So I spent some time this weekend getting caught up on some comics I hadn’t gotten around to in the last month, and… I think I’m done with the Superman titles. It was fun when it was just Action Comics and Superman, but now Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane have their own books, and the stories are festooning out into spin-off mini-series, and being impacted by things happening in books I’m not reading and don’t care about, and…
To hell with it.
I just want a good story to read, and these books aren’t quite giving it to me anymore. Sigh. I hate to go negative, especially on good ol’ Superman, but when I think of the money I’ve blown on this nonsense in the last year and a half, I feel less bad about it.
But let’s take one last look at the line, just to give them a fair shake…
Superman 14 & 15
by Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis
These issues are the big wrap-up to the story Bendis started telling in the Man of Steel mini-series almost two years ago, digging into mysteries surrounding the destruction of Krypton, dealing with the weird retconned Superboy and Jor-El characters he inherited, bringing in General Zod, establishing his major new villain Rogol Zaar, and introducing a new version of the Legion of Superheroes via the establishment of the United Planets.
That’s a lot of weight for even two issues to carry, and these… Honestly don’t do a very good job of it. Don’t get me wrong, now. Things do happen. There are character moments, fights, revelations, and resolutions. Bendis even finds time for cheap comedy.
Normally, I’m not big on that kind of stuff, but this one doesn’t really bother me much. I mean, it didn’t make me laugh. But it’s fine. Or it would be, if it didn’t take up space that could have been devoted to a proper resolution to the Jor-El and Rogol Zaar stories. But instead, two of the biggest mysteries in the run to date are revealed in a quick expository speech from, of all people, Adam Strange:
Uhm… What? How did Jor-El create Rogol Zaar? And why? There’s apparently “evidence” of this, but… We don’t get to see it, or hear Jor-El’s testimony explaining it, or… Anything. We just get that perfunctory explanation, wrapped up in some admittedly solid character writing where Superman makes excuses, but ultimately has to concede that his father did a bad thing. Which is good. It’s great, even. But that should have come after we got some explanations for all this fiddling and annoying crap we’ve dealt with from both characters over the last two years. Hell, “The Trial of Jor-El” could have easily taken up two or three issues all by itself, forming a coda to the entire run to date.
But, no. Instead, Bendis chose to tell rather than show, and the next thing we know, Jor-El’s facing his punishment: being returned to the moment of Krypton’s destruction, from which he was plucked away by Cosmic Forces Not Appearing in This Comic (read: Dr. Manhattan, about which don’t get me started). And Jor-El’s return to Krypton, at least, is kind of interesting. I mean, we still have to ignore the fact that there’s no explanation as to how the new United Planets has time travel technology, which… ugh. That’s a whole separate problem. But the scene is well-done, and answers some questions in a manner so subtle that I’m actually feeling kind of bad giving Bendis credit for it:
Okay, so. The implication here is that Jor-El created Rogol Zaar in order to destroy his entire home planet and everyone on it, sending his son off to a distant world to grow up and “bring the universe together” at some unspecified point in the future. I mean, why else would he say that in that way to his own past self?
“He does it.”
Implying (I think) that his younger self would know exactly what he was talking about, and further implying that this was the plan all along.
This… almost makes sense. Lots of stuff fell into place in my brain after I read that scene, anyway. There was some flashback stuff from earlier in the run, for instance, showing us that Jor-El had issues with the galactic council (or whatever they were), made up of the leaders of the very same races joining together as the United Planets. They wouldn’t help with the impending destruction of Krypton, and were in fact splintering as a council over… wasn’t it Rogol Zaar? So… Jor-El saw a government that wasn’t working… a government that he couldn’t change from within… so he… killed his entire race… with a monster of his own devising… on the hope that his infant son… might one day… grow up… to bring them all together?
Hmm… I kind of like the idea there, that Jor-El made himself a monster in the name of intergalactic peace. He’d hardly be the first, or the last. But I don’t like it better than Siegel and Shuster’s original idea that Krypton just blew up, so Jor-El and Lara sent their only begotten son out into the wild universe in a hail mary attempt at saving him from certain destruction. I mean, okay, sure, as Bendis himself has told us more than once already, “planets don’t just blow up.” But men don’t fly, either. So who cares?
I do suppose it’s better than the Jor-El we had before Bendis came along. That guy, from everything I’ve seen, was just an evil douchebag. And that craps on the legacy of Siegel and Shuster a lot worse than this. If anything, this saves the character somewhat. He’s still evil, but he’s evil in the name of a greater good. So maybe it’s just an unsatisfactory fix for a problem that had no good solution.
Still, the whole thing just seems far-fetched. I don’t think Bendis earned it, either. The storytelling along the way in this book has been too half-assed, so there’s not enough meat on the bones for me to give him credit for something clever. I suppose I could go back and re-read it all to see if there’s more in those issues than there seemed to be at first. But I just don’t care enough to do that.
Or to keep reading it any further.
Action Comics 15
by Brian Michael Bendis and Szymon Kudransky
This is the Superman book I’ve really been enjoying. And I still do… when it can be bothered to tell its own stories. But the front two-thirds of this issue are effectively an issue of Naomi, a book I’m not reading and which I’m even less interested in now that it’s intruded on the story I was actually enjoying.
This is also the book that’s had its core plotline hijacked for the “Event Leviathan” crossover comic, which dismantles a bunch of cool spy organizations and replaces them with something that’s not as much fun to read about. And all of that’s happening in a comic which (unlike Action Comics) undermines its own drama with endless glib quips that make me want to slap everyone on the page.
Even still, here in Action, I’m digging the whole saga of Metropolis’ secret mob, the boss of that mob buying out the Daily Planet for reasons yet to be seen, and Superman vs the Red Cloud. She’s a better villain than Rogol Zaar on just about every level, though her recent power boost from Lex Luthor has made her both less interesting and sillier-looking.
So there’s that, too.
Action‘s also brought Rose & Thorn back to the forefront recently, and that’s a good thing. She’s a cool character who’s a perfect fit for the secret mob story, and she’s the sort of concept that Bendis really writes well. Of course, she’s also been kind of hijacked for that less-than-satisfying Millennium comic Bendis is writing to lead into the new Legion of Super Heroes book, so her presence here feels a little like a double-blind. Is she actually important to the Action story, or was Bendis just (once again) seeding something for another comic that I don’t want to read?
What I’m saying is that Action Comics has essentially become an ad for other comics. And that’s a shame, because it’s the one book in the Superman line that I was genuinely enjoying.
I may go back to it, if I see that Bendis is actually telling a story again. Otherwise…
I’m done with this one, too.
Lois Lane 3 (of 12)
by Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins
I really wanted to like this one. But I just don’t, quite. I feel that way about a lot of Greg Rucka’s work for hire stuff, though, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The ideas are intriguing, but there’s just something lacking in the execution. I can never quite put my finger on it, either, which makes the whole thing that much more frustrating. It’s just kind of a dull read.
Even more frustrating, though, is that it’s taken part of the core Lois & Clark relationship out of the Superman comics and transplanted it here. Because she’s got her own thing going now, Bendis can’t write Lois as thoroughly as he was before. And Rucka’s take on her lacks a lot of the spark Bendis gave her, so… Once again, we see an element I was enjoying spread too thin across too many titles for me to care about it much.
So again… I think I’m done with this one.
(Cool cover, though.)
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 3 (of 12)
by Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber
I probably wanted to like this book even more than I wanted to like Rucka’s Lois Lane. I’ve been a Matt Fraction fan going back to the first issue of Casanova, lo these many years ago, and I was hoping for this book to hearken back to the work he did on his (largely-forgotten) run on Defenders. That was great gonzo comics, with tons of weird ideas and funny moments. A perfect fit for Olsen. And it has those things. We’ve gotten Turtle Olsen, Miniature Olsen, a porcupine guy… All kinds of craziness. Plus, Fraction’s developing this whole Olsen family history, stretching back to the founding of Metropolis and tying the Olsen and Luthor families into some kind of crazy blood feud. He’s introduced Jimmy’s more-successful brother. And he’s established Jimmy himself as some kind of incredible Millennial force of nature, a hapless agent of chaos whose shenanigans somehow usually wind up serving a greater good in ways he neither understands nor controls.
It’s a lot of fun. But there’s something about the tone of it I just can’t get behind. The whole thing feels like a not-especially-good-natured parody of the old Jimmy Olsen comic, but it just doesn’t make me laugh very much. It’s too self-conscious for its own good, and that kind of thing never plays well for me.
Or, I dunno. Maybe I’m just so annoyed by the rest of the Superman line that I’m taking it out on this book. That is possible, especially considering that I read this third issue of Olsen after everything I’ve already discussed. I do remember thinking that, much like the Lois Lane book, this one takes the fun Jimmy Olsen stuff Bendis was writing away from the core Superman titles, thus making those books less enjoyable. So, hmm.
I may give Superman’s Pal one more issue, away from the influence of my annoyance with the rest of the line, and see if I like it better.
But I dunno.
Lex Luthor Year of the Villain Special
by Jason Latour and Bryan Hitch
This probably shouldn’t technically be counted as part of the real Superman line. It stems out of events that took place in… Oh, hell, I don’t know. Probably Justice League. Anyway, I picked it up for two reasons: One is that afore-mentioned recent appearance in Action Comics, where Luthor boosted the Red Cloud’s powers without any explanation as to how or why he was doing it, and that made me curious. But the second, more important reason is that it’s written by Jason Latour. I quite liked the stuff he wrote on the Spider-Gwen title, so I figured that if he could make that terrible corporate comics concept sing, he might do the same with this.
And you know, he almost pulls it off.
He’s working from the premise that Luthor has “absorbed” the Martian Manhunter (yeah, that doesn’t make any sense to me, either), and is now traversing the multiverse, finding alternate universe versions of himself and destroying any he doesn’t find worthy. There’s some kind of doom goddess he’s serving here, too, but… Good god, I don’t care about any of that.
What makes this book almost work is Latour’s take on the various alternate Luthors we meet. There’s monster Luthors and Bat-Luthors and catatonic Luthors and Luthors who are humble shoemakers. Tons of Luthors, and Latour does a nice job establishing each in the few pages allotted to them. One of them (a botanist Luthor) is experimenting with the Black Mercy (the alien plant parasite from that Alan Moore Superman annual from the 80s), and it’s put to interesting use, too.
I enjoyed reading whole chunks of this comic. But those chunks are all in service to a story I ultimately don’t care about, so the book as a whole doesn’t do much for me. There won’t be another issue of this to buy, but if there was, I’d probably give it a miss.
So, yeah. The basic problem here is that they’re taking all the core Superman stuff away from the Superman books and spreading it around like (in the words of Bilbo Baggins) butter scraped over too much bread. Put it all together in the core books, and you’ve got a vital story with a vital cast who are fun to read about. Spread it out, and none of the books are all that great. And at four bucks a pop, “not great” ain’t good enough.
So I guess this is goodbye again, Man of Steel. I’ll swing by again next time they give you an interesting creative team, and hope for the best.