By: Too many to list—check out the review.
The Story: Man of Steel, meet Man in Steel.
The Review: I’ve become a bit wary of DC’s backup and co-features over time. The fact they hang on to a bigger, stronger storyline definitely poses some drawbacks. Only rarely do they have a charm and intrigue of their own. More frequently, they either serve as dead weight or lackluster sideshows to the main event.
Sholly Fisch’s “Steel” backup leans more towards the latter. It doesn’t break out John Henry Irons by any means, nor does it offer much of a realized identity. Fisch relies too much on obvious beats (“It wasn’t until after my parents died that I finally understood why they chose my name. They wanted me to grow up to be like John Henry.”) to flesh out John’s narrative, and repeats them to the point of embarrassing predictableness (“I’m a steel-driving man!”).
It’s a problem all these smaller features run into, sooner or later; with such limited space, writers feel the pressure to tell their stories rather than show them. For all of John’s quirks (including a genuinely odd fixation with scientists who play bongos), he does little more in this issue than take down a second-tier villain so Superman can handle the real enemy at hand. Besides rather admirable art from Brad Walker, this backup is mostly a forgettable “bonus.”
As for the real meat of this issue, Grant Morrison makes good on the series’ title and delivers plenty of action. The animated mechas from last issue, dubbing themselves “Terminauts,” don’t go out of their way to harm people as their Kandorian counterparts did, but their very presence creates quite a bit of chaos in Metropolis anyway, and that’s before the city gets shrunken and bottled up by an entity with centipede limbs and a fondness for pairing pink with green.
The idea that this “collector of worlds” does so for the sake of preservation should give you some pause. In some ways, the capture of Kandor did Krypton a favor, by saving a sample of their civilization before it blew off the face of the planet. That begs the question: what global threat will Earth face such that our planetary connoisseur feels the need to take Metropolis as a keepsake, just in case?
Despite all odds, Morrison’s rather significant changes to Clark’s personality make for some of the most enjoyable moments in the issue. Clark hams up the geeky reporter act something wonderful, reacting to the Terminauts in an Oscar-worthy performance: “…do I have to be the first to make the obvious suggestion here? Run!” In some ways, Clark Kent has gotten to be even more interesting than his heroic identity.
Overall, though, Morrison delivers a fine, credible story, but one that lacks the sparkle and joy of his seminal work with the Man of Steel in All-Star Superman. Inspiration of that kind is hard to replicate, and it shows here. This issue is full of the typical Morrisonian bluntness and attention to detail (“John! Remember Maui, where you discovered your allergy to spam and broke out in hives?”), but not much which elevates it to the timeless material we expect.
Morales has a looseness here that helps his usually weighty art get some lift and sleekness in the action sequences, and more consistency overall. I tend to think the difference between Rick Bryant and Sean Parsons’ inks makes the critical difference here, though. Some pages, like the “You and whose—army?” page, have beautiful depth, enhanced by Brad Anderson’s colors, while others, like Superman giving Metal-Zero a punch, look sketchier and thin.
Conclusion: While a compelling enough read, this story, like its star, doesn’t reach to the stratospheric heights of which it is capable, and is further hampered by a mostly unmemorable backup feature.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – While escaping the city, Lex spots Superman blasted to the ground. He orders the army truck he’s riding to turn around and run over the hero’s body. Lex: “Did we get him? Now move!” Oh, Lex—never change.
– Morrison’s staccato script has really gotten out of hand. I don’t know what effect the individual word balloons are meant to have on lines like “Something’s coming.”