When Man of Steel came out, I remember a couple critics took issue with the massive loss of life that must have resulted from Zod’s terraforming machine and his subsequent battle with Clark. More specifically, they thought it problematic that the film would effectively ignore these casualties in its eagerness to get to a happy ending. Thus you have such awkwardness as Lois and Clark making out in the middle of a devastated Metropolis. At least the end of The Avengers featured a brief newsreel remarking on the devastation left in their wake.
Johns makes a similar misstep here, perhaps hoping that the big developments that come after will just make you forget about such piddling facts as the loss of an entire world. Maybe you would, if Clark wasn’t so noticeably evasive when someone asks him flat-out what happened out there in the fourth dimension. “What’s important is you’re safe. And that you realize…there is no perfect world out there. There never was.” I don’t think anyone would argue the Great World’s destruction was Clark’s fault, even if Ulysses blames him for it, but when he’s less than forthcoming, you have to question his motives.
Most likely, he’s looking out for Neil, who despite everything remains a tragic, relatively innocent figure. Yes, he’s led countless other innocents to their doom, and there’s the guy killed-but-not-really in #35, and he does try to destroy Earth and everyone on it, including his parents, but he’s not a bad person, really. Clark has it right: Neil’s just had a rough lot in life and now, more than ever, he has reason to be emotionally volatile. After all, the death he had in mind for the planet included himself as well. So there’s hope he’ll come back from all this, especially with the unwavering support of his mom and dad. They’re not the Kents, but they prove you don’t need to be to be great parents, and their continued love for Neil is one of the issue’s stronger moments.
There’s no shortage of major developments in the issue, but nearly all of them are dampened by clunky dialogue or insufficient groundwork. Sure, Clark revealing his secret identity to Jimmy is a big deal, but given that this arc didn’t really buddy them up very much, the outing and its implications for the strength of their friendship feel rather unearned. Frankly, Bruce’s brief appearance has more of a legitimate bromance going for it (“I’d be worried about how powerful you were getting if it wasn’t you.”) than anything we’ve seen between Clark and Jimmy.
Still, having Jimmy in on both sides of his life will prove useful to Clark now that he’s back at The Daily Planet. Interestingly, we don’t see Lois’ reaction to his return, nor much of a resolution to the story she chose to pursue during this whole mess. Instead, we have Perry enthused that Clark’s hit the ground running with an inside scoop on Ulysses, one Perry has hijacked from Clark’s original tragedy to something far more sensational (“The Menace of Ulysses!”). It’s an interesting tension, but you wonder if Johns recognizes it to explore later on in his run.
At least you can be reasonably confident that Johns fully understands the implications of giving Clark a brand-new superpower that leaves him temporarily powerless, “as human as I am,” as Bruce points out (with concealed glee, you suspect). That’s a necessary limitation for an ability as powerful as the “super flare,” but it also has a lot of meaning for someone who’s as hung up on his humanity as Clark often is. Who knows how Johns and future writers will exploit this, but Clark is exactly the type of character who would see this supposed vulnerability as an opportunity instead.
After a whole arc of Romita’s work, I think I can say with confidence that it’s been overhyped, big time. He conveys Johns’ story clearly enough, and he always does well for himself in action sequences, both of which can’t be said of plenty of other mainstream artists. But the highly geometric, slightly minimalist nature of his figures undermines moments as well as gives them clarity, such as Clark’s super flare being rendered as a glowing sphere amidst a forest of tiny triangles, like we’re watching a model set being blown up instead of an actual scene of devastation.
– I keep hearing all this talk about Clark’s new costume, yet I’m not seeing much of a difference. The belt? Is that it?
– Jimmy’s poor again. Not that his billions ever made much of a difference to his character anyway.
Some interesting developments for the future that feel rather unearned and clumsily executed.