Superman 18

Alternating Currents: Superman 18, Drew and Scott

Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Superman 18, originally released March 27th, 2013.

Drew: Why do we like stories? Is it about amazing feats, or smaller, more relatable character moments? Early in Superman 18, Orion suggests that the New Gods’ lack of emotions makes them boring, in spite of their power and immortality. Writer Scott Lobdell would have done well to take his own words to heart — in spite of the powerful, immortal beings populating the pages of this issue, there are no emotions to latch onto. Orion would be bored out of his mind.

In the wake of H’el’s attack, Superman has been summoned before the US Senate to answer questions about the Fortress of Solitude. He’s both uncooperative and kind of a dick about it, vaguely explaining that he won’t allow anyone in “for your own safety.” Just when you think he couldn’t get more condescending, Clark heads off for a business meeting with Cat Grant at Metropolis’ most dangerously-located nightclub. Cat pitches a news and entertainment website that kind of misses the point of Clark’s whole “information has been replaced by entertainment” speech from issue 13. Before Clark has a chance to deliver a hard “no,” everyone at the nightclub starts jumping off the roof. Apparently, there was some kind of subliminal message being delivered via the DJs sound system, which Clark disables while catching each and every jumper. We learn in the first of two epilogues that Green Lantern’s own Hector Hammond might be responsible. That’s not the worst news, though — in the second epilogue, Orion has been summoned back to New Genesis to learn that Superman may be a threat to all existence.

You know, I was actually a pretty staunch defender of Lobdell’s first few issues. While others were decrying the snarky tone, I was impressed with his handling of Lois and Clark’s relationship. This issue finds me fully on board with Lobdell’s detractors, finding the cynical, condescending way Superman treats humans here entirely unfitting of the character. More importantly, it doesn’t fit with the attitude Lobdell spent the past five issues creating. Remember how Superman just finished defending Earth from a Kryptonian who saw humans as lesser beings unworthy of their knowledge? It sure seems like what passed for villainy in that arc now passes for heroism here.

In Lobdell’s defense, the writing here isn’t that much worse than it was at the start of his run — but as with Red Hood and the Outlaws, artist Kenneth Rocafort’s departure has revealed Lobdell’s shortcomings. And this comes in spite of some stellar fill-in work from the likes of Aaron Kuder, Tyler Kirkham (who have both done stellar work on Green Lantern: New Guardians), and Robson Roche (who we saw on the Superman/Wonder Woman installment of the Valentine’s Day issue). This isn’t to say the art is bad — these are great artists — but they aren’t quite able to replicate the synergy of Lobdell’s collaborations with Rocafort, which often manage to elevate Lobdell’s clunkier lines. Still, I’m happy to feat my eyes on Kuder’s impeccable textures, even if the writing around them is groan-inducing.

Just punchin' some dragons

The issue is at its worst when the dialogue is meant to carry the action, as it does in Clark’s meeting with Cat. Lobdell is so obsessed with broadcasting that she’s incredibly attractive that he neglects to make it clear if her idea is really all that terrible. I may be a bit biased as far as the implausibility of starting your own website goes, but Clark doesn’t do a great job of explaining why it would be such a bad idea. Sure, the web design sucks balls, but wouldn’t some kind of independent media gig be right in line with his reasons for quitting the Planet in the first place? Of course, Lobdell might be too obsessed with Clark’s looks to really care about his motives, too.

Ugh indeed.

It always bugs me when writers try to express the coolness of a character by making them sexually desirable. Superman’s appeal comes from everywhere but his sexuality, but I get the sense that if I tried to explain that to Lobdell, all he’d hear was “butt.” I mean, Superman can fly, stop speeding bullets, bend iron, and survive in outer space, but what’s really important is that those girls totally want to have a three-way with him! And they’re thin! Score!

Between Lobdell’s writing and Clark’s actions, this issue gives a distinct sense that Superman doesn’t care about people, which makes his heroism feel a bit out of place. Or, at least condescending. He’ll gladly catch us when we fall, but don’t ask for an explanation of his actions — he doesn’t need to explain himself to us. It suggests that Superman doesn’t respect our intelligence, which is ironic, given how dumb this issue was.

Scott, I ran out of patience with this issue long before I got to the end, so it’s tough for me to muster much excitement for either epilogue. Did the ending here inspire you to pick up next month’s issue? Most importantly, why did Clark have a big name tag on his desk where his keyboard should be? Was he really that bad at maintaining his cover?

"Kent. I am Kent."

Scott: As far as the nametag thing is concerned, I think it’s just a matter of perspective. And, if you’ll forgive the corny segue, I think Superman’s attitude in this issue is a matter of perspective as well. Yes, at face value he was acting like a dick and completely out of character, but I thought Lobdell did a decent enough job hinting that Clark has become susceptible to certain human flaws, or rather, emotions, that I could buy into his actions in this issue. Clark isn’t being condescending because he actually looks down on humans, he’s just feeling stressed after H’el nearly destroyed the planet. Maybe that’s out of character, but I think it makes his character more interesting, so I’m ok with it.

That’s not to say the issue as a whole wasn’t a bore. It gave the feeling of being too long while simultaneously progressing very little. You’re right Drew, there’s nothing more off-key than seeing Clark get hit on at a trendy night club. I appreciate Lobdell’s effort to humanize Clark in other ways, but no one’s going to sympathize with him for being too sexy. And that scene ultimately gave way to the issue’s most glaring logical flaw: if the people keep jumping off the roof, why does Superman keep putting them back up there?

He'll catch on eventually...

Just put them on the ground, Clark! Like one party-goer said, it really does seem like Superman’s doing this for fun. They didn’t consider the possibility that he’s actually just an idiot.

To answer your other question, Drew, neither epilogue really did much for me. It’s hard for me to read the words “Epilogue 2” without rolling my eyes- I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to mean. The second epilogue is only an epilogue to the prologue, if that makes sense, so it probably should have been a B-plot mixed in with the rest of the story. Anyway, I’ve liked Orion in his appearances in Wonder Woman, so I want his story here to develop into something interesting. Honestly, Orion is most enjoyable when he’s making blatantly sexist passes at Wonder Woman, so I’m not sure how well that will translate to Superman. If it sets up an awkward Superman-Wonder Woman-Orion love triangle, I’m on board.

All in all, Drew, I didn’t find this issue to be the total dud it was for you. I say this considering the story structure, dialogue and most of the plot fell flat. But I kind of dig the idea of Superman refusing to cooperate with the Senate. I think it will play nicely into the whole “Superman is a threat to all existence” thing Lobdell is setting up. Now that H’el is out of the way, who but Superman could really seem like a threat to the world?

Or maybe, Drew, you’re just jealous. You, too, are 25, but you haven’t yet had an idea as great as April Fools! You’re the man!

Thumbs up, Bro!

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?

8 comments on “Superman 18

  1. Okay, so you know that I’m a HUGE Lobdell detractor so I’m not about to disagree with most of the negativity being thrown in this issues direction. HOWEVER, I actually did enjoy Superman vs. the Senate. Superman and the government just haven’t mixed very well in the N52. Morrison had them kidnap Supes and torture him, and the JL has always had very icy relations with the government which I assume will not improve with what Waller has planned with the JLA. With all of that, I can totally believe Superman being such a dick to the Senate, and actually got some decent entertainment value out of it.

    Everything else was terrible, but less terrible than the “H’el” that Lobdell’s been putting us through recently…Anyone? Anyone? Is this thing on?

  2. I’m totally done with this series. Even if Rocafort comes back, I don’t know that I can ignore the crummy writing anymore. The logical inconsistencies are just too much – Scott pointed out that Supes should have just put the people on the ground, but also, like, he can’t just unplug the sound system? He’s got to blast the whole fucking thing with his laser eyes?

    Also, I’m totally with you Drew, on not understanding Clark’s reaction to the website. In what world does he not have enough time to commit to that? Especially if reporting honest news is something that’s actually important to him – ZERO EDITORIAL OVERSIGHT CLARK.

    • I’m so glad we have Superman Unchained and Superman/Batman to look forward to. Unchained is finally going to set a standard for Superman in the N52. Even though I enjoyed Morrison’s Action Comics, it was all flashback so I’m excited to see what a great writer like Snyder can do with the character in the “present” of the DCU.

  3. Wait, Clark’s 25? I’m older than Superman?! CRAP!

    Also, Rocafort left? Can we please get him on a non Lobdell penned book? (Crosses fingers)

    • It may be apocryphal, but I remember hearing that Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns specifically because he was about to turn 28, the age Batman had always been up until that point. I like that kind of goalpost moving. Like, “shit, I can’t be as old as Batman! I guess I’ll just make him older.”

  4. Just as a general inquiry, have they said outright what the location of the Fortress is? Also does anybody else feel weird about the thought bubbles? They’re fairly antiquated at this point are they not?

    • I don’t think they have ever said specifically, but it’s somewhere in the arctic. I assume it’s somewhere on the ice cap over international waters, just because that seems more Superman-y than squatting on some land in Canada or Iceland or something.

      I used to find the thought bubbles charming, specifically because they are a bit old-fashioned, which fits my idea of Superman as kind of a relic. Unfortunately, Lobdell completely overuses them, either stating the obvious, or taking a shortcut to tell us what should have been made obvious. I think I would mind it less if Lobdell didn’t also rely on a omniscient third-person narrator at the start of every issue, but the fact that we get that AND a look inside Superman’s head (or Orion’s, or anyone else Lobdell sees fit) makes the writing feel lazy and overstuffed.

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