The opening storyline of the Scott Snyder/Jim Lee showcase continues with a bit of action, a smattering of character work and lots of exposition. Recently revealed first superman Wraith reveals where he's from during a bid to make Superman feel so apart from everyone else that he'll join Sam Lane's secret military project. The elder alien has Superman imagine himself compared to his ageing, non-powered friends ten years hence, twenty years, decades from now.
Elsewhere, the head of Luddite terror group Ascension explains his plans to a captured Lois Lane before bringing things to a head by launching all the nuclear weapons on Earth.
There's another strand threaded through this issue, a flashback to Clark Kent's youth in Smallville. After being forced to reveal his powers to Lana Lang to save her from injury, Clark and mother Martha are attacked by a fear-maddened farmer. The sequence provides the issue's cliffhanger, which seems an odd choice - obviously, both survived the experience.
The sequence is beautifully drawn by Dustin Nguyen and coloured by John Kalisz, the autumnal golds of memory giving way to intense oranges as anger becomes the overriding emotion. It's good to see so many pages by Nguyen and Kalisz, but slightly concerning too - previously, they've illustrated just a couple of epilogue pages per issue, with Lee handling 20+ pages. Here the split is 17 from Lee, 9 from Nguyen. The flashbacks link to the present day thematically, in that they're about Clark's difference from other people, but seem inessential to the main storyline. Meanwhile, the suspenseful Lex Luthor/Jimmy Olsen strand from last time vanishes. Going by the solicitation for SU #5, Superman and Wraith were meant to be doing more than chatting:
Superman and Wraith form an alliance to rescue a hostage and strike at the heart of Ascension, but the mission goes awry when it becomes clear the Man of Tomorrow and the soldier from beyond the stars have very different methodologies—and objectives! Plus, secrets are revealed about Wraith’s people!
Well, Wraith tells Superman that his people are all about 'spreading knowledge. Spreading peace' but as for the rest, none of it occurs this time. And this issue's cover doesn't relate to the contents at all. I wonder if Lee, DC's co-publisher in his day job, couldn't deliver as many pages as the Wraith story needs, so Snyder restructured this instalment.
If Lee hasn't got time to get this story told (and the fact that this is just the fifth issue in eight months has me wondering) I'd be fine with him handing over the assignment to someone else, no harm, no foul. And if someone with a wider range of facial types were to come in, so much the better - the boss of Ascension hides behind a hologram of Sam Lane's face, then we see the illusion wiping away to reveal his own, and they're pretty much identical. 'Sam' looks far too young. Lee's art has problems in the other direction when we see Clark imagine Lois and Perry in ten years' time - they look like mummies. Lee is more successful with the flashier stuff, such as Superman manipulating his machines in the Fortress of Solitude and Wraith burning with energy. Scott Williams' bold inks mesh well with Lee's pencils, and Alex Sinclair's confident colour choices add an attractive finish.
I admit it, I'm impatient to learn where Snyder's story is going; this time we see how Ascension connects to Sam Lane and Wraith, and it's interesting stuff. Snyder obviously knows where he's going, and I'd like us all to arrive there more quickly than the current pace will allow. I appreciate a Smallville storyline as much as the next person, but it feels like they show up in one Superman title or other every month. DC should just replace the current Superboy book with a 'real' Superboy series and have the current day series move forward.
Snyder continues to write a great Lois Lane - smart, feisty, defined neither by her gender nor her relationship with Superman. Wraith has a personal integrity, but he's unnerving and untrustworthy. Superman is commendably open - or trusting to a fault, depending on your point of view. And the exchange between Superman and Wraith about patriotism and loyalty is a highlight.
Overall, this is a very good issue. Information is conveyed with style, tension is amped up and the book looks good - I just wish things were moving a little more quickly.