Okay, so maybe I don’t agree with the decision on how to market the new Man of Steel movie, but it did have an effect on me. Now I just wanna read a good Superman story. Of course, if you listen to our podcast, you’ll know we’re struggling on that a little bit with some of the current titles. Heck, for years now we’ve all been dying for a consistently entertaining Superman book.
Well, I’m tired of waiting … I’m in the mood to read some damn Superman, so, by Rao, I’ll be reading some damn Superman! I’ve decided to read at least a storyline a week, and I’ll be posting the reviews here on the new column In Search of Superman. In addition to the reviews, we’ll also be looking at other things we love about the character, exploring the media and memorabilia and (hopefully) even talking to some of our favorite creators. And sure, there are tons of great sites out there about Superman (www.supermanhomepage.com, for example), but heck…none of them feature your favorite Funnybooks hosts, do they? We’ll probably even drop some audio here in the future – I know Wayne has been dying to talk about Superman on the mics.
So where do we start? At the beginning? Nah…I figured I’d start with the most recent stuff. The New 52 Superman. Review of the first ten issues after the jump!
So let’s get this out of the way right away – I strongly dislike what DC has done with Superman in the New 52. While I understand killing Jonathan Kent (in the excellent Braniac storyline by Geoff Johns, which we’ll talk about another week), I disagree with taking away both of Superman’s parents (yes, I know they’ve done it before, and in the Christopher Reeve movies. I didn’t like it then, either). I think his familial support structure helped define the character, and set up for some wonderful Superboy stories (also by Geoff Johns. Don’t get me started with the New 52 version of that character). I disagree with making the character more alien, bitter, and isolated. In essence, trying to make him “cooler,” and less iconic.
Right off the bat, you can see that the New 52 Superman book (we’ll talk about Action Comics another week) had the odds stacked against it. In addition to that, I wasn’t really keen on the selection of creative team – writer George Perez and art by Jesus Merino. I felt the book looked like an 80’s book, and while that’s not always a bad thing, it turned me off as a creative decision that wouldn’t help bring in new readership.
When the first issue came out, I was lukewarm on it. In addition to the changes to the character, I didn’t like what they’d done with Lois Lane (she found a new man…who hasn’t been in the book since the first issue), and the book felt overly wordy. While I like comics to take more than five minutes to read, this bordered on excess. A pet peeve of mine is when someone tells me what I’m seeing on the panel already in the art. The changes to the character seemed like changes for changes sake – I don’t see how they added to the storyline in any way. In addition, the overly wordiness made every action scene seem…well, boring, honestly. By the third issue, I was out. I just didn’t care for the new villains, the writing…hell, really any of it. (UPDATE: Lois’ boyfriend makes an appearance in this week’s Superman #11.)
Then I heard that writer Keith Giffen and artist Dan Jurgens, both of whom I’m fans of, would be taking over the title with issue 7. A move in a positive direction, I thought, if for nothing else to bring the book into the 90’s instead of the 80’s. But the first issue of that run suffered from all the same pitfalls of the previous arc. Overly wordy and just generally uninteresting. I was out once again.
Well, you know me…I’m a glutton for punishment. So I went and bought all ten issues digitally of Superman that have been released thus far (issue 11 comes out this week) and I decided to give them another shot. You know what? Surprisingly, as a whole, the series isn’t so bad. It isn’t great, mind you, but it really isn’t bad.
In comics, you really have to start strong. At three bucks an issue, if you have a weak beginning, no one is going to stay around for the ending. Unfortunately, both creative teams started their stories too slowly before getting to the good stuff. Perez’s arc doesn’t get interesting until the 4th issue, builds in the 5th issue, and then in the finale becomes a glaring example of editorial tampering when Perez is forced to tie his series in with what Grant Morrison was doing on his title. It’s a shame because the villain (a nanite-based creature that was basing its forms on Superman’s powers) is actually pretty interesting. And when it replicates Superman himself and goes evil, it works pretty well (even if the first arc of a book is a little soon for an “evil Superman” storyline, in my opinion). Ultimately though, despite some valiant attempts by the creative team, the arc is enjoyable, but forgettable. If there’s a Comixology sale, or you can get the entire arc in the quarter bin at your local comic shop, pick it up. But I wouldn’t pay full price for the hardcover (the Amazon link below is a decent price for the run, actually).
Then Keith Giffen’s arc starts with the return of Helspont. Well, I say the return, but it’s more the the introduction of the character into the DCU proper for the first time. And those two issues are a miserable bore. I’m sorry, because I love both Giffen and Jurgens, but these two issues (admittedly by the creative team a result of editorial mandate) are terrible uninteresting and feature the equivalent of a full comic’s worth of Superman standing around listening to Helspont talk about how awesome he is, before throwing a punch or two to end the fight. It’s a shame, considering the pages where Superman is not in costume, and Clark is interacting with his Daily Planet co-horts, are pretty damn strong.
Which is why I’m grateful that it seems the creative team was allowed to flex their muscles a bit for the storyline in issues 9 and 10. In that storyline, a reporter reveals to the world Superman’s secret identity, putting a certain character (I’m avoiding spoilers here) in harm’s way and leaving Superman in a dire predicament. It’s actually a pretty solid story, with some great art by Jurgens. The villain of the piece is a new one, and while she probably won’t end up making the pantheon of great rogues, she is a solid entry who I wouldn’t mind seeing again. These two issues are definitely worth picking up for fans of the types of Superman stories told in the 90’s.
And I hate to keep referencing the 80’s and 90’s, but that’s really what I feel like I’m getting from Superman these days. The creative teams are extremely talented, but whereas books like Batman are fully embracing their modernity, Superman really seems to be wallowing in nostalgia. The changes made aren’t really influencing the storylines, which makes them even more frustrating.
Giffen has already written his last Superman issue, and Jurgens will be writing the book until issue 12. With September’s zero issues, Scott Lobdell takes over as writer with Kenneth Rocafort on art. My hope is that this team will bring a freshness (and an audience) to the book, as I’m still waiting for a New 52 Superman that I can love.