Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Superman 9, originally released October 19th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Issues 8 and 9 of Superman read like an entire season of LOST. I’m only partially saying that because the action takes place on a mysterious, temporally displaced, impossible-to-escape island populated by monsters. The comparison is actually more apt in the way both LOST and Superman treat their central mysteries. By the end of issue 9, Clark and Jon’s adventure on the island may appear to be over, but readers are left with a host of lingering questions. In lieu of answers, storytellers Patrick Gleason and Peter Tomasi revel in the charming and illuminating details of the mystery itself, letting the mysterious, the symbolic, and the evocative beats speak for themselves.
After spending most of issue 8 gathering clues and punching dinosaurs, Clark and Jon finally stumble upon a human being that can shed some light on what they’re experiencing. This is Captain Storm.
Artist Doug Mahnke leads this introduction with the most visually striking element of this character – his missing leg. It’s the kind of detail that has a definitive origin, but it’s almost more compelling to let the reader’s imagination run wild with possible causes for that loss of limb. Storm does start to tell Jon how he lost his leg and eye, but Clark shuts him down, like a good dad. Clark’s request — the elegantly stated “how about we keep the blood and guts chatter to a minimum” — might as well be a mission statement for the story arc. The “blood and guts” have to take a back seat to what’s happening right in front of them.
So while it’s tempting to try to make sense of transportation devices and familiar cybernetic contact lenses, Gleason and Tomasi relish the details at hand. Superman doesn’t so much ask Storm for his story as he answers Storm’s questions. Storm gets a nice sigh of relief discovering that the Allies win the War, but happily scrubs over the incongruous jump to “oh, and there are Superman now,” accepting it as an unexplainable set of dots to connect.
I think that’s why we spend a whole page at Cloud’s makeshift funeral – the symbolism itself is important, and the weight of the moment can mean something all on it’s own. That’s actually kind of a relief, because it takes pressure off those looming questions and lets all the dino-smacking action act as its own reward. And Mahnke knows a thing or two about drawing hordes of monsters.
This scene quickly dissolves into visual chaos, with Mahnke prioritizing the characters and the monsters over the staging itself. An early establishing shot shows that they’re in an aircraft graveyard, but most of those details are quickly buried under an avalanche of fur and scales. Jon eventually finds the transporter in the cockpit of some kind of craft (I think spacecraft, but who knows?). Finding that thing is the key to getting the Kents home, so it’s technically the climax of the story, but it also finds Mahnke at his most visually incoherent. The per-page panel-counts skyrocket heading into the resolution and our windows into the action get smaller and less informative until Clark and Jon just pop out on the other side.
It’s sort of a frustrating way to witness the scene, but it’s also kind of frustrating from a storytelling / mystery-solving perspective as well. Tomasi, Gleason and Mahnke are deliberately withholding explanations and inviting the reader to love the mystery itself. For my money, “loving the mystery itself” is exactly what I want from a good ol’ fashioned gee-willickers Superman story, so I end up walking about from this issue, and this story arc, almost completely satisfied. And for those fans that might be interested in how this ties into Clark and Jon’s future adventures, there’s a tease on the final page, narrated a Superman that may be a little too eager to please: “I promise, we’ll find a way back and we’ll get answers together.”
Mark did you enjoy this aggressively mysterious adventure to dinosaur island? Or do you need to have a little more concrete “why” to hang a story on?
Mark: The first half of this issue definitely hit a sweet spot for me. I will always and forever love a fruitful visit to Dinosaur Island—a concept right out of the best of pulp fiction. (I will forever hold a grudge against Robin Son of Batman 12 for delivering the dullest visit to Dinosaur Island ever.) In the beginning, Superman 9 is a glorious Golden Age tale. As the issue barrels head-on into confusion, the lack of narrative logic kind of overwhelms it, but the lingering mysteries don’t drag it down so much as burn it out.
But what an opening few pages!
Patrick, you already highlighted Captain Storm’s entrance, and to me that moment perfectly captures the adventurous spirit of the issue. Storm (and Dinosaur Island itself) looks like he walked right off the cover of a men’s adventure magazine from the 1940’s.
Captain Storm is awesome. He has an awesome name, he’s missing an awesome leg, and he rides an awesome pterodactyl named after the great Myrna Loy. I can’t stress this enough: his. mount. is. a. pterodactyl.
Part of the recipe for successful pulp fiction is skillful manipulation of the readers’ emotions. Playing one note for too long causes the audience to lose interest. A salacious tale of sex is good. A salacious tale of sex with interludes of comedy and horror is great. Tomasi and Gleason strike this balance by infusing the narrative with unexpected moments of pathos; the funeral for Storm’s fallen brothers in arms, Superman comforting his son, Storm sacrificing himself to ensure Superman and Jon’s safe escape.
The conclusion of this issue is, well, kind of a mess. It’s hard to beat Mahnke’s striking image of the island’s monsters moving in for the kill, but the issue doesn’t even try. The longer the climactic fight goes on the more incoherent it becomes. At least Captain Storm is given a proper send off. He’s too cool for this world!
When you consider that comic books are, at their core, a pulp art, it’s pretty remarkable how rarely the actual tools of pulp fiction are successfully wielded (or wielded at all, really). Superman 9 at its best showcases Tomasi, Gleason, and Mahnke at their best.
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?