Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Superman 44 originally released September 30th, 2015.
Michael: Modern superhero tales have a troubled history with placing too much emphasis on the “how.” How did they get their powers? How did they become a superhero? How would this actually work in the real world? As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but many creators often spend too much time focusing on the “how” instead of placing the emphasis on what happens next. Case in point: Gene Luen Yang and John Romita Jr.’s Superman 44.
After Lois blew the whistle on his identity to the entire world, Clark Kent is just strolling down the street, coat over his shoulder without a care in the world. The Royal Flush Gang decides to snatch good ‘ol Clark up from the streets and get into a minor brawl with him (though, for some reason, it focuses more on the group dynamics of the gang than the actual fight). He makes quick work of those hooligans before he gets word that another group of villains is holding The Daily Planet staff hostage. The misfit bunch consists of Livewire, Killer Croc, Atomic Skull and…some other D-lister. Clark rescues his friends from that sad gathering of evil and gets a responsibility lecture from a mailman-turned villain. Clark visits Perry White in the hospital and instead of thanking him for saving his life, smacks the glasses off of Clark’s face. Because Yang wants you to remember that Clark is on a losing streak. Also something happens with the impossibly stupid villain Hordr_root that doesn’t really do much to make him more interesting.
The whole “DC YOU” pitch for Superman was that he was going to be less powerful and have no secret identity. By and large we’ve seen interesting stories formed from that idea in Action Comics. Superman’s “Before Truth” arc promised to tell us how our hero went from Man of Steel to fallible hero; and like most “how” stories, it fails to truly deliver. Take away all of the needless minutia and this is the basic story of how Superman lost his identity and his powers: “Superman has this new solar flare power that burns out all of his powers for a day or so and he uses it one too many times and is being blackmailed into being a hacker villain’s stooge until Lois Lane reveals his identity and all of his friends abandon him.” Yuck.
When it comes to superheroing, there’s the age-old truth of “if my enemies found out who I was, my loved ones would be endangered.” Superman 44 reiterates this maxim in a noisy and round-about way that makes working our way to “Truth” feel like a chore. Why exactly do the particular villains featured here go after Superman? What ax does Killer Croc have to grind against Superman other than the fact that he’s a dumb grunt? It seems like the potential of this story has been wasted almost completely by focusing on random established villains or boring, new ones like Hordr_root.
Gene Luen Yang’s characterization of Lois has been pretty far off from the get-go, and here she reads like the ex-girlfriend who doesn’t understand why the guy she dumped is mad at her; it’s frustratingly simplistic. Similarly her old man General Lane is one note — and this is a character who has a history of being one note. He goes from disapproving father to doting daddy in the blink of an eye because Lois outed Superman; even this guy can’t be that daft.
Speaking of daft, let’s talk about Superman’s threat to the villain community. Lois herself calls out Superman for his out-of-character bullying “eye-for-an-eye” tactics. Yeah Supes, recording that little video is gonna keep the bad men away from the door. And I guess we are supposed to chalk up ex-mailman Dylan’s actions to misplaced grief at the death of his wife, but does he really think that Titano — a giant robot kryptonite monkey — targeted the wife of The Daily Planet’s mailman because Clark Kent works there? Jesus Christ. While John Romita Jr. has finally gotten a hang of drawing the regular cast, I’m still not crazy about his characters — they often look like sad, unfinished attempts to mimic Jack Kirby’s style. Until Superman called her by name, I thought that Livewire was just some random superpowered thug; I didn’t even think she was a she. Mark can you glean any positives from Superman 44? Is Hordr_root an AI? Should we even care who his father is?
Mark: It does seem like Hordr_root is an AI, but I definitely don’t think I care about who his father is. Really, the one big question through all of Yang’s Superman run, and the question I kept asking myself page after page of Superman 44, is why is everyone so mad at Clark Kent? Like not just hurt that he lied, but straight up furious at him. I have a really hard time believing Perry White would react the way he does here, chastising Superman and literally smacking him in the face. And I still find Lois’ motivation for outing him in the first place incredibly elusive. Here she claims she was doing it to help Clark Kent, but I’m unclear on what she means by that. Purely that he doesn’t have to live a lie anymore?
I also don’t know what to make of The Royal Flush Gang’s “fight” with Clark at the onset of the issue. Specifically, what was going on with Ace? Great care is taken in making sure we understand the dynamic between her and her brother, which I guess is supposed to pay off when she stands up for him (?) and then allows herself to be arrested (??) but not before surrendering to Superman (???). Because it’s laid out so carefully in the beginning I assumed this was something that was going to make sense at least thematically by the issue’s end, but no, as far as I can tell it’s just a random event that doesn’t even tie into the whole “everyone’s angry at Superman” thing.
Romita Jr. has a very specific look, but where he usually runs into trouble is faces. For instance, I’ve been looking at this panel of Lois Lane for a while and struggling to make sense of the light source that is casting these shadows:
Some of this might be on colorists Dean White and Leonardo Olea, but with the placement of the shadow and two different eye colors, Lois looks very much like a cyborg.
And while I laughed at Lois’ 1000 yard stare into the abyss found earlier on that same page (also love that her lips have whiskers):
My favorite face of the issue might be Superman as Soot-Covered-Wolverine:
What is going on with his left cheek?
All of this is very knit-picky, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a comic book to have at least a strong narrative or strong art. Just one of the two is good enough for me. As is, Superman 44 is a pretty strong miss.
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