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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #219

Superman #219

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 7, 2005

Cover date: September 2005

Writer: Mark Verheiden
Penciller: Ed Benes
Inker: Mariah Benes, Rob Lea, Alex Lei

"Sacrifice" - Part 1

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Lois Lane speaks with someone on the phone, concerned with the way Clark's been behaving.

A Superman robot flies to the Fortress (the new one, in the rainforest). He finds Superman holding up bloody hands, wondering what he's done.

Lois, meanwhile, holds the phone as a bald shadow that looks suspiciously like Brainiac looms unseen in the background.

Twenty-two hours earlier, Clark and Jimmy finish off where last issue ended. They study the effects of the battle. Jimmy laments that Superman was using his full power against a low level like Blackrock, and says that Superman usually only did that for the big guns.

Clark and Jimmy arrive at the Daily Planet, and Clark asks to see Lois. Lois' new secretary gives him guff until he explains that he's her husband. Clark looks through the wall and sees Brainiac with Lois. He plows through the door, knocking it over, only to find Brainiac gone.

Lois explains that he just wants to be his friend (he probably meaning Brainiac, but note that it could mean someone else... Neal).

Superman drops Lois off at home and tells her to activate the emergency protocols.

In the Fortress, with a Superman robot, Superman searches for Brainiac. Brainiac appears, telling him that he touched Lois' mind to understand how she looks at Superman.

Superman swears that he'll find Brainiac. Brainiac assures him that he will, but it won't be easy. The Superman robot attacks. Superman takes it apart.

Brainiac tells him to come to the Marianas trench. Arriving at the bottom of the ocean, Superman finds the head ship, and inside, Brainiac, who gloats that he knows Superman's secret identity.

Superman smashes Brainiac, who crumples into robotics. Another Brainiac, behind them, goads Superman on, pointing out that he knows how to build robots too.

Superman attacks, and Brainiac continues goading, telling him that they're all afraid of him for being an alien. He knows, because he's read their minds.

Superman ruptures the hull and water starts flooding in.

Brainiac shows Superman four tubes with his loved ones in them. Perry, Lois, Jimmy, and Lana. The water pressure will kill them at this depth.

Superman goes to them, desperate, but the water fills, and the tubes implode, killing them all. Just before, Lois tells Superman that it's his fault.

Superman, infuriated, attacks Brainiac ferociously. He tells Brainiac that he's going to die.

A blue wash takes Superman back to the Fortress, where he finds human blood on his hands (from the beginning) and the JLA and some of the JSA, waiting to take him in for what he's done.

5Story - 5: So... confused! So happy... but so... angry!

Allow me to explain.

Okay, we have here, cover to cover, one hell of a story. On that basis alone, this deserves a five. There's good drama, epic characterization, and a great cliffhanger, beginning AND end. We have a story that explores to the core the very meaning of Superman, just like Action Comics #825, and we have it done in a way that pops right smack into continuity, brings Brainiac into the fray, and makes Superman in a dire peril unlike he's experienced in a while.

Yeah, the JLA is always threatening to bring him in every few years (yeah, like that could happen), and Superman typically has a threat to those he loves fairly constantly, but here it's given a new sense of urgency. A sense of haste. Coupled with some amazing art, this has fast become one of my new favorite teams, challenging even Rucka and Clark and then Rucka and Kerschl for a great first impression. Overall, I'm thinking they're balancing out and working together in my mind as a holistic experience, which is JUST what we've been asking for long years gone. Simone, nary so much yet, and Loeb, while incredible, is off on his own tangent. But at least three out of four ain't bad, when it used to be MAYBE one in four, and I do believe that Gail, once she gets going, will do all right. Villains United is showing me that (see that review, plug plug).

What really got me about the story, when I looked at it the SECOND time, was the choices made. One small and one large that really, upon further review, take from the story.

The small one is Clark Kent ripping off the door. For a guy obsessed with keeping his secret identity, would it be so hard to shoulder it open? But nah, Hollywood style kaboom, it's off its hinges and into the room. That might be the artist, that might be the script, but that stuck out like a sore thumb. That's the small thing.

The big thing, and oh, it is a big thing, was Superman's sudden and impulsive decision to murder Brainiac.

There are two minds to this issue, at least, I've gleaned that much talking to readers and creators alike. That Superman NEVER kills, or that, pushed hard enough, Superman would become the cold, dispassionate, destructor of worlds. If they took Lois, or when Lois eventually dies, he's going to lose what makes him the faithful guardian of idealism for the common man. Meaning, Kingdom Come.

I love Kingdom Come, but I think it's Elseworlds for a reason. I don't think that if Superman was forced to watch Martha and Jonathan tortured for a thousand years, until they both died, I still don't think he'd kill.

Should he? That's an arguable point. Batman should probably kill Joker, or at least, in my theory, break his back and make him a quadriplegic, which isn't taking his life but stops him (mostly) from killing. Superman might do well to put Lex Luthor in a cage in the Fortress where he can't get out, due process aside. If they did that, there'd be no story, though, so we understand why he doesn't.

And sure, if someone killed my friends, I'd probably want to and MIGHT murder the heck out of them with a pipe or my bare hands. That's HUMAN nature.

But Superman is a paradigm of humanist morality because he's NOT human. He's the ultimate arbiter. He's the guy who KNOWS what is right, and because he does, he's sworn an oath never to kill anyone, in any circumstances. To do so, or to even threaten to do so, diminishes his moral standing.

If Batman can not kill the Joker after what he did to Jason Todd, to Barbara Gordon, to Commissioner Gordon's wife, heck, to the world... am I insane here?

So when Superman just BANG, threatens to kill and starts killing Brainiac for killing Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Lana, I said na-ah, girlfriend, don't go there.

My favorite Superman comic book of all time (though threatened of late with the Rucka Mxy issues) is the one where he's forced to decide between killing the Joker or killing Lois. I've talked about it a number of times, because I think it was probably the most emotional dilemma strewn Superman comic I've ever read. It was your standard pop, in and out issue, but the premise was that Joker had infected Lois with a disease that only Joker could provide the anti-bodies to, and unless Superman injected Joker and killed him to get the anti-bodies, croakers goes the Lo-Lo.

Why is it my favorite book? Because even though Lois is more to Superman than ANYTHING, he makes the moral and virtuous choice to NOT become a murderer, because even if it saved Lois, what would be left. And indeed, were Superman to kill Brainiac, were Batman to kill the Joker, they would solve the problem, but what would be left? A murderer that used to be a paragon of morality. And both heroes know this explicitly and well.

Ergo I take umbrage with Superman's gut reaction.

I also wonder why Superman never tried to save his family and friends? A quick weld to the side of the ship with scrap tube, heck, even the Brainiac robot. There's also the issue of why Brainiac's body would stand up to Superman's hardest blows and not explode...


There's the OVERWHELMING other side of the argument, which was, "Was this a good story?" And heck yeah, it was an amazing story. And did this really happen? Likely not. Likely this was a product of Max's machinations. Who knows, maybe Superman DIDN'T make that choice. That would also explain not trying to patch the hole. Max was MAKING him make these bad decisions. And if it's a dream Brainiac, a figment, then heck, Superman's every blow wouldn't kill him. I can't kill my enemies in my dreams, even when I'm trying. Then the question is asked, until this is explicitly stated or not stated, how do you regard that, as a reviewer, you know? Pickle.

And knowing how much this script must have been agonized over to come out this clean, this well put, and this epic of an experience, I'm betting that's the case, that they thought of these things in advance. I can know this with Rucka's script, because I've talked to him in person. I don't know Mark, so I can't make that assumption clearly. But so far, it seems like he cares, he pays attention to all of these details, and ergo, there's probably a reason for these things, and I'll feel really stupid if next issue it's all explained away as a dream sequence.

And a difference of opinion if it ISN'T a dream doesn't change the fact that this is an awesome story, cover to cover. Tense, sad, filled with great action and a good re-imagining of Brainiac, and heck, to tell the truth, I trotted my butt over to the comic store right when it arrived just to get it, I was so excited. That will continue. It's easier to wax for a long while on the flaws, but make no mistake, I really enjoyed this, even though it took me a while to elaborate on the Superman killing idea.

Great issue.

5Art - 5: The art stands right with the story, if not pulling it along. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had a lot of the stinker writers in the past had an artist like this. Ah, I know what would have happened. Last year's Superman run. But digression aside, when you get a good artist and a good writer, it's honey on the page. I love this rendition of Brainiac, the level of detail on these pages are incredible, just what I've wanted for a long time. Lois looks like Lois, Jimmy looks like Jimmy, and yet they're the artist's own, as well. That's a hard train to drive with a fanbase like this, and congratulations for that.

The color is incredible, too. Sharp, and vivid, like the Lee run, and maintaining that level of quality, hands down.

Good work.

5Cover Art - 5: It's a theme cover for the next four issues, and it's a well conceived one, as well. It happens in the issue, it's a dramatic pose... there's less of a background, but you know what? They filled the format so much with the characters involved that it doesn't matter.

And you know what's NOT on this cover?





You know what I mean? Those cheesy cover phrases? Gone on this cover. Love that.

A 5, 5, 5, which means I'm in hog heaven. I have an issue to talk about (the killing thing), a good issue to laud, tension, cliffhangers... bangup job.

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

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