Superman 15

superman15 Hel

Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing Superman 15, originally released January 2nd, 2013. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.

Patrick: The title page for Superman 15 contains the name of the series, but you have to really look for it. The title of the issue, “Because I’m a Scorpion” dwarfs iconic “Superman,” but it’s all dwarfed by the splash page of Superman and Superboy punching rockets out of the air. It’s symptomatic of one of the problem’s this series faces: Superman’s personality is being over-shadowed by that of artist Kenneth Rocafort.

It is, therefore, appropriate that everything that happens in this issue can basically be summarized by the stunning image on Rocafort’s cover. Superman and Superboy visit Lex Luthor in the most maximum maximum maximum security prison ever conceived by man (evidently designed by Lex on a dare from Superman). Lex teases Superboy, implying that he is both evil and part-Luthor — which is something fans of the character already know — and then proceeds to tell Superman that which he already knows: H’el plans to create a reverse-big-bang and harness the electromagnetic energy to necessary to protect H’el’s vehicle — as powered by the quantum crystal from Kandor — as it travels through the chronal-nexus to a point in time before Krypton blew up. Make sense?

Lex Luthor explains H'el plan

Let’s stop right there, because I feel like anyone’s enjoyment of this issue is going to hinge on how they react to Lex’ explanation of H’el’s plan. This is science fiction nonsense stretched to the point of being extremely silly. I’m going to venture my own opinion: it’s too silly. I suspect that reasonable minds will disagree on this. While I can stomach all the gee whiz! enthusiasm and cheesy third-person narration, my bullshit detector starts to register at this shitty shitty pseudo-science. The fact that Luthor — the smartest man on Earth, mind you — refers to an event that is localized to a solar system as “something of a reverse big bang” makes no fucking sense to me. Further, it doesn’t make sense that H’el would need an energy source in addition to the explicitly infinite energy source he pulled out of Kandor two weeks ago.

I get that this is mumbo-jumbo and it shouldn’t bother me so much — but the entire point of the visit (and by extension, the entire point of the issue) is to learn about how H’el is planning to travel back in time. Lex suggests otherwise — that Superman came to see him so he can be properly motivated to kill H’el. You know how sometimes, you watch Fox News for the express purpose of getting angry? That’s what Superman’s doing here, hoping that the resultant anger will allow him to take down the other Last Son of Krypton. Essentially, the only way this issue furthers the narrative is that is spells out in-narrative what has been spelled out on covers and in the solicits for months: bringing back Krypton will result in the destruction of Earth (and Mars too, I guess… probably should let J’onn know about that one).

There’s also this crazy insinuation that neither Batman nor Cyborg knew about Luthor’s prison facility. Oh, right, I was recapping: After parting Luthor’s company, Superman assembles the Justice League who — having never responded to a distress signal from Supes before — rush to the hyper-prison. This is on the heels of Superman scolding Superboy for hanging out with the Teen Titans, and it’s hard to miss Clark’s hypocrisy here. His specific criticism is that the Titans are “a bunch an unsupervised super-humans” which is exactly what freaks people out about the Justice League. Rocafort even goes through the trouble of showing us the Titans in Kon’s imagination – and it’s remarkably to note the similarities between the groups.

Teen Titans and the Justice League

Look, they each have a Flash, a member of the Bat-family, a super-strong woman with a lasso… even Bunker and Cyborg look similar. It’s just weird that Superman makes such big deal about this. It all kinda traces back to Superboy’s observation early in the issue that “everyone from Krypton [is] a colossal butt.” I’m with you Superboy, I don’t much care for them either.

What do you think, Scott? Did you find something of value beyond the massive info-dump? Maybe I’m judging Superman too harshly, but I suspect we’re supposed to see him as the colossal butt Superboy sees. Maybe the issue suffers from lack of H’el, which marks the first time we haven’t seen that dude in a Super-book in months. Tell me what you thought, I’m dying to get a second opinion.

Scott: I thought this was a greatly informative issue — at least, from Superboy’s perspective. For most readers it was merely a bunch of unnecessary explanation. I don’t know that we’re supposed to see Superman as a “butt”, but it did seem like Superboy was acting as a proxy for uninformed readers, and even so there was too much spoon-feeding going on. His presence almost feels like a burden on the issue, something Lobdell seems to recognize but is unable to do anything about.

Yes, yes he would

Patrick, I agree with you, the overly technical mumbo-jumbo we get from Lex was silly. But that’s forgivable. I mean, really, it had to be silly. The mistake was taking what should have been a couple of throwaway lines of dialogue explaining the crazy science stuff, and making it the central message of the entire issue. What else even happens in this issue? The justice league shows up? Superman and Superboy are “going to have to have a talk” about the Teen Titans? This was really half an issue stretched out to twice the length because of long-winded explanations of stuff we already knew, or stuff we would have found out soon enough.

Why didn't you just say that at the biginning?

Again, it’s like Lobdell knows he’s making this issue drag, but does nothing to stop himself. On a side note, there was something else about Lex’s appearance that was distracting me. I know this might sound strange, but when I see Lex I immediately think of a character from one of my favorite Adult Swim shows. Anyone who’s a fan of “Delocated” likely noticed that Lex is the spitting image of Sergei Mirminsky, right down to the white tank top, which makes it awfully tough not to read Lex’s lines with a Russian accent.

A big reason this issue didn’t work for me was because it was unbalanced. Most successful Superman issues have the character splitting time between his two personas, the intrigue stemming from whether he can maintain an ordinary human life while still protecting the planet, and vice versa. This issue was all superhero without any ordinary guy. And no, the fact that he’s wearing blue jeans throughout the issue doesn’t count.

Man of steel and denim

I know what you’re thinking: “There’s no time for Clark Kent, Superman has to stay focused on saving the world from H’el.” I get that, but then why isn’t H’el anywhere in the damn issue!? I liked the idea of Superman psyching himself up for his clash with H’el by paying a visit to Lex, but what a tease. Maybe Superman only has 30 minutes to stop H’el, but it’s still a month until we’ll get to see the payoff. I’m not sure that seeing Lex’s face will still feel like proper justification for trying to kill a guy after all that time. That is, assuming the next issue covers 30 minutes of the timeline. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

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?

26 comments on “Superman 15

  1. I think the only emotional connection I’ve made in this whole event is to Superboy. That poor guy, he basically spends all his time getting the shit kicked out of him, physically and emotionally.

    • True. I like that Superman isn’t abandoning him, and is sort of playing the big brother role. More than anything, I think Superboy just is looking for guidance any place he can find it. When he’s with the Titans everyone is just loud/rambunctious kids, so seeing the adult versions could help him learn to lead his team better.

      • It doesn’t even seem like Superman is interested in that though. Superboy picks up on it and is like “you know, it’s not even like we’re partners” (paraphrasing). Supes just knows that Kon might play into this thing so he better keep him around. It’s just such a shitty way for Superman to act. I wish we was nicer to him.

        • Yeah, Supes was totally a dick in this issue WHICH HE IS NOT. I know that’s what a lot of people think about him but I think this is just poor characterization. There is NO WAY Superman would be so blase about potentially hurting ANYONE other than someone that deserved it. Superman is a social crusader not a “butt.” That said, Superboy was the best part of this issue.

  2. Scotty, I totally had a problem with Lex’ physical appearance too. Not because I know the Adultswim show you’re talking about (I don’t), but because he seems insane. Giggling and being a cagey like he’s the fucking Joker or something. Shouldn’t Lex just be cool and collected?

    • I don’t know about this specific prison, but Luthor was curiously missing in every issue of Superman up until now. When Action Comics first starts he is still seen as a legitimate citizen and then ends up showing his true colors during the Braniac arc thus proving himself a criminal to the government. 5 years is a long time so its hard to tell what crime between then and now may have landed him in this facility. I refuse to believe Lex Luthor could be tricked into detaining himself via simple reverse psychology. I also refuse to believe that he considers Superman his intellectual equal.

      • NO WAY does Lex look at Supes as an equal in ANY way. That said, even if he actually believed that was the case, he’d NEVER EVER (not in a million-billion years) EVER admit it.

  3. The thing that really bugged me about the mention of the Teen Titans is that it draws attention to the fact that the adult heroes should already be aware of what they’re doing (Red Robin is the leader of that team), but would almost certainly not approve. I think Young Justice has handled this notion really well, turning the Titans into a kind of Justice League training program with frequent fieldwork. Of course, it also requires that every hero be kind of a full-time leaguer, rather than the as-needed basis they’ve been doing in the New 52, but I feel like the thought of the Teen Titans running around without any supervision from their elders just doesn’t make sense.

    • I agree with you Drew. So, we are supposed to believe that Bats and Supes are besties, we also know that Red Robin reports to Batman still and regularly talks to him about his goings-on with the Teen Titans. So I find it hard to believe that Batman has never mentioned to Superman that his ex-partner is currently teaming up with someone calling himself Superboy. It just doesnt make any sense. I’ve made the point on my own blog before that the TV version of Young Justice is doing the Teen Titans better by far.

  4. I don’t have the issue in front of me at the moment, but I also feel like there were a lot of clumsy turns of phrase here. The panel Scott posted of Lex saying “You came to get your scent back.” is what reminded me. I can sorta understand what Lobdell means: Superman came back to get the “scent” of and evil so extreme that he would kill. It’s a hunting analogy. But it doesn’t work. A hunter doesn’t want their own scent, a hunter wants the scent of his prey. And that’s for fucking tracking purposes, not for having-the-balls-to-kill purposes. It’s a muddled metaphor, and I hate that the smartest man in the world is making it.

  5. I’m starting to appreciate Rocafort’s quill-thin line work a lot more than I thought I would, but I continue to balk at Lobdell’s characterization of Superman multiple times each issue. It completely takes me out of the comic. How do you reconcile courteous and considerate and old-fashioned boy scout that existed from the silver age up through Morrison’s work with the immature and jockish asshat presented within these pages?

    • I definitely saw more of that this issue than I have before, but it’s interesting to note that Lobdell has definitely changed the world around Superman as much (if not more) than he’s change the characterization of Superman. Like, the warden/military guy at Luthor’s prison is upset that Superman is there at all, telling him it’s a breach of protocol, and that he isn’t allowed inside. This would never happen in an older comic, where everyone would be all “gee whiz, Superman, come to check in on Luthor again?” Sure, Superman’s response to resistance is totally dickish, but this is a very different situation than we’ve ever seen Superman in before.

      • That’s true, but that’s also just ramifications of Morrison’s arc where Superman starts off on a bad foot with the US military; Morrison’s major alteration to the characterization is that Superman now believes sometimes the laws or their execution of them are sometimes corrupt and not always for the best interest of the people he wants to champion so very early on he began breaking laws and this lead to a several confrontations with the military (as lead by General Lane with advisement from Lex Luthor until Lex shows Lane he is ready to sellout mankind during the Braniac fiasco.) So while the shaky relationship with US government is consistent with Morrison’s Action it is also true that Superman still acts like Superman is Morrison’s action; he’s a great guy. Morrison just gives him a kind of rebellious yet gentle early-Billy Bragg type attitude.

    • I assumed it was the whole “Scorpion and the Frog” parable. So like, Superman is going to Lex for help even though he shouldn’t trust him and knows that he’ll probably end up screwing Supes over or something.

      • Damn it, now the holes in my knowledge of non-comic stories are showing through too! I’ve rectified this, but I still don’t totally see the connection to this story. The scorpion stings the frog, even though that means they’re both going to die as a result. And then he’s like “What do you want from me? I’m a fucking scorpion, that’s what I do.” But there’s no characteristic inevitability expressed in this issue. Lex helps Superman straight-up. He might be sort of a dick about it, but — as discussed — so is Superman.

        Is it possibly this is a sly reference to Superboy? As a clone of Kon (maybe-ish) is it in HIS nature to sabotage Supes’ plans? Sort of a fun read, but Superboy is the only person that expresses kindness of ANY KIND in this issue, so that seems unlikely.

        • Exactly, I couldn’t quite figure out how it applied either but that’s the best thing I could come up with. The only way this would work is if Lex was giving Supes advice that he knew would sink them both but that just isn’t the case. Here’s the thing…I just don’t think Lobdell is deep enough for something like this.

        • I also find it strange that Lobdell suddenly changed gears with the characterization of both Superboy and Superman in this issue. When Lobdell wrote Superboy, he was often characterized as fairly brash and insensitive (since he didn’t know human customs…yadda yadda). As for Superman, this is the first issue I recall him being such a dick to everyone. Lobdell hasn’t been writing him as a dick until this issue as far as I can see but now he’s willing to put an already injured Superboy further risk of severe injury.

        • It may be more outright in this issue but I also percieved events in pass issues as knd of asshole moves by Supes/Clark – particularly abusing his super powers to read Lois’ private text messages for no justifiable reason. In the non-super powered world this is the equivalant of if you had a crush on your co-worker but they have you in the friend zone.. so you walk over to their computer while they’re away and start digging through their private e-mails because you suspect they’re getting serious with someone and want to verify it. Super shitty move. Just ask her, Superman.

        • That’s an excellent point, but I think I forgave that just a bit because this is a younger Supes who may be more susceptible to those kinds moral breaches. I looked at it as a moment of weakness that he’d later beat himself up for other than something he does on a normal bases. That said, I really don’t want to excuse poor characterization since I honestly feel that I just put more thought into Clarks actions in that case than Lobdell ever did, lol.

  6. Pingback: Superboy 16 | Retcon Punch

  7. Pingback: Superman 16 | Retcon Punch

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