Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing Superman 13, originally released October 24th, 2012. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.
Patrick: Poor Superman just doesn’t belong in the 21st century. As readers and audiences grow more sophisticated, the desire to see an invulnerable man of infinite strength and unquestionable morality has waned. Hell, even the modern James Bond gets his ass kicked from time to time. So when Scott Lobdell starts his first proper issue of Superman with Clark bench pressing the Earth, you’ve got to wonder what he’s aiming for. And it’s in the wondering that Superman 13 gets interesting.
After showing off his impossible strength, Supes flies up to the surface of the sun to recharge. It turns out he’s been underground (showing off? training? testing equipment?) for a couple days. But then he has mere moments to fly back to Metropolis, get ready for work and clock in: even Clark’s working for the weekend, it seems. But once he gets to work, Clark is bombarded with requests for articles that could only dubiously be considered “news.” Whether its his Kansan integrity or his Kryptonian integrity that causes him to quit his job in an enormous indignant tantrum is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Clark doesn’t have time to mope (or even process what just happened), because there’s a gigantic dinosaur-monster-thing terrorizing the city. Supes finds the creature more than a match for his strength, but he eventfully fries the thing with an oil well / heat vision combo (IT’S SUPER EFFECTIVE!).
Just as Clark dusts his hands, Supergirl shows up and wants to know what the fuck is going on. Y’see, that monster was a Kryptonian dinosaur. The logic follows: if Clark was so damn sure that there was no more Krypton — as he evidently told Kara at some point — where did that thing come from? Then the omniscient narrator chimes in: “Neither Kal nor his cousin realizes there is another there with them. Another traveler, of sorts. Waiting. Biding his time for a proper introduction.” And this is where the dramatic irony transcends even the narrator, as we get our first vision of H’el.
Scott, I don’t know how closely you’re paying attention to general comic book news, but this Superman story has been hyped for a few months — largely because this villain is going to appear in Supergirl and Superboy. It’s a cross-over that will extend well into the new year, and that scruffy-lookin’ Superman look-a-like in the middle of the final page will be raining down terror on Earth’s adopted Kryptonian children. The event is called “H’el on Earth,” the dude’s name is H’el. So while this narrator — who comes out of nowhere, by the way — doesn’t want to spill the beans, we already kinda know who that is. There’s a fun little clue in that H’el heralds his own coming by releasing a Kryptonian dinosaur, suggesting that H’el himself is Kryptonian — possibly a time traveler?
“What’s that?” you say, “time travel?” Why, yes, I think there’s some time travel afoot. Beyond the dinosaur, we can look to some of the stranger goings-on in the zero issues of Superman and Supergirl. Both issues take place in the final days of the doomed planet Krypton, and both include appearance of modern-day characters. Superboy is present in Supergirl — he warns her mother that her husband is going to send Kara off into space. And Superman was present to watch his parent’s ward off some attackers before he was even born. Rest assured: something’s going on here.
All that comic wankery aside, I think this issue succeeded on a number of fronts. First and foremost, Kenneth Rocafort’s art is as dynamic and gripping as I’ve ever seen it. Rocafort’s signature move is this thing where the panels don’t appear to be part of the page, but floating in a space of their own. This injects a chaotic dimension to the cut-and-dried adventures of the Man of Steel. Look how beautiful this page is — Superman flies off-planet, recharges at the sun and returns to his apartment.
Rocafort also seems to really like teeny-tiny drawings of Superman: there are a ton of really wide shots that reveal the enormity of the conflict, but only allows Superman to register as a little red dot.
Both Rocafort and Lobdell are showing interesting takes on Superman’s power set. There’s a sequence where Supes combines his heat vision with his icy breath to create a strong wind to spirit some construction workers to safety. Kinda neat. And Clark’s superhearing acts as a sonar to detect the gigantic Kryptonian-monster (though, he probably could have HEARD it coming too…). Clark also uses his x-ray vision to read a text message exchange on Lois’ phone. I always love it when artists take care to graphically portray the unique ways superheroes perceive the world around them.
Superman is a fairly unique character, and this creative team seems committed to convincing me that this makes him interesting. But just in case I’m not sold on his otherness, Lobdell decides to let Clark nuke his paid position writing (about Superman, no less) for the Daily Planet. Clark admits that he’s only been a reporter for five years, but he’s got too much integrity to pen the schlock they’re asking him to write. Maybe I have a skewed view of this because I am a writer and I live in Hollywood and basically everyone I know would murder a nun to get a paid writing gig. But I suspect we’re supposed to see this principled stance against soft journalism as another example of Clark acting like an alien creature.
So, Scott, how’s this working for you? I see a bunch of interesting pieces starting to come together now, but I’m not totally convinced it will gel in any meaningful way. But with all the weird little hints about our Kryptonian characters visiting Krypton’s past, I’m start to find myself interested in the last sons (and daughter) of Krypton for like the first time ever. Hey, if nothing else, it’s good to see Jimmy Olsen is getting some action, amirite?
Scott: Yeah, nice going, Jimmy. Although I find it hard to believe that Superman’s super hearing couldn’t pick up the sound of a running shower from the other side of the bathroom door — even I can do that. No, Superman knew what he was walking in on, and he didn’t stop himself. Whether he knew Jimmy was in there with a girl is another question, and probably a topic for a different blog.
You’re right, Patrick, Lobdell certainly takes a lot of time to show us that Superman has more limitations, both physical and emotional, than we’ve come to expect. He, quite literally, breaks a sweat during the opening scene, which sets the table for some other humanizing moments later on. Exhausted for the first time ever, Clark wonders if his powers are finite (though he still has the energy to fly to the sun, so I guess “exhausted” is relative here), but it’s his emotional vulnerability that winds up hindering him the most. He has trouble gripping with the notion that Lois has moved on, taking solace only in the fact that he is morally superior to everyone else in the news media world. But is he really?
I thought Clark’s rant about journalistic integrity was totally bogus. On his way into work he makes a crack about how he wishes he could turn saving the world into a day job, but he essentially already has. As a Superman beat writer, anytime Superman does anything newsworthy, Clark profits by being the first reporter with the story. Really, the only reason he has any journalistic credibility is because he has mislead everyone into believing he has a great beat on the city’s super hero. Seems like the opposite of journalistic integrity. Those stories must be impossible to fact check, considering no one else knows who Superman is, and I’m pretty sure any editor would be out on his ass if it came out that one of his reporters was printing exclusive interviews with his own alter-ego. He claims he’s the only one who cares about real journalism, but he’s not playing by the rules. And now he’s getting into phone tapping? This guy totally deserves to get fired.
I sure was glad when that giant Kryptonian beast showed up. Enough with exhausted Superman, sulking Superman, and indignant Superman; I want to see a good-old-fashioned, trans-continental, alien-on-dinosaur-alien brawl. And this is Superman at his best, when his strength isn’t enough and he has to incorporate some super-ingenuity to get the job done. Patrick, I haven’t heard much about the “H’el on Earth” event, but it sounds like lots of Kryptonians pitted against each other, which should lead to some pretty awesome fights. And whenever time travel is involved, count me in.
Patrick, not only does Rocafort’s floating panel technique add a dimension of chaos, it also allows him to utilize the entire page to show scale. I mean, he’s dealing with some pretty massive objects in this issue, and he uses every bit of space to show Superman is dwarfed by the sheer size of something like the Kryptonian dinosaur.
The beast dominates the page, it’s intimidating figure taking up most of the space, but Rocafort tosses in just enough bits of action to clearly depict the fighting sequence.
This issue picked up steam as it went along. At this point, I’m much more interested in the upcoming Kryptonian clash than in seeing how any of the myriad problems in Clark’s social and professional lives work themselves out. I say, save the humanizing for the humans, let Superman be awesome. That’s what we’re all here to see, right?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?