Buy Now!

Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #223

Superman #223

Scheduled to arrive in stores: November 2, 2005

Cover date: January 2006

Writer: Mark Verheiden
Penciller: Ed Benes and Ivan Reis
Inker: Mariah Benes, Marc Campos, Alex Lei, Rob Lea, Oclair Albert


Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Lucia, a convict in Peru, laments her incarceration. She speaks of how the bars weep before killing her cellmate by slitting her throat in frustration over a small disagreement.

Superman returns to his new Fortress of Solitude to monitor what's going on. Ned shows him "".

Supergirl arrives, lamenting that people are making her naked online. Superman tells her he'll have to teach her to knock.

Supergirl explains that she's off to aid Donna Troy in deep space, and that she's come to say goodbye.

Lucia is brought to the warden's office, only to find Talia Head waiting with fine foods.

They discuss her career as a mercenary, and then Talia offers her a chance to get revenge on Superman (why is never explained). She kicks Lucia down and puts the blackrock on her throat, changing her.

Superman and Supergirl discuss what Diana did to Max Lord, and why killing is against the rules. Ned bursts in, telling Superman that a huge electromagnetic spike similar to the last attack has just occurred in Peru.

They go to investigate, and when they arrive, the prison explodes outward as Lucia rages in the form of Blackrock.

She blasts Superman and Supergirl into the distance. Superman tells Supergirl that they have to get the fight away from the people, then sends her to find Blackrock's weakness at the Fortress. She does, reluctantly.

Blackrock immediately incapacitates Superman by spreading magic through his veins, then tells him that she's going to hurt him by attacking and killing Supergirl. She leaves to follow her.

Supergirl arrives, and seconds later, Blackrock attacks, taking out Ned.

Supergirl turns her heat vision on Blackrock. Blackrock notes that her powers are greater than Superaman's, and Supergirl gets the better of her, taking her down. She berates Blackrock for having a womb and not better understanding life. Blackrock asks Supergirl to kill her, and she refuses.

Superman arrives, and Blackrock collapses the Fortress, escaping.

Superman gives his blessing for Supergirl to leave with Donna.

Talia tells Luthor (presumably blue-eyed Luthor) that Blackrock was a success. Luthor tells her that they just need a little bit more time.

2Story - 2: I want to like what Verheiden is doing. I really do. It's the same way that I look at Smallville.

If you review things, you know what it's like. You start out reading the thing, and if you don't think about it too much (something I'm endlessly encouraged to do but buck with all of my heart... I mean, who wants to look at something without thinking about it?), you enjoy it.

That's part of the reason I've been so closely scrutinizing my comic reads of late. Do I really like Ultimate Fantastic Four, or am I reading it because I'm just not thinking about it? The latter, so it's gone. Warren's pleasing me with Ultimate Gah-Lak-Tus, nice re-imagination, but FF? Not so much.

The temptation, just like with Smallville, is to like this writing because it's IN THERE. It's got a LOT of what makes a comic good. Drama, excitement, continuity (wow, where have YOU been?), and heck, even some great lines.

This issue, however, fails in a lot of the ways that the Berganza run has been absolutely notorious for. Irregular rationale, villains dissipating, villains not having a motivation. Granted, they changed it up, this wasn't just your typical villain comes to town story, but is it any different when they go to the villain? I concede that it might be.

Usually, though, I have to qualify, I just have a list of the bad, bad, bad, when an issue rubs me wrong. Here, it was like Onyx. Oooh! Some good, and then awwwwwww, that doesn't make any sense.

I love that the start of this story and the prelude was character. Verheiden is really throwing himself into making strong characters. He's got the passion right, as you can see from the really strong opening, but where he succeeds and fails at the same time is character motivation. For instance, he has Superman down SO masterfully when it comes to how he handles a situation (get the innocents out of there, move the fight, and even if Supergirl is stronger than he is, HE is the one that wants to be in the way of danger). But the villain? Not so much.

You start off with this great extrapolation of a character in a prison. She kills for minor disagreements, she doesn't care that everyone hates her, she's a rotten person. She meets Talia, an even MORE complex and rotten person. They have so many different things they could do together as characters, and a few are explored (yakking over wines), but there is a critical lapse.

The reason why they get together is incoherent. So while it's cool to see two complex characters banter and an exchange of power.

Why does Talia, or why would the society, for that matter, want to give the blackrock to a nameless convict in a prison? There are two rationales given. One, that she's the perfect person for the job (but what's her motivation for hating Superman? I never really got that), and two, that she's just a distraction, so it doesn't matter how good she is, as long as she's putting Superman off.

If it's that she's the perfect person for the job, I don't buy it. Lex Luthor knows better than that. There are a hundred different people with Lucia's disposition in the DCU who have more experience going toe-to-toe with Supes. Just off the top of my head, how about you plug that mamma jamma into Metallo and watch the sparks fly?

If it's that she's just a distraction, I don't buy it. If Lex Luthor wants a distraction, he sends any one of his hundreds of goons to threaten an orphanage, he doesn't waste a pretty darned valuable magical artifact.

There's also that question of motivation. Lucia has motivation to hate prisons, to hate whatever side was against her revolution, heck, to hate Talia for kicking her in the breasts, but what's her beef with Superman? Talia mentions that she can avenge herself on Superman, and later calls her the perfect candidate. What did Superman do to make this woman so angry with him?

Lex's own line: "Her hatred of Superman rivals my own." Uh, WHERE? WHY?

It's hard, because you get brutal, visceral characterizations and scenes that you like (such as the throat slitting scene, Rough) coupled with an irrational motivation and consequent. (Speaking of antecedent and consequent, which we'll get to).

No doubt people are going to be angry about the throat cut in the comments. I wouldn't doubt it. It's similar in gruesome qualities to Doomsday smashing a small child. It makes you step back and go, "Gah!".

I believe, with the Identity Crisis series, we've taken a step from comics no longer really being essentially for kids, and that things like this will be more commonplace. There are a ton of commentaries on that that I won't go into here (already have), so I'll just say that I think Doomsday dropping a small child was extraneous, and the slit throat in this book was a necessary step to take the villain seriously. We knew Doomsday killed kids. It didn't have to be shown. We don't know who Lucia is, so I'm cool with it, though parents might complain.

Smallville homage? Supergirl sneaks up on the guy with super-hearing. Bwa ha! I mean, this is the guy who can hear around the world, right? She's also got super-stealth though, so it would seem.

She knows women have a womb but she hasn't figured out how to knock yet? The incivility of Krypton! Oy!

One thing that threw me off and almost made me drop the comment in disgust was when Lucia kicked Talia in the breasts.

Wait! That didn't happen, Neal, it was the other way around!

I know.

This is an artist thing, actually, so it shouldn't be here (imagine it lower), but I'm saying it here because it's relative to the impression of the plot.

If you turn to the page where Talia kicks Lucia, and you read it with unconscious eyes (that's what I call that automatic sense of where you go next in a comic panel, something I really intend to goof with with my scripts, something Bendis does all the time to great effect), it looks like Lucia kicks Talia. There's a reason for this, actually, and there's a science to it. It's something any hack amateur Director of Photography like me could tell you, and something that any professional comic book artist should know.

You NEVER, EVER break the 180 degree rule, even when your characters are critically distinctive.

That means, essentially, look at the panels. You have Talia on the left, and Lucia on the right, for the first two panels. Then, in the third, TALIA is suddenly on the right and Lucia on the left.


Well, it is, though. When you have two characters in dialogue, the rule is that you can go left, you can go right, you can switch the angle any which way you want, but NEVER go past the 180 degree plane of what we can see if you draw a symmetrical line down the vertical center of either character. This is because logically, we don't mind character motion in the panel or frame, but we come to expect one on one side and one on the other. It's like dialogue. Yes, it's perfectly possible and it seems rational to just have the same character speaking again and again if you separate it by actions, but if you don't keep the cadence, it leads to confusion. And YES, the reader can easily go back and see that it's Talia kicking, not Lucia, but that's something that a good storyteller will not make you have to do.

Unless you're David Lynch, but I digress.

My point? I think the artist was trying to drive the attention to the center of the page (usually a wise move) but he broke the 180 degree rule and consequently derailed the flow of the story.


Well, yeah. But that's what you do. What I do here is look at things a little closer. These are the kinds of thing that perhaps you can't put your finger on that I've trained myself to find.

This story has a lot of obsession over the novelty of the scene over the practicality of it. Superman and Supergirl waxing about real-life nerd antics such as superman-with-chimps and nekkid Supergirl pics is FUNNY, I'll give it that, but jeeee-himiny, man, you're writing SUPERMAN! Every word, every beat, everything had better be essential. There was a number of stuff that could have been trimmed with editing to make this story flow better, and it would have made the ending less abrupt.

The superman-with-chimps site is real, btw.

Maybe it's just anger that they'll put in a mention to a novelty site when there hasn't been a character named Neal brutally beaten to death with a stick. Or at least the Superman Homepage again. WE BRING THE FUNNY! Just ask Monkeybella. I'll gladly trade mutual references with any comic book.

On the pacing, though. It's TV vs. book writing. Here, in reviews, I can ramble on indefinitely. This isn't a story. It's just me waxing until I've run out of opinions, or, in my case, creative ways to express them on the same subject. (Get it, har? Tough crowd). Regardless, a novel, a comic, there's very little room to goof around. Smallville stretches stuff like that, and this comic seems to stretch things a bit as well. There are unnecessary scenes, or scenes that could have been condensed to make the story flow better. Notably, they had to rush the ending, but there's room for a two page spread of the Fortress in the beginning? I know tradition is a draw-in, but when you have stuff to cover, sometimes you have to crunch it. We're seeing a lot of things in a very interesting way (Lucia, Supergirl, the new Fortress), but what's the central story this is revolving around? Where's the crux?

Take the Ruin storyline, for an example, as opposed to, say, the For Tomorrow story. There's a central thesis with deviation to each of them. In one, Superman's trying to get Lois back because she's disappeared, finding out who's responsible. In the other, Ruin's trying to kill Superman by going after his friends and loved ones, and the major dilemma is finding out who Ruin is and stopping him.

I don't like one. I like the other, but I concede that both have a centralized theme.

The only centralized theme to Verheiden that I've seen so far is Blackrock and that Superman may or may not be a threat to the people around him. It's pretty all the way, and I'm enjoying looking at it, but when you look at it as a story, it's failing because there's no real flow or ongoing to it. It's just things happening to Supermen self-encapsulated, again and again. Unlike Simone's Action Comics, however, at least there seems to be a running thread, like problem being, I don't see where or how it's coming to a head, even though it's exciting. I figured the first Blackrock appearance to be another villain comes to town, now Verheiden is extrapolating on it, but since the first holds no relation to the second, it comes across as just another villain visits story, does that make sense?

Why Blackrock, as well, with such a diverse rogue's gallery? I mean, we haven't seen a lot of the normative baddies in a while. That's probably just because I'm going through Geoff Johns's Flash run, however, and taking from that a high example of how to keep close the villains and make them central...

I'll trust Verheiden to get to the point, but I'll also implore the creators to realize that, like Austen, if you flail around too much before getting to the payoff, it doesn't matter how cool the payoff is, that flailing is what led up to it, so it has to be fun.

GREAT continuity, though. Supergirl is on, the discussion of Diana is timely and makes sense, Luthor lurking in the background rules, and the fact that this all occurs as a result of the external continuity is very pleasing to me. I like seeing Supergirl come to terms with deciding whether or not to take life, and why. That's essential characterization there.

Another thing that really bugged me was the "Sharks with frickin' lasers" scene. THAT, I am positive, was ripped straight from Smallville.

If you watch it, consider Thirst. In that episode, Lana Lang becomes a nympho alcoholic vampiress who isn't in her clear mind. She murders on a whim, etcetera.

The lady vampires she knows send her to get Clark Kent, drain him mostly dead, then set him down so they can all have a taste. Does it make sense? No. Does it bring the climax to a head so that we can have the deus ex hit? Yes.

Is that cheap? Yes.

So's having Blackrock immediately subdue Superman and then say, "I know how to hurt you! I'm gonna go after that girl so that you feel miserable!"

That's Zoom's modus, but with Zoom it makes sense. Here, you just shout at the page, "GET THE GUN AND SHOOT HIM! I HAVE ONE IN MY ROOM!"

This is a woman who slit another woman's throat (very pointedly in the story) for disagreeing with her about the substance of a metaphor. You think she's gonna hesitate to bust a rock cap in the Man of Steel? Nay!

Which is funny, because immediately after she does this, Ned says, "THERE IS NO ANTECEDENT-" before getting slagged. THAT was hilarious, if unintentional.

For those of you out there who never took Phil 101, an antecedent is a justifying proposition leading to a valid argumentative form. It also means, "What comes before."

So in other words, saying, "There is no antecedent!" means that what's happening does not make sense. Really, what Ned should have said is, "This is an unexpected consequent!", but then, that's what happens when you write someone to sound smart, something always gets screwed up along the way. Better to play with words, though, I say. I'm firmly on the side of having a Data around, even if it leads to silliness sometimes.

Again the artist kind of jilts the story a bit. When Supergirl lands, she's facing Ned but Blackrock is right behind her, and she's even remarking about that. It's very awkward. These are textbook, simplistic mistakes, and I'm surprised they got by. I understand they might have been stretched for space, but, speaking as a guy who creates comics, I know if the artist comes to me and says, "Hey, man, this'll be awkward if she doesn't turn to face him", it'll be changed.

There was also a major point of contention that bothered me in the dialogue. It just rubbed me the wrong way. Supergirl is fighting Blackrock and says:

"You and I share a gift half the human race will never know. Life. We can actually make it. I might be only sixteen, but that much I understand."

My problem with this statement? On a base reactionary level, I've always hated the idea and argument that just because women have wombs they understand life and its creation better than men. Has Supergirl had a child we don't know about? How about Lucia? Then they're just as qualified as a man to know anything about life. It's an estranging, purposefully feminist statement designed to show how superior Supergirl is in the fight, and it really doesn't make any sense in the context for several reasons.

The first being, Ned says, "antecedent". Supergirl says, "Like, sure." She's played as a naive, young, learning girl. She suddenly breaks from being base and human into pseudo-feminist philosophical narratives?

On another level, it's just flat awful to say that men will never understand life. If you rearrange what he said so that it doesn't absolve him of making the statement (a writing crafting that I hold the creator responsible for), he says:

We have the gift of making life, something men can never understand. (Ergo, we should not be fighting and causing death).

I would just chalk this up to Supergirl's age and remarkable naivety, but it's not exactly played that way in the story.

Let me make it plain that while yes, men and men in power instigate many of the things that cause death and destruction, these same horrible freaks are the ones that have, through said power, crafted democratic governments, the new age of science, critical inquiry, and the things that have raised our standards of LIFE and preserved LIFE. Not to say that women had no part in it, they had equal partnership, as far as I'm concerned. But let me put it this way, what if Superman said, "We have a gift women lack. We generally rule, so we have the ability to take or give life. When we exercise it, therefore, it is better to give more life than to take."

But Supergirl can get away with it, because we ensconce something sacred into the womb and its preternatural and ESP like ability to make one softer and more emotional?

Risky dialogue, and for me, it failed categorically.

Final word on that...I find it interesting that there is a character espousing that women understand life better, that women are the only ones that can understand making life, and yet it's a statement about making life and how to understand life better coming from a man. Irony? One would think. I do.

The final thing that hurts this script is the fact that Superman just lets the villain go, as he used to back in the cold, dark days of 2003. Recall? I had blocked it. But the basic gist is that Superman would do his battle, then the villain would run away, and he wouldn't give chase. That's what happened here.

But NEAL, Blackrock had Superman's speed! She just absorbed it from him! How, oh how could she be followed?

Well, there are a number of ways. Maybe we could ask Blackrock.

I'll explain.

Supergirl takes off for the Fortress, one would assume at maximum speed, to find out how to stop Blackrock.

Blackrock, meanwhile, incapacitates Superman, then decides to follow Supergirl.

To follow Supergirl, Blackrock would DEFINITELY need at least Superman's powers, because Supergirl is stronger and faster than Superman is (groan about that another time, I will). So we can assume that she either used Super-vision to see Kara in the far distance, or infra-scopic vision to follow her heat trail, or we can also assume she used super-hearing and looked in the direction of the sonic boom. Or even more far-fetched, listened for her voice.

Point being? With Superman's powers, there are about eight bo-jillion ways to chase someone within the first few moments of their escape. After the first few seconds, okay, there are ways to mask what you're doing (though it's rough with the infra-scopic vision).

The reason I bring this up is to prove my point. Blackrock, who has NO experience with Superman's powers, can follow Supergirl to the Fortress, which is in a hidden location, breach Superman's defenses, and attack Supergirl after several long seconds of banter.

Blackrock totally disrupts the electromagnetic field, she's beaten all to heck and thus weak, she just had a Fortress of Solitude drop on her, she has power enough to level cities, and yet Superman and Supergirl BOTH just drop the chase for her after the fight ends in the destruction of the Fortress?

They could find her. Don't give me that "She ran away." Just scan the electromagnetic fields all around. Supergirl is hardly winded, even if Superman needed rest. Apparently not enough to fly, however, which means he has most of his powers.

The beat that Blackrock uses before she chases Supergirl and the beat Superman has before he can chase Blackrock or not is the same. Ergo, he should have chased her.

It's an arbitrary way to continue the story, and in a comic where there's an arbitrary reason to create the villain, an arbitrary reason for a climax fight, and an arbitrary destruction of the NEW Fortress of Solitude (a move I've been begging for, but nonetheless), my rating and regard can alas, only be arbitrary.

Still, there is some good, the bad just outweighs it a little bit. I want to like this, I do. It's just not getting anywhere yet. It's Superman. I expect more than that.

4Art - 4: I have to knock a point for the two moments that pulled me out of the story, but otherwise, the work is still top-notch. Both artists make all characters involved distinctive, and I love it when there are several artists and I never notice the transition. That's rough to do, and this managed.

The action is well conveyed, and the detail is astounding. Great work.

5Cover Art - 5: Hit the material involved in a symbolic way, had an awesome background, and though it looks like Superman's just about to deliver some passive aggressive dialogue with his arms folded, the pose itself and the cover look fantastic. It's evocative of something that I can't quite put my finger on. I wouldn't be surprised if I've seen this cover before but just can't remember it.

Other recent reviews:

Mild Mannered Reviews


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

January 2006

February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006

Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.

Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2006.