by Gene Luen Yang, John Romita Jr, and Klaus Janson
Okay, so I’ll admit it: curiosity got the better of me last week, and I shelled out four bucks for the new issue of Superman. This is the story in which, if you haven’t heard, Lois Lane will reveal the Man of Steel’s secret identity to the world. That one major plot point’s been the basis of all the advertising surrounding the series for the past few months, so imagine my surprise to discover that it doesn’t happen in this first issue.
That’s not a complaint, mind you. Given how gimmicky the idea seems, I was expecting the book itself to be kinda slap-dash and rushed. The sort of thing desperate comics editors push out the door to drive sales without much thought or planning behind it. That doesn’t seem to be the case thus far, though. Yang and Romita are taking their time here, setting things up and letting the story develop at its own pace. If I didn’t know what was coming, in fact, I wouldn’t suspect it at all. I mean, Yang does signal that change is in the offing with his first page:
“After everything changed.” Interesting. If the big reveal hadn’t already been spoiled by the advertising, though, I wouldn’t know what that means. Why is Superman hitching a ride on a jet, I’d wonder. Why’d he get a haircut? And, most tantalizingly, why has he reverted to the t-shirt-and-jeans look he was rocking in his earliest adventures? The transition from that to the super-suit was kind of a big deal in the Grant Morrison issues. It was a change necessitated by his increasing power levels, but also one symbolic of his shift from dealing with small, local problems to things on a grander scale. So, in the absence of the spoiler, I’d wonder if maybe he hadn’t lost a portion of his powers, and changed his perspective to match.
Of course, even with the spoiler, I’m left with questions: why has being outed caused him to revert to his “man of the people” look? You’d think it might drive him farther from humanity instead. The power loss is still an open question, too. I haven’t been reading the series, but I’m given to understand that he’s recently gained some kind of new ultra-heat-vision power that allows him to release a whole bunch of the solar energy his body’s absorbed all at once. But using that power reduces his abilities overall until he’s able to recharge. So I assume it’s connected to that. But, hmm. Hmmm…
Knowing that the big reveal is coming also makes it easier to appreciate the themes Yang’s exploring. Because as the story unfolds, we find ourselves dealing a lot with secrets. Secrets and lies. Clark Kent gets a lead from an anonymous source who refuses to reveal their identity. And that lead takes him to a senator who’s also secretly a dealer in illegal arms.
(An aside: the sheer funnybookiness of that scene deserves special mention. This guy’s selling 3D-printed LASER RIFLES to African militants, for god’s sake! And his protection when Superman shows up? His 3D printer doubles as a giant kill-crazy robot!
That’s great stuff. Very much in the classic spirit of Superman stories, but with the robot updated for the 21st Century. Kudos to both Yang and artist John Romita for delivering the funnybook goods.)
But, anyway. The plot thickens further when a young woman turns up with information that the senator’s not the real ringleader, but is in fact working for someone far more dangerous. Someone who, as it turns out, might very well be Clark’s secret informant. Because just before this new source shows up, he gets another message, this one urging him to turn her over to the authorities. Or else.
All sorts of ethical issues cropping up here. The parallel between Clark and the senator is obvious. But what about Clark himself? Has he really considered the implications of having secrets before? Which is more dangerous, exposing his loved ones to attack by not having a secret identity, or keeping a secret that could (and now has) put him in a position that might compromise his integrity? And what about the ethics of the whole secret identity thing to begin with? He lies, a lot, to the people closest to him, in order to keep his secret. He also uses his super powers in his job as a reporter, enabling himself to get stories he otherwise couldn’t. Is that fair? Is it ethical? If you were a rival reporter, would you think so? If you were one of his best friends, would you feel hurt that he hadn’t trusted you enough to tell you? Hmm. Hmmmmm…
Lots of interesting stuff to ponder here. Lots of questions. And that’s good. Questions are good. Questions tantalize and tease. They’re part of good storytelling. They keep me coming back for more.
Will they bring me back for more in this case? Maybe. I like the ideas that Yang is dealing with here, and the execution’s not awful. The tone of it reminds me a bit of the 90s Superman cartoon: solid, competent super hero writing that feels as if it could build up to something fun. I found it a pleasant, if not terribly inspiring, read. That four-dollar price tag is steep, though, and I’m not sure that “pleasant” enough to bring me back. I suspect that I’ll give it at least one more issue, but as for more? We’ll see…