I’ve been avoiding reviewing all of the Superman titles since the New 52 relaunch, my reasons being I don’t go out looking for tragic car crash victims to piddle on. “Superman/Wonder Woman” at least buffered itself with Diana Prince because New 52 Clark Kent is as interesting and compelling to read as stereo instructions printed in Lithuanian. But this week I was given a special request to review the new issue of “Superman” by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. “Hey, isn’t that the one where he gets the new super power?” I asked. “It most certainly is,” came the response. So I cracked open the book, breezed over it and laughed a sarcastic and smarmy laugh the entire way through.
If you are a comic book fan from the nineties it is almost impossible to take Superman seriously when he gets a new “super power”. I know it was hard for me because my head kept filling with visions of the all blue, electric Superman. Or how about that time when Doomsday killed him and he came back from the dead? Do you want to know what his new super power is? Now, when he gets extra super mad he explodes. Literally, big explosion, mushroom cloud, deep crater. Which makes me think that isn’t his new super power at all. His new super power is the ability to never lose a fight because he’ll just grow a new power. It truly baffles me that writers keep on trying to pull this trick with Superman. He is Superman, he has all the ultimate powers, he has everything you could ever want for super powers. Adding more is akin to duct tapping a hand grenade to a nuclear warhead. It seems a quick fix for the Boy Scout, when sales are down on the book, give him another power instead of—you know, a personality.
I find this particular issue of “Superman” to be hilarious and not just because of the new power or because the cover looks like Clark is about to aggressively make out with Chad Kroeger. There’s a B-plot going through the story about Jimmy Olsen being filthy stinking rich. There’s some dumb, convoluted reason he has the money (his parents are bad, never paid him any attention, waaah…). Anyway, Jimmy gets so inspired by the image of Superman that he decides that he’s going to give away every cent of this money he has to people who are really, really sad. It’s this moment where Jimmy almost nonchalantly becomes the biggest hero in the DC universe, doing more than Batman, Superman, and the entire Justice League combined. The moment is a watershed moment for Clark and Jimmy’s relationship because Jimmy is sharing this secret to Clark, telling him he didn’t do it to prove anything but because he was so inspired by Superman. So what does Clark do? He puts on the tights and tells him that he is Superman. And all I could think was: Jimmy did the most selfless and heroic thing anyone has ever heard of and you needed to one up him. “Oh yeah? You gave away all of your billions to a mass of miserable people inexorably improving their lives for years to come? Well—well, I’m Superman.”
It’s tough to like Superman these days. I’m not even talking about the character and his relaunch. From an aesthetic standpoint he’s like a can of Monster energy drink wrapped in modern first person shooters. I can understand why they hired John Romita Jr. for the art; the man specializes in dark and dreary art like that iconic image of Spider-Man in the rain. The imagery is perfectly tailored to look exactly like “Man of Steel”. This is not a compliment. Superman even fights the antagonist through Metropolis, knocking over buildings as they go. Where is the hope? Out of everything they could have cut from Superman, they cut the one thing that makes the character important to the DC universe. It’s not his powers, it’s not his story, it’s that he’s a symbol for all that’s good in the universe, he stands for a world where evil doesn’t win and every person is important. They took that away from Clark and handed it straight over to Jimmy which makes me wonder why Superman is even in the book.
I give Superman a lot of flak for being nigh unbeatable. You may even call me a hypocrite because I so fervently tout “Invincible”, a book whose very title rings with immortality. But the thing about Mark Grayson as opposed to Clark Kent is that Mark will survive pretty much everything but he won’t always win. Most recently Mark was faced with overwhelming odds, a fight with Robot that he would have survived but would have inevitably lost and in the process gotten a lot of people killed. Mark’s obstacle is never self-preservation because he can survive any encounter (practically) but for a more logical reason, he’s the lead of the book, he’s never gonna die. But “Superman” still acts like Clark is fighting for his survival which has never been the case.