By: Too many to list—check out the review.
The Story: Superman stops a meth-head, watches children play, and hurts a bizarre version of himself.
The Review: I think it’s appropriate for my review of this debut issue that I bring up some points I made in my initial review of Legends of the Dark Knight. Besides the fact that I feel there’s already a glut of Superman titles (and more surely to come with Superman Unchained), I question the wisdom of adding yet another one to the mix. Truly fresh Superman stories are growing ever rarer, and a monthly Superman showcase can only drain that well even faster.
I also have the same concern about the continuity status of these stories as I did for the ones over in Legends. Without fail, the Superman we get here is one from pre-relaunch canon, down to the spit-curl and outer underwear. This kind of thing sends the wrong signal from DC, as it signals a strong attachment to old continuity and tradition that surpasses whatever affection or viability the current Superman has.
Finally, there’s a question of the actual quality of these stories. I’m not sure I’ve ever been fully convinced that anyone, even the most talented writers, on average can produce a very good comic in ten pages. Take Jeff Parker’s “Violent Minds,” where Superman confronts a troubled man with drug-induced telekinetic powers. Much as I enjoyed Parker’s work on Thunderbolts, what he offers here is oversimplistic, underdeveloped, and left at loose ends. It’s baffling why such a clearly unresolved story would be included in the premiere of a high-profile series, especially when there’s no indication we’ll ever see its continuation in future issues. It’s surely a waste of Chris Samnee’s art, which resembles Darwyn Cooke’s best work more than ever with Matthew Wilson’s lush colors painted over these retro figures. This only makes me more disappointed that Orson Scott Card was precluded write his intended Superman adventure.
“Fortress,” a story both written and drawn by Jeff Lemire, is better contained, but with even fewer stakes and lasting value. Involving two boys imagining their own Superman adventure between them, the premise is tailor-made for the forgettable features you usually get in annuals or anniversary specials. Although there is some fun to be had watching the kids squabble over choice of characters (“No, wait…I’m the Parasite!” “Nah, I don’t think the Parasite can fly. Be General Zod!”), the fact that they tire so quickly of their play actually emphasizes how dull a character Superman can be: “Because…Superman always wins.” Art-wise, Lemire draws a straight superhero tale more effectively than you might think, but his and Jose Villarubia’s watercolors frequently look a tad too diluted and weak for the energetic story at hand.
I must say that one of my least favorite Superman villains is Bizarro. Now, it’s true that I’m an English nerd and so the whole screwed-up grammar thing doesn’t thrill me, but my problem with the character goes beyond that. With his tortured language, it’s no surprise that he’s often misunderstood, but sometimes I’m amazed at how confused writers get themselves when trying to flesh out Bizarro’s motivations. Does he simply mean the opposite of what he says, or does he actually want to act the opposite of his counterpart? In “Bizarro’s Worst Day,” Justin Jordan takes the former position, with Bizarro going out of his way to “hurt everyone” when all he really wants to do is help them. Jordan gets a little mixed up in the opposite-language himself, especially where “Yes” and “No” is concerned, leaving you a little puzzled at times as to what Bizarro really wants—as always. At least you have Riley Rossmo’s lively, anime-inspired art to give some impact to this mostly sentimental and unoriginal story.
Conclusion: Like many of DC’s digital-first projects, this series arrives with little relevance and even less originality. While the textual and artistic efforts are competent and respectable, ultimately, they give you little reason to follow this series on an ongoing basis—and I won’t.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually said “Mr. Mxyzptlk” out loud. How would you pronounce that, anyway?
– If people do not use that panel of Superman punching himself in the nose for an internet meme of some kind, then we are truly fools.