Superman #20 review

Ma and Pa Kent are visiting Clark and his family in Metropolis. The City of Tomorrow has never looked more futuristic, Lana Lang-Kent more stunning. And look at that cute puppy! We're about to meet Clark and Lana's little girl when ... SCRASHK WHAM!

Whatever the cause of his reverie, Superman is thoroughly knocked out of it by the New God Orion, convinced by the 'Prophecy Wall' that for a universe to live, Superman must die. There follows a massive fight between Last Son of Krypton and Apokolips' Dog of War which is only ended by the appearance of Wonder Woman. Superman's current girlfriend and Orion's ally, she's able to calm the situation and use her Lasso of Truth on Superman and reveal that while he isn't the problem, he does have one lurking in his subconscious - telepathic villain Hector Hammond ...

Scott Lobdell writes his second knockout script in a row, giving us a hugely entertaining fight scene in which Superman and Orion can really lash out for once. He gives good Wonder Woman too, with Diana choosing peaceful tactics over war as first resort. And Green Lantern villain Hammond gets the line of the week (click on image to enlarge):
My favourite bit of the issue, though, is the opening with Clark and Lana, a pairing I've always loved, wed. I adore seeing Clark living alternate lives, with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic 'For the man who has everything' being another great example. I only wish there'd been a few more pages of it, though this issue's ending tells us we've not seen the last of alt-Lana - I suspect she am not Clark's No.1, wink wink.

And how intriguing that in Superman's most private fantasies he's married not to Lois, not to Diana, but to Lana. There may be comments ...

With regular artist Kenneth Rocafort away, Aaron Kuder steps in to draw this issue and ... wow. I've rarely seen such a big, bombastic fight scene, with Kuder's cover perfectly previewing his interior approach - big panels, superb close-ups, a touch of Frank Quitely, sound effects that are pure Pop. If anyone at DC is reading this, a suggestion: have Kuder on standby to take over from Jim Lee when he departs the new Superman Unchained title. He's more than ready.

I would have said Kuder's Jonathan Kent was a tad off, but more likely he's been told to draw him around the same age as Man of Steel Jon, Kevin Costner, without a resemblance so strong that it would cause licensing issues.

Series stalwart Blond does his usual fine job of interior colouring, with Wil Quintana providing the unashamedly bright cover hues. Rob Leigh letters - and if he finished the sound effects, extra credit there - while edits are provided by Anthony Marques and Eddie Berganza. Great job, gang.

This book gets stronger by the month, and is now one of my DC favourites. There's no way I'd have been able to say that a couple of months ago ... I only hope the momentum isn't derailed by upcoming crossovers. Perhaps DC's higher-ups will notice how satisfying Lobdell's scripts are when he's allowed to concentrate on his own story rather than serve some supposedly bigger picture - because the pictures here are plenty big for me.


  1. Sounds like a blast, Mart! I think Superman might be another entry into my 1-month tightwad delay plan for online titles... you've definitely convinced me to give this a look.

  2. I'm just plain not reading any DC right now, save Wonder Woman. But I do covet you getting to see Aaron Kuder's art. I loved what I saw on Green Lantern New Guardians while I was reading it.

    1. Aha, thanks Jeff, I never knew Aaron did New Guardians, I'll have to check it out.

  3. Your thoughts on Clark and Lana are, in my opinion, sadly off the mark. The vision Clark is seeing is clearly of an ideal life, but it is one which is not possible. He has his parents alive and is able to afford servants for them. Lana is presented as the perfectly understanding wife in this scenario. Since what is presented in the vision a perfected unreality, it suggests that the real Lana may not have been as understanding as her alternative reality version was. Perhaps she was like her Post-Crisis counterpart who didn't want to share Clark with the world. Clark's not with Lana now for some unknown reason after all.

    This may be a good time to reflect on Morrison's Action run. Looking back, it's important to note two things. One, Clark leaves for Metropolis with no romantic tension with Lana. They're clearly not a couple and clearly have no issues about that. Two, another mental invader results in Superman imagining himself married to Lois Lane in a new Camelot.

    Since Action, Lana Lang has been completely absent from Clark's life. At one point, George Perez was planning on having her killed as part of Superman's past. I don't know if that's still true (Snyder alluded to using her in Unchained; although I'm not sure if it's a flashback). Regardless of whether she's alive or dead, Clark never thinks about her, talks about her, or visits her. When he's alone and pining after women, it is Lois Lane ("The most amazing woman he's ever met") who he pines for. In the previous issue, Clark's even shown hallucinating of a Wonder Woman costume clad Lois welcoming her man to their happy home for dinner and a kiss. Before Hammond touched Clark's mind, he notes that moments spent thinking about the details of his relationship with humans, especially Lois, are the moments that remind him most of his parents.

    I had a few problems with this issue. Superman is shown taking the time to make sure a museum is unoccupied so he can punch Orion through it, when he could have used the same amount of time to avoid the museum altogether. Superman acts like a brute when he trash talks Orion so callously by suggesting he wants to see him using a straw in intensive care (what kind of Superman says that kind of thing?). Orion whisked Clark away from Diana, yet it takes her most of the entire issue to show up to act as the deus ex machina. That's callous and sloppy writing that has the unintended effect of portraying Superman and Wonder Woman in a poor light.

    Finally, since this is the first time Clark becomes aware of the new goings on in Diana's life outside of their direct interactions, it's strange that he doesn't do more than say she doesn't need to explain herself. After all he's done to open up to her, and his declaration of love, she still doesn't trust him. Clark saw evidence of her lack of trust in him very clearly in this issue, yet does nothing to address it. It's a far cry from the supportive and sensitive way he addressed Diana's similar attitude way back in Justice League #13.

    1. Hello Anon, cheers for the comments. My thoughts on Clark and Lana are simply my opinions - no more off the mark than yours. We disagree is all. I'm not sure where this 'perfected unreality' idea comes from; I'm simply looking forward to seeing the story play out.

      Morrison's Action Comics took place five years ago - do we definitively know Lana hasn't figured in Clark's life between then and now. Or that Clark and Lana never had a teen thing that might have made marriage to Lana one of several marriage scenarios Hammond might mine?

      You're right that all things being equal, Superman should have made getting far away from Metropolis, but the fracas looks to have been taking place rather quickly. Really though, I simply enjoyed the bombast of it all - it's a big, daft superhero comic. And that's why I can let the 'straw' business go, he's trash talking a super-thug who's trying to kill him ... I do agree that's not the sort of thing Superman should be saying.

      Totally agree about the nonsense reaction of Superman to the Diana/Orion business, I'm pretty sure we're safe in guessing the Wonder Woman office wouldn't want that developed outside her own book.

    2. It's a perfected unreality because it's an illusion that is idealized; therefore it suggests that Clark's desire isn't necessarily to be with Lana per se but rather his desire is that she had been the person he dreamed she was. In this case, someone who was as understanding of his superhero life as she was portrayed in his hallucination.

      The way I see it, if Lana was someone Clark had unresolved romantic feelings for, their final scenes together in Action Comics would've had a different tone to them. In the penultimate one, they're on top of Clark's barn and Lana is talking about Clark going off to Metropolis to do great things. They're sitting close together with Lana's head on Clark's shoulder, but at no point is the idea raised that she would be going with him; there's no tension about their lives moving in different directions. This tone is carried through in their final scene where Lana and Pete pick Clark up at the farm house before Clark's ultimate departure for Metropolis. Thus there is nothing to suggest that Clark couldn't have had the life with Lana he was dreaming of, if possible and if desired, and nothing to suggest there was any regret or tension between him and Lana.

      Since leaving Smallville, Clark hasn't thought about Lana once. He hasn't visited her and she hasn't visited him. For people who one might assume were so close, they seem remarkably unconcerned about each other. When another individual with mental powers invaded Clark's mind soon after he left Smallville and arrived in Metropolis, it was Lois we saw Clark paired up with as husband and wife.

      So while I share your assumption that Clark and Lana had a "teen thing," I don't think it has any viability beyond that. A Lana happy with the superhero life, as with an alive Kents with servants, represents an almost Gatsby/Daisy-like scenario where Lana joins with Clark's parents as a representation of an idyllic past or innocence/paradise lost. It's a destructive and false image that has its roots in Clark's desire to run away from who he has become. He cannot repeat the past, he cannot be who he once was, and Lana may not be the person she was in his illusion.

      Anyway, thanks for the warm greetings and the reply. I appreciate it, and I appreciated reading your thoughts despite our areas of disagreement.

    3. Cheers, I really do appreciate you sharing your thoughts, you've given me some things to think about (Lana could be dead!).

      I will, though, be most upset if Clark hasn't contacted Lana over the years, what kind of a friend would he be?

  4. Oh Martin, you and I have never been farther apart in viewpoint. I thought this issue was, without question, one of the most terrible things I have ever read. I found it laughably bad.

    I actually quite like Lana. But the Clark/Lana pairing, though very sweet whey they are young, has always left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

    In comparison to Lois, who was always presented as a strong working woman who challenged gender norms, Lana was, instead, often presented as the perfect housewife. While Lois challenged and pushed what women were allowed to be (and was often punished for it by being calling her names), Lana upheld the stereotypes. Even now, in 2013, she still does. The idea that women are meant to be sweet and more quiet. To stand down. To me, the only thing Lana ever really represents is a facade and a fantasy life not rooted in Clark's true reality or where he's being true to himself. I actually DID quite like Lana on Smallville because that show attempted in the later seasons to give the character something else to work with and allowed her to explore darker sides of herself and actually be a person as opposed to a fantasy.

    Either way, it's a moot point as Clark actually did dream of marrying Lois in Action #12 in a pretty pivitol scene in Morrison's run. He dreamt of a Golden Age of heroism and happiness that was more closely rooted in reality. So you were only half right in your post.

    My major issue with this book though was the terrible characterization of Superman. I'm not sure what kind of Superman thinks it's ok to pound on a guy repeatedly without attempting to solve things with words first or tell a guy that it's ok to make him drink through a straw...but it's not my Superman. I'm not interested in this Superman. I don't like him. He's a jerk.

    My real problem though is that I can't take anything Lobdell does seriously. I genuinely think he only cares about controversy. I don't think he does any of these things with any of the women because he actually is trying to tell a true story. I think he does it to provoke. And see...I can't support that. Because I think it's more than clear that to Lobdell, Lois, Diana and now Lana are nothing more than pawns. Pawns he can throw in moments that will inflame people in order to cause controversy. I don't think he thinks about these women or what they mean to people or what kind of legacy he is creating for them. I just think he likes to cause trouble. The problem with that is....that means I can't trust him and I can't trust his narrative anymore. If I don't have faith that a writer is truly trying to tell the best story---as opposed to just trying to be provacative for the sake of it---then I can't remove him from the equation and read his story with clear eyes.

    Maybe I'm being a slave to my dignity as a woman here...but if I am...well I am. I can't respect or read a narrative that clearly view the women as objects and pawns. Pawns to provoke. Pawns to taunt. No real care given to what they mean to people.

    I don't know who wrote the above "anon" post. But whoever it was, they are dead on in their criticisms.


    1. Hullo Shades, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I must disagree that Lois 'was always presented as a strong working woman who challenged gender norms' - for all but the last couple of years of her own titles, and in the rest of the Superman Family books of the Silver Age, she was presented as a marriage-mad, Superman-stalking shrew (he was equally rubbish, of course, with all that Superdickery). It was only in the Seventies, beginning with #121, that Lois got over Superman and concentrated on her growing social conscience and journalism

      And Lana was no better, simply a ginger Lois - similar job, similar wants and ways. She was no less 'worthy' of Superman than Lois. But she grew up too, after her own decision to stop pestering Superman, and embarked on a new life in Europe. In the Bronze Age she returned and had a rather sweet, grown-up romance with Clark (though the writers' 'luv' affectation to denote European sophistication was beyond annoying). It was only post-crisis that she was rewritten as a small-town mouse, and even that Lana eventually grew into a strong-minded ally and friend of Superman and his wife Lois.

      I don't see how you can say that in 2013 Lana is 'still upholding small town stereotypes' - as Anon, above, says, we've barely seen her.

      Smallville Lana, I couldn't bear - far too clingy and weepy; she may have improved after her hiatus, but I only ever tuned in when there was a superhero guest ... Tom Welling's Superboy was just a wet blanket, and I abhor sentient holograms.

      You know I consider Lois to be The One for Superman, and am no fan of the romance with Wonder Woman. But that doesn't mean I'm against other romances en route to their eventual union, for both of them. Some of my favourite Superman stories saw him involved with other women, and none of them were disrespectful to any Lois/Superman match - there was Lyla Lerrol (no actual romance at the time with Lois to be disrupted), Lori Lemaris (pre-Lois) and Sally Selwyn (amnesiac Clark). Is there no way you could remember that Superman and Lois will get together, and be open to adventures with others - for both of them - en route. I really don't see that Lois is disrespected more than any other comic book character, they're every one subject the whims of creators at any moment. DC has published her continuously, unlike the vast majority of their characters. And in time, she'll be prominent once more.

      Have you ever seen an interview with Scott Lobdell backing up your suspicions about his intent? I don't always love his stuff, but I doubt he's deliberately trying to wind anyone up so much as shake things up - I've no doubt they'll settle down in the 'right' place.

  5. Hmm, I think I might have bailed on this title too soon (in Lobdell's first issue where he has Superman exerting a single drop of sweat after having hoisted several thousand tons for days I feared too much Silver Age was coming for my tastes). I haven't read this one but the other Lobdell ones have been pretty good (especially after getting out from under the H'el on Earth storyline), I tend to like Lobdell and the review sounds good here...

  6. Give it a try, Mr Whiskas, and report back!

  7. Great review! Great book! Nuff said

  8. As much as I might have enjoyed the fight(and that was mainly due to the art...WOW), Superman's characterisation was cringe-worthy and painful to read as he trash-talked. He really was a jerk.


  9. Hi, thanks for the response. Have you tried Firestorm #20? It features a very classic Superman.

  10. Just picked up issues 18, 19, and 20, and read them today. I have been one of the naysayers against the New 52 and its seemingly arbitrary changes (especially in light of how some books only got "sorta" rebooted, etc.), but these issues were big, crazy, fun Superman comics. Not missing the Lois and Clark marriage/relationship as much as I thought I would in this context, where they've only known each other a few years, etc. The bits with Lana at the beginning, and especially later on, struck me as especially creative and interesting.

    1. Hi, BollWeevilPrime - great name! There's definitely been an upswing post-H'el on Earth, fingers crossed it continues.

  11. Great review. Now Martin, I must confess that I hope they move away from the Lois and Clark stuff (for a very long time), I'm tired of it and desperately want something different. That would also put a end to the messy Lois/Wonder Woman/Superman triangle (Grrrrrr), which in my opinion, does nothing but cheapens all three characters.

    Plus, I don't think you have to worry about Lana being dead, DC vetoed that idea last year when George Perez brought it up. Anyway, I think Dc needs to shake things up where Lana is concern, her origin is same as it's always been. Her adult life needs to be different than what we have seen before or I will be very disappointed.

    Personally, I want her to have only kept sporadic contact with Clark throughout the years, so that if DC every decides to make her his love interest, their relationship will unfold more organically. This way, their relationship is not only new it's fresh, and it cuts down the mountain of backstory between them.

    I know for some ^^^ may throw a spanner into him subconsciously wanting her over Lois and Diana, but I don't care I want something new and creative.

    Long time lurker for time poster

    1. And welcome, Man of Steel, I'm glad you've broken your duck!

      The sooner the current love triangle is over the better - but it's Jonathan Carroll I feel for, he's like Mr Afterthought, created merely to create short-term tension and be dumped. And does that make the triangle a quadrangle?

      Thannks for reassuring me about Lana, she's one of my favourite comics characters - a good friend of Superman's, and a Legionnaire to boot! Well, reserve member, but still, not anyway could fly around flaunting a massive bumblebee bottom.

  12. Hey Martin! I finally caught up and read through your review, and saw a couple posters that really disagreed with you. But I think I am in the same boat as you. I did like this issue too and while people have their complaints about Lobdell (House of El ), I think he's doing a pretty good job of pulling the Superman title back up. I always enjoy when Superman can cut lose on someone else. Also, I took his "straw" remark as just smack talk like you did.

    I'm also a fan of seeing Supes' ideal dream world actually has him married to Lana. I don't mind DC shaking things up, so removing Clark from his romance with Lois is okay with me. I mean, I already saw that storyline in the Byrne, Ordway, Jurgens runs, so I'm open to change. I'm kinda excited to see the writers try to figure out this version of Superman.

    For the people not digging this new 52 Superman, you guys should check out the digital comic, Adventures of Superman (or wait for the compilation in print), it'll fill that void! They're great!

    Kuder's art is great fun!


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