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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #212

Superman #212

Scheduled to arrive in stores: December 29, 2004

Cover date: February 2005

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams

"For Tomorrow" - Part Nine

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Orr stands over Father Daniel Leone as he is treated for cancer in a CIA treatment facility.

Orr speaks with a superior, and tells him that Superman, along with the device, along with the Fortress of Solitude, have disappeared.

Superman, in the vanishing space, looks out over what looks to be a Kryptonian vista. He is confronted by Clark Kent, who tells Superman that he shouldn't be there. Superman tells him likewise.

Superman hands him the sphere and goes to see Lois. Clark tells Superman that he should go see her, because he stopped going to see Lois when he realized that he wasn't the man Lois loved.

Superman realizes that the vanishing is a place that is his perfection.

Lois picks peaches with a woman named Alba with an accent. She picks a peach and eats it, tossing one down. Superman arrives, and sweeps her into the air. They kiss.

Clark watches them in the air. In the background, a beast snarls.

After sex (implied) Lois and Superman cuddle. Superman tells her that she should return with him, but she says that she is happy in this place, called Metropia (Not a typographical error, totally serious. - Neal)

Superman then apologizes for Clark.

Clark sits examining the sphere while Superman is with Lois. Equus bursts in, gouges his eyes, removes his glasses, and reveals himself as the snarling monster from earlier. He looks different, more like Massacre, only silver and without claws.

Clark hits the beast. Equus smashes him into the ground. A voice tells him enough, that Clark belongs to the one who will "kneel before me."

1Story - 1: Great. Someone else is gonna botch Zod.

A lot of people write me and thank me for slamming this series as I do. A lot of people write me and tell me what a #%@*$ and other assorted wonderful excremental adjectives I am for not realizing Az's genius. Call it a byproduct of our polarized culture, whatever. The end result is that generally, this story is clicking for a lot of people, and not clicking for others.

Why it isn't clicking with me is because I can see right through it. I know when a story is being written from a position of passion and informed conscientiousness to character, and when it is written to seem purposefully deep and mythic when it is, in fact, not. I know because I've written stuff purely to be impressive, when I was younger, and it read a lot like this. Reads a lot like this, when I pick it up and grimace at it before putting it back into the large suitcase that is my writing from high school.

Here's my complaints in a nutshell. One, get to the point. Get to the #%@*$ point. I've given you $22.50 so far plus tax, Brian, and I've gotten nothing but didactic extrapolation on the post-modern Superman's reason and ability to whine about how horrible it is that he's the mightiest mortal ever who saves the Earth on a regular basis. It ain't flying.

Two, if you've gotta be long-winded, realize at very least that it must be entertaining in all realms. A good artist won't save a bad story. The reasons this story continues to fail, aside from my lack of patience with its long, tedious, drawn-out execution, is that each little piece of the story is put forth with an ignorance to the character, or even if the ignorance to the character can be forgiven, a failure to anticipate what the fans would want.

Numbers bear me out on this. A lot of people jumped on for Lee, and that's understandable, he's a fantastic artist, but the sales have dropped steadily by 10-20 thousand copies an issue. My guess is that folks are staying on who want the story complete, who like Lee, or who really love it.

It's a Batman story. Just like Austen's writing Spider-Man, Azz is writing Batman, and the tragedy is, he didn't even write Batman that well.

Another clue: Incomprehensible does not equal mystery and intrigue.

The story is understandable, yes, but you have to read it slowly, think over everything twice. That's okay in a novel. In comics, it's bloody murder, unless you're reading Cerebus.

Listen to this sentence, uttered by Orr, in your head:

"I was there because a scared man whose pain I eased with an injection, I was able to track with the very same injection."

First off, I won't even begin to approach that grammatically. But hey, some would argue, dialogue is not supposed to be grammatical. Well, okay. Conceded. I...I agree. You'd almost, kind of, you know, have to, insert, you know, a bunch more commas, know what I mean, and a bunch of random interjections to even, kinda, approach the reality of dialogue, you know what I mean? Because real dialogue sounds exactly like what I just wrote. I know, because I edited court documents for a while to improve my own dialogue. It's scattered, often it's very base and monosyllabic like a Hemmingway novel. Not like that complex sentence above.

But there are others that adhere to the school of thought that dialogue is meant to be our dialogue as humans improved, something that draws attention to the poignancy of the character and emphasizes it.

In either case, most of this dialogue fails, even with the other characters, because Azz lacks understanding of the nature of Superman, Lois, and even Clark.

Clark is who Lois loves. Sorry. End of story. She is attracted to Superman (which is maybe why they engage in wanton sex in this story, not really, but I'll say that to be nice), but she loves Clark. That's a big part of Byrne I gotta stand by, that I believe to my core. Kill Bill is wrong. Clark is not the disguise that Superman adopts, Superman is the guise Clark Kent adopts so that Clark Kent can show the world the things that he can do. He doesn't choose to be a human, he IS a human. I analogize it to a kid growing up in a black family being white (or vice versa, it's a metaphor). Even though by all outside appearances he appears to be white, his culture, his humanity, his persona, and everything he believes is wrapped up in the culture he was raised in, the black culture. But some people can't look beyond the obvious (Azz) and realize that if it looks like a human, acts like a human, it's human. Though he can bend steel in his hands, which no human can do, Clark Kent is a farm boy who grew up in middle America to adopt the value system of the culture he grew up in, a humanitarian, pragmatist culture. He uses Superman to help spread that pragmatism, but if Superman were destroyed, he would still be the same person. If Clark Kent were destroyed, we'd have, well, irony of ironies, the Azzarello Superman.

This defeatist, post-modern pessimism in an optimistic character in an optimistic comic disgusts me on a writing level, on a reading level, and on a personal level.

This story doesn't end it. Even though Superman is reunited with Lois, we still have Clark moping like a dope, the world controlled by spooks, a gleeful Orr laughing as Daniel suffers, Clark beaten mercilessly, and the return of a character they just killed a few months ago.

What is it this time? My guess is Zod is from that alternate Krypton Waid created or a byproduct of the second Phantom Zone Brainiac 12 came up with. I don't know. I can't keep track any more, and for the last three years I've given up on remembering most continuity because it's just regularly ignored by everyone but Rucka and Loeb. Disgusting.

I want to see Man of Steel and give it a chance, but I'm afraid Luthor will be an unflinching optimist with Azz.

They say that Azz is a great closer, and this story is a mite more tolerable than the others, but crap with a flowery bow is crap nonetheless. It'd be like watching You Got Served 2. I mean, there's just no making something with a concept and a format you can't possibly like or identify much better without a miracle.

On a simple level, here were my easiest criticisms, aside from the general direction and stylistic approach:

The vanishing is Superman's perfection? Say what? Why in the world, how in the world, and what in the world?

What happened to all of the elements we keep seeing that are forgotten? Aquaman's role? Wonder Woman? The Elementals?

Just as I thought, thrown-in nonsense.

Metropia? I mean, great God, are you serious? Metropia? Bad enough there's a place on Krypton called Krytponopolis. Next thing you know, next issue they'll be visiting Daily Planetia, where Perria yells at Jimmia not to call him Chiefia.

Derivative much? Heck, even Lois has to admit how retarded and cheesy it is after she's banged the man of steel.

Speaking of which, like Superman's political leanings, like his attitudes towards abortion, like the way he sometimes likely has to kill in order to stop a villain, sure, he has sex. And it's even generally okay to most Americans, because he's married.

I'm no prude, and had I read this at 11, I would have understood what sex was, why Superman would have sex with Lois Lane. I have no problem at all that he has sex. But then, some people will. Some people don't want their kids reading about sex at 11. And this, along with decreased availability, is the reason comics are less kiddie fare any more. In just the last year, we've seen (in the Superman world, and I count Identity Crisis in that) multiple threatened beheadings, someone being raped to shreds, someone being raped, forced mental wipes, a young child smashed to death, a kitten smashed to death, and now, obvious coverage of sex as it pertains to Supes.

We can go there, and there's a reason this fits into the story, but do you guys know your audience should be kids, too?

Ideally, I like the idea of a Superman that is intellectually on a literature level and yet a kid can pick it up and read it and enjoy it, because it's safe to most social morays and still tells a good story. Check Rucka and Loeb for that. The closest either has come to pushing that line is the people burned to death by Ruin, but even that was one panel in one issue, and they were grown men in battle with a Super-villain, not some kid with a kitten.

Why is Clark in Metropia? What the heck? He didn't vanish with the vanishings, because he's still in Superman, even if Superman has suppressed him. So say that it's metaphorical. Then how can other people who vanish be interacting normally with him? It's Superman's world, sure, but until he arrives, he's not there, and yet Clark has been stinted by Lois for a while, it's implied. It's nonsensical. It's to forward the metaphorical ideal of the story, I see that, but it doesn't work for me, because it has to be coherent as well as poignant, not just poignant. A good example: Most of Mulholland Drive is VERY poignant, but because none of it can be made sensible, to me it's a giant turd.

Why does Equus change form, but Lois, Clark, and Superman do not? Again, an odd framework. I'm sure all this will be chalked up to the fact that this is the Phantom Zone or some altered reality, but it's just another detraction.

And the worst part of the story, the part that really bugged me. When Superman is trying to get Lois to go back, he actually apologizes for Clark's presence, his existence. Either that or he's sorry he didn't get to have sex with Lois. Contextually, like a bad poem, it's written to be so ambivalent and indifferent the reader has to decide.

Hey, Azz, if it was the reader's job to do the work, you'd be out of a job. That's why poetry doesn't sell. It makes the reader do a lot of the work and a lot of the analysis, and the modern reading culture, ESPECIALLY in America, is led by the nose or not led at all.

Now if I could only listen to the above myself, I might have a book deal, bwa ha, but as I don't have a book deal yet, I feel okay saying it. Critics may one day have their vengeance with the same, but for now, I stand on my analysis. This book is cryptic, elitist, uptight stuff for the Comic Book Guy, not Joe Reader.

Comic Book Guy will hold this book up and say, "Best...story...ever!" even though he doesn't understand it, because it looks cryptic, deep, and mysterious.

Me? I'll cut it in half, wrap it around the roll, and put it to some good use before I flush. Actually, strike that. I love the art, so I'll keep it to look at every now and again. Which brings me to the next part:

5Art - 5: Jim Lee's faces all continue to look the same, but it's always overshadowed by his fine level of detail, and the vision of his work. I hem and haw about the expression his characters lack, one month liking it, the next hating it, but all in all, when he's given some beautiful things to draw, he does it, and he went nuts with (gah) Metropia. Lois is incredible, Superman is bold, and Clark, well, he's a little wimp, but since that's what Azz asked for, heck, it's delivered in spades.

I like the new Equus better than the old one. It's odd, but it's not Wolverine rehashed.

I still cringe imagining what could have been done with a Loeb/Lee combination on this book, as opposed to Azzarello. Lee is masterful in many things, I am enjoying his work.

3Cover Art - 3: It's a pretty picture, and it's sort of related to the story. There's a lot of dark space, and a lot of effects. It's got the Lee detail, and it's kind of creepy, but it's forgettable in ways.

Maybe it's just a personal thing. I can't put my finger on it, but something about this picture just doesn't grab me. I feel like I've seen it before, that it could have been bolder, that there just isn't enough to grab on here. Just a light sketch of a form, like you'd get before you add inks, pencils, or even the body, and maybe that's supposed to be part of the picture, but I think a full form explosion of Superman in this effect style might have been more neat. Interesting inking, though, not a total loss. I'm just not blown away.

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Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2005

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