Superman 14

superman-14

Today, Mark and Michael are discussing Superman 14, originally released January 4, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Mark: There was something in the air starting around 2005 that demanded male-driven pop culture be characterized by “grit.” Space marines were to be bald, worlds were to be painted in shades of concrete, and heroes were meant to be broken. It’s perhaps unfair to lay the root of this phenomenon at the feet of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins — but here we are. Whatever you think of the movie itself, there’s no question that Nolan’s take on Batman had the (unintended?) side effect of making the character joyless. Everyone wants to be Batman, but who would want to be that Batman? By the time The Dark Knight Rises was released in 2012, this No Fun Allowed Batman was so ingrained in the public consciousness that when Nolan and his brother Jonathan attempted to inject a bit of levity into the proceedings with a handful of actual jokes, some fans of the series balked. And who can blame them? For many, this was the only Batman they knew, and Batman — an adult man who dresses as a bat to beat up clowns and squat fat men and women squeezed into male-gaze fetish gear — was nothing to joke about.

Whether by decree of shared corporate Time Warner overlords or just an attempt to reinvigorize their lineup by capitalizing on the trends of the time, DC’s 2011 New 52 re-launch became an exercise in Nolanization. And while perhaps never as literally grey as the video games of the time, the race to appeal to the same Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel-fueled demographic had the (again, unintended?) side effect of slowly and fundamentally eroding what was so beloved about many of DC’s characters to begin with. To be fair, before Rebirth DC had already begun course correcting toward a more vibrant, diversified, and generally happy lineup of characters, but in some cases the rot was considered too deep. Let us pour one out for New 52 Superman, a sacrificial lamb killed off as a sign of good faith toward spurned fans.

And while we are now a little over 2 years past what I consider the turning point in DC’s direction (the 2014 launch of Grayson and soft reboot of Batgirl), I still crack open every issue of Superman or The Flash or Green Arrow or whatever and brace myself for a slog through affected grit.

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All of this is to say how much I appreciate Superman 14. I’ve praised the pulp qualities of this Superman run in the past, and it continues to hold true. Here is a Superman who punches inter-dimensional death soldiers into the ground while making a crack about Santa Claus. This Golden Age enthusiasm isn’t a throwback, it’s a fundamental understanding on the part of writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason about what makes (and has always made) Superman appealing.

The issue is divided into three parts. In the first, Superman and his Red Son Earth counterpart battle against Gatherers, alien creatures sent by someone called Prophecy to travel the Multiverse and round-up all of the Supermen who are on “The Lyst.” It’s not clear why some Supermen are on The Lyst, but not others. The Gatherers were sent to capture Red Son Superman, but have no interest in our Superman (Maybe because this Superman is here because of the events of Convergence, and by all accounts shouldn’t exist).

After defeating the group of Gatherers by way of double-heat vision, the second part of the issue begins with a visit from the Justice League Incarnate, led by the Superman of Earth 23. Aware of the threat to all Supermen, the JLI is scouring the Multiverse in an effort to protect them. Kenan Kong, better known as New Super-Man, is next on the Gatherers’ list. Finally, a short epilogue takes us Elsewhere, where we see the Gatherers have been successful in capturing many Superman from across the Multiverse. Poor Captain Carrot is dragged from his cell and sapped of all his power, becoming just a normal bunny rabbit.

One of the keys to good pulp fiction is never winking at its inherent ridiculousness. Once the barrier of ironic distance is broken, the whole thing becomes broken. Tomasi and Gleason play the situation completely straight, and it’s why the issue works. Captain Carrot is an inherently ridiculous character, but here he is alongside all of the other Supermen and no joke is made at his expense. In this situation, Captain Carrot is just as important to Prophecy as, say, Red Son Superman.

But, again, not embracing ironic distance doesn’t mean having no sense of humor. When the JLI appear out of thin air, all it takes is for Kal-El to mention the Multiverse for Superman to drop his fight stance.

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I’ve had Star Wars on the brain recently, but Superman’s “The Multiverse…I’m a little familiar with it,” is such a Han Solo-like understatement.

What’d you think, Michael? I didn’t really dig into the art, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado are credited with layouts and finishes respectively, but it similarly carries a sense of adventure. And even though I’m really high on this issue, maybe my enthusiasm is blinding me to some failings?

Michael: Mark, I don’t think that your excitement for Superman 14 is blinding you to all that much. I think that the artwork is the biggest failing of the issue, as you already pointed out. Ivan Reis’ layouts set up the issue for success but Joe Prado sort of stumbles through in the finishes. There were multiple points in the issue where one of our two starring Supermen seemed a little too oafish in their close-ups. The wider action panels played out a little better however. Whenever the characters started fighting off the gatherers it was as if they entered another plane of existence, filled with Marcelo Maiolo’s bright reds and oranges. I wasn’t clear if this was a byproduct of the energy blasts or heat vision but these colors were prominent throughout the issue. Then again, red skies are always appropriate when you’re dealing with Crisis-level multiversal events.

Superman 14 marks the first time the characters of Multiversity have interacted with the current continuity of DC Comics. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise because Pete Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are big fans of Grant Morrison’s work and characters, but it was still a welcome surprise. I wonder how the metafiction narrative of Morrison’s original Multiversity will fit into the “Multiplicity” arc, if at all. The unseen multiversal villain of Multiplicity is “The Prophecy”, whose beastly henchmen “The Gatherers” are collecting the Supermen of many different worlds for a mysterious purpose. As Mark said, the end of Superman 14 shows Captain Carrot transformed into an average cute bunny rabbit. Is The Prophecy’s goal to depower the Supermen and turn them into mortals? Is it just to take them out of the picture for something greater that he has in store for the multiverse?

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The titular Superman’s place in all of this is very interesting, because as the Gatherers are trying to acquire commie Superman they disregard the preservation of our Superman. It’s possible that since Superman is somewhat of a multiversal anomaly he doesn’t fit into The Prophecy’s larger plan. Since Superman is not on “The Lyst” he is to be “processed, consumed. That is what a commodity is for.” Red Son Superman and Captain Carrot are on the Lyst, making them valuable items where Superman is something that is something of a resource that is to be used and discarded. This is where the Multiversity metafiction comes into play.

Since we don’t know the exact goal of The Prophecy and his Gatherers it’s hard to craft the precise metaphor, but it’s clear that Tomasi and Gleason want us to think about how we as fans view our treasured comic book characters. The Prophecy’s collection of Supermen obviously reminds me of Brainiac but also makes me think of Toy Story 2. Woody is “kidnapped” and becomes a collector’s item and once you make a toy a collectors item you don’t get to play with it. Maybe the message is that we place too much reverence in the actions of these fictional characters? Is The Prophecy taking our Supermen away because we’re not playing with them the right way? Perhaps none of this, perhaps all of this.

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Speculation aside, I thought that Superman 14 was an enjoyable ride of a comic book. Once again Tomasi and Gleason tap into what makes classic Superman so wholesome and lovable. In addition to the absolute sincerity of that “Santa Claus” line, I loved how Superman asked questions first before throwing a punch. Of course, many superheroes would benefit from a simple conversation instead of laying down fisticuffs, but it is absolutely vital that Superman do this sort of thing. Conversely, I was a little shocked at how Superman encouraged his commie compatriot to unleash the heat vision on the gatherers – do they have a stun setting for those things?

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?

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2 comments on “Superman 14

  1. After I read this issue, the thing that really struck me was how similar the conceit of this storyline is to Spider-Verse. You’ve got a group of demonic creatures scouring the multi-verse for alternate versions of the same superhero who, if Captain Carrot is any indication, they want to drain (at least some of) the superpowered life-force from. Maybe as time goes by, the parallels between this and the ASM story will become superficial, but, for now, they seem a little to similar to my mind.

  2. You know what is interesting about Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, that gets forgotten? They are actually full of jokes. And I’m not just talking about the dark humour of the Joker, that horrifies us at the same time. Mark mentions that the movies made Batman joyless, but the real tragedy is how all the imitators ignored the fun stuff in their effort to ape the surface level details. Very few are laugh out loud funny, because that isn’t the point. But they are throughout the movie, and there for an important reason. Because in some ways, the humour is what makes the movies work. It gives the humanity that makes the dark elements work, whether it is a surprising moment of humanity or simply people being human enough to crack a joke when the circumstances allow. I think it is actually important to draw attention to, so let’s have a look at the many jokes (and I’m ignoring any quote that relies on a cut)

    Batman: [taps the Bat-signal] Nice.
    Jim Gordon: I couldn’t find any mob bosses.

    Bruce Wayne: You’re thinking about Rachel?
    Alfred Pennyworth: Actually, sir, I was thinking of myself.

    Alfred Pennyworth: What is the point of all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?

    Lucius Fox: I don’t think they tried to market it to the billionaire, spelunking, BASE-jumping crowd.

    Uniformed Policeman #1: [describing the Batmobile] He is in a vehicle!
    Dispatcher: Make and color?
    Uniformed Policeman #1: It’s a… black…?
    [looks at his partner, who shrugs]
    Uniformed Policeman #1: …tank!

    Bruce Wayne: Well, it’s a good thing I left everything to you, then.
    Alfred Pennyworth: Quite so, sir. And you can borrow the Rolls if you like. Just bring it back with a full tank.

    Lucius Fox: [to Reese] Let me get this straight, you think that your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante, who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands, and your plan is to blackmail this person?
    [Reese’s face falls and Fox smiles]
    Lucius Fox: Good luck.

    Alfred Pennyworth: Will you be wanting the Batpod, sir?
    Bruce Wayne: In the middle of the day, Alfred? Not very subtle.
    Alfred Pennyworth: The Lamborghini, then.

    Harvey Dent: Heh heh heh. Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should be aware of?
    Alfred Pennyworth: [smiles] Oh, you have no idea.

    Bruce Wayne: What about getting back into the plane?
    Lucius Fox: I’d recommend a good travel agent.

    But that’s honestly not the most important thing. You want to know what is the most important thing? Bruce Wayne actually has a sense of humour. He has fun. Mark is right that you probably don’t want to be Batman in these movies, but not because it is joyless. Batman Begins is the only movie to truly succeed at selling Bruce Wayne’s party boy lifestyle, and Bruce is constantly making jokes that enjoy the absurdity of the situation, play around with the truth and, on occasion, are actually kind of dorky

    Valet: Nice car.
    Bruce Wayne: You should see my other one.

    Bruce Wayne: Well, a guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.

    Earle: What makes you think *you* can decide who’s running Wayne Enterprises?
    Bruce Wayne: Well, the fact that I’m the owner.
    Earle: What are you talking about? The company went public a week ago.
    Bruce Wayne: And I bought most of the shares. Through various charitable foundations, trusts, and so forth – look, it’s all a bit technical, but the important thing is that *my* company’s future is secure.

    Bruce Wayne: [as Alfred opens the curtains] Bats are nocturnal.

    Alfred Pennyworth: It’s a problem with the graphite, sir. The next 10,000 will be up to specifications.
    Bruce Wayne: At least they gave us a discount.

    Bruce Wayne: Well, you know how it is, Mr Fox. You’re out at night, looking for kicks, someone’s passing around the weaponized hallucinogens…

    Alfred Pennyworth: What would you call *that*?
    [points to a TV news report showing a helicopter shot of the Batmobile being chased down the freeway by police cars]
    Bruce Wayne: [as he fixes his tie] Damn good television

    Bruce Wayne: I need a new suit.
    Lucius Fox: Yeah, three buttons is a little ’90’s, Mr. Wayne.
    Bruce Wayne: I’m not talking fashion, Mr. Fox, so much as function.
    [hands him a diagram]
    Lucius Fox: You want to be able to turn your head.
    Bruce Wayne: Sure would make backing out of the driveway easier.

    Alfred Pennyworth: I trust you don’t have *me* followed on my day off.
    Bruce Wayne: If you ever took one, I might.

    Bruce Wayne: Do you think I should go to the hospital?
    Lt. James Gordon: You don’t watch a whole lot of news, do you, Mr. Wayne?

    The Joker: A little fight in you. I like that.
    Batman: [off-screen] Then you’re gonna love me.

    Alfred Pennyworth: I suppose they’ll lock me up as well. As your accomplice…
    Bruce Wayne: Accomplice? I’m going to tell them the whole thing was your idea.

    Lucius Fox: It emits a high-frequency pulse for mapping an environment and records a response time.
    Bruce Wayne: Sonar. Just like a…
    Lucius Fox: [interrupting before he can say “bat”] Like a *submarine*, Mr. Wayne. Like a submarine.

    The fact that these characters have these sense of humours is part of what makes them work as people we care about. They aren’t just serious people making speeches about grand ideals. They are humans with complex psychologies that involve righteous fury just as much as they enjoy making a bad joke. The first two Nolan movies are actually an important reminder of why humour is important in any sort of story, and the fact that it got forgotten in all of the many rip offs is a tragedy

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