Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Superman #13 review

On the sixth day, he rested. For five days, Superman has been bench-pressing the earth's weight, testing his limits with 'omniologist' Dr Shay Veritas. Back in Metropolis, he walks in on roomie Jimmy Olsen having sex in the shower with an unnamed woman. At the Daily Planet, in his Clark Kent mode, he lectures colleagues Lois Lane and Perry White on journalistic values before giving boss Morgan Edge a similar rant. Believing that it's time for good old-fashioned reporting to fight back against 'infotainment', Clark quits. Inspired by his move, gossip reporter Cat Grant follows, declaring that she wants to join Clark in his new endeavours.

Cat's left alone when Clark rushes off to change to Superman, a gigantic winged monster having appeared over Metropolis. A fight ensues, Superman and space dragon wind up in Ireland, and Supergirl appears, mad as hell at her cousin.

Again. The angry Kara bit has gotten really old. Here she's annoyed because Superman had told her the pair of them were the only survivors of their world's destruction, yet he must have known he was fighting a Kryptonian beastie. God forbid Superman might not have recognised the creature, having left the planet as a baby ... no, in cranky Kara's eyes, he's a big old liar and she's ready to punch him.

And it's not like I can blame lack of coordination between the Super-books, given that this issue is the prologue to a crossover with the Supergirl and Superboy titles, H'el on Earth. Probably, Kara's mood will lighten, being an end-of-issue Big Dramatic Moment, but I'd rather another storytelling choice had been made.

Otherwise, Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort, the third creative team in this book's short existence, get off to a confident start. I like that attention is being paid to Superman's life in civvies, even if Clark is coming across as a self-righteous douche. I work in a newsroom, and heaven knows, he's right about the tsunami of press releases masquerading as real stories - but chewing out your colleagues? Railing at your boss? That's not the way to bring change, and it's not like he's in a moral position to lecture anybody, having spent days being Superman on company time. When Perry points out that he's not filed anything all week in his role as Superman correspondent, the slovenly dressed Clark simply gets surly. The man has a bad attitude.

And a guy who speaks like this - see left - really shouldn't be nagging fellow journalists about anything (click on image to enlarge).

As for ethics, what happened to his? He clearly has no respect for Lois, reading her private texts to learn that boyfriend Jonathan is moving in with her. Stalker. And given that in Justice League he's all over Wonder Woman, which is acknowledged here, Clark comes across like an immature teenager, not knowing what he wants. I'm all for a Superman with identifiable human emotions, but 'likeable non-idiot' is good too.

Have we ever had such an obvious indication of someone having sex in a Superman comic as soapy Jimmy and pal? I realise this series is rated T for Teen, but I think of Superman as an all-ages character. By all means imply that stuff is happening, in a way older readers will pick up on - in the Seventies there was a running gag around boeuf bourguignon - but show? I'm not so sure. And besides, I like my Jimmy to be a loser with the ladies ... let's at least hope the naked girl is a disguised alien from Dimension X.

Things I like about this issue include the intriguing Dr Veritas - why does she appear multiple times in one panel, how did her right side become impaired and is she Tamaranean or simply tanned? It's good that the supporting cast is getting some attention, especially Cat Grant, who's not had a chance to make an impression in the new continuity. Lobdell's narration is engaging, particularly the throwaway references - 'Seven Sisters of Sin and Avarice'; 'Talking Sun of Alktos Prime' - which could have come straight out of All-Star Superman, which supplies this month's title: 'They will join you in the sun.' And there's a cute trick Superman pulls off in Ireland which involves a clever blend of brainpower and super-powers.

Rocafort's artwork is a breath of fresh air, signalling that we're in one of those Bold New Eras comics used to give us every now and then. The cover's not great - he's trying far too hard to be true to the abhorrent armoured costume - and the punching pose looks awkward. After that, though, things get a lot better, very quickly. The opening scene in Dr Veritas's lab near the centre of the earth has a certain wonder, while Metropolis looks like the City of Tomorrow it's meant to be. The compositions are dynamic, the Kryptonian monster is a fine update on Silver Age designs and Lois, Cat, Perry and co look splendid, with real animation to them. As for Superman himself, he's a good-looking, strong chap, as he should be, and it's great to see that - New 52 be damned! - he still has red shorts.
There's a new sound effect for super-speed, which appears several times, without ever convincing. I mean, FOS? Otherwise, the art's all good, with Sunny Gho's colours brightly emphatic.

So, not a perfect issue, but solid and showing ambition. If Lobdell and Rocafort can find the form they've shown in Red Hood and the Outsiders, and DC's higher-up give them a bit of creative freedom, the Superman book could be in for interesting times. I'll give them a pass for the next couple of months, as inter-title crossovers tend to hobble individual ambition. But after that? Impress me.

30 comments:

  1. I hate to be a nag but I have to bring up the Lois issue again because it continues to be a problem.

    Lobdell treated her with deep disrespect here and I think it's reason to be very concerned.

    Any true Superman fan knows that Lois has gotten the short end of the stick since the relaunch. However, I think most people were at least hoping she would hang on to her role as the crusader for truth and justice.

    However, it seems as though in DC's attempts to continue to marginalize her, they continue to strip more and more away from here.

    Not only is Lois not a reporter anymore (we have been stuck with her as a producer---a job we know the real Lois would never be happy in) but now she is painted here by Lobdell as being a lazy journalist who isn't truly going after the truth.

    This is a classic example of a writer throwing the woman under the bus in order to suit his agenda. Lobdell wrote Lois very, very out of character here. He did her a true disservice painting her as a woman that would be ok with letting entertaniment usurp the news.

    He also treated her as an object. She exists here only to be a plot device and remind the audience that she's moving in with her boyfriend. Mind you, the boyfriend exists only so that Superman is "free" to hook up with Wonder Woman.

    This was a very carefully elaborate set-up designed to get Lois out of the way.

    You know I love your reviews very much and I think you are very reasonable. But how long can we give DC Comics a pass here on the way they are treating Lois Lane? Arguably, this is one of the worst treatments she has had in the entire new 52. Her entire nature as the aggressive seeker of truth is thrown to the wolves here to suit the plot. It's one of the more blatent and horrible character assasinations I've seen.

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    1. Hello Anon, actually, I'd disagree that Lois is treated badly here; she's in one scene and doesn't come across as unreasonable or a lesser character - it's Clark, in attacking her, who seems the poorer person. I do agree that she's not getting much to do right now, but that's often been the case at times she's not had her own strip, or been under a creative team who aren't emotionally invested in her (ie ones who don't understand how fundamental she is to the Superman Legend). I suggest we give the new guys a few issues, and see how they treat her over time.

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    2. It's totally out of character for her to be presented as someone who would be ok with the kinds of stories that the Planet is printing.

      For 75 years, she has been the person fighting for truth. Lobdell writes her here as someone who seemingly gave up. As a female fan, I feel hurt by how she was written here and I'm not alone.

      This is not who Lois is. Do you truly not see why this is problematic?

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    3. Anonymous, I can't speak for (or as well as) Martin, but I might point out that we don't know that Clark's accusations regarding Lois' recent news show is accurate. She certainly seems to think it is way off, and other events give good reason to think that Clark is in a grumpy mood and might be, at the least, exagerrating his point.

      I will agree with you to this extent: Clark has many super-powers, what makes Lois special is her dogged reporting skills and values. It does seem wrong to have Clark be the lone voice for 'true journalism' at the Planet, it takes Lois' strength and gives it to Clark.

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    4. I have often seen in real life where someone loses their "soul" to their new job position in the company they are working for becoming the type of boss they never wanted to be. Sometimes they wake up when someone points it out to them rarer they realize it on their own.

      Whenever the right writer, who knows and cares about Lois comes along. Maybe they will write a story about her coming to her senses and becoming the reporter we all know and love.

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    5. Hi Mr Whiskas, I agree about Lois, one of the best Lois moments for me was when she gave her reasons for going freelance in the early Seventies in her own book. And I can't believe that Lois is far from the surface. Like you, I'm hoping that we'll see Lois's defence to Clark's accusations.

      Valerie, thank you for some excellent insight. I remain optimistic!

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  2. To me the problem isn't so much whether or not sex is depicted or even strongly indicated in an all-ages comic. All comics were considered "all-ages" when we were eight or nine, and they got some racy stuff past the Code; as you say, adults can pick up on cues that won't bother the younger kids at all. The real problem is the trashy frat boy (er, translate that as "laddish") attitude with which all sex is depicted in superhero comics. It's all about scoring and hookups. It's all about woman as a sex object being nailed as a kind of reward. Like defeating the level boss in a video game. It's never a healthy type of sex, never cuddling or pillow talk in a comfortable bed.

    The writers who produce this stuff may all be devoted husbands who love their wives and children and wouldn't dream of acting this way. But they're writing a crass objectifying porn fantasy version of sex because that's what they think the audience wants. I'm not condemning them as people; I'm just not happy with their choices they've made in their stories.

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    1. I think you make a very good point.

      The truth is that there has been sex on page in a Superman comic before---between Lois and Clark. People seem to forget that for years pre-reboot there was pretty graphic images of them being sexual together. There were panels of them bathing together and making love. The difference is the context.

      Very rarely did I ever feel like Lois Lane existed in a Superman comic simply to objectify a porn fantasy for men. On the contrary, she is often a rare female character is isn't objectified. As a woman myself, I NEVER felt exploited when I saw Lois and Clark together. Their relationship was healthy and loving and Lois was never depicted as being some kind of hot guy's reward.

      However, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the way sex has been used in these books since the relaunch. I can also tell you as a female that it seemed very clear to me that DC was selling a much more objectified porn fantasy for men with the media roll-out of the Supes/WW thing than they were years ago with the Supermarriage. The Supermarriage didn't objectify. The way SM/WW was approached did. It painted Diana as a porn object and made me uncomfortable.

      Here it just feels un-necessary. First, I don't really understand the need to make Jimmy Olsen "cool." One of the things I love most about Jimmy is that he's kind of that awkward guy who isn't cool. What is the purpose of showing him the shower with a woman? To pave the way to show Superman in the shower with a woman? It feels very...crass.

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    2. Excellent point, Richard - it's as if the New 52 is geared towards 15-year-old boys who can't imagine that the emotional aspect of knowing a woman could be interesting (as opposed to those 15-year old boys who could ... and the rest of us).

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    3. I don't mind a cool Jimmy, or even a fratishly immature one, as long as he doesn't lose his virtues of being the person there for Superman.

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    4. Your right about writers and artists slipping things past the code over the years. Brainiac 5 got away with flipping the bird several years ago plus got caught al natural in the woods when someone stole his clothes got by the censors.

      Another time a artist made Thom's (Star Boy) head look like a hairy pillow in Nura's bed and slipped it by the censors. (Well it's what I heard on how he got it by them.)

      I heard about where DC recalled a Superman issue because Pa Kent and Clark were having a couple of beers in it and reprinted it with them having a couple of sodas somehow got past the DC censors.

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    5. I think I'm going to have to turn in my Legion Fanboy card, Valerie - you're telling me thing I never knew. And I love it.

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    6. The picture showing Brainiac 5 flipping the bird is when he introduces the Legion flight ring to the Legion. The picture is out on the net.

      B5 was taking taking a dip in a pond to get cleaned up in the woods, after being lost in the woods for quite awhile. The pictures of those panels is out on the net somewhere too.

      Plus DC thought it was bad for Superman's image to have him drinking a beer. Guess they were afraid of the backlash of Clark drinking and flying at the same time was would from the public. Drinking and flying under your own power don't mix.

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    7. Brilliant, thanks for the tips, Valerie, I shall go a-searching!

      Changing that Action Comics cover was just ludicrous - the idea that a grown alien can't have a beer with his paw ...

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    8. Did you find the time to look up the images about Brainy? Google Images is a really great way to find most pictures on the net.

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    9. I found the finger, but not the woods and, tragically, no hairy pillow! Darn :(

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    10. I'll look to see if there is still a picture of the woods one still on Deviantart and post the link to it for you here.

      The hairy pillow one I don't know if its out there. I remember what I did about Thom being in Nura's bed from a artist who worked on the Legion series around the time. (I don't remember who is was.) Who claimed he heard it first hand when there was a small it hitting the fan about it at DC.

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    11. Thanks Valerie, it's appreciated.

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  3. Best Superman story I've read in years!

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  4. Sounds like a mixed bag. I'd initially planned on picking this one up -- like you, I've enjoyed Lobdell & Rocafort on Red Hood -- but the prospect of the H'el on Earth crossover pushed me away. I might check out the subsequent issue, or I might not. After all, by then I might have the Snyder/Lee Man of Steel comic to feed my Superman monkey.

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    1. I just knew that Crossover would put people off, Rob. There are far too many criss-crossing storylines in the revamped DC line.

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    2. Yeah, I think comics companies should really make an effort to making jump-on issues (and there should be at least two every year) to offer a complete story, or at the most be a two-parter. There's plenty of room in that format to add elements that entice a reader to pick up the subsequent issues, but when I first heard about H'el on Earth (and its $21 price tag), I thought, "H'el, no."

      I wanted to try this book. This was a team that worked on a book I enjoyed despite the characters, working on a character I really like that needed direction. And they pushed me away.

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  5. I will note that, whatever you think of Lobdell's portrayal of Lois--it is wildly inconsistent with what has been shown in the nu52 so far.

    Just 3 (4?) issues ago, she was shown holding firm against Edge's wanting to run unsourced infotainment on her newscast. Now, apparently, she's gone completely to the dark side, and won't even give Clark's critiques and concerns the time of day.

    Of course, that's one of the constant problems with this issue: it's too much too fast. Clark should have been shown fuming about this for at least a couple issues before walking out; Cat should have shown some prior sympathy/attraction to Clark; the degradation of Lois' news program should have shown.

    It's a whole issue of "tell, don't show," with the new team so desperate to get to point B they ignore Point A, and ideas that might have worked better with a build-up instead seem rushed and, as you said, douchey.

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    1. You're spot on as regards the pacing. The new guys want to make an impression, so they moved forward too soon. Now they've announced that they're here, they might slow down a tad and properly interrogate the new developments.

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    2. And PS-wise, one thing I did like about this issue was Perry's argument that you have to give people something of what they want in order to be able to slip them some of what they need. On the one hand, it'd be nice to see Perry standing firm against the onslaught of soft news, but that's been done in the past. I'm interested to see Perry engage with the realities of the 2012 naudience - sure, he could quit, but that wouldn't change things, it'd just mean Edge would slip an all-out yes-person into his shoes. He's an old newspaperman, but he's a smart newspaperman, and he's likely going to fight the tide of pap from within.

      As for Lois, we saw Clark's accusations. I'm looking forward to hearing her side, when she's not distracted by a big life change. Maybe she is producing a fluffy 'news' show, but you can bet she's making sure things are properly sourced. She'll be back on the Planet city beat soon enough.

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  6. Agreed!

    What the heck happened to the Lois who was so determined to stand up against Edge? Who made a good argument as to why was still going to work there? It's like she vanished and got replaced with this one...

    As for Clark pouting....really, he's been kissing Diana and then acts like this? I am getting very lost in this entire mess.

    Like you said, trying to get to point B but ignoring point A...I am at the end of my wits on this one.

    Sephiroth

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    1. Ah, hello Sephiroth, nice to have a name. Please don't let iffy presentations of Lois cause you to lose sleep. These things will pass. At the moment she is indeed being treated as low-ranking supporting cast member, rather than vital player. But she's freaking Lois Lane, the most famous woman at DC Comics and she will reassert herself.

      Meanwhile, I hope you're repurposing these impassioned posts, sending your concerns to DC in a letter, maybe starting a Lois Lane Defence League blog or something. She could do with a committed booster.

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  7. Good review Mart. Unfortunately, I didn't care much for this one, enough so that I think I'm going to move on after a year of enjoying Superman. I think whatever his faults that when Byrne rebooted Superman he did us a service by 'powering-down' the Man of Steel from the almost comically absurd levels of the Silver Age. A person who can press a planet for five days is just something exceedingly hard to wrap one's head around, I can't see how such a powerful person could even interact with human beings without shattering cities with an errant sneeze of the like. It also makes it exceedingly hard to come up with dramatic challenges (hey, skyscraper falling? No sweat, with strength like that Supes should be able to catch it with a finger). To make it worse Lobdell has Supes casually comment that he did this feat of strength after being out of the sun for five days! I'm not up for the adventures of such an over-powered being (seeing as how Action comics had Superman speed read a medical library and perform 'super-surgery' on Lois recently I'm guessing we will see a return to the goofy powers such as super-memory, super-intelligence and maybe super-ventriloquism), sort of a God-Man strip...

    Also, if this huge Dragon was from Krypton then wouldn't it easily destroy Superman? It would be empowered by our sun as well as he is, and the Dragon is friggin' huge.

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    1. I do wonder why Scott Lobdell presented Superman as quite so powerful. Actually quantifying limitations is different to presenting Superman as extremely powerful, but keeping it vague. It's going to be even harder than usual to make things seem like a threat.

      I am, though, a fan of super-intelligence and the like - I loved Kurt Swan's run for pointing up This Sort of Thing.

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