Clark realizes he loves her.

There is an absolutely crazy subplot where Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are vying for the next big US defense contract.

Bruce thinks tactical weapons (basically the Bat-tech) is how to win small skirmishes.

Lex thinks nuclear war is inevitable so American should have the best bunkers around. The government goes with Lex. 

And then, safe in his bunker, Lex thinks the right thing to do is spur on war. He takes the warheads he was to use to test the bunker and instead nukes Coast City. Thinking Russia bombed Coast City, the US counterattacks.

It is time for Clark to show up. 

I don't quite get Russell's philosophy. Several times throughout the book, he says that heroism is just being there. He keeps saying that the actual acting is secondary.

But now in the suit, Superman plucks the missiles out of the air. And, in the Bat-tech, Bruce stops Lex from bombing Metropolis. And Hal finds Abin Sur. 

I don't know if the military is shown in a good light at any point in this book. Pa is a child-killer. We hear General Lane was duped by his leaders into a meaningless bloody conflict in Europe. Here, they think fallout shelters are a deterrent to war.

As for Lex, he wants to rule the world. Is 5% of the population living on a devastated surface what the smartest man alive would want?

Still, this all seems to bring about a new age on the planet. Russia and America stop their nuclear buildup. And even Pa has some hope to look to the stars. It is a space age.

Okay, this is the set-up for the book. We have a Justice League now. There are other scenes of Lois in this book covering segregation in the South that are solid. And maybe we will get more hope and more deliberate action next issue.

But as I said, right now I am on the fence. The art is stunning. Some of the message is on target. But, as usual, Russell is kind of a mixed bag for me.

Overall grade: B-


Steve said...

Russell is very miss for me so I'll skip this. I don't get irritated like with King but I find some of his plots too nonsensical and he's as ham fisted when he does social commentary as Denny O'Neil.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot more to heroism than just showing up, that is a very slack reductionist view indeed. and the damn thing starts with the Crisis, again, which just shows that the creatives are still shackled by that very limiting mythology...but hey at least Supergirl isn’t being tossed under the bus to make Kal El special again. It seems like his turn to be sacrificed to no good end.
But the artwork alone is worth the price, I doubt I am gonna be buying this trade, but I an enjoying the Allred’s rare foray into DCU heroics...otherwise I an neither inspired nor repelled at this point the fact its a 3 issue mini probably works in it’s in terms of keeping my interest.
BTW kudos on Lois Lane’s character design they got a lot of details down pat, her white gloves, the Jackie Kennedy / Mary Tyler Moore hair do, the period specific dress...all admirably envisioned.


Martin Gray said...

Great review, I had mixed feelings too. That opening with Superman not fighting to the bitter end didn’t sit well but I’m also taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.

(He could at least have sheltered the Kandorians with his invulnerable body. You never know, it might help. Or gone back through the time barrier to try a new approach… maybe he can’t time travel.)

I like the dreamlike art but as I said at my review, sometimes the characters look like zombies, dead-eyed.

I do, though, agree with the Lois love - excellent comparison, JF!