Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Superman: Lois & Clark 3, originally released December 30th, 2015.
Spencer: In any comic storyline lasting more than two or three issues, it’s the middle chapters that are usually the weakest. Openings can rely on the excitement of starting a new story, penultimate chapters generally benefit from a big twist, and conclusions, of course, seem to matter the most simply because they’re the end of the story. Those middle chapters, though — third and fourth issues specifically, if it’s a six-issue arc — tend to blend together, existing only to “move the story forward” without really gaining an identity or having a complete, satisfying narrative of their own. Issue 3 of Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks’ Superman: Lois and Clark fits this description to a “t,” and is a weaker installment because of it.
But first, let’s talk about the good: I still love the way Jurgens depicts Lois and Clark’s relationship.
And when I say “relationship,” I mean both their romantic partnership and the way they work together to fight crime and protect their family. Lois and Clark have a natural, intimate rapport, and I admire the way that both characters’ love for the other springs from their desire to do good and help others. Naturally, then, they work together and support each other unconditionally when it comes to fulfilling that goal, even if it puts them in danger. Even in a world not their own, Lois and Clark can always rely on each other, and I appreciate the fact that Jurgens doesn’t undermine that vital aspect of their relationship just to drum up cheap drama.
I’m really fond of their kid, too. “Cop shop” is such a fun malapropism, and Jurgens and Weeks perfectly capture general childish enthusiasm while also making it distinctly clear through his sense of justice, curiosity and intelligence, and honesty that Jonathan’s the child of Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
Outside of an awkward facial expression and stance or two, Weeks also turns in some really strong work. His style is highly evocative of the Pre-Flashpoint DC Universe — exactly what this series needs in an artist — and there’s a real solid feeling to both the character designs and the layouts that suits Superman’s rock solid dependability. Fortunately, Weeks isn’t afraid to subvert those qualities when it will benefit the narrative.
For example, most of Weeks’ layouts stick pretty rigidly to rows of panels with wide margins — that only makes it more effective when Blanque’s explosion literally sends the panel sprawling outwards into the gutter, expanding along with the explosion and the ensuing action lines. It’s incredibly dynamic storytelling, without becoming unnecessarily stylized.
Where Superman: Lois and Clark 3 starts to lose its way is when it comes to the actual plot. While I’m not entirely sure how Jurgens could have handled it better, I still think that unleashing Blanque as a major enemy at the issue’s end loses some of its punch when he was only first introduced at all in the issue’s opening flashback.
Blanque’s capture in that flashback leads to a question that could have serious repercussions on this series — how does Clark detain villains like Blanque while still remaining anonymous to the world? The answer is that Clark builds a top-secret fortress/prison inside a mountain range, but I find that answer unsatisfying. I’m not the kind of reader who needs to know every nitty-gritty detail — in fact, I find that they tend to drag stories down — but Jurgens goes out of his way to point out that Clark doesn’t have the benefit of Kryptonian technology to build his fortress. Moreover, so much of this series is about Clark trying to operate without the advantages he had on his own world — both of those facts make it awfully convenient and anti-climatic that Clark can just build this super-advanced fortress. Where did he get the technology and materials? If nothing else, it’s an awfully jarring contrast to the “White” family’s simple existence on their farm, and not in a good way.
There’s also a glut of villains in this opening arc, and this issue doesn’t do much to justify their inclusion. After being a major presence last month, the Intergang plot essentially spins its wheels, and the brief outer space subplot (which this month features the mysterious alien murdering a Dominator) feels more and more irrelevant with each passing issue. If nothing else, at least the Blanque and Hank Henshaw plots do collide in an intriguing manner.
Jurgens might just be making a surprisingly dark point about Clark’s obsession with Henshaw. Clark’s not wrong to worry about Henshaw, who became the Cyborg Superman, obliterated Coast City, and indirectly led to Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallax in the old continuity, but this panel makes it look like any damage this Henshaw does to Coast City will be due to Blanque’s influence. Blanque and Henshaw would never even have met if not for Clark bringing them together, meaning Clark’s attempts to prevent the past from repeating itself may just end up bringing those events into being instead.
It’s juicy stuff, but again, it’s mostly speculation as opposed to anything that actually happens in this issue. As I discussed at the outset of this article, middle chapters are notorious for this kind of storytelling, for moving pieces and setting up the story’s conclusion with workmanlike precision, but sacrificing any sort of identity of their own in the process. I think I’ve often considered that a necessary evil in the past, but in our current era — in this comic book renaissance — I don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. I want to see Jurgens push himself; I want to see a middle chapter that still feels like a satisfying, self-contained read all on its own, maybe that’s even the best issue of the entire storyline. That’s what turns a good series into a great series.
Mark, what’s your take on all this? Did you get more out of this middle chapter, or did you find yourself similarly frustrated by its limitations?
Mark: I remain hopeful that all of the threads Jurgens has going will come together in a satisfying way by the end, but having so much in the air definitely makes this issue a sometimes frustrating read.
Generally, I share your same problems with the issue, Spencer, but before I lay into those problems in detail, I want to once again state my love for this version of Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. It’s one of the great gifts of Convergence that we’re able to see these characters in DC Comics again, so while I have my quibbles with the plotting, for my money Jurgens is nailing the stuff that’s most important to me. That being said, this issue lays Superman: Lois and Clark‘s problems bare.
For one, there are so far no good, interesting villains for our heroes to go up against. Blanque is being set up as Supe’s big bad for the arc, but even with a prologue we know little about him. We know even less about the alien who murders a Dominator, and the Intergang stuff feels pretty silly this issue. There are lots of potential “threats” to the White’s way of life at the moment, and next issue promises to turn up the heat, but none of them feel particularly threatening at the moment.
The villains who pose the most immediate threat are the Intergang thugs, and that whole storyline is a bit of a dud. I appreciate that Jurgens is giving Lois a more active role in her life and the action of the story. She’s not just waiting by the door for Clark to come home. Like Superman, she’s actively trying to affect change, and in the process making enemies of her own. The problem is that it feels so removed from the rest of the action, and Intergang doesn’t feel particularly menacing this issue. Their big appearance, the boss’s execution of his minions, is undercut in my mind because all I wanted to know is why he had a space heater plugged in and turned on next to his outdoor pool.
It’s those little logic quirks that prevent this issue from being wholly satisfying. Like the sudden appearance of Clark’s extremely elaborate mountain fortress. Although I’m pretty sure Lee Weeks included the titular Giant from The Iron Giant among Superman’s trophies, so I ain’t all mad.
Again, Jurgens understands these characters so well, and I enjoy them so much, that the broad strokes of Lois and Clark 3 are super satisfying. The moments shared between Clark, Lois, and Jonathan are, for the time being, enough to forgive the messier elements. But as long as the details continue to lack momentum, Lois and Clark will never be wholly satisfying.
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?