Superman #38 review

This is the issue I've been waiting for. DC teased that Superman was getting a new super-costume. Then they let us know he was getting a new super power. But they kept the issue's real Big Moment under their hat. 

Finally ... Ulysses gets a haircut. The lank, blond locks are incinerated as Superman's new super-power manifests. DC are calling it a 'super flare'. Almost right - it's a 'Supergirl Flare' - an ability the Girl of Steel has had since the beginning of the New 52 line-wide revamp in 2011. 
Quick recap. Ulysses promised the dispossessed of Earth the world. He took several million folk to his adopted planet, where he intended to turn them into cosmic fertiliser. Superman threw a spanner in the works and everyone was returned home. In the process, the Great World of Ulysses - Neil, to his parents - was destroyed. He's raging, and attacks Superman over Metropolis. Superman, feeling that Neil is a victim of his upbringing, doesn't want to hurt him. Neil, though, hits him with so much force that Superman turns on the heat vision big time. And the heat vision turns into something else - a massive blast of force, all the energy of his solar-powered cells in one burst. Neil doesn't stand a chance. 

Superman passes out, while Neil is taken to Stryker's Island prison and put into an energy-draining cell. Batman secretes his friend in the Batcave, does some tests and explains what's happened. For 24 hours, until he recharges, Superman will be an ordinary guy. 

Back in Metropolis, Clark files the story, reveals he can't write a headline to save his life, visits the bitter Neil in jail and is treated to lunch by Jimmy. The cub photographer has a secret he wants to share - inspired by a speech Superman gave to Neil mid-battle, he's in the process of giving away the billions of dollars his supposedly deceased parents left with him. He knows they're trying a scam and will return 'from the dead' and has had enough of their games. He's going to do some good. 

Clark, touched by Jimmy's gesture, and realising that his need for a friend made him easy prey for Neil's tales of woe, makes a decision. 

If you don't want to know what that is, stop reading now. I'll get to it soon. 

If we never see Neil/Ulysses again, I'll be a very happy bunny. In large part due to penciller John Romita Jr's hugely unprepossessing design, I've found him an annoying presence. The dull costume, the miserable, sharp features, the vile, vile hair-don't. But I've also hated the way he took Superman in. Clark is supposed to be an ace reporter, but didn't display an ounce of credulity when it came to Neil, allowing the superficial similarities of their backgrounds to colour his dealings with him. Superman spent the entire story projecting a benign personality upon him. 

And still, this issue, with all he now knows, Clark is wanting to be Neil's friend. He's responsible for the deaths of millions of people from other worlds and was ready to sacrifice more from his homeworld of Earth. The guy deserves to be thrown into the biggest, darkest hole in the Phantom Zone, but Clark sounds ready to be a character witness. 

Hopefully, Clark's dealings with Jimmy represent an epiphany, an insight into what a good person is - it's about what a person does, not who they say they are. And here's that big spoiler I was putting off...
Revealing his secret identity to Jimmy represents a big change to the legend, but I'm all for it. For decades, the character had his own book, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen - he was meant to be Superman's best friend, yet he never knew the secret. Well, now he does, and it opens plenty of new avenues for the story to explore. 

I'd like to see Lois told too, but where she is in the story at the moment - still coupled with Jonathan Carroll, we're told - doesn't allow for it. One day, it'll happen - by which time Jimmy will likely have had his memory wiped. Such is comics. For now, I'm keen to see where writer Geoff Johns goes with this. After seven months of the Men of Tomorrow storyline, I'm incredibly keen to move to new territory. With luck, the coming months will feature plenty of Jimmy, Lois, Perry and the rest of the Planet staff, some of whom appear on this month's wraparound cover. 

Lois and Perry are in this issue, more checking in than contributing to the narrative, but I'll take it. The post-Neil Metropolis scenes are the issue's highlight, featuring recognisable human beings. The new super power isn't a huge deal - as I say, cousin Kara has it already, and I can't see it becoming a permanent part of either' power set; it's just too much of a fight-ender. 

Regarding the 'new costume', it's a slight improvement on the Jim Lee-designed armour, though not actually different enough to be considered a fresh look. It's a tweaked version of a bad look - the classic boots are great, but the belt is different for the sake of it, and the collar is too conspicuous to work with Clark's street clothing, as are the fingerless gloves, which also manage to be horribly ugly. Inker Klaus Janson, when he wasn't adding his trademark rough blacks and more delicate lines, should've wiped them out with his eraser. 
As with the story, the art is at its best in the city scenes after the supposed main event. Romita and Janson have a knack for depicting everyday people and it serves the cast well here. Clark looks miles better today than at the start of the New 52, especially in the prison scene - casual suave, I'd say. The 'acting' of Jimmy and Clark is first rate. The final page image of Superman in his altered duds is one of the better hero shots we've had from an artistic team who seem a little uncomfortable with Superman. 
The aforementioned speech is nicely written by Johns, but I wouldn't have staged it with Superman floating above the people - he should've got down among them. And definitely, no finger wagging. 

That's not to say the art is bad, just that for much of the issue, it's too much bombast and not enough heart. Certainly, six pages of the flare manifesting is way too much, though Johns should take some blame there for writing 'six pages of the flare manifesting' or whatever. 

Romita and Janson do impress with the spread of Superman and Batman in the cave - attention has been lavished, and it shows. Colourists Laura Martin, Ulises Areola, Dan Brown and Wil Quintana brings the best out of the art throughout, with this scene being a standout. So far as the story here goes, I'm pleased Johns has Batman state that he trusts Superman with the new power - it makes a change from him chasing down his chum with a Kryptonite ring. 

Nathan Fairbairn colours the Romita/Janson cover and it rather pops. But boy, the faces of Superman and Neil are just horrible. If this were the Seventies, DC would've had an experienced Superman hand draw over them. The very capable 
Sal Cipriano provides lettering - editor Rickey Purdin has assembled some great talent here. 

So, that's the end of the Men of Tomorrow story. It's had some good moments but has been far too drawn out, and hurt Superman's character by making him seem at best wilfully naive, at worst, a bit thick. But Johns wrote a great Superman back in his Action Comics days, and can do so again
. Shorter storylines, more varied villains and lots more Lois would be a great start. 

Oh, and red trunks. Definitely, red trunks. 

For now, I'm keen to see how Jimmy reacts to the big news, and what the Mystery Observer who's been spying on Superman for months has in store. Where does he keep his cameras?


  1. Thanks for the review!! You make a really good point with regards to Lois. "where she is in the story at the moment " This is key. I have no idea what the current situation with Lois is in terms of corporate restrictions. However, for awhile there it seemed to me at least, as if they were trying to keep her well on the sidelines as they were building the Diana/Clark relationship among other things. I've felt lately there has been some softening in that stance, albeit not as much as I'd like to see.

    I too would like Lois to know. I know we're told she forget this knowledge after the Brainiac arc, it'd be nice if she actually did keep it but decided to keep it quiet, deciding to let Clark drive if he wanted to tell her or not.

    The problem as I see it in the Superman/Lois and Clark/Lois relationship post reboot is they really haven't' built it up. For the first couple years I felt they were so busy trying to remove her inevitability as end game love interest that they decided to keep her away from both personas as much as possible. As if that is or was a reasonable goal. I think at least it is so ingrained in our collective pop culture, that is was a herculean task to undo it. Sure, a few times we're told they are best buddies but that is far and few between. Unchained gave us a glimpse of that and a few times here and there in other books over the course of time, but nothing consistent.

    I completely get the frustration that Lois doesn't know and why it feels that Jimmy being told first is a proverbial diss to Lois. However, I really think this is a much larger issue in that it hinges on what the publishers want to do with these characters.

    I've seen no indication on page at least that the current publishers are interested in a pre Flashpoint Lois/Superman or Lois/Clark dynamic. Be it pre or post crisis. For whatever reason they do not want Lois in the role of the confident or lover. I don't understand why and maybe some day when this chapter is over and done and we get new management in, the rationale will be explained?

    In the meantime, I do understand why they want somebody who works with Clark to know, because it offers what we got when Lois knew, a window in to the whole man. Something I feel has been lacking since the reboot.

    Do I wish it had been Lois? Yes. However, I also think this is indicative of the larger corporate direction and that is the focus of my frustration.

    1. Thanks for the brilliant insights Maya. I've nothing to add, just that when the day comes and Lois is once more prominent, I'll be thrilled. Meanwhile, I wish people would allow themselves, like you, to see the great stuff that is around Superman right now, rather than seeing the absence of Lois and nothing else.

    2. Thanks Martin!! Thank you for your thoughtful reviews and the time and care you take on them. Also, sorry for the typos. I meant role of the confidant not confident, as well as all the other mistakes I made. :/

    3. While I agree with most of what you wrote, Maya, I think there's a place for analyzing the text as well as the meta-text. Sure the meta-text (the larger corporate and editorial issues) may, if not definitively, explain why Jimmy is now in the know instead of Lois, but that doesn't excuse the lack of logic in the actual text. For Martin to say, "I'd like to see Lois told too, but where she is in the story at the moment - still coupled with Jonathan Carroll, we're told - doesn't allow for it" is a terribly troubling belief for the author of both the story and the reviewer to hold. A female friend having a boyfriend isn't a logical reason (meta-textually or in-text) to not confide in a said female best friend. Furthermore, now that the story logic points to Superman not worrying about the danger his secret puts human confidantes in, he could have told Lois AND Jimmy. There's no justification for not extending this newfound open attitude of Superman's to his female friend, and, no, Lois Lane's current and future romantic connections are not sufficient reasons. -Libby

    4. Thanks for your thoughts Libby, but in this case I think by not acknowledging the larger issue with what is going on with DC's attitude towards Lois analyzing the text doesn't really address the problem at all. There is no justification or logical reason fictionally for Lois not to be told in this situation. Her having a boyfriend is tenuous as best, but it's being used because the writers are *not* allowed for whatever reason to use Lois in any meaningful way. Recently, they had Superman behave in way which almost cost Lois her life because he didn't want her to remember he was Clark. That was ridiculous and totally out of character.

      As to your other comment about Perry, yes I was hoping it would be Perry White but I think the writer wanted a friend closer to Clark's age to be in on the secret to bring in what has been lacking post reboot, and this a more holistic view of Clark/Superman/Kal. Jimmy, unlike Perry, is more of Clark's contemporary not his boss and would be on the ground with him in ways Perry isn't, the way Lois was pre reboot. However, because Lois is *not* allowed to be in her pre Flashpoint role, they are grasping at straws why it can't be Lois.

      I think one can point to irrationality of the reasoning on page but without the pointing out the larger real life corporate restrictions that surround Lois, it misses the point.

      Lois wasn't told because DC doesn't want her to know and that is the reason. The rest of this are writers working with one proverbial hand tied behind their back making weak defenses for something that can't be answered in any meaningful way other than "Dan won't let me".

    5. I admit I haven't followed many of the books (because I hate the basic setup and current regime) but they keep changing their minds anyway about what is allowed and what isn't. I don't know if the situation is still that Clark is "pining" for Lois or not, but that would be a psychological reason to confide in someone else. (It may also be that the writers can't mention that; with the move TPTB seem particularly unorganized but there haven't been any major faux pas for a while.)

      With those restrictions in mind, I think it's an interesting dynamic to let Jimmy in on the secret. I don't recall that having been done before, and it makes sense that he'd test the waters with someone in Metropolis before he is able to make that connection with Lois.

      The whole thing is a mess, but everything is affected by the editorial mandates of the past several years (which seem to have begun way before New 52). All that's left is to see how well the stories are done within those restrictions.

    6. Libby, welcome to the blog. And for goodness sake, don't be so troubled by my opinion. It's the opinion of one person, half a world away, and whether you agree or disagree, it's no threat to the fictional Lois. Hey, it's opened a conversation.

      So, why tell Jimmy and not Lois?

      1) Lois going out with Jon IS a valid reason - no matter how close Superman feels to her, the secret is a big weight. She can keep it, he'll know that, but he also knows that Jon is a very sharp man; he'll see something is on her mind, and it'll drive a wedge between them. Maybe down the line.

      2) Then there's the fact that Lois was possessed by Brainiac, seemed cured, then turned out to be still possessed. If, somehow, Brainiac didn't take on the knowledge when Lois found it, why risk it until he knows Lois is clear?

      3) Clark and Jimmy have shared apartments twice. They really are good friends. There are no sublimated romantic feelings complicating matters - Superman has to have picked up on how Lois feels about him, and vice versa. Jimmy is a friend he believes he can share his feelings with, day in, day out.

      4) It was an impulse, after a really tough week, and in the wake of Jimmy showing what a good soul he is. Had Lois been there, he might have told her.

      5) Wait and see - we've had two pages of this subplot. Give Johns a chance to tell us.

      I absolutely agree with your points about Perry White, in your second comment. I spoke in earlier reviews about how much I loved the Perry/Clark scenes, and though Johns had a plan in mind for the two. The ID reveal is the extremely logical extension of their relationship, and I'd have been hugely interested to see what happened there. It seems that Johns swerved, and made Jimmy the choice somewhere down the line.

      And I'm fine with that. Young men need role models as much as young women, and Jimmy has been underused in the comics since the 1990s. A strong subplot, with him front and centre, gives readers a chance to get to know him properly again. Just because Lois has been sidelined - and it's undeniable that she has been - is no reason not to use Jimmy here, or Lana in Action. If writers weren't using the rest of the cast, we'd still likely get precious little Lois, just stories with no regular folk interaction. I'm supporting Jimmy, and Lana, thanking DC for giving me characters I love - they're as important to me as Lois - while asking for more Lois, month in, month out. I want the whole Superman family around, with Lois prominent, but not pre-eminent. Superman should be the star of his own book, with Lois, Jimmy and whoever else - there has to be a good Steve Lombard story one day! - sharing the spotlight. Let Lois and Jimmy have their own series again, or specials, or be the star of a Daily Planet series. But this is Superman's title.

    7. Maya, Godzylla, you're right to acknowledge the corporate restrictions in place around Lois. It drives me mad. I think I'm going to see if I can nag a comics journalist into pressing Dan DiDio on why he apparently dislikes her severely...

    8. Martin, I'd be your best friend forever if somebody would ask DiDio *why* the company is going to such lengths to sideline Lois post reboot.

      As for the Jon excuse, I didn't think it made sense in the story, I thought it was used to avoid having anybody explicitly say that they didn't trust Lois with this. Now, if they brought in Brainiac and the worry that she wasn't Brainiac free as a cause for concern, that would be good, but then that would probably lead to unwanted subplots and suppositions.

      The way I see it is currently the writers are not allowed to use all the pieces on the game board so they have to twist themselves in to knots to explain inorganic choices. I completely agree with both of you that Perry would have been a great choice and wish it had been him, but I can see why they wanted a contemporary in Metropolis and since the logical choice is not allowed, this was the default.

      Honestly? I am rooting for a full on Flashpoint 2.0 to start from scratch without all these editorial restrictions and interference. I know. I know. I am waiting for Godot.

  2. "The new super power isn't a huge deal - as I say, cousin Kara has it already, and I can't see it becoming a permanent part of either' power set; it's just too much of a fight-ender."

    Funny you should use this turn of phrase, as the New 52 redesigns all look suspiciously like something for the Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe fighting game. I will now trot out a joke I have made before many times:

    Mortal Kombat is just a bunch of thin caricatures in poorly-designed costumes working their way through crap stories that are far too violent for the children they're clearly aimed at, and don't get me started on their stupid oversexualisation of the female characters... anyway, I have no idea why they've thought DC Comics characters would be a good fit for this franchise.

    Well, there you go. That was the joke - you're welcome.
    Anyhoo, between MK and DCU Online, a lot of the redesigns seem to be for synergy with videogame adaptations, so I liked your "fight ender" turn of phrase as it suggests it's a move that Superman will deploy in fighting games when he's charged up at least 2 bars of his EX meter - no I haven't gone mad, that is really a thing that happens in fighting games. It also happens about once a season in Dragonball, where the heroes deploy their super-move that they've been charging at the end of a season and win the fight, but then next season they try it on a powerful enemy but he shrugs it off or has a countermeasure so that we know he's bad news and the hero is in trouble, so you can probably expect that to happen to Supes at some point in the near future.

    1. Cards on the table, I know nothing of Mortal Kombat, but I don't fancy it from what you say. I'm obviously right on the zeitgeist. Er... Superman's fight-ended may be his answer to Wonder Woman's stupid God Mode, which even sounds like video game stuff.

  3. To add to my previous commentary, in terms of storytelling logic, Perry White would have made a lot more sense as the new confidante. The story started with Perry urging Clark to open up to someone, and he and Clark already have a nice father-son bond that's sorely missed with Jonathan Kent's absence. Even better, it would help explain Clark's decision to rejoin the DP as a reporter since Perry knowing would help Clark avoid some of the problems that motivated him to leave, such as not wanting to report on himself (Superman) and not wanting to get grilled so often because of his inability to make deadlines and meetings. I understand that such a development would eliminate some of the comedy and tension that can come from those conflicts, but since they're rarely used anymore as it is, I think they're not reason enough to opt not to go for the more reasonable confidante in Perry White. Again, I like Jimmy knowing, but it's opened a can of worms that makes it difficult to accept Clark's not confiding in others. What is Clark's in-story motivation for choosing one person over another? -Libby

  4. We agree on a lot here.

    While Ulysses is a decent concept, a Superman origin turned on its head, he never grabbed me as a decent long term character.

    I also think the art is a bit too rough for my taste.

    As for the big changes in the book, I think I am going to need time to see how it all plays out.

    The flare power (and subsequent vulnerability) is a decent new power (or old if you count Kara using it). But if overused or used just to make him weak for a day, it could be tiresome.

    And Jimmy makes some sense as a confidante as he is Clark's best friend. There hasn't been enough "lois and Clark" or "Lois and Superman" for Lois to make sense (as much as I wish it did). I think Lois should be the closest person to Superman and Clark - but that is not the reality of the new 52. I thought Perry would be better.

    And now we know Johns is leaving. Odd all the way around.

    1. And now we know Kara is losing her book, Cuz gets to have the power to himself, boo!

  5. Very underwhelming issue.

  6. Indeedy, thank goodness Action is around to whelm.

  7. That's atrocious art, but then I think NuSuperman is atrocious. Not necessarily related to any post here but I just don't understand why so many comic fans will still buy a comic book series despite them not liking it. I think more people need to think that if they would't read for free bad fiction why pay for it. Also, as long as DC, or Marvel for that matter, gets the money, they will still go in all the wrong directions.

    1. Hi Uncle Screensaver, thanks for the comments. why buy something we don't like? I just keep on hoping for a run of good issues... the announcement of a new writer come June may turn things around. If JR JR decides to try pastures new, I'll not complain.

  8. Hi Martin

    I didn't notice the fingerless...are they gloves? Until you pointed them out. I think the belts still worse though and at this point I'd take the classic costume with BLUE trunks if that's what it took to make them stop fiddling with it.

    The Jimmy reveal is giving me flashbacks to J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man with Aunt May discovering Peter's secret while he's sleeping off a massive fight. Romita's even drawing this one too! Uncanny! Here's hoping the Planet's big three all get to be in on the secret eventually. Also that the Kents turn up alive. A nice modern update of the Superman Family concept.

  9. Hi Simon, I really enjoyed how JMS handled the Aunt May reveal, her writing letters to the Daily Bugle was beyond adorable. As a Silver Age kid, I'm OK with the Kents being dead, but I hate the fact that in this continuity Pa died in a car crash.


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