Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Week in Geoff Johns Comics, Part 2: Superman #32

As stated in the previous part, the big news about this particular issue isn't its writer, but its artist: John Romita Jr, whose name is so synonymous with Marvel, it's difficult to think of a more surprising creator to show up for work on a DC book in 2014 (Brian Michael Bendis, maybe?). I'm not too terribly surprised that DC finally convinced JRJR to draw for them, as I have to imagine that no matter how much loyalty a professional superhero artist might have for the publisher Marvel, that artist would still want to spend at least part of their career drawing Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, and since there don't seem to be any DC/Marvel crossovers on the horizon, JRJR had to draw something for DC eventually, right?

I am a little surprised to see him come on to the massively troubled Superman title (although DC probably wanted him and Johns there to stabilize it), as I would have expected Detective Comics would have been a more appealing place to start (Batman being the most visually interesting of DC's stable, and having such a big, weird cast and setting for an artist to play with; that almost-as-troubled book just got a new creative team a few issues ago), or perhaps a Justice League comic, as that would allow Romita to start drawing as many DC icons as possible right out of the gate. (When previous long-time Marvel-artist-drawing-for-DC Mark Bagley came aboard, DC gave him first a weekly series that spanned much of the DC Universe in Trinity, and then gave him Justice League of America. Before that, the Kuberts were pretty big Marvel guy "gets," and DC gave Andy Batman and Adam Action, but their inability to keep a schedule render the presence of both artists at the publisher all but meaningless...I guess Andy's become a semi-regular cover artist).

When I say troubled, I'm referring to the behind-the-scenes and on-the-page creative chaos. Superman was rebooted with a new number one and new, retconned continuity in September of 2011, and is one of the inaugural group of New 52 titles that has yet to be canceled. At it's launch, its creative team consisted of George Perez (writing, providing breakdowns and drawing the covers) and Jesus Merino (finishing the interior art). They were in a pretty rough spot, actually, as Superman was the secondary Superman title, and was set in the present, while Grant Morrison, Rags Morales and company were establishing Superman's new origin and history in the pages of Action Comics at the very same time Perez and company were supposed to be telling stories set five years after the Action Comics stuff they hadn't seen yet (And, complicating matters further, Geoff Johns and Jim Lee were also telling a pivotal Superman story set in the characters new past in the pages of Justice League).

Perez wasn't happy, but let's not rehash all that. Suffice it to say that in it's just-shy-of-three-year-existence, Superman has had five different writers or writing teams (Perez for six issues, Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens for four issues, just Jurgens for two issues, Scott Lobdell for 17 issues and Mike Johnson for 2 three different writers on the decimal-pointed issues from Villains Month, but let's ignore those) and about a dozen or so artists in various configurations, not counting fill-in inkers and Villains Month artists (Perez and Merino; just Merino; Perez and Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott; Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott; Giffen, Scott, Jurgens and Merino; Jurgens and Merino; Kenneth Rocafort; Rocafort, Tyler Kirkham and Robson Rocha; Aaron Kuder; Eddy Barrows; Ken Lashley; Ed Benes; Brett Booth).

Of them all, Lobdell writing and Rocafort drawing has been the longest collaboration, but this is one of those book's that never really settled down into anything resembling consistency, and even once DC got Lobdell and Rocafort together, their storylines were being interrupted by Superman line crossovers and stunts like the zero issue and those decimal point issues.

One might think that a creative team comprised of such talented, high-profile creators as Geoff Johns and JRJR (who, both, perhaps most importantly for a book like this, have reputations for meeting deadlines and staying on books for a while) is the sort of creative team you would launch a book like Superman with, not have come in on issue #32. If nothing else, one might expect DC to relaunch Superman with a new #1, but no dice.
So the new creative team—which also consists of frequent JRJR inker Klaus Janson, colorist Laura Martin and letterer Sal Cipriano—comes on board with the randomly numbered issue, Johns' return to a Superman monthly and JRJR's arrival at DC heralded by a wraparound cover featuring Clark Kent turning into Superman (I thought it interesting that they chose that particular cover, as it features Superman's New 52 transformation sequence, in which he doesn't wear a Superman costume under his clothes, exactly, but, like, summons it somehow and it builds itself on his body nanotechnologically or some such; if this was your first Superman comic, and you missed the introduction to the new suit, the sequence looks pretty weird, like Superman ran through a couple of water balloons while turning from Clark Kent to Superman).

This first issue reminded me rather a lot of the beginning of Superman Unchained, the last Superman book to feature a super-high-profile creative team (Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, if you forgot), which was sold and launched as an ongoing monthly but became a miniseries because, you know, Jim Lee. Like Superman Unchained, this issue introduces a Superman mirror character, in the form of Ulysses.

It opens 25 years ago at the Ulysses Research Center, three miles below Omaha, Nebraska. There is a terrible accident, in which the "strange matter from dimension two" the scientists there were apparently studying begins eating/destroying the locked-down lab. Two scientists, who look so similar they could be brother and sister, fear for their baby son, who is in the lab with them, it apparently being Bring Your Baby To Work Day, and while they can't save themselves, they can save him (sound familiar?) by launching him through a portal to "Dimension Four."
A turn of the page reveals a two-page splash of Superman KO-ing a giant, robot gorilla. I have to assume this splash page was a factor in Chris Sims' positive review of the book at Comics Alliance (which I haven't read yet as I type this, but will have by the time you read it). It is indeed an awesome image, and one that earns the space it occupies in the book. It's a genuinely good use of a two-page splash, something Johns actually rather rarely does, as enamored of splashes as he is.

This giant robot gorilla is, by the way, revealed to (a?) New 52 Titano, now apparently a robot gorilla rather than a mutated giant chimpanzee with Kryptonite laser eyes.
The original Titano, as drawn by Curt Swan
The gorilla's head emanates a sickly green light, so I assume Kryptonite is involved in there somewhere, but they never really discuss that. This is basically just an action scene of Superman being super before we get to the plot.
Next, we jump to the Daily Planet newsroom, where Jimmy Olsen tries selling a terrible photo of Superman fighting Titano to Perry White, who has first an earnest conversation with Jimmy Olsen about some weird back-story I'm hearing here for the first time (his parents left him tens of millions of dollars in a business clerical error, before disappearing, and Jimmy expects them to return some day once they're cleared of allegations against them. Yeah, I don't know), and then has an earnest conversation with Clark, Bendis-ing at him about how he needs to find friends and people to talk to, and also that he'd like to hire him back to work at the Planet, because that blog stuff was stupid.

The scene includes an image of Superman's "death," which bugs the hell out of me.
Supposedly "The Death of Superman" occurred in the newer, shorter New 52 continuity, somewhere in the first five years of Superman's career, but it must have happened completely differently; imagine that story with a Lois Lane who doesn't know or love Superman and Clark Kent, without the Justice League that is in it, without Supergirl, Steel, Superboy or The Cyborg Superman. I'll just never understand DC's decision to have a new "secret" continuity that contains a few of the events from the stories in their huge back catalog of trades and collections, but completely differently, so that a reader need not, like, buy or read those books.

There's also a panel or two that really drives home how similar the post-Forever Evil status quo of (some parts of) the DC Universe is to the post-Secret Invasion, "Dark Reign" status quo of the Marvel Universe from a few years ago.

"'Lex Luthor Saves The World!'," Perry reads one of his own headlines aloud, "Bad guys are good. Good guys are bad. Thins have been turned upside down."

After the Daily Planet scene, something happens that I'm actually surprised it hasn't happened yet, as it so perfectly visually represents the entire middle-aged white guys awkwardly pandering to an imaginary young, hip, new demographic they imagine exists, that it just a few quick drawings conveys the spirit of Jim Lee grafting the WildStorm Universe to the DC Universe, redesigning all of the most iconic superhero costumes and hiring Bob Harrass, Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld.

I am, of course, talking about Superman's backwards baseball cap:
He wears it during a sequence demonstrating the loneliness that Perry White was just talking to him about, as Superman grocery shops, makes dinner, eats alone, and then sits around in his living room, looking at a photo-album of his dead adoptive parents.
Luckily, someone's screaming for help somewhere! I love what Romita, Janson and Martin do with that last panel there.

So there's a weird-looking alien in a weird-looking ship, destroying things. There's a fight. There's a mysterious stranger with an apparent connection to Superman's past. Just when it looks like the alien has Superman on the ropes, a character strongly resembling the scientist in the first scene appears out of a glowing blue portal, beats on the guy beating on Superman, and, together, the two supermen punch the attacker so hard his face and torso cave in and he emits a giant dome of blue light, before collapsing.

The new guy introduces himself as Ulysses, and says he thought he was from Earth, and that Earth was destroyed, but apparently not. And so Superman, who was just being all lonely, finds himself confronted with another superpowered young man whose birth parents rocketed him away to save him from destruction! Will they be friends now?

I'm going to guess that yes, yes they are. For a few issues. And then they will fight, when Superman realizes all is not what it seems with Ulysses, who may not necessarily be evil, but will be revealed to have been manipulated and somewhat emotionally unstable because of it. And then Superman will return to the Daily Planet, taking Perry's advice to spend more time with people and re-befriend Lois and Jimmy, who seemed awfully tight with in Superman Unchained and Action Comics, but he seems rather distant from them in this comic.

Just guessing, of course.

For a shorter, more on-point and more-knowledgeable review, might I suggest Tom Bondurant's at Robot 6...? (That Sims review is well-written, as well, if you didn't click on the link to it already.)


Akilles De Picosekunti said...

"I love what Romita, Janson and Martin do with that last panel there."

Also Laura Martin Depuy, who colored it.

Andrei said...

He has done some work with DC characters, having drawn the Punisher/Batman crossover.

colton said...

The Jimmy being rich thing is from Lobdell's run continuing on the idea that Jimmy's parents are rich from Morrison's run. He never did anything with it due to the aforementioned being stuck in constant crossover thing. Greg Pak used it in his second arc on Batman/Superman though.

Jer said...

When I say troubled, I'm referring to the behind-the-scenes and on-the-page creative chaos.

What's really strange to me is that of all of the New 52 reboots, it seems like Superman is the one that the reboot was all about.

Because let's face it - the Batman reboot consisted of ... Scott Snyder continuing to tell the Batman stories he was telling and Grant Morrison continuing to tell the stories he was telling. With a few tweaks to the supporting cast.

The Wonder Woman reboot consisted of ... nothing. There is nothing about the current direction on Wonder Woman's own title that couldn't have been done with the existing character. Even with her new origin Azarello set the book up so that her new origin was as much of a reveal to her as it was to us.

Only Superman's reboot was a major shift to the status quo for the character - it got rid of his marriage to Lois.

Honestly of almost all of the continuity shifts in the New 52 the only one that really feels like you needed a reboot to get it done was Superman. Sure they darkened and youthened the characters, but you could do that "Marvel style" and just start writing them darker and slightly younger. Nobody but the hardest of hardcore fans is going to care (look at how easily they decided that Hal Jordan was younger than he'd ever been post-Crisis when Johns decided the bring the character back - easy handwave and nobody cares 10 years later).

But you can't get rid of a marriage that easily. And it isn't like Superman was going to make a deal with Satan to get rid of his marriage. So a reboot it is!

And then they do NOTHING with it. Morrison writes his new Year One story arc (which didn't need a reboot - it could have been retrofitted) and they hand Perez a Superman book with almost no direction at all other than telling him not to do the things he wants to do with it.

I honestly can't explain it. It's a really freaking weird set of decisions on DC's part.