By: Grant Morrison (writer), Rags Morales & Brent Anderson (pencillers), Rick Bryant (inker), Brad Anderson (colorist)

The Story: We’re no Guantanamo, but we’ve got ways of making an alien in a T-shirt talk.

The Review: One thing Morrison does consistently well is place characters into unusual situations, and when it comes to iconic superheroes, that takes some doing.  These guys have been around the block in their long history, so nothing really takes them (or us) by surprise anymore.  So kudos to Morrison; certainly I never thought I’d see Superman getting relentlessly jolted in an electric chair.

That said, the whole interrogation sequence doesn’t really do much to advance the story, or even build Clark’s character.  Mostly he just takes the various tortures to the chin and stays readily, steadily silent, a pain-eating farmer to the core.  As a result, we don’t ever take his predicament that seriously; we know his escape will come, sooner rather than later.  He has less resilience now than we’re used to, but he’s still Superman, after all.

This issue has two moments which, taken separately, don’t seem all that important, but when you put them together, they bear a major revelation about this version of Superman.  One is when Luthor asks, “Does the word ‘Krypton’ mean anything to you?” and Clark merely replies, “…Noble gas…number…36…”  At first glance, you just figure he’s jerking Luthor’s chain.  Then you get a creeping suspicion when he seems completely baffled by the mention of a rocket.

It all comes together later in the issue, when Clark stumbles upon a rather slick-looking little rocket ship that speaks to him, then covers itself with impenetrable crystal when he tries to touch it.  You suddenly realize that, for whatever reason, he never had any contact with his alien heritage aside from his cape and consequently, he really hasn’t a clue what Krypton is beyond an element on the periodic table.

This means the moral standards and behavior he exhibits now all come purely from his human upbringing.  Now it makes sense why, for all his powers and proactivity, his ambitions still seem pretty small-scale.  His Midwestern parents have brought him up to stand up for the little guy against the establishment, but it’s likely that once he finds out who he really is, he’ll take that goal a whole lot further.  It’ll be very interesting to see his character evolve as he learns more.

The other star of this issue is Luthor, whose implacable calm as he methodically amps up the torture on Superman shows both his scientific pragmatism and curiosity (“Personally, I’d like to see how its skin reacts to a powerful solvent.  How quickly can we get some fluoroantimonic acid down here?”).  At the same time, he has an amusing naivety in his idea of an alien life-form, positing the theory that Superman is actually a small, shapeshifting hooved and horned creature.

I don’t have the greatest artistic eye in the world, but I have a suspicion Brent Anderson drew all or most of the pages featuring Lois in this issue, as they seem flatter, more distorted, and less dynamic than all the other pages.  Probably the most distracting art element is Brad Anderson’s choice of purple-pink mist in one panel where Superman asserts to a bunch of soldiers that he is in fact leaving.  What effect was that supposed to convey, exactly?

Conclusion: Mildly entertaining with an important character development for this iteration of the Man of Steel, but also a bit too slow and more muddled, artistically.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – While I appreciate John Henry Irons making a cameo to take a stand against torture, his only real impact on the issue is to set up one of Luthor’s many great lines: “We’ve established that torture is a very bad thing.  Let’s take it to 300,000 volts at 10 amps.”

– “I regrew the mustache.”  Seriously?  You pull that one out in an attempt to impress the ladies?  What is this, the seventies?