Today, Michael and Mark are discussing Superman 50, originally released March 16th, 2016.
Michael: Mark, I’ve had a problem lately — the impending arrival of whatever DC Rebirth shapes up to be has been coloring my read of nearly every DC book. The creative behind-the-scenes shuffle that must be going on fascinates me — creators rushing their stories to conclusions earlier than they anticipated, etc. Superman 50 is the conclusion of Gene Luen Yang’s run on the book. And while it is an awkward, frantic, and deflated conclusion, it kind of seems like that’s what Yang intended all along?
Superman trails Vandal Savage through space as he chases the comet that gave him his powers back in caveman times. Once Savage gets his comet power-up he puts Supes through a series of virtual simulations where Savage is “High Chief” and Superman is his second-in-command. Savage shows Supes what could have been on Krypton, what could be on Earth (working with Savage) and what the future could be if Supes turns him down. Oddly, Superman is almost tempted by Savage’s offer until he has a nice Pa Kent flashback. With the help of Savage’s son, Puzzler, Supes destroys the comet and Savage is defeated (and also destroyed?).
Oh boy. This issue was…rough for me, but I’ll try to use my nice words. I’ll try! Finales are tricky things and its best to not place a lot of expectations on them. Gene Luen Yang did put some expectation on this particular finale himself however — saying that we would finally know what “Truth” meant in terms of his Superman story. Regardless of Superman 50 being the finale, the revelation of “Truth” was supremely anti-climactic. Behold, Truth:
“Our choices make us who we are” is not an untrue statement, nor an empty one. The power of free will enables us to forge our own path and become the person we want to be. In the context of Superman’s fight with Vandal Savage however, it doesn’t seem like a eureka moment by any means. We’re supposed to believe that Superman was about to buy into Savage’s “might makes right” philosophy if he didn’t suddenly remember a garage chat with his dad? Superman himself notes that both Pa Kent and Savage warn that “gifts comes with responsibilities” and “choices have consequences”
What’s the lesson here exactly? Everything’s a matter of perspective? Messages ring truer when you remember your sweet dead dad said them to you? What I’m getting at is that there is no “revelation of truth” for Superman here; he doesn’t really learn anything and he’s kind of known “the truth” all along. It feels empty.
I wasn’t really a fan of Yang’s portrayal of Superman, either. Superhero books tend to over-rely on the internal monologue. Typically, I don’t mind it as a storytelling device as long as it actually advances the story. The internal monologue can either juxtapose the characters values and beliefs with the action depicted on the page or by literally displaying the character’s thoughts in that moment. Yang employs the latter technique but it’s a whole lot of filler. Combined with his dialogue, Superman kinda comes off as a dumbfounded moron. I don’t need to read Superman’s every thought about how crazy this situation is or what his next plan of attack will be. At the beginning of the issue Superman said “I can’t tell him he’s wrong so I show him instead.” I wish Yang would’ve taken note and done a little more showing than telling.
Mark: It feels like we’ve seen all of this a lot before, doesn’t it?
Gene Luen Yang’s Superman has been *the* disappointment of DC YOU for me. When it’s hitting the familiar notes of a Superman story it feels rote, and when it’s being inventive it’s pretty dire. Superman 50 is the perfect microcosm of this phenomenon. Alternate Krypton universe where Superman interacts with his parents? Snooze. Folksy advice from Pa Kent? Snoooze. That advice basically boiling down to “with great power comes great responsibility?” Snooooze.
But the original stuff is equally annoying. Does anyone fondly remember Hordr_Root? Do we care at all about Lois’ contrived conflict with Clark? Remember when Superman was a wrestler for a little bit?
I’m annoyed by the conclusion of the “Everybody Hates Superman Now Thanks To Lois” storyline. It’s like, yes, Superman did save the world from destruction…but he did that countless times before and everyone turned on him anyway. It’s not that I don’t believe that the citizenry of Metropolis — of America — couldn’t be easily swayed to hate an outsider, and then just as easily swayed to love him again, but that’s a deeply, deeply cynical take that doesn’t really jive with Superman’s message of hope. The obvious editorial answer is that Yang ran out of time and still wanted to wrap up that loose thread, but why wasn’t this more of a focus towards the end of the run? Why not create a scenario that allows Superman to regain the trust of humanity in a more organic way? Maybe because the whole conflict was so forced to begin with.
There are three credited artists on Superman 50 (four including “Special Guest Artist” Jon Bogdanove), and I’m not sure who worked on what. While there are some fine pages and panels in the issue, I question the decision to end on a full-page image of Superman sporting a…how can I say… constipation face.
And yet maybe that’s the perfect image for Yang’s Superman run to go out on.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?