Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Cover date: August 13, 2008
Main Story: "Distinguished Visitors"
Main Story Writer: Kurt Busiek
Main Story Penciller: Mark Bagley
Main Story Inker: Art Thibert
Back-Up Story: "The Next Step"
Back-Up Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Back-Up Pencillers: Tom Derenick
Back-Up Inker: Wayne Faucher
Ultraman says they owe a debt to the Justice League and want to talk rather than fight, and will kill Jimmy Olsen if the League refuses. Superman agrees, Jimmy turns out to be Evil Jimmy from the CSA's world, armed with devices that would freeze the JLA down to the molecular level.
Superman acts jockish. Bruce and Diana wonder what's going on with him. The JLA help people the CSA has been pulling from other dimensions to use as slaves, and John Stewart gets more odd metal weapons around him while speaking in binary. Black Canary, Firestorm, John Stewart and Red Tornado leave on a mission.
Bruce gets contemplative and he and Diana suddenly think it must be because their "unknown enemies" are "binding them together".
Meanwhile, Superman's decided to take on the CSA on his own.
To be continued...
Oracle and the Outsiders set a trap for the tarot thieves. Barbara checks in with Hawkman and Gangbuster, who try to stop Primat, Swashbuckler, TVM and Sun-Chained-in-Ink from attacking the Air and Space Museum.
Seems they're after the shuttle Superman saved in his first public appearance, and they get it, and take some shield made of Nth metal with them, which Hawkman says they can use to track them.
Barbara says that since the tarot items used as bait weren't taken, it means whoever was taking them has "moved on to the next step".
To be continued...
Main Story - 2: We continue along with the villains knowing the origins and identities of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I'm hoping this is going to be addressed at some point, because if not (and from the direction this book seems to be going), it may end up being one of the biggest plot holes in comic history.
The entire foundation of these villains right now is that they need personal effects (or the like) from the Trinity, but why not things from them in their HERO identities? A batarang, a piece of a tattered cape, etc? They're getting effects that only those closest to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman would know about and they have no way at all to know about these items or their connections to the Trinity.
It's quite vexing.
I also don't enjoy the conceit of the Crime Syndicate's world. Sure, people are evil bastards, I get it. That's fine.
But what doesn't make sense is how a world of evil bastards still has the equivalent of girl scouts. Yes, two groups shot each other over cookies in a turf war, I get it, ha ha ha. But why would a world full of evil bastards have little girls selling cookies?!
How could their version of Mount Rushmore have Hitler's face on it? In order for them to revere Hitler as a model of evil, wouldn't he have had to be just as evil there as he was in our world?
But if their world is the opposite, wouldn't their Hitler have been good?
Or even if he was the same old Hitler, ignoring their own reverse-world conceit, wouldn't he have needed tons of innocents to perpetrate his crimes against? And isn't that world devoid of innocents?
This isn't Busiek's fault, I don't think... the CSA's world has always been like that. But it doesn't make any sense and is part of why, though the CSA are decent enough characters, their world always makes me roll my eyes and ruins stories for me. It just doesn't jive.
Regardless, we also have Bruce and Diana being able to cope with their "merging", but Superman? Nah, he can't handle it and goes off and attacks the CSA on his own. Why not?
Speaking of, what an illogical conclusion to jump to. Batman wants to see the bigger picture... so he must be merging with Superman! OF COURSE! Why didn't I see it sooner? Batman has NEVER wanted to see the bigger picture before! It only makes sense!
You sure are amazing with those detective skills, Bruce.
This is still plodding and treading water. Nothing's happening, and I'm still not sure I'd care even if the story was booking along like a freight train. There's still nothing here to make me care about what's going on, there's almost no logic in story and conclusions are just dropped into character heads without rationale (see above about Bruce) and there's no feeling of threat of any kind. I'm not worried or concerned about any of the characters or anything that's going on.
There's no tension, there's no drama, there's still almost no story.
Main Art - 3: Wonder Woman still needs a plastic surgeon.
The differences between Ultraman and Superman were very nicely done, though, and I speak chiefly of their faces. There's a page with close-ups on each of their faces and the differences were very clear and yet they still looked similar. That was nice.
Back-Up Story - 2: Hey, the space plane! Awesome. I'd cheer for it still being in continuity, but Trinity is outside of continuity or adjacent to continuity or LAND SAKES, SON, DON'T EXPECT US TO KEEP THINGS STRAIGHT IN OUR OWN COMICS!
There's SO much extrapolation through dialogue that I think my frontal lobe actually liquefied a bit just from reading it. If I rolled my eyes any further up they'd flip over to reveal 7s and my jaw would open and gold coins would spill out.
It's not that difficult to write natural dialogue, which is what makes it even more aggravating. It feels like they're not even trying.
Also, pretty cool how Nth metal can do anything. At all. That anyone wants it to.
I have an idea. Take some of that Nth metal and put it into these scripts and let's see if it can't get us some better comics.
Back-Up Art - 3: Superman's hand-prints in the space plane were nice.
Cover Art - 4: The best Supes cover yet, though I dock points for the super-bendy top of the S (what is going on there?!) and the apathetic expression on his face. I mean, from this image you'd almost think Clark was bored with Trinity or something and...
Well... Superman knows best.
Main Story - 2: In last week's review, I guessed that Jimmy was Antimatter Jimmy. Yay me.
It's enough time already on the Antimatter Earth. It's a distraction for the heroes and the readers. We already know that the JLA doesn't act normally on the Antimatter Earth, it's as if they are predisposed to lose. The personality fluctuations among the Big Three would mean more if they were occurring back on their home Earth.
The bad guy plan is coming together. Somehow use magic totems combined with personal artifacts belonging to or of the heroes to remove the Trinity from history altogether or somehow replace them with Morgaine le Fey, Despero, and Enigma. I would guess that, at some point, the Crime Syndicate of Amerika (sic - yes it is Kurt) - particularly Ultraman, Power Woman, and Owl-Man - will realize they are as dependent on the existence of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman as the Big Three's doppelgangers are on every other multiple Earth.
It's an interesting idea to have aspects of Superman's, Batman's, and Wonder Woman's personalities start to merge together. It's being played out a bit simple-mindedly, however. Each hero is assigned one particularly defining personality trait and any evidence of that trait in another of the heroes is considered manipulation? Aren't people, especially super-people, a lot more diverse than that? It'd be much more fun to see little aspects of character crossover like, say, Bruce Wayne at a fancy dinner party putting ketchup on his Beef Bourguignon.
Main Art - 4: 52 issues of saying Bagley does good work except when he feels rushed. And it's only issue 11. I'm tired.
Back-Up Story - 4: I'm actually starting to enjoy the involvement of the rest of the DCU in this caper than the Big Three's part. There's an urgent realization to their work, one that recognizes how important Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are to the rest of them.
It's also fun to see Carter Hall playing the secret identity game (including being his own son, which would make him the faux-brother of his deceased son Hector Hall), which doesn't come up often enough in "Justice Society of America".
Back-Up Art - 3: The artwork is average with Jose and Carter both looking like very generic dark-haired guys out of costume.
On the third page of the story, Carter looks more like Maxwell Lord than Hawkman out of costume. On the upside, look at the reverse side of the page I just criticized, and on the other side of the drawing of Carter is the drawing of Hawkman's armor. Is it kismet, coincidence, or intentional? However, it's intended - or not - it is pretty cool.
Cover Art - 3: This feels like a cover and a pose we've seen a gazillion times before. Except this time Superman's showing too much cleavage with that deep V-neck. Then again, the heroes are all trading traits. Could Superman be showing cleavage to emulate a Wonder Woman trait?
Main Story - 1: This is almost the one that broke me, folks.
I sat back, and I said to myself, "Should I promote this? Should I continue to give this validation by reviewing it?"
It occurred to me, particularly given my newish policy on mail. It used to be that someone would send me a nasty email and I'd respond, simply for the exercise, to question my own viewpoints, to put them to a logical test. Then, upon advice from a good friend, I realized something. I'm not putting my views to the logical test, I'm giving someone who wants to get a rise out of me validation.
This holds the same principle. This comic book does not appeal to me in most any way. It takes a hero I love with a rich history and turns him into moronic caricature reacting to plot elements that have no rational basis or curiosity for me. I can either respond, simple for the exercise, to affirm my own viewpoints, or I can stop reviewing this title in order to avoid giving validation to something that has no value.
This comic is, in my opinion, hurting the industry.
It's hurting the industry because you're buying it, firstly. You're reading and paying for substandard product, and giving them the impression that it doesn't matter if the story is good, only that it's successful.
It's hurting the industry because you're teaching these guys that they have a captive audience they can treat as they please, and so long as they slap a Superman logo on it, it will sell far more than something with much more creativity to it, like The Goon, or The Walking Dead, or Ex Machina.
It's hurting the industry because, as Robert Kirkman has pointed out in a recent editorial, this comic book is pandering to forty-year-old ex-Silver Age junkies. I have heard it argued that the simplistic plot is an attempt to bring in children. KIDS ARE NOT THAT STUPID. I would not have read this as a child. I still read the comics I enjoyed as a child, and they are far more complex than this. I read Watchmen. I read The Dark Knight Returns. I read The Death of Superman which, while a weekly, offered subtext and thematic elements that resonate on most levels of Americana, from the death of Christ to the fall of the American Dream to unstoppable forces meeting immovable objects. And they were still accessible.
It's hurting the industry because it's saying that what happened in Countdown was not a failure, and that they will attempt to repeat it instead of attempting to recapture the essence and storytelling of 52 that made it such a surprise hit.
It's hurting the industry because it's lauding the fools and pushing projects worthy of promotion to the side. Have you read JSA? Did they pass out a JSA pin at the San Diego Comic-Con, or did they promote Trinity and their next big event, the death of Batman, essentially a creator-indulgent ripoff of what they're doing over at Marvel with Captain America, a sales gimmick. Have you read Batman RIP? It reminds me of this comic. The creator is granted extraordinary leniency without editorial success, and strange, unaccountable things occur. We have a universe where the villains know secret identities, where Jimmy Olsen's heart is on "the other side of his chest" despite all human hearts being in the center of the chest.
But mostly it's hurting the industry because it sucks. It's as simple as that. There's no real flowery way to put it other than that. THIS. BOOK. SUCKS. A##.
Often we get letters, letters that say, "IF U DON LIKE IT DON' WATCH IT!" to the point that we have a policy on the boards that the critique is verboten, because this isn't about us not liking it, it's about analysis.
And there is analysis to be had. The heart thing. Clark being described as out of character for trying to save a life. An issue that accomplishes nothing in that it starts with the CSA confronting the heroes and, yes, ends with the CSA confronting the heroes. Nothing occurs. There's the fact that we again have wasted space, reiterating that characters are finding objects (yes, we know!) and little indulgent bits of Rushmore and bullies who don't act like bullies. You mean things are opposite on Earth-3? (Yes, we know!) Cookie wars, Red Tornado knowing of alternate Earths (is that even common knowledge in the DCU?)
More speech of characters and their place in the Trinity (I feel Batman's ears! Wonder Woman's tiara warms my toes! Superman's spit curl is wearing on my soul!).
It'sä it's just categorically awful, and I never want to read it again. I spend an hour or more on these reviews. Do I want to give the rest of this series one of my working weeks?
So I talked to Steve. I said, "Are we validating this? Is this promoting something awful? Are we being a part of this machine? I mean, almost universally, I haven't seen a positive reaction to this."
His response was wise. We're not promoting this. We announce its delivery, and we analyze it, but we're not doing weekly rundowns where we point out the good things from what little there is so we don't estrange creators. We're being honest fans, and that's our job as a fansite. We're doing this because we're not quitters. We're doing this because the sum of these reviews are, at least by our hope and efforts, perhaps at least something good to come out of something so bad. A way to help people come to awareness, learn from this, find better art. Things with character. Things with motivation. Things that aren't cheap gimmicks for a captive audience.
We want our Superman strong, and that doesn't come cheap unless you live through some cheapness.
The breath of fresh air that was Johns and Rucka after Joe Casey isn't something that happens when you give up examination because of one failure in narrative, so I won't here.
But by god, what the hell are they thinking? I mean, I know people who were willing to kill over Superman Returns, something that took maybe ten dollars out of their pockets, thirty if they bought the DVD for a second viewing. And yet these same guys will buy 158 dollars worth of Trinity just to keep appraised of how awful it is. Something is fundamentally wrong there. Something is fundamentally wrong here.
I EXPECT MORE FOR MY HARD EARNED DOLLAR. I am an impoverished man who believes in story. DC, step your game up and give us what we deserve.
This is not it.
And does DC answer criticism with a response? Of course not. They spin it. The best they can get is a sidehanded admission from DiDio in panels that "Yes, Countdown was a success, just not the success we hoped it would be!" while in the background, anyone with eyes can see the creators groaning. Same with this series.
I would kill to be able to sit with Dan DiDio for a half an hour and ask him what he thinks validates this series. No PR crap, no spin, no fanboy preening to the captive audience. Dan, Kurt, I challenge you to explain your goals in terms of character, furthering the characters, and being cogent in your narrative thusfar to anyone with a thinking mind. And no, I don't mean explain what happened between the characters. That's obvious.
WHAT THE $#%@ IS THIS STORY ABOUT THAT IT SHOULD EVEN BE READ?
Joseph Heller wrote a book called Something Happened. I think Trinity could adopt this title with irony.
You know what would be really cool? Superman fighting the Incredible Hulk. You know why it doesn't happen? Because it has no point. It's just fanservice. As is a story starring the big three where the storyline is an endless parade of guest heroes and villains, incomprehensible motives, and boring plotlines.
You may be making money on it, but you're losing fans.
I mean, I have given DC and its books 16 years of my life and purchases, and you're telling me the highest they can evolve their characters into a weekly flagship book is THIS?
Can you blame me for being angry? For being disgusted and disgruntled?
Main Art - 3: Getting a little hairy around the edges, particularly faces. There's a lot of talking and very little action, which is probably the culprit. Much of the detail has gone missing, and is wearing on my enjoyment of Bagley, who's usually an automatic favorite. The story elements aren't helping.
Back-Up Story - 1: EDITORS (Are there editors on this?): Putting "THE NEXT STEP" below a woman in a wheelchair might be construed as cruel and idiotic. Just for future reference.
I quote the book itself:
"Well, this is the most boring assignment the Outsiders have ever had."
Back-Up Art - 3: Told the story okay, but didn't really have any big element that stood out and called for attention. The action was depicted, but not in any really amazing way that pulled me in. The story was incredibly stagnant, that couldn't have helped.
Cover Art - 1: Crushed S, contorted, non-Superman-y face, odd anatomy, worthless jingoism, a cover that didn't need to be three, and no relevance at all to the issue at hand under the Batman logo instead of the Superman logo.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2008.