Thursday, February 12, 2015

Superman 38 and the Geoff Johns/ John Romita Jr. run

So, Superman #38 has been out for a week or so, and it's been generating some news in comic book land.

Superman got his buffalo wings "super spicy"

To date, this feels like the only successful run on the New 52 Superman title from DC Comics.  The title has struggled since George Perez more or less disavowed the 6-issue run bearing his name during the New 52 launch, and once Scott Lobdell came on, I gave it an issue or three and then did the unthinkable.  I actually dropped Superman.

Lobdell is my second least favorite writer to ever take on Superman, with Chuck Austen's mind-blowingly terrible work on the character and world of Metropolis front and center.  So, to get everyone up to speed, I've basically lost track of what was happening in the Superman titles for a good long while as they crossed-over with Supergirl and Superboy (a pair of books I couldn't stand within two issues of the New 52 launch), and then the Superman line launched in to the astoundingly poorly executed Doomsday-Virus hoo-har, which I kind of read, but, sheesh.

So, in a lot of ways, Geoff Johns coming on Superman brought me back to not just to that title, but to doing more than flipping through Action Comics and saying "yup.  okay.  That's what they're doing, then."

Of the writers who have taken on the character of Superman in the past ten years, both pre and post New 52, Johns is one of maybe four who have really seemed to not just have a very good picture of the character, but how to craft a story that insists on Superman being Superman for the story to work, rather than telling a generic superhero or science fiction story.  You can almost tell who will succeed with Superman based upon their handling of the Daily Planet, and I'd argue that Johns and Waid have been the only two writers to excel at management of Superman's dual life (even Grant Morrison has struggled with the Daily Planet, or sidelined the characters) and grounded Superman among humans.

I encourage you to take a look at what Mike Sterling had to say about the issue and this run over at Progressive Ruin.  I'm in agreement with all of it, I think.

This run started off with Clark back in the Planet offices talking with Perry, and managed to include The Planet as a background to the rest of the comic.  After Infinite Crisis and with One Year Later, it really did feel like Johns had plans for rebuilding the world of Superman and the Planet, and it was always a shame he got sidetracked with delays, other projects and all the Return of Krypton stuff and he didn't get to follow up on what seemed a promising start.

The Ulysses storyline may have felt a little rudimentary for longtime readers.  The idea of another alien crash-landing on Earth and following a different path from Superman was covered simultaneous to this story over in the soon-to-be-forgotten mini-series Superman: Unchained, and a few years back with Busiek's creation of Subject 13.  Johns took it a step further with Ulysses' origins on Earth and his return home (and, lord knows, "The Return of Krypton" is a writer favorite for some reason the past ten years, see above, and the fact it's been a recent Superman storyline).   He also developed some serious character conflict for our new creation - but I don't really want to spoil it here or write a "compare and contrast Superman and Ulysses" post, because I am no longer in middle school.

So, while I never felt like I was seeing anything new, exactly, I did feel like Johns wasn't just filling pages.  He cares.  He tried to write a story that showed some of the Superman that a whole lot of us feel like we haven't seen in a few years, with the exception of the occasionally-brilliant-so-of-course-it-was-canceled web-first series Adventures of Superman.

I am a fan of John Romita Jr.'s art, but I am not sure the New 52 costume was a good fit for his talents.  If you dig back to my posts from the launch of the New 52, you can see where I said "I have no idea how anyone but Jim Lee will draw this thing", and, indeed, it's been a damn mess in about 80% of the comics where it's appeared (and don't get me started on trying to get toymakers and licensors to make it work).  I'm not sure Romita really blew me away on this run, but he does have the veteran craftsman's skill, and he brings a lot to the page so long as you're on board with his style.

But not to ignore the elephant in the room, it's been all over the internet that issue 38 ends with three major changes to Superman in general, and additional one I fully support but which happened awfully quietly even if it was necessary.

Yeah, we can talk about the 1) new costume, or 2) the new power, or the curious decision vis-a-vis 3) Jimmy and Clark as buds becoming Super Buds, but - man.  4) Clark returns to The Daily Planet.

I do not understand writers coming on to write Superman and their desire to immediately remove Clark Kent from The Daily Planet and/ or immediately change pieces of the core Superman lore/ mythos/ canon without first writing it to see how it works.  It doesn't just tell me the writer lacks sentiment about the history of Superman (which, seriously?), but that there's a sort of willful ignorance about what Superman's place is at The Planet and what that cast means around him.

No, print journalism isn't what it was in the 1930's when Superman first appeared.  But I'm not sure shoving Clark back in his apartment to work on a "news blog"* wasn't just a weird and kind of ridiculous decision  that ignored the infrastructure you'd need to do that effectively.

The new costume?  Probably better than the Jim Lee option.  Probably easier to draw across art styles, and seems to reflect a bit more of the classic costume they seem hell bent on steering clear of.

The new power, I'll be honest, I think is all right.  It feels like a sensible addition to Superman's powers from a kind of "he gets his powers from the sun" perspective.  And, I think I read somewhere in the past few years that Supergirl already demonstrated the same power, so...

I'll have to keep an open mind about Superman and Jimmy's new Super-Pal status.  I'd be much more likely to be onboard, but it felt crammed in, like Johns knew he only had a few pages left to get his fixes in to the Superman books and he wasn't going to be around all that long to do so.  And, sure enough, in June he's off the book (and that includes April and May as Convergence months).

We'll see how things go after Convergence.  People are pretty excited about the writer coming on, but I'll be honest, I don't really know him.

As I pointed to above, check out Mike Sterling's post.  Of all the things he's most right about is that, since the New 52, for reasons that are hard to pinpoint, Superman hasn't really ever felt like Superman.  And, even more so than Morrison's street-hero, Golden-Age throwback, I felt like Johns kind of dragged the New 52, which has tried so very hard to push Superman away the familiar image of the character, back toward the core of what the character was in the pre-52.  Superman's not quite there at the end of the run, and who knows if the rest of DC will want to play along?

I'm kind of over being too hopeful and thinking DC will push one way or another, and reading the tea leaves to see outcomes I'd prefer, but it is nice to see a Superman run that feels something like what I came to Superman comics for in the first place.

*only losers keep a blog they feel they have to churn out content for on a regular basis


RHPT said...

This is a good post. Your effort and hard work writing it really paid off.

The League said...

After all these years, I still have no idea what is wrong with you.

RHPT said...

I'm practicing for my kids. Experts say you should couch your compliments in terms of the work and effort of the child.

The League said...

lol. awesome.