Can I just take a moment to remind everyone that I haven't missed a regular issue of Superman since 1992? I've been through a lot of great Superman comics, and a lot of terrible ones. I own every issue of Chuck Austen's mercifully brief run. I own first printings of "For Tomorrow." Joe Casey's infamous "Superman's a pacifist" run sits, polybagged, in one of my long boxes. I have every "Our Worlds At War" tie-in issue.
But holy crap, I'm barely halfway through this issue and it's already trying my patience.
Really, the only way to tackle this is with a bulleted list. So I'm going to turn right back to page one and break this down for you.
- Frankly, I don't have much problem with the first two pages. It feels like a scene that would fit better in Smallville than Philadelphia, but I've never been to Philly and think of it as a fairly big place. I could be wrong. Then again, apparently J. Michael Straczynski has never been to Philly either, and didn't feel bothered to do basic research like "local terminology" or "where things are in town."
- Apparently Superman is working on behalf of the Bureau of Silly Walks. Seriously, is he goose-stepping?
The word "smug" keeps getting thrown around on Twitter, and I can see why. I've never seen Superman act so douchey, and I've seen him take over the world.
Seriously, this isn't Superman. It's not a Superman jawline, it's barely a Superman haircut, and it's certainly not a Superman expression. Is this Ray Romano as Superman?
Oh hey, you know what this comic needed? A thinly-veiled and totally timely Michael Moore pastiche!
- Yeah, Superman doesn't lie. Except when he's protecting his secret identity, in which case he lies freely. Also, it's nice to see that Straczynski is a "House" fan!
One reason that I'm not a humorist is that I tend not to know when to stop things, which is a key component of good humor. Case in point: this exchange. It would have been funny with just the Mooresatz's comment, but the "Nope" from some faceless silhouette totally kills the joke.
- I get what Superman is saying here, but it's a really clunky way of saying it. "I'm covering me the length of the trip?" At the very least, the word "for" belongs in there, but I think Superman would end up slipping into third person here for clarity. Because he's, you know, a reporter. Someone who writes for a living. And thus must be pretty good with words.
I was almost with the issue up until this panel. I probably would have given the rest more or less a pass, but this panel got me to start writing this post. I'm sorry, I don't care that he's been away for a year, I don't care that her father killed his homeworld, I don't care that he's probably going through some serious PTSD, Superman doesn't sigh at Lois. Especially not when she's come from Metropolis to Philadelphia to track him down after he left with no apparent explanation, especially not when she's asking reasonable questions. Yes, I can understand that he's been asked those questions by lots of people at this point, but none of those people was his wife. A reporter is asking those questions to fill out the details of a story, to find an angle or an explanation. Lois is asking those questions because she's worried about the man she loves. Superman's sigh is simply inexcusable.
- Lampshade hung, but so far I'm agreeing with the frustrated reporter.
- The page in the diner actually reminds me of something I thought about mentioning during my much more optimistic initial appraisal of the concept. Waaaaay back after the "Death of Clark Kent" storyline, Superman considered giving up the Clark Kent identity altogether. To prove what a dumb idea that was, Lois and Clark stop at a small-town Cafe. Lois gives him a few dollars (he doesn't have much room for money in that skintight outfit, after all) and challenges him to go in and order coffee, as Superman. It's a great scene, where some people react with shock, the police officers ask him if there's some crisis going on, and the timid waitress just hopes the coffee lives up to his expectation. Also, Superman orders black decaf, which is just such a perfect Clark Kent detail. It's a good issue with Karl Kesel scripting and art by the always-awesome Stuart Immonen; if you get a chance to track it down (Adventures of Superman #525), I recommend it. It's certainly better than this dreck.
- All that being said, his lack of cash and cleaning the storeroom ring pretty true, and make for a fairly genuine moment.
- People have complained about the term "Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich," but I don't know enough to know how wrong it is. Except that I've never seen "cheesesteak" as two words.
Somehow, I doubt that this guy has ever actually seen "Project Runway," and I have the feeling the writer threw it in as more of a buzzword to show he's down with the kids than anything actually having to do with fashion. I've never seen "Project Runway" either, mind you, I much prefer "What Not to Wear."
Yeah, this guy's pretty much Mayor McWrong of Wrongington. Last I checked, vigilantism was illegal, and Superman isn't an officer of the law.
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Superman's smirk here. I don't actually have a problem with Superman smirking and being a little flip with the criminals, taking them down a peg, but something about the dialogue still just doesn't quite gel.
Boy, that's a convenient kid. It's like (s)he came out of nowhere to set Superman up for a faux-profound, moderately obtuse, pronoun-laden speech about how he's chosen Philadelphia to watch from now on.
Hey, Superman, you know what might be good to do here? Maybe take the guy to the hospital. I mean, just leaving him to call his doctor when he's apparently having some kind of heart attack, and flying off apparently as fast as possible so you can start walking again is kind of a giant douchebag unSupermanlike move.
Okay, the jumper scene is pretty good. It feels like a Superman scene. Except I have a hard time believing that the generally apolitical Superman would wish aloud that Fidel Castro were dead. And John Lennon? Really? This sounds like really lame author insertion; Straczynski is using Superman as a mouthpiece for Straczynski's views, and that's a pretty serious problem.
Superman, I think there might have been a less destructive, less expensive way to handle that. Like, say, using the switch, or asking someone to turn it off. Maybe you can clean the police storeroom to pay for it.
Again, this sounds like author insertion. Especially since I have a hard time accepting Superman taking a position on euthanasia, and since his father-in-law committed suicide last month. Granted, not the same story, but still probably the greater recent impact. Then again, he's talking to a girl who feels suicidal because she's lost "everything." Maybe it would be a good opportunity for Superman to talk a little about what he's lost recently. Once again, this is a story told in a vacuum, refusing to acknowledge even the most proximal of recent events, no matter how well they might fit into the narrative.
Wow. I mean, just wow. I can't remember the last time I read dialogue that pretentious. I mean, holy crap.
- And that's twice in the book--at least!--that Superman has done the "bend over and rub his chin" thing in this issue. It doesn't make him look thoughtful, it makes him look like a pretentious ass who just declared his English major and is thinking about growing a beard and spending more time in coffee shops. I realize he's mocking the jogger here, but he wasn't when he was talking to the heart attack guy. Incidentally, the gang leader did the same thing. I wonder if this is a quirk of JMS's scripts or if Barrows really just likes to draw people holding their chins.
- And that's pretty much the end.
Hoo boy, that's just...hard to read. And I think the worst part of it is how wasted it is. Aside from some throwaway references, there's nothing to mark this as a story about Philadelphia. At the very least, I would think that maybe the various vignettes would revolve around a theme like "brotherly love," something that characterizes the place, even if it's more cliché than authentic ambiance. Why bother setting these stories in real towns if the most you're going to do with it is name drop some local food and streets?
Then again, why bother setting these stories in real towns if you're not going to bother to do thirty seconds of research on Google Maps to find out which side of town the 500 block of S 48th Street is on? There are times when you can chalk things like that up to poetic license, but when the mistake is that easy to correct, and when such a big deal has been made about Superman going to real places, that kind of thing is simply inexcusable.
More inexcusable, though, is taking a character like Superman, who shouldn't be that difficult to write, and turning him into a pretentious author avatar. I'm having a hard time remembering a mainstream Superman comic where he was this far out of character.
There are some good ideas here, and some genuine moments. Even some of the basic concept--Superman helping normal people in normal towns--is worthwhile. But the execution is terrible, terrible, terrible all around, and there's not one scene in this issue that I could recommend without reservation.
I'm in with Superman for the long haul. I've stuck through his series through thick and thin, and while I'm not a completist on anything else, I'm too far in the tank to give up now. But man, if this is any indication, the next year is going to be frigging brutal.
At least there's still Action Comics.