Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Johns, Romita take on Superman’s big blues

Expectations

Expectations

For their first issue of Superman, writer Geoff Johns, penciler John Romita Jr. and inker Klaus Janson (with colorist Laura Martin and letterer Sal Cipriani) have served up an intriguing blend of action and introspection. There are the requisite nods to semi-obscure (Titano!) and really obscure (J. Wilbur Wolfingham?) Superman minutiae, and one subplot seems destined to undo a New 52 development. However, while Issue 32 of Superman Vol. 3 is concerned with managing the Man of Steel’s status quo, a good bit of it revolves around the new character(s) that will apparently drive this story arc.

Accordingly, the issue doesn’t feel quite so much like the start of a bold new era (although it could well be); instead, the new creative team uses the issue to ease into its story, such that the action serves the character work. Considering that almost half of the issue involves fight scenes, that seems like an odd observation, but it’s kind of an odd issue overall.

The question then becomes whether those characters — Superman included — are compelling enough to follow month in and month out. Last month, Johns told Comic Book Resources that readers should “[j]ust give us one issue and that’s all. I think we’ll earn your trust and your time and your investment in one issue because I really believe in this first issue and I really believe in what we’re doing.”

Whether Superman #32 meets that standard is therefore somewhat unclear. It lays out the characters and their concerns pretty broadly, and (somewhat like Johns’ and Ivan Reis’ Aquaman) it depends to a certain extent on answering reader frustrations. Still, on balance, it works. This is a very good issue of the New 52 Superman, with all that implies.

Read on for more, and as always …

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Superman #32′s main hurdle is its big new guest star, Ulysses, whose origin is basically the same as Superman’s. Instead of Krypton, Ulysses comes from a parallel Earth (called “Dimension Two”); instead of Krypton’s unstable core, Dimension Two is destroyed by something that looks an awful lot like the anti-matter from Crisis on Infinite Earths. Don’t be surprised if this arc ends up pointing the way to the Anti-Monitor’s big (re)appearance, is what I’m saying. Also, Ulysses gets his powers from the “undefinable energies” permeating the atmosophere of DC-Earth (or “Dimension Four”); Dimension Two is apparently a lot more violent than DC-Earth. (Insert Geoff Johns dismemberment joke here.)

This would be fine, except Johns just got through with a Superman from another Earth with a big U on his chest, stomping around DC-Earth in the pages of Forever Evil — and, of course, Supes is fighting a less-exact parallel of himself in Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained. Here, creating a more benign “last son of Earth” seems like an on-the-nose solution to Superman’s latest bout of ennui.

And hold on — ennui, you say? In a Superman book? Yes, impossible as it may seem, the Superman of the New 52 now finds himself reduced to lonely nights with heat-visioned food and old photo albums. In trying to convince Clark Kent to rejoin the Daily Planet, Perry White tells him:

You could’ve asked Lois out a dozen times, but instead you hold yourself back and let a guy like Jonathan Carroll swoop in. And if you ask me, part of the reason you left the Planet in the first place was to keep your distance from all of us. But everyone needs someone to talk to, Kent. I’m not saying I’m that person for you — because I am not — but you need to go out there and find someone who is. It can’t be that hard, can it?

Cue a page’s worth of panels showing one of Clark’s aforementioned lonely nights — Wonder Woman’s got her own problems, Lois is out (perhaps with the new reporter Perry mentioned on the previous page) and so is Batman, Jimmy’s dealing with his parents’ lawyers, and (although it feels odd to say in a Superman book) his parents are dead.

In the context of the New 52 Superman, these two pages of Perry and Clark are almost revelatory. Since the relaunch, the various Superman creative teams haven’t really known what to do with the traditional supporting cast. This issue suggests Ulysses will be Superman’s newest pal, but that’s clearly only in the short term. Once Ulysses’ storyline is resolved, whatever lesson Supes has learned from him seems likely to lead straight back toward the Daily Planet. There’s a new reporter to meet, Perry has the aforementioned bit of expositspiration, and Johns spends another page and a half (or so) on a Jimmy Olsen subplot. If those aren’t signs that things are getting more traditional, I don’t know what are.

Seriously, the fact that a Perry White soliloquy drives the plot is both amazing and frustrating. Of all the main Superman supporting characters, Perry comes closest to a caricature. Lois and Jimmy have had their own series, but Perry’s always in the background. He’s a gruff-but-lovable combination of every crusading-newsman trope since The Front Page. In the “triangle number” days, he got a lot of attention because there were enough pages to go around. However, in the space of three pages (one with Jimmy and two with Clark), Johns, Romita and Janson re-establish him not just as a patriarch, but as the guy who can say “this is how things should be.” Indeed, referring to Luthor’s victory in Forever Evil – but maybe not just that, hint hint – Perry tells Clark “things have been turned upside down.” Carnage has been good for the news business, which is apparently why Perry is hiring; but when Clark rejects the offer, Perry doesn’t go into Clark’s journalistic qualifications. Instead, he makes it clear that as much as the Daily Planet needs Clark, the reverse is also true.

Romita and Janson bring this home in a pair of closeup panels at the bottom of Page 11. The first has Perry looking at Clark earnestly but seriously as he delivers the “someone to talk to” speech. This is probably the best Perry White has looked in years — brow slightly furrowed, eyes wide but not pleading, with all the reader’s attention directed up and left, following Perry’s firm gaze into a well-organized series of speech balloons. The next panel comes in even closer on Clark, who’s looking down and to the right, eyes slightly lidded behind his glasses, as he contemplates Perry’s “can’t be that hard” query. Romita has therefore faced the two away from each other on the page, reinforcing the gulf between them that Perry’s describing. It’s a neat capper to a critical sequence.

What’s frustrating is that it also reinforces Superman being reactive throughout the issue. He’s at the Planet because Perry asked him there. He calls Wonder Woman and Batman because Perry suggested he find a friend. He fights the monster du jour, and consequently meets Ulysses, because he hears a call for help. (Johns doesn’t give Superman any thought balloons or internal narration, but then again nobody else in the issue has them.) That’s why I think this may be a hard sell for newer readers, who might expect Superman to have a little more agency in his own title. However, I also recognize that these could be Johns’ first steps towards getting Supes out of the dumps. Again, the issue may work better in terms of what it suggests, as opposed to what it actually portrays.

Fortunately, the last half of the issue (nine pages, plus a three-page epilogue) features Superman’s fight with the unnamed pilot of an immense, mysterious aircraft that looks like a stretched-out hang-glider. These are generic opponents — the pilot is strong and tough, and the craft shoots big energy bolts — but Romita’s designs are appealingly minimalist. Romita and Janson use thicker lines, and Martin switches to a starker color palette. Romita also paces the fight well, using big panels, a two-page layout, and a climactic double-page spread, to give the heavy hits the appropriate weight. The only confusion is deliberate, and comes when Ulysses and the bad guy (whose name may be Klerik, but it’s also not clear) greet each other in an alien language. Those looking for convincing Super-action will find it here.

In one of the issue’s last big developments (because really, we could see Ulysses and his brand of help coming since Page 5), a brief cutaway during the fight brings in yet another mysterious figure, this one with a robe and staff who claims to have trained Supes and calls him “Clark.” Given Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ focus on Superman’s origins in Action Comics, and Scott Lobell, Kenneth Rocafort, and others’ subsequent looks at Krypton, I’m not sure we need any more additions to his early years. Still, this may be an indication of future revisionism on Johns’ part.

And therein lies what may be the overarching concern with the New 52 Superman generally. In February I argued that “this is Johns’ opportunity to harmonize all the disparate elements of the New 52 Superman into something credible, coherent, and forward-thinking.” While many fans may have their own laundry lists of particularly noxious New 52 elements, I think Johns and company are going for a more big-picture approach. If this issue is any indication, Johns is more interested in building up relationships than tweaking costumes or revising continuity.

For that matter, Johns’ role at DC seems to have changed significantly in the past few years, and not necessarily with the start of the New 52. He’s working on TV shows and (presumably) coordinating with movie folks, and he probably doesn’t have the time to devote to the comics that he did in the 2000s. He comes into this Superman run not as the fix-it man who rehabilitated Hal Jordan and re-energized the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery, but as part of an A-list creative team who does what they can with what they have. That sounds like lowered expectations for Geoff Johns and John Romita, but it has more to do with the situation than the people.

Anyway, their first issue of Superman was pretty engaging, so here’s hoping they can make it pay off.

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And here is the Futures Index for this week’s Issue 8.

  • Story pages: 20
  • Cadmus/Grifter pages: 4
  • Lois pages: 1
  • Jason/Yamazake/Superman pages: 5
  • Palmer/Amethyst/Frankenstein pages: 4
  • Laotian temple pages: 5
  • Constantine pages: 1
  • Number of deaths: 2 (not counting the corpses and assorted body parts already at the temple)
  • Number of eye-gougings: 1 set of eyes
  • Number of dismemberments: 1, although it “replaces” last issue’s dismembered limb

NOTES: The most interesting thing in this issue is the Laotian temple, which seems to tie together Brainiac’s three-circle emblem (two on top) with Pandora’s three-eyed skull (one on top); and perhaps by extension, Despero’s three-eyed countenance. I suppose a connection between Brainiac and Despero is more likely, since they both come from other planets and have designs on universal conquest, but it’s hard to ignore Pandora’s (Mother) Box.

Also, I still say the android looks like the Parasite, although he could be one of Doctor Bedlam’s androids. Heck, he could be both.

This issue’s structure continues to get away from the four distinct subplots of earlier installments, and I think that’s wise. I’m not sure the Cadmus or Jason/Superman sequences really needed all of the space they got, but at least they advanced their particular subplots and offered more insight into Fifty Sue, the OMAC “soldiers,” and the Masked Superman (who seems to have energy-manipulation powers beyond simple heat vision). Dr. Yamazake’s remark about the “burning towers” was pretty unsubtle, though.

NEXT WEEK IN THE FUTURE: FrankenHawk (or Hawkenstein)! Masked Superman’s Pal! More Terminator 2 homages!

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Comments

19 Comments

My reading of Ulysses’ origin was that he’s from Superman’s Earth, and gained powers by being sent to “Dimension Four”. He then returns to his “homeworld” to stop that villain-whose-name-I-can’t-remember.

I’m astonished at the lack of impact over Hawkman’s death. I’m no Hawkman fan, but I imagine he’s as prominent at DC as Green Arrow, whose death had a huge impact on the story. Here, Hawkman is reduced to a spare parts factory. (Maybe this will eventually inspire Frank’s taking of Black Canary’s face in #0.)

Drew Melbourne

June 26, 2014 at 7:53 pm

@ Trevor Yeah, you’re definitely right. Ulysses is from our Earth (in “the third dimension”).

I really hate that the main bad guy in this Superman issue looks just like all the bad guys from Dimension Z. Other than that the issue was pretty good. I’m glad you mentioned all the other supermen that have been appeating lately.

Trevor: I agree. Ulysses came from Prime (?) Earth and has lived his life thinking it destroyed. His battle with Klerik brought him back.

I liked the issue a lot and eagerly await more. I found it very promising.

@Adam Much as I’m enjoying Futures End, I’m not reacting big to the death of Hawkman and Stormwatch because it’s an imaginary future; if they were killed now, we’d be counting down to their inevitable return. As it is, we can’t be sure it will happen in the current DC timeline.

The “Chief UNCREATIVE Officer” strikes again.

I dropped the DC books several years ago after the New 52. Mostly bought Superman so it was a reaction to the changes.

I picked this book up and am pretty happy. With the book and the promise. I love the DP interactions and the Perry/Clark scenes.

Thisis not rocket science. The New 52 dropped all the” intimacy” from Superman. The small magic moments. The interpersonal relationships. Why would any creative team do that?

I see the promise of a return to that with Johns. I also picked up Action which I have not read in years and may continue with that for a while.

All it takes is a balanced approach. Like I said not rocket science. Man of Steel was a disaster because Snyder tore the heart and soul out of Superman. Even Nolan said no to the killing of Zod but Snyder ignored him.

The Clark/Superman duality is such a key. Gone until now from the new 52, but the fact I see that changing maybe is why I will start reading Superman again.

One more thing about how long Johns will stay on Superman – a question really.

He is writing JL and Superman and doing 2/3 TV shows. How can he devote enough time to each to do them justice? I think I read his JL run may be coming to an end? Does anyone know.

BTW, JL 30 was not near as good as his Superman 32. I think that is because this new JL arc from what I read is another stunt. Luthor leading the JL and right after FE ends would have seen a big bump in sales. I was surprised to see it actually fell off slightly from JL 29.

Big events are not a long-term solutions to good characterization which was missing from Superman when I dropped him and from a lot of DC lately from what I’ve read in the past few days.

Anyway, is Johns on JL long-term from here or what?

As to the Injustice league arc, Johns said in an interview that Superman will not be a full-on member of the JL for the immediate future. Implies he will come back and that will be a follow-on stunt to the current one.

Ron Frenz must be happy to know he is no longer the worst Superman artist ever.

Well-said, David. JRJR seems to get worse with each project.

Action Comics remains the most consistently excellent Superman book out right now. Pak and Kuder are doing a great job and a lot of what I’ve wanted to see in Superman comics in the past few years is there: great characterization, big sci-fi action and ideas, great art.

I’d be much more excited about Johns’ returning to Superman if it wasn’t with Romita Jr. Granted, he’s the “pull” to this run, as I think DC knows just having Johns back on Superman wouldn’t have been a big deal on its own.

I would have preferred to see Francis Manapul on art. He would have made this book look beautiful and fresh, not scratch and ugly like JRJR is.

I’m hoping Johns sticks around for a while and we see a new artist come on in the not too distant future.

Yeah, his entire understanding of the dimensions is completely off. Ulysses comes from DC-Earth. The energy destroying the lab came from Dimension Two. Ulysses was sent to grow up in Dimension Four. It’s all pretty clear.

Oh, also the problem with Romita’s art isn’t Romita. The problem is Janson. Klaus Janson is a great inker but he needs to be matched up with the right guy. JRJR needs an inker with a tighter style.

Superman used to defeat most of his enemies using his wits. These days, Superman is a dummy. Sadly, comic books are a dying medium. They are no longer what the used to be – an inexpensive medium for childhood entertainment. It’s all about the movies today.

@Arthur
I agree. And mediocre writers like Geoff Johns only makes a bad situation worse.

It’s a shame that DC fans are unable to see what’s behind his facade.

I’m a Marvel reader but I’ve been watching the articles since John Romita Jr has been such a great artist over the years. I read this article and find the Superman story is still too complex to jump into. I prefer the movies and the erstwhile graphic novel.

Brian from Canada

June 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

@David:

If you want moments of the Clark/Superman duality and interpersonal connections, look at Soule’s Superman/Wonder Woman and Pak’s Action Comics. Action has brought Lana back to the forefront, and she brings out a much different relationship with Clark than we’ve seen before. S/WW has many great moments between Clark and Diana, and Clark and Cat. And under Lobdell, there were some nice moments with Lois too.

The problem is Perry and Jimmy. Moving Clark to the web means the Planet is no longer at the front. Johns is clearly pushing for Clark to return to the Planet to take down Lex just in time for the movie to do the same thing.

Whereas Jimmy went from cameraman to photographer to assistant because they don’t have any idea how he can support a reporter at a time when a cell phone will work. Remember: in the past, Jimmy would tag along with Lois or the Forever People. Nothing they’ve done has been able to make him connect.

And Jimmy’s parents AREN’T dead in this comic. They are in hiding; Jimmy’s made it clear that his parents are not exactly upstanding citizens. They really don’t care about him.

As for Superman not being part of the League at the moment: Superman Doomed takes place RIGHT after this present arc. Superman leaves Earth then. Doomed ends possibly in August, and then he has to come back to Earth. My expectation is that, by that point, Johns will have him involved in a Superman event that keeps him away from the League until Christmas, at which point we get the lead in to the April crisis which will see him take over at the end and Lex on the outs.

Brian, did you read the issue?

This issue was far from complex.

Kevin S.

And the New 52 just highlighted the weaknesses in his writing.

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