This isn't the originally solicited issue, it's a fill-in. I rather like fill-ins. They give the regular creative team a break and the reader a chance to see someone else’s take on a series. Sometimes we get a story with the title character to the side, as here - Superman #31 is basically a team-up between Lois Lane and Deathstroke the Terminator. She decides she's going to interview him after a typically reckless assignment with Jimmy Olsen.
That's so Lois. And Jimmy for that matter… beautiful idiots, a million miles from an assignment risk assessment. Why wouldn't she decide to sneak up on someone she believes kills indiscriminately? Perry reckons it's a great idea… after pretending he doesn't.
Honestly, it's a wonder anyone on the Daily Planet reaches pension age. And that's why I love them… as a journalist myself, in an age when reporters leave the office less and less, and a scoop is a lunchtime ice cream, it's wonderful to enter a world in which nothing matters but the story. I can turn a blind eye to such silliness as a professional snapper taking a photo without looking through the camera, or an editor who thinks Deathstroke, regular foe of superheroes, is an urban myth. I enjoyed this as a focus on Lois, particularly for such moments as that riposte to the overprotective Clark, and her investigative reporting in Prague.
I do have my usual Deathstroke problem, the DC view perfectly exemplified here by Lois’ assumption that watching out for a kid caught in his crossfire somehow makes Deathstroke other than a cold-blooded killer. It really doesn’t… the minute Lois tracks down Slade, her hubby should grab him by the mask tassels (what the heck are they for, anyway?) and haul him off to The Hague. Ah well, they've been painting Slade as ‘honourable’ since the Eighties, DC isn't going to change now.
When Bonny and artist Tyler Kirkham do have Superman, quite naturally and reasonably, pop up to give Lois an assist, it makes for a seriously exciting bit of Metropolis Marvel business.
Sadly, it's followed by a real headscratcher of a moment.
Superman’s saved his wife from would-be killers, they've run off around the corner, and he's just going home? Oh dear.
We also have the first four pages of the book, a sequence of Superman talking down a STAR Labs scientist gone mad or bad (number 283 in a series, collect the set). While Superman’s musings on Types of Killers does introduce Lois and Jimmy’s jungle action, it has no obvious bearing on the rest of the issue. Padding or something to follow up in next issue’s conclusion? I'll certainly be back to find out, as the energy and characterisation Bonny and Kirkham put into this issue provided more than pleasant distraction while sitting around an airport (Canada, we’re coming for you!). The montage in which Lois gets to ask Slade Wilson a few questions is just terrific, Kirkham and colourist Arif Prianto doing an especially fine job. And the character work is wonderful, from a gorgeous, smart Lois, to twinkly old Perry.
It's not all great, in one panel Clark reaches into his coat pocket with a flipper, but fill-in likely means deadline crunch, so congrats to the creatives for an issue that's as good as it is. Heck, Kirkham puts far more detail in here than many a series' regular penciller.
And the book has a killer ending.
Ian Churchill’s cover is a classic hero vs villain shot, while the variant by Jonboy Meyers looks like inventory, but more importantly, it looks very good.
So yes, Superman #31 is a fill-in. But it's a thoroughly diverting issue reminding us that Superman lives in a world of foolhardy, fantastic reporters - don't skip it.