Superman #21 review

In Metropolis, Hector Hammond, the most powerful psionic in the world, is at the centre of a tug of war. Helpess in an induced coma, S.T.A.R. Labs have him. The H.I.V.E. Queen wants him. A lab researcher who's been taken over by H.I.V.E. begins infecting others and soon they're making away with Hammond.

Over in Gotham city, news blogger Clark Kent meets a mysterious source who claims that Senator Hume, who has been campaigning against Superman, is a criminal with a hidden agenda, connected to something called The Twenty.

Chance circumstances see Hammond escape, and mind-touch everyone in Metropolis. Clark, who is is just entering the city's airspace, sees what's happening but isn't affected due to barriers applied by New God Orion. Encounters with Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White see them manifesting aspects of his personality.

And Hector Hammond, no longer helpless, confronts the H.I.V.E. Queen.

Writer Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort are really cooking on this comic, weaving a satisfying web of plots and subplots. If Hammond is the A plot, and Clark's latest story is the B, the C plots would include Jimmy's new status as a boy billionaire and Lois' relationship with live-in chap Jon Carroll. Admittedly, the latter is merely visually referenced this time - Jon appears in two panels, apparently fleeing a Saturday Night Fever convention - but it's there in the background. And Jimmy's new status comes up as part of Hammond's mental takeover.

In Jimmy's case, he's manifesting Clark's feelings of loneliness. I could live without it being posited that Clark is a lonely guy, given he was raised by probably the world's best parents, but then again, they are dead, like his genetic parents; it's not entirely unlikely he'll have some ongoing sadness there.

What I love about this issue, so far as Clark's characterisation is concerned, is this panel.
That's my Superman. Not the alien who hovers over his Justice League colleagues, strange and apart, but the man who won't let his heritage make him forget who he is.

(And I'm thrilled that Lobdell embraces the thought balloon over the fashionable narrative boxes - it's comics, let's love the grammar of the form!)

Other things I enjoyed this time include the new H.I.V.E. mission and accompanying acronym, Holistic Integration for Viral Equality; the way the Queen's communications are represented; and Clark engaging in investigative journalism and missing the Daily Planet. Oh, and there's a nice fake-out involving Lois that had me scared she'd reverted to a Golden and Silver Age schtick.

The art from Rocafort hits every beat of Lobdell's script, giving us such memorable images as the H.I.V.E. Queen's bathtime Cleopatra homage, the biggest Hector Hammond head ever and the look of our hero - there are some great facial expressions in there. Perry is possibly a bit too hot, too cut, but he is meant to be a ladies' man these days, so maybe he's hitting the gym. The storytelling is as good as the individual elements, with a clarity of vision that's great to see. The icing on the artistic cake is supplied by Blond, whose rich colours eschew modern comic fashions, and simply work for this book. And there's good work from letterer Rob Leigh too.

Tyler Kirkham and Arif Prianto's cover of Hammond a la Superman doesn't show a direct story moment but it does capture the mystery of Clark's shared emotions. And it's a creepily memorable image - I wonder if Hammond has the voice to match the formidable mien.

This comic is getting better by the month. If you like Superman, but the New 52 version hasn't been clicking for you, I suspect it will now.

Comments

  1. Sorry but a few decent moments doesn't excuse the overall poor quality Lobdell has been delivering in Superman. His script is clumsy, his plots are awkwardly executed and his characterisation is iffy. It's a sad day in my opinion that this guy is in charge of the Superman title. Still, at least there's Superman Unchained by Snyder and Pak will be writing Batman/Superman and Action Comics in the future.

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    1. So you've read this issue?

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    2. I've seen images online and read some reviews. They tell enough of a picture. And Lobdell's past work isn't impressive either. Again this is just my opinion on Lobdell's work but it's not impressive to me in the slightest.

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    3. I suspected you'd not actually read the comic. I've not always been a fan of Lobdell's work - I've dropped Teen Titans, for one thing - but it's weird to assume a person can't improve. I'd hate to be judged forever on my worst work, without anyone checking out what I'm doing today, and then have someone show up to spread half-informed negativity.

      If you're going to base your opinion on reviews, hey, there's one right here.

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    4. Half informed? I have plenty of experience with Lobdell's work on Superman. H'El on Earth was a mediocre, forgettable event. Evidently it's wrong to assume that people can't improve but Lobdell isn't doing it for me at all.

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    5. 'Half-informed' on this issue. I agree H'el on Earth was appalling. This ain't.

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  2. Thought balloons!? Maybe I'll buy this issue in order to give positive feedback. Should I send DC a Scooby Snack as a reward?

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  3. I think this merits an entire parade!

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  4. I agree Lobdell has done great with this book. I shouldn't be surprised because I usually like his work. One issue I have is this thing where Orion has given Superman protection from Hammond's mind powers. Lobdell has opted for a Silver Age Really, Really, Really Powerful Superman. Not my preference, but OK. With such a hero it's a good idea to get a bad guy who can uniquely challenge the hero. Hammond's mind power is the perfect foil to Superman's physical powers.

    But then they go and negate that by having a magic spell make Superman invulnerable to his powers.

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    1. You're right, Mr Whiskas. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if the more powerful HH can't effect Superman next time.

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  5. another good idea for a cover blurb do you dare enter the mind of hector hammond also in other news greg pak and aaron kuder are taking over action comics a pak has some good stuff planned of the plans is for the title live up to it's name action comics by have great action

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    1. Action should indeed be good.

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    2. what would really make my year is for their to be a kickass superman cartoon come out

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  6. It's too bad Lobdell can't keep Action but at least he's hitting home runs here in Superman! One of my favorite things too is that Superman is the mask, not Clark. Leave that idiocy to Batman, a character I lost interest in when O'Neil as editor had him become Bat-Dick and Bruce became the mask...

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    1. Definitely. I don't think Bruce has really existed as a character since the Conway/Moench/Colan/Newton days.

      And what days they were.

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  7. Great review.

    I also loved everything about the Queen here, from the look and feel of her bath, to the buzzing communication to her drones.

    This has been better than early Lobdell. I like this story arc. So hopefully this trend continues!

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