Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Superman: Lois and Clark 5, originally released February 24th, 2016.
Michael: I’m enough of a seasoned comic book reader to know that I shouldn’t be misled by/read into comic book covers. But dammit, I still get my hopes up about covers with the best of ’em. The cover for Superman: Lois and Clark 5 teases that beardy Clark will come face to face with New 52 Batman. Alas it was just a tease.
Superman: Lois and Clark is only five issues deep, but it’s established a fairly predictable structure. Step 1: open the issue with a flashback that shows/tells us how Lois and Clark have been on this very different Earth for a while now. Step 2: advance the story in the present day and run the risk of our heroes’ identities being discovered. Step 3: cut to deep space where some mysterious, menacing villain is sloooooowly making his way towards Earth. Superman: Lois and Clark 5 is no exception to this structure as we open with a Batman/Jon’s Birthday flashback, deal with the Clark/Blanque fight and leave off with mysterious space lady closing in on Earth.
Dan Jurgens is a writer who’s best known for The Death of Superman and The Return of Superman. In recent years his attempts to write more “modern” books (including New 52 Superman) haven’t been very well received. I don’t think that the “edgier, more modern” take that The New 52 spewed out across the line really gels with Jurgens style. Jurgens is at his best when he’s writing these characters with a more classic approach — and since he’s one of the guys that got Lois and Clark married in the first place, he’s the best choice to write this book. When he’s writing Lois and Clark themselves, Jurgens hits all the right notes of their playful/sweet relationship. That kind of old school Superman vibe allows Jurgens to write plenty of wink-and-nod moments that have a Christopher Reeves earnestness about them.
Jurgens isn’t a young man but he’s no old-timer either; the man is only 56. One of the reasons that I’ve never been able to buy Jurgens in recent history is that he seems out of touch with what’s popular or interesting in modern comics. Take for instance, the character of Blanque. Blanque doesn’t really have any discernible backstory or method to his madness, he’s just a superpowered sociopath. Granted, comic books are littered with such amoral, evil sons of bitches who just want to defile everything that’s good. Blanque however merely exists to show old Clark how cruel and harsh this Earth is. On the one hand, Jurgens IS old Clark – which is a concept that I really enjoy. If Clark’s interaction with Earth-0 is supposed to be a metaphor for Jurgens’ unease with the New 52, that is a novel and interesting idea. If that is one of the goals of Superman: Lois and Clark (which I could be completely off base about) then Jurgens is not taking the conversation and commentary to a particularly deep level. Instead of poking fun at “what’s hip” from a place of intelligence, Jurgens comes off as the “back in my day” type argument.
The most egregious example of this — not to mention the most WTF-worthy moment of the issue — is a one page scene at the end of the issue. Pursuant to nothing, Neil Edwards gives us a scene where a man named Bradley Glenn exits prison and is offered a job to suit up Iron Man-style and be a “badass villain” on reality TV. They make the “explanation” that he will be smashing “decrepit bridges and buildings slated for destruction” but it is still so out of the blue and misguided I was gobsmacked. If Dan Jurgens is looking to make fun of pop culture and what we obsess ourselves with, I think he picked the wrong target. Sure, reality TV still exists but I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly relevant subject matter.
I want to like this series, I really do — I love classic Superman. And while I was disappointed that they didn’t actually interact, I liked that Clark decided to help out Batman. Batman and Superman are partners — it’s only natural that Clark would feel the draw to see how his best friend was doing. I’m hoping that Jurgens gives the Dark Knight Detective his due and allows him to uncover old beardy Clark. Clark says “Even though he isn’t the man I knew, he’s still Batman.” It’s a funny coincidence because Batman is one of the few characters that didn’t go through drastic changes in The New 52; so he actually is pretty close to the Batman that Clark knew.
Mark am I being too harsh on this issue/series? Do you think I’m reading too much into Jurgens’ possible commentary on modern comics? And how in the hell does Hank Henshaw not know who Clark is? Even if the outfit is black and there’s no cape, there’s a huge frickin’ S shield on Clark’s chest!
Mark: I’m beginning to sour on Superman: Lois and Clark, too, even though I came into the series with such high hopes. I love this version of Superman and his relationship with Lois so I was willing to give the book the benefit of the doubt through some of its more troubling narrative leaps. But now, five issues in, it’s clear Lois and Clark is a series that’s not going to transcend those narrative issues.
I’m willing to forgive a lot when it comes to comic book narratives. The nature of the medium is that crazy things happens and little explanation is provided. You just roll with it because “comic book logic.” But when your entire story is predicated on the idea of keeping a low profile, and then your characters are almost endlessly doing things to draw more attention to themselves — things that go against their own self interest –it becomes frustrating. I think it’s why I find the Intergang storyline frustrating. Like so many aspects of this book the idea behind it is great: let’s give Lois something to do instead of just hanging around at home. She’s one of the world’s greatest journalists! But why oh why would she decide to go to Cora’s office, and why would she take her son? These are dumb dumb decisions.
And that interaction with Henshaw bugged me so much. It just furthers my annoyance that 1) everyone in this universe acts pretty stupidly and 2) Superman is even wearing that black costume with the S-shield. Remember, their stated goal is to keep a low profile and not let anyone know that there’s a second Superman around. One of the simplest ways to do that would probably be not wearing a costume with one of the universe’s most recognizable symbols on it. And let’s not forget that Lois seemingly acquired the costume by going into S.T.A.R. Labs posing as New 52 Lois. What monumentally bad ideas for people fearing for the safety of their family!
I think Dan Jurgens is a very smart writer, so I’m potentially willing to believe he intends Superman: Lois and Clark as a commentary on modern comics. But to me it feels more and more like he’s attempting to write an old-fashioned character in the style of modern comics, and it’s just not quite coming together. I agree that 56 is not super old, but it is a generational difference from most monthly superhero book authors. And, like you mentioned, Michael, the reality show elements featured in the back part of the issue feel more akin to the unintentionally funny references to modern trends found in syndicated newspaper strips like Mary Worth and Mark Trail.
Superman: Lois and Clark very clearly comes from a place of love. I will never not be happy to have this version of Superman back in continuity (albeit possibly for only a brief time thanks to DC’s impending “Rebirth”), and I still think Jurgens was the right man to do it. The fundamental idea is still exciting: an alternate continuity Superman continues to be a superhero in secret in the New 52 world. But the narrative has failed to live up to that promise, and the additional plot threads are taking us further and further away from the core relationship we care about. Maybe next time.