I know, it's 2012 and Aquaman has buzz. Superman deserves buzz. OK, the book doesn't have a mega-moody lead character, a zoftig heroine and gory deaths everywhere, but it does have the original superhero. The Man of Steel. And here he is at his best, showing an unfriendly extraterrestrial where to go while explaining why he loves Earth and its people (click on image to enlarge).
This issue begins with a glimpse of a world in which Superman is hated and feared, an 'it' to be hunted down by the authorities and Justice League. It's an Earth that's the culmination of the attitudes faced by Superman in the Five Years Ago issues of Action Comics, and thank goodness that's not where we are today. As it happens, this world is a fantasy, a vision conjured up by exiled Daemonite Helspont to persuade Superman that Earthlings will turn on him, as his people rejected him. Helspont's 'low-grade cerebral shunt' manifests as some kind of cross between an insect, a plant and classic JLA baddie Starro the Conqueror ...
... yup, this is co-plotters Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens apparently homaging Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic 'For the man who has everything' maguffin. Instead of the Black Mercy parasitical plant that makes its victim so happy with Utopian fantasies they never want to wake up, though, the shunt conjures up a darker world.
Whether by accident or design, the device works for the story, showing that Superman is over his early fears of never being accepted on Earth, and has the willpower to wake up from the nightmare. It also sets up the issue's big fight scene, with Kryptonian and Daemonite throwing down in the Himalayas. Where scripter Giffen has Superman sound natural, his Helspont is a corny soul, spouting dialogue Dr Doom would find naff, so it's a treat to watch Superman wipe the smile off his face.
The episode also progresses a couple of subplots, something we don't see enough of in superhero lines today. In one, Lois Lane's kid sister Lucy arrives in Metropolis and moves in with her; in the other, bedbugs force Jimmy Olsen into Clark's apartment - stupidly, he brings his own pillow. Anyone care to bet against these fine young people deciding they should get a flat together? Anyone else actually old enough to remember the pre-Crisis Jimmy and Lucy romance? He was a pultroon, she was a cow, but eventually he grew up, she turned nice and ... Lucy pretty much disappeared from continuity. Typical! So I want these kids to have a nice little romance.
And one drawn by Dan Jurgens and Jesus Merino would look lovely. There's an appealing strength to their work, with Merino adding a certain roughness to Jurgen's sterling layouts without disguising the essential attractiveness. Their vision of a battered alt-Metropolis works well, while the scenes between Superman and Helspont pulse with energy. The colours of Tanya and Richard Horie are a big help here, sizzling across the pages - well, except in the scene set in Lois's apartment - the girl really does like drab colours.
The only point at which the art doesn't work for me is when Helspont tells how his fellow Daemonites turned against him. The flashback is small on the page, then toned in pale blues. The moment should have power, but it's undersold.
Never mind, though, overall this is a fine Superman comic, one for which Jurgens, Giffen, Merino and co should get more attention. Perhaps throw in a few fish?