To get the obvious out of the way first, I want Truth to be over. I want Superman back in costume, powered up and living secretly as Clark Kent, playing well with his full supporting cast. I want Lois and Clark relations normalised. I want Perry White to reclaim his life from whoever the heck is impersonating him at the Daily Planet. I want an end to depressing covers like this John Romita Jr misery miniature.
After last issue and this, though, I'm a lot happier with the stories writer Gene Luen Yang is telling. Since artist Howard Porter replaced John Romita Jr - the assignment seems to be ongoing, not temporary as originally thought - this book has become an awful lot better. Yes, the Truth business has to be served, with Clark trying to push Jimmy away when the ginger snapper tracks him down with the aid of former villain lackey Condesa. And he's still unpopular with the general public... but that fact makes it more understandable that he'd retreat to a community of mythological folk in California, take a breather while trying to connect the dots to learn what the sinister Hordr group is up to.
And we see here that when not taking part in the rehearsed battles of Mythbrawl, he's using his skills as an investigative reporter. He's putting together the last movements of missing Mythbrawl participant Apolaki, with a fun scene showing him interviewing a good-time gal ghost. This comes as he spends a night on the town with Hemosus, like Apolaki a near-forgotten god who gains the strength to exist from the adoration of crowds.
Superman also seems to be benefiting from his popularity in the arena, but I don't buy that. It has to be that he's simply had a couple of weeks to absorb solar radiation, a fortnight without massive, draining battles with monsters and supervillains.
After the battle that opens this issue, Mythbrawl boss Shahrazad uses her healing powers to repair a facial cut, at the same time 'reading his story'. She gets the bare bones right, but Clark kicks against her interpretation of recent events.
Might I say, hurrah? He hasn't lost his belief in human nature, hasn't become entirely cynical. Yang tries hard to sell us on Clark telling Jimmy to keep away because he fears for his safety - heck, Lois seems to have gotten the message, she's not in this issue at all. (I trust she's off pursuing her own investigations and will return soon to help out Clark, whether he wants it or not.)
Using information from the bar ghost, Clark finds the secret lair of Hordr associate Yurei - a cross between a woman and a Swiss army knife - and winds up battling first her, then one of the mysterious Sand Superman beings. He holds his own, until something awful happens, something that brings a rather interesting cliffhanger.
I won't spoil that, it's final page stuff, but I will say it gets to the heart of the way Superman's been acting lately, challenging him to remember the hero he was or to embrace the meaner personality that's been emerging of late.
This is a great read, with lots of fun moments that knit together to create a satisfying chapter. Condesa's talk-to-the-machines power helping Jimmy find Clark. Superman's willingness to take Hemosus up on his offer of a relaxing post-fight pub crawl. Jimmy's faith in his pal. The fight in Frisco (I know nobody calls it that, but hey, alliteration). And this panel, which obviously isn't a dig at online commentators.
Sharazad's power is rather convenient when it comes to reminding Clark where he came from, but it makes perfect sense in terms of the Mythbrawl community. Jimmy has a flashback of his own, when he pops into a Big Belly Burger for a bite, and it's a nice look back to the beginning of his friendship with Clark.
And it's all beautifully drawn by Porter, who gives us pages packed with characters, Easter eggs and even a Stan Lee cameo. Are these pooches not adorable?
And I love Hemosus' going-out gear.
But he always puts the story first, getting us from A to B in a massively entertaining manner - the fight with the Sand Superman is one of the best action spreads I've seen in ages. Plus, I love his Jimmy, he's utterly classic, not the sweaty, I'll-dressed oik we've seen in recent months.
Add in the vibrant colours of Hi-Fi, the sharp letters of Rob Leigh and a wonderful Looney Tunes variant cover by Ryan Sook and Spike Brandt, and you have a meaty, good-looking issue that uses the Truth set-up without twisting, blackening, Superman's character.