Metropolis is buzzing about the new hero who made the scene last issue. At the Daily Planet editorial conference, Perry White asks all the right questions:
Yeah, what's with the long hair? As for the cape, Ulysses gets one later. Sort of.
Perry sets his team off to explore the story from various angles, with Lois Lane tasked with the big assignment - an interview with the lank-locked superhuman. Our girl is confident she can follow up her long-ago Superman exclusive with a similar-sized scoop.
Clark Kent wants answers too, and shows up at the office asking for Perry's help. A lifetime ago, the Planet editor went deep behind the walls of the Ulysses project which connects to the new hero who helped Superman best a mystery villain last time. Of course, he can't compromise his secret identity by telling Perry how much he knows and why. Old newsman Perry plays hardball - he'll tell Clark all he knows if Clark writes up his findings for the Planet, and agrees to pack in his news blogging for a staff job.
The pair's negotiation is interrupted as the subject of their conversation shows up at the Planet, having been looking for Superman. With no knowledge of the secret identity concept, he doesn't see a disguised Superman before him, just his new friend with different clothes and glasses ...
It's a terrific opening to the second issue by the new Superman creative team of Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson. In eight pages Johns gives us the best Daily Planet scene in maybe a decade, and that's mainly down to one character - Perry White. Too often neglected, Johns reinstates him as the heart of the newspaper, a grizzled newshound who always asks the right questions and knows which of his staff are best suited to get the answers. He tells Clark, 'I'm drowning in mediocrity...' but he doesn't believe that for a minute.
And Romita and Janson draw the pages perfectly, paying attention to expressions, movement and body language - this isn't a long sequence of talking heads, it's a fascinating people drama that has me yearning for a 'solo' Daily Planet series. I want more of this new Lombard, more laid-back amusing than boorish; new hack Jackee with her zest for life; super-efficient Ron Troupe; the Jimmy Olsen/Lois Lane team; and I can't wait to see the 'as good as signed' Cat Grant.
And as Perry is the heart of the Planet, so the Planet is the heart of a good Superman story. A writer can throw all the cosmic threats they want at Superman, but if he's not grounded as Clark Kent among a crew of dynamic, fun characters, what's the point? What is he fighting for?
Ulysses is fighting to protect his fellow humans, even if they're not the ones he knows from Dimension 2. Johns perhaps overplays the stranger in a strange land bit, making him seem more a Forrest Gump bumbler than a thinking hero, but when a bunch of giant toy soldiers interrupt his first encounter with Metropolis' favourite snack, he gets the job done. Not being much of a thinker, though, he makes rather a mess of a city street, ticking Superman off a tad when he arrives from investigating the Ulysses Research Lab (Url, which I rather like). Mind, this does give Johns a chance to sideways reference last year's Zod battle on the big screen in a way which has me nodding in approval.
There's an ending I didn't see coming, and another tiny not-quite-appearance by some mysterious figure from Superman's past.
Superman #33 is a splendid issue, one which leaves me far more engaged in Johns' Men of Tomorrow storyline than I was last month. My only real negative criticism remains, that Clark is such an old misery guts. You know, he's got a mystery to solve, but rather than show the fire of a great investigative reporter, Clark seems burdened. Yes, he gets results, but he's so much not a people person here.
This is further evidenced by the way he treats Ulyssses, patronising the heck out of him. Sure, he doesn't seem the brightest bulb, but his good intentions are obvious. Rather than allow him to be by his side as he probes his story, though, Superman tells Ulysses to stay put in his apartment until he gets back (if he really wanted Ulysses to be usefully distracted he might have said to go get a haircut...).
And Clark completely dismisses Ulysses' knowledge of his old foe Klerik. That's going to bounce back and bite Superman on his armoured arse.
Still, the story's going in the right direction, in an overall entertaining manner, and looking better by the issue. I'm intrigued by the person behind the scenes, and the toy soldiers and last issue's robot Titano have me hoping for a decent Toyman revamp. Clark's going to be back on the Planet staff any minute and Ulysses could wind up a useful superhero supporting player in the Vartox mould.
Johns and Romita are quickly developing a synergy: Romita deals well with a few very chatty pages, Johns knows when to turn off the talk and let Romita, Janson and the mainly excellent colours of Laura Martin (psst, forget 'realism', Superman's hair has blue highlights) convey the story.
The trio are also responsible for the moody cover, which amplifies a small moment inside into an image replete with foreboding. It's great work.
Romita's getting better at conveying Superman's flight, making him seem weightless, as if he's being drawn into the air. He looks a tad hunched at times, but I expect Superman will relax more as Romita gets used to the New 52 mandarin collar design.
All in all, a more than solid Superman issue, one which has me full of optimism for the future. It's amazing what a little Daily Planet can do.