Superman 22

Today, Spencer and Mark are discussing Superman 22, originally released May 3, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: DC’s double-shipping initiative has created quite the creative dilemma: how do you handle art duties with a schedule that makes it impossible for a single regular artist to handle every issue? Most titles have found a regular roster of artists to cycle through, but Superman adds an interesting wrinkle to that concept — while there are several artists who have consistently lent their talent to the book, co-writer Patrick Gleason is clearly its “main” artist, whose work is usually saved for the most important issues and stories. Such is the case with “Black Dawn,” the culmination of Gleason and Peter Tomasi’s first year of Superman stories. Gleason illustrated “Black Dawn’s” first two chapters, but Doug Mahnke takes over for its third installment. The switch in artists could be jarring, but Tomasi and Gleason incorporate it beautifully, using the opportunity to switch the perspective of their story entirely.

While the first two chapters of “Black Dawn” were told mainly from Clark and Jon’s points of view, Lois takes over as the central character in Superman 22. If Gleason (and his colorist John Kalisz) represented the Supermen’s more bombastic adventures, then Mahnke and colorist Wil Quintana fully embrace the darker tone of Lois’ investigation, and eventually her desperate struggle for survival. This is a grim issue; Lois discovers that, not only are her trusted neighbors spying on her family, but that they’re superpowered, and have no trouble hunting her down when she uncovers their secret.

This is a smart use of Lois Lane (or is it Lois Kent? Lois Lane-Kent?). She’s a fearless investigative journalist; of course she isn’t content sitting at home when her family and friends are in danger. I love the touches the creative team throw in to show us Lois’ competence; I’m not even talking about her continued use of the Hellbat gauntlet, but of her noticing her co-worker Candice and realizing how suspicious her recovery is, her quickly comprehending the underground bunker, and especially her deflection of Candice.

Check out that second panel — Candice’s reflection in the monitor gives her away, but Lois is observant and skilled enough to notice it and use it to her advantage. Lois’ ingenuity eventually gives way to luck as the Batmobile responds to her gauntlet, but by then Mahnke and Quintana have already drawn us into the chase. Their panel-by-panel action beats are great, but I’m especially impressed by their use of red throughout this sequence. Red is always a striking color, but especially so against Quintana’s otherwise dark and moody palette. It punctuates the violence of Lois’ gauntlet blasts and eventually consumes her completely once she enters the Batmobile, showing how deep into this conflict she’s truly gotten.

The first, and perhaps most significant, use of red as a symbol of violence and upheaval comes at the issue’s outset.

As Kathy mentions the next page, she and Jon loved that tree and played there often. It’s not a coincidence that issue 21 closed with Kathy holding Jon and Damian hostage in front of that very tree; her actions severed their friendship, and the burning of the tree is symbolic of that. Actually, the tree seems to be the halfway point between the Kent and Cobb farms, making its destruction stand for, not just the end of one friendship, but of the relationship between both families. The fire spreading to the grave of Goldie (the family’s cat, who Jon accidentally, tragically killed), meanwhile, suggests not just the death of a relationship, but of the Kents’ entire history with their new home. Their past in this town is a lie that’s slowly burning to ash right in front of their eyes.

That’s confirmed by Lois’ discoveries throughout the rest of the issue. The forces she runs into beneath City Hall proves that it’s not just Cobb’s family working against them; the entire town is not only aware of the force monitoring the Kent family, but somehow allied with it. While the exact specifics of this threat are still unknown, there’s actually a few important revelations scattered throughout this issue. Besides the above, there’s also the fact that the City Hall attackers didn’t know Lois still had the Hellbat gauntlet, which means that, while their surveillance is extensive, it’s not all-encompassing. Perhaps most significant is what Clark discovers in Superman 22‘s final moments.

Earlier I referred to “Black Dawn” as the culmination of a year’s worth of stories, and this is the page that drives that fact home. Cobb (or whoever he’s working with) hasn’t just targeted Batman and Robin; he’s also captured the thieves from Superman 7 and Frankenstein and his bride (from issues 12 and 13). Cobb and co. have had their hands in every single thing that’s happened to the Kents since this volume began. That’s got to be eerie.

I loved the first two chapters of “Black Dawn” so much that, I’ll admit, I was disappointed at first to see this issue swerve in such a different direction. I’ve come to appreciate it, though; it moves the plot forward in interesting ways, and gives Lois a true chance to shine (a character as important as Lois Lane should never be in the background for too long). Most importantly, though, it takes what could have been a roadblock — a fill-in artist in the middle of a storyline — and instead uses it to the story’s advantage. That’s smart thinking from Tomasi and Gleason, and Mahnke and Quintana execute it well. What say you, Mark; did you enjoy this issue, or were you looking forward to a little more of Jon and Kathy (and let’s be real, Damian)?

Mark: I loved this issue.

I’ve been complaining for months that Lois has been getting the short shrift when it comes to her story— more often relegated to the role of bystander or damsel in distress than an active participant, and what a waste it is to keep her sidelined. Lois Lane is one of the original kick-ass women of comics; she deserves better.

Part of the difficulty DC has with characters like Lois is that, as a line, they don’t really have any use for someone lacking god-like powers (who isn’t associated with Batman). Contrast that with Marvel who, through their street-level characters like Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, are able to create interesting conflicts for heroes who can’t fly into outer space on a whim or dash through the space/time continuum if necessary. DC’s built-in editorial indifference for “normal” people means struggling to find uses for a character like Lois Lane, a woman whose usual scene partner is virtually indestructible.

That’s what makes this issue so remarkable. In Superman 22, Tomasi, Gleason, and Mahnke have crafted a showcase for Lois. The panels read like a greatest hits of her greatest attributes: we get to see her investigative skills in action, her scrappiness, her resourcefulness, her intelligence. It’s all in-character, and it’s all super fun. When’s the last time Lois Lane was allowed to be the fun one in a comic? And best of all, she wasn’t backing up Superman. Lois can get scrappy in a fight, but usually it’s because Superman has come to rescue her and — because of their deep personal connection — she’s able to intuit Superman’s moves and punch some henchman in the face while Supes takes out Lex Luthor or something. In Superman 22, she’s given the chance to do much more than that.

So did I miss Jon or Damian? Not for a second, because I know that we’ll be getting plenty of them in the near future, whereas Lois ends the issue looking like she’ll next be seen as a hostage for DC’s Big Boys to rescue. Which is fine! Tomasi and Gleason have been producing a pretty consistently stand-out run of Superman, and I’m not categorically opposed to stories where Superman swoops in to save the day. But I guess what I am saying is that the DC/Marvel cross-over I most want to see is this version of Lois Lane working with the She-Hulk from Charles Soule’s 2014 run to solve and litigate crime.

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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