Adventures of Superman #628
DC Comics – Greg Rucka (w); Matthew Clark (p); Nelson (i)Y’know what I am so fucking sick of? Superman: The Indecisive Candyass. Last Son of Krypton? How about Last Hand-Wringing Pussy of Krypton instead? Good God, if the rest of the planet was anything like Kal-El, it’s no wonder he’s the only survivor. They probably sat around pissing and moaning about what the most non-offensive course of action was until the world finally blew up and good riddance to the lot of them.
Sigh. That’s a little better.
Last issue, Clark Kent reported to his new job working Metropolis’ crime beat and faked jitters during his first police ride-along (feigning a fear of flight, no less). During the outing, the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit responded to a call that Replikon (a DC villain that’s apparently fairly obscure, since it doesn’t really ring any bells for me, though he seems to basically just be a different version of Amazo) was running amok on the plaza. In order to ditch his civilian identity and bring Superman into the fray, Clark “fell” out of the open helicopter, seeming to land safely in the dumpster below. However, just as the fight between Replikon and the Man of Steel seemed to be getting underway, Replikon up and died, leaving a puzzled Superman standing over his remains. When I read it last month, I thought it was a decent start for Rucka’s run. Its pacing was notably more deliberate than that of Action Comics (which I still maintain is the best of the three Superman titles right now), but that’s not always a bad thing if the writer is talented, as we all know Mr. Rucka is.
This issue, on the other hand, is pretty lousy. Mostly it consists of Superman feeling badly about Replikon dying in the street (even though both he and the MCU agree that it wasn’t his fault), followed by Clark trying to passively settle his differences with a co-worker who makes no attempt to hide her distaste for him. He goes into space with Green Lantern to look for Replikon’s family, with tragic results and finally returns home to mope until Lois leaves for his job as a reporter on the front lines of the United States’ invasion of Umec (read: Iraq, obviously). And that’s pretty much it.
So what don’t I like it about?
Well, first of all, Clark explains that he can’t protect Lois in Umec because that would be seen as Superman taking sides and he “can’t play politics.” Apparently DC, not to be outdone by Marvel’s decision to change Captain America from a Nazi-killing hardass to a ball of self-doubt wrapped in Old Glory, has decided that stopping a genocidal madman bent on acquiring chemical weapons is something that Superman wouldn’t be interested in. This is to say nothing of the fact that his involvement would save countless lives on both sides of the battle, simply because he would eliminate the need for armed conflict, one way or the other. I mean, if you want to know why Superman’s seen as irrelevant by a lot of people today, this is a textbook example. Here’s a character that used to, at least in his Golden Age incarnation, use his powers to do things like stop spousal abuse, a guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands just a little bit dirty to do what he thought was right. But not anymore, because he’s a corporate icon and as such, he can’t do anything that might, in any way, offend anyone. DC editorial’s corporate mindset has just flat out eviscerated any hope of meaningful social commentary from a character that was, at least initially, all about it.
Then there’s the issue of absolutely nothing being explained properly. Who the hell is Replikon? What’s his deal and why does he live on an asteroid with his family? What’s the score on Umec? Is it a straight Iraq parallel with your garden variety crazy dictator or is some supervillain running the show there? I have no idea, because Rucka doesn’t bother to explain any of it. I haven’t read the Superman books in years (because, frankly, they’ve sucked for a long, long time), so maybe longtime readers know all this stuff, but I was under the impression that these creative relaunches were supposed to draw in new readers and lapsed fans. And if that’s the case, this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. A little less hand-wringing and a little more plot exposition would have gone a long way here.
This is to say nothing of the journalistic slapfight that Clark has with the aforementioned hostile co-worker. I’m not a journalist, so I guess I can’t speak with any sort of real authority on the subject, but I’ve never been under the impression that every newspaper article I read was written by an eyewitness reporter. Clark Kent, on the other hand, seems to think they should be and criticizes a young reporter for writing an article about Superman’s fight with Replikon based on the verbal accounts of three members of the SCU who were eyewitnesses. It sounds perfectly reasonable to me, but in any event, Kent comes off as a bit of an ass with his “soft reporting” comment, since I’m reasonably certain that that’s just how newspaper journalism works.
This is not to say that there isn’t anything worthwhile in the issue. Rucka’s done a nice job contrasting the different attitudes that Lieutenant Leocadio (the leader of the SCU) has towards Clark Kent and Superman. Her disdain for Clark and admiration for Superman make perfect sense, but it’s subtly done for the most part, and that’s a nice touch. As well, there’s a deftly-written two-page sequence where Lois feels compelled to ask a favor of Wonder Woman, a character that she’s not always been entirely comfortable around, that I really thought came off well. On the art side of things, Matthew Clark’s pencils and Nelson’s inks really work well together (although Clark constantly looks like he’s about to burst into tears like a toddler with a skinned knee) and the overall appearance of the book definitely suits the more somber tone of the stories. I can’t say that I’m entirely happy with the way those stories are shaping up, but at least it’s appropriately staffed in the visuals department. It’s just that the things that are done right aren’t enough to outweigh the things that aren’t.
In the end, as nauseous as it makes me to say this, if you’re only going to buy one book out of the three currently being published, I have no choice but to make Action Comics my recommendation. This story arc has just been more of the navel-gazing, self-loathing garbage that, until recently, I was glad to see confined to the House of Ideas. I feel the same way about this book as I do Azzarello and Lee’s Superman: if you’re not going to use Superman as a metaphor, then just shut up and make the book fun, because those are really the only ways that I think the character works.
In the letters page of this issue, writer Robert Kirkman describes the issue’s story as “The Big One.” That’s got to be the understatement of the year; this story arc has done nothing less than completely disrupt the status quo of Invincible. And in an age where it seems like every single press release coming out of Marvel’s PR department promises to do just that (and with few books actually delivering on that promise in any meaningful way), it’s nice to see a book actually make good on its potential for series-altering change.
Now, before we go any further, let’s get one thing completely straight. You can’t review this book without giving away some pretty major plot details. So if you’re on the fence about Invincible and you’re reading this review hoping I’d nudge you one way or the other, just take my word for it that the book is well worth your money (its one of my favorites) and stop reading now.
Seriously. If you’re still reading, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.
All clear? Good.
Last issue, Omniman, Mark’s father and the world’s most famous superhero, explained everything. Previously, he had told Mark that he came from Viltrum, a vastly more advanced world in a far-off solar system, and that his alien origin provided him with powers far greater than those any terrestrial superhero possessed. That much, it turns out, was true. However, he lied when he said that he had come to Earth on a mission of peace and technological assistance; he had, in fact, come as an advance scout for an invading army, sent to prepare our world for subjugation by the Viltrumites. It was with that goal of softening up Earth’s defenses in mind that Omniman brutally murdered the Guardians of the Globe (Invincible‘s nod to the JLA) several issues prior, since as a group, they held some scant hope of defeating him. And when it was all said and done and his treachery was revealed, the would-be dictator of Earth extended his hand to his only child, making the offer of ruling the planet as father and son (a la Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back). It was an offer that Mark violently refused, bringing us to this issue, the big throwdown between Omniman and Invincible.
Honestly, it’s kind of hard to get overly analytical about this issue, since it’s mostly just a series of great-looking splash pages of the two lead characters smacking each other around. And personally, I’m not usually a fan of those issues where little except a big fight happens. But the images of that fight are so incredibly well-rendered, and the argument that continues between blows is so compelling, that I just can’t help but love it.
Initially, Invincible was a book that essentially wondered what it would be like to be Superman’s kid. It was light-hearted and genuinely a lot of fun, filled with equal parts, humor, superhero action, and teenage melodrama. I always found it to be a title that I could easily recommend to fans of Ultimate Spider-Man who were looking for something new in the same vein (though I think Invincible is a superior book, simply because something actually happens in every issue). But that’s all gone now and it’s a credit to Kirkman’s skill as a writer that I’m not the least bit irritated at the radical shift in direction, because I’m so completely wrapped up in the ongoing drama of the story. The best part is that since this isn’t a corporate franchise (where no real change can ever truly be effected), Kirkman has free rein to put his characters through the wringer however he sees fit.
If there’s one thing I’ve found to be true in Kirkman’s books (and over the past few months, I’ve read a lot of them), it’s that he’s a master of finding an artist that suits the stories he wants to tell, whether it’s Tony Moore on Walking Dead or E. J. Su on Cloudfall. This issue, it’s a stand-out performance from artist Ryan Ottley. Ottley has a sort of minimalist style, if compared to more popular artists like Jim Lee and Michael Turner (both of whom I think overdraw everything), and I’ll admit that at first glance it can seem a bit simplistic. However, he really shines in this issue, with backgrounds that are meticulously detailed and fight scenes so well-rendered that you can almost feel the shockwaves coming off the superpowered punches. I’m frequently reminded, when reading Invincible, of the Scott Kolins era of The Flash and that’s no bad thing, since I’ve been missing Kolins’ presence on that book for well over six months now.
At the end of the day, there are few books that I can honestly say always leave me wanting more and Invincible is one of those books (so’s Walking Dead, as a matter of fact). Fans of pure superhero action that doesn’t insult your intelligence would do well to add Invincible to their pull list, as I can’t imagine that they’d be disappointed by it. And collectors should take note as well, as I’m nigh-positive that the past year has been the point where Kirkman turns the corner and starts down the road to full-fledged superstardom (at which point these stories from his “indy” years will skyrocket in price). He’s one hell of a talent, Invincible is one hell of a book and I’m just happy to be along for the ride.