Sunday, July 29, 2018

Superman #20

Superhero vs Superhero
Superman #20
Superman vs Orion?

It’s Big Picture Time in the New 52 DC Universe

Writer – Scott Lobdell
Art – Aaron Kuder
Letters – Rob Leigh
Colors – Blond
Assistant Editor – Anthony Marques
Editor – Eddie Berganza
July 2013

Ahh, the quickly and better forgotten adventures of the New 52 Superman. Not really my cup of tea, this Superman or this version of reality. DC rebooted its universe after Flashpoint and the result was the New 52. In all there were some good stories that came from this era, but overall the mess they made of things was kind of forgettable.

And many of the characters were altered or revamped in ways that made them less interesting and missed key aspects of their personalities.

Especially Superman.

The initial arc by Grant Morrison had some interesting story elements but took the character too far in a direction I never wanted to see him go. I feel having Morrison write a different take on the character was a mistake. Morrision wrote one of the best treatments of the Man of Steel in his All Star Superman title and I feel his changes in the Action Comics version were made just to differentiate the two versions of Superman.

I read very little of Perez’s take on Superman, but the two titles didn’t appear to treat the character the same. And all of this apparently done so they could take away the iconic red underwear look that Superman has had for decades and give him an edgy modern feel. Yeah, okay. I know I’m possibly in the minority on that underwear thing, but hey! I dig the classic look.

So what I know of this version of Supes is that his togs are actually a Kryptonian super-suit, he spent his formative weeks running around wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with the classic “S” logo while saving people, and that he was hounded by the military worse than the incredible Hulk. The story presented in Action Comics felt unlike any Superman story anywhere, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Eventually DC had the character reveal his secret identity, make a career change from distinguished journalist for a newspaper to writing his own blog, dump Lois for Wonder Woman (huge mistake there, IMHO), and become a more cynical, darker version of Superman.

I have to state that blog thing really got my goat. Like anyone reads the things people write in online blogs. I mean, seriously!

Feeling that they needed a “big bad” to bring people together, the initial formation of the Justice League saw them fighting Darkseid, of all people. I mean that’s just nuts. Starting off that big means you have no where to go but down. And this mistake would be lifted from the comics to the movies, where DC Entertainment is proving not to have learned anything from the Marvel flixs that came before it. Sure, the audience will get to see Darkseid (maybe? They haven’t cancelled JL2, right?) but where do they go for JL3? Starro? Amazo? Despero? Kanjar Ro? (Hmm…do all the other Justice League villain’s names end in “o”?)

To me, the entire New 52 seemed to be this loud, uncomfortable place that gave audiences a thing they only thought they wanted. A gift that once received and opened, turned to ash in their hands. The New 52 was good at blowing its wad early and then fumbling around trying to figure out how to make interesting stories out of the ruins of what was left. How do you make a Justice League story about learning to be a team, when in their first arc they defeated with baddest mamma-jamma in the entire universe with no training as a superhero group?

However, this review is less about Justice League than it is about Superman. I bring up that other title not only to vent a little but to set the stage for our conflict to come. I do that since this issue the superhero fisticuffs is Superman vs. the true son of Darkseid, Orion. And while I liked this issue quite a bit, I’ll be the first to admit that it is absolutely just two powerhouses pounding on each other for page after page. The storyline is weak, but the beatdown stuff is fun.

Would I buy a weekly title that was this every issue? Heck, no! But a one-off smackdown like this would break up the monotony of Superman and Wonder Woman’s ongoing relationship issues or Superman not playing nice with law enforcement, is what I’m saying.

Our little bout begins with Clack showing off his penthouse digs to his mom and pop…which…Naw, naw. I’m sure it’s fine. They are both alive in this New 52-verse, right? I honestly don’t know.

Oh, wait. There on the bottom of the page. Yeah, they died. So who or what is this?

Whatever it is, it looks to be a far to modern Metropolis for most of my Superman settings. Unless I miss my guess we are in a dream. And as Ma Kent goes in to help Lois…

…we learn that in this dreamland, Clark ended up getting together with Lana. They even have a little proto-Krypto! But this glass house (literally and metaphorically) will suddenly come crashing down as our special guest star makes his entrance in QUITE a big way.

It appears that Orion has encountered a Superman that is under some sort of spell or mind control. And Orion’s toolkit of superpowers leads him to think that smacking the old man of steel around a bit should bring him out of it. So to that end we are going to get some fun, mindless battle sequences between these two. 


Orion lands a solid one to Clark’s jaw, and like Superman is some oversized golf ball, he lands in a sand trap. Note this: Orion who is Darkseid’s son restrains himself in his application of force to the extent that Supes ends up in what looks to be the only deserted patch of unused ground in the picture. Sure he could have whammy’ed him there by happenstance, but I choose to believe that Orion aimed this shot so that Clark ended up in an uninhabited, undeveloped patch of raw Earth rather than that park, parking lot or bridge. 

This will be important later, kids.

We get a scene that establishes that NO, you regular readers of the series didn’t miss an issue. Clark was trying to figure out his feelings for Wonder Woman at a housewarming party for Lois and then suddenly…he’s involve in a battle. He doesn’t even remember the dreamworld we saw in the opening of this comic.

Also he call’s Orion “big red” here. A surprise is coming up. Speaking of Orion, he arrives to put a boot to Supes’s head, ordering him to “Stay put.”

Orion claims what he’s about to do will “Only take a minute.” Supes isn’t inclined to stay down though and tells him “A lot less, actually!”

And then we get this scene…

…of Orion flying backwards after being punched, his arc carrying him through the inside walls of a large ship and back out the other side. It’s clear the power of the blow startled him by the oath he swears as he’s exiting the far side of the vessel.

It’s also clear that Superman either didn’t care where his punch sent Orion or that he meant for it to knock him through the ship. I find it odd that the son of Darkseid, who has to continually keep his darker, more savage impulses in check, has more self-control than the New 52 Superman. And yet, there is the proof in full four color.

And then the book surprises me, as Supes zooms after and scoops up Orion’s skipping-stone of a body and we learn that they’ve never met. The shock took me back a bit and I realized that in that Johns’ Justice League arc that all the really cool mythological parts of the New Gods had been left in the wastebin in favor of loads and loads of destructive fight scenes. Characters like Highfather, Orion, Merton and others didn’t make an appearance. There was no light to counter the evil and gritty tone Darkseid’s invasion represented. I find that rather sad and limiting in what the Fourth World properties can bring to the table. 

New 52 was pretty screwed up on the whole though.

And speaking of messed up, listen to Superman going off on Orion like he’s Kon-EL or something. Remember when we had a rational Superman who dealt with his powers like he knew that if pushed too far he could destroy the planet? A guy that held stuff back in reserve and mete out justice with a butt-load of compassion? Someone who…yah know what? Never mind. 

This bugged me intensely about the New 52 Superman, even Morrison’s portrayal of him. This feeling that he cut loose on every villain he met. At least with classic Supes, he only went off on the big guns and even then it took PUSHING all his buttons for that to happen. Like when he comes to after being held in a dream state by the Black Mercy and screams Mongul’s name. Every other time the writers have him outwitting the bulky despot by his cunning, but in the end of For The Man Who Has Everything the we have the character being a more reasonable Man of Steel finally letting go…taking the kid gloves off…and just hammering away at Mongul creating a huge climax.

The New 52 attempted to climax like that twice to three times a month, it feels like.

And of course because the New 52 needs to pad the page count, when Orion is at a point where he could easily explain his actions and why he initially belted Supes…

…instead he punches the living snot out of him after telling him half of what’s going on.

And if you thought that was bad…

Then Orion takes what has to be a working aircraft carrier (I mean, there’s planes on it, so I don’t think it’s decommissioned) and uses it like that Jager in the first Pacific Rim movie. Or at least he tries to…

…but Supes is too fast and melts the thing like an ice cream on a late-July day in Texas.

As Orion deals with being encased in melted navy boat, Wonder Woman shows up to give Superman a little unneeded backup. As they stare down the business end of Orion breaking out of all that wreckage, no one has really addressed why all this is happening.

But a bit of sanity slips in as it appears Wondy and Son ‘o ‘seid have met before, which means we’ll finally get to the bottom of this punchfest without anymore actual punching.

A little judicious use of the lasso of truth and we find out that Superman’s subconscious has been conscripted by that monstrous Green Lantern villain Hector Hammond. Note that I didn’t follow the mess that was New 52 too closely. I’m not sure if, in the pages of one of the various Wonder Woman mags, Wondy was shown meeting Orion or Hammond, but I am just going to go with it at this point. He’s a bad guy, and the good guys know about him.

Possibly from that very bad Green Lantern movie that Ryan Reynolds starred in. Deadpool doesn’t erase all sins, Reynolds!

(actually, it wasn’t that bad.)

And quick as you please, Orion pulls out a Mother Box and removes Hammond’s ability to enter Superman’s mind for all time and our story ends…

…after a bit of discomfort between our three as if there were some odd type of love triangle being set up. I can only assume the kiss Orion refers to also happens in one of those other issues of New 52 books that I also don’t have. I’m thankful for that. 

After a brief one page outro showing a bizzaro-like Lana emerging from the rubble of an apartment building, the issue ends on a cliffhanger of just exactly who this mysterious person is and what kind of trouble she will mix the Man of Steel up in.

So that’s it. The issue feels very Zack Snyder in tone, what with all the wanton destruction and no real shows of heroism. I don’t understand Hammond controlling Superman, yet NOT controlling Superman. In this it seemed he had no real power over him during the fighting, just in his dreams. The threat didn’t warranty this level of destruction nor confrontation. It is an excuse to have these two punch each other for 20 pages.

That said, I did like some of the framing sequences and the look of the book. The New 52 weren’t ugly comics in my mind, just the victims of poor concepts and ham-fisted plotting. Also they didn’t have a bead on Superman, around which the entire DC universe hangs, for the most part. He came off as boarderline unlikable and this issue is no exception. The writers forgot the “hero” part of “superhero” and that’s never a good thing.

Thankfully, I didn’t buy my fill of these from the discount bin. There would be way more to suffer through if I had.

That’s the end of the Superhero vs. Superhero Summer and these types of battles for now. I could go on another month, but I think with school starting and my work heating up, it might be best to move on to different stomping grounds. Tune in Friday to see what it will be. (Tell the truth, I don’t know myself.)

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