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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Action Comics #845

Action Comics #845

Scheduled to arrive in stores: November 15, 2006

Cover date: January 2007

Writer: Richard Donner and Geoff Johns
Penciller: Adam Kubert
Inker: Dave Stewart

"Last Son: Part Two"

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Superman listens to Jor-El speak in the Fortress of Solitude with the boy, listening to him speak of his problems with the Science Council.

Superman takes the boy for his first flight.

Later, at the Kent farm, they debate whether or not they can keep the kid. Lois is very strongly against it, insisting that they're not a family that could support a kid. Martha questions Clark for attacking the convoy, pointing out that the men taking the child were just doing their job.

Luthor catches a call from Superman offering to meet with Sarge Steel about the boy, and in response stops working on transforming a purple someone named "Rudy" (Parasite, anyone?) into his next incarnation and instead releases Bizarro from a room full of televisions, telling him to fetch the super boy.

Superman brings the kid out in front of the press to make sure that Sarge Steel is above board in his dealings about the boy.

Superman starts explaining to the boy where he's going with Lois. The boy starts to insist that Lois doesn't like him, when a piece of debris smashes Superman into the ground.

Bizarro bursts forth, grabbing a kid and flying into the air. The kid's arm breaks, so Bizarro tosses him. Superman catches him as Bizarro swoops down on the terrorized populace.

Superman slams into Bizarro, and they crash through a diner and into a bus station. Bizarro then takes a bus as Superman encourages Bizarro to attack him instead of little boys, and smashes him through the air. The bus smashes through a building, landing in front of the Daily Planet building...and on top of the super boy.

Bizarro tries to burn the children in the bus depot, and Superman smashes him with a few busses.

Lois finds the kid in the bus, scared, crying, his clothes torn, but fine.

Bizarro throws the bus off himself. It flies through the air and smashes into the Daily Planet globe, which flies off and down toward Lois and the boy.

The boy catches it.

Superman blasts Bizarro with heat vision, then a dose of freeze breath, incapacitating him.

Superman hovers above the globe. Lois tells Superman that yeah, she said they couldn't handle the boy, but she wants to try.

Lois decides to name the kid Christopher, Chris Kent.

A series of three pods crash to Earth. The symbol "OPEN" flashes on the side, and out step Zod, Ursa, and Non. Zod indicates that the tether, his son, allowed them to escape the Phantom Zone.

3Story - 3: This story has one of the single coolest fanboy giggle moments in comic history for me. Seriously. I read it, and I look at it, and I still giggle that stupid little giggle that makes you realize that really, deep down, you are at least half GEEK.

It's got all the payoffs and makings of a good story. If you had put a gun to my head and made me rate this without reading, it would be an instant, unhesitant five, even before the Zod revelation. Donner on Bizarro, and Superman dealing with having a child. Dream stories. Stuff we've been wanting to see for decades.

Drawn by Adam Kubert? Heck, 6. I mean, I know some of you hate the Ultimate universe for whatever reason, but Kubert flat-out blew me away on his work there.

On my wall, I have two sketches. One by Tom Grummett, the other by Adam Kubert. Grummett was kind enough to answer a piece of fanmail with a sketch (he's just that awesome), and Adam was kind enough to come to my local comic shop, Comic Book Ink, and support it in its early months with super-cheap sketches (ten frickin' bucks for KUBERT) and a ton of signings.

So what I'm saying is that in terms of creator capitol, there are only a few guys who get more of a pass than Donner, Johns, and Kubert.

All THAT said, this issue still had issues, which hurts me to say, because I really, really wanted this to be nothing but epic. I dread saying it, it's like ripping on an old friend. Especially when the last issue was a clear 5 to me.

But regardless, I'd suck as a reviewer if I wasn't honest, so:

Firstly, we have many, many issues of Byrne and what the heck happened. I'm not dumb or obtuse, I realize that when the world reformed, the original execution of Zod disappeared. I know this because it's patently obvious given the panel in the Infinite Crisis, but also other reasons I can't state for reasons of journalistic integrity.

But one thing I never saw in the reformation of the world was the complete obliteration of both the Byrne and Waid continuity. There are rumours of the "super boy" in the past according to snippets of dialogue, but apparently now Kryptonians can fly and have their powers from a very young age.

I knew this was coming, it's obvious this story change was in the cards, given that Didio has flat-out come out and said explicitly that we're now back to the Silver Age Superman. From an interview at Zone Negativa.

    Q: Could you explain which will be the ultimate origin of Superman, Byrne's one or Mark Waid's? Could we have X-Men without Xavier? Could we have a Legion without Superboy?

    DD: There are several derivations of the Superman origin with the Byrne and Waid ones being the most recent. Coming out of Crisis we will be leaning towards "Birthright" since we will have re-established that our Superman is the Silver Age incarnation.

I came across this in research for the Superman continuity wiki I intend to start shortly, a reader sent it in, I apologize, I forgot who, so if you want a shout-out, be sure to say it was you in the comments...

Regardless, personally, I think this dehumanizes the character, so in a review, I've gotta stomp on it. The SINGLE best part of Byrne's retelling, the only thing you'd really want to keep if you're going to a new, amalgamated Superman from multiple medias, is the humanization of Clark Kent.

Heck, if you're talking about media cross-pollination, most of the reading public today know Clark as the Clark of Smallville, where he develops his powers gradually. And why do they relate to that Clark? Because, as so many letters inform me while urging me to jump off a building for daring to criticize the show, it shows that Clark Kent is human and can make mistakes. People don't relate to the infallible Superman (even if I do when he's an adult) as much as the guy who had to earn his dues just like everyone else, and then suddenly found himself blessed with incredible power.

So, as a milestone where that is erased from continuity, I have to say that severely disappoints me with this issue, right from the start.

The Kryptonian execution being gone is just fine. It's great, in fact. I understand that it's how Superman derived his sense of right and wrong according to some, but honestly, I stand by the fact that there are any number of truly great ways he can learn that lesson, including Pa talking about his experience taking in the Vietnam war as opposed to the Korean, one would suppose. Kind of sucks we have an unending series of wars people like Sam Lane and Pa Kent can be veterans of, huh? But that's tangential.

My next criticism just astounds me. It really does. I have to take JOHNS to task on CHARACTER? I think out of every comic I read there are perhaps three guys who just GET character, to a T. Garth Ennis in Preacher, Greg Rucka, and Geoff Johns. That's out of everyone, Marvel, DC, Oni, Image, and the little indie books I pick up at cons.

In this issue:

Lois is against having a kid.

Martha stands up for the military convoy stealing a child.

Lois gives Superman a sour look for saving the kid from experimentation.

And finally, Lois is FOR having a kid.

Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but the last one makes sense in context, I'm not being the impossibly hard-to-please fan. Hear me out.

First off, as I've explicitly stated a bunch of times, and as anyone who understands the pursuit of character over plot knows (or at least those who marry character and plot well with attention to character, like Johns), Lois is supposed to be, or at least has evolved into, what many would term the uber Feminist. She's basically a strong woman who doesn't take any crap from anyone, does everything that the boys do, and expects equality. Often this devolves into stereotype with other characters, like when Lana learns kung fu in thirty seconds on Smallville, or when Kate, a waifer-thin woman, can withstand torture and beat men twice her size on Lost without a blink. It's outlandish because it's impossible.

BUT, so is a man who flies and is always right. The idea behind Superman and Lois is that they're the people in the DCU, nay, in EXISTENCE, who got it right, as impossible as that may seem to write (I don't see the big beef, but people complain a lot).

One of the essential tenets of ur-feminism, as I've read it, is that you can do anything you want with your life, anything a man can have and do. And what do men traditionally do? Go to work, then come home and have the benefits of the kid. Right? Half of the people I know who define themselves as strict feminists intend fully to establish a career for themselves so that they can have an identity, but also have children and manage it as a grown adult should instead of surrendering to the urge to rely on a man for support and/or control.

That's feminism.

Not a leg up on men, but equal status. At least, to me.

So here's Lois Lane, an ur-feminist, decrying the idea of having a kid with Superman. A kid that doesn't require her to sacrifice time at her job, necessarily, for pregnancy. A kid that has no family, and needs a family that only someone orientated to powers like Clark's could handle.

Does Lois want kids? I don't know. That's shady character territory. The indication and response whenever editors get the "Will they ever have kids?" question is "Well, that's the end of a storyline, so likely no." and beyond that, "I'm sure they'd love to, they question is just...when will we write it!?" This to please people who beg for stories like this one without realizing what happens if you saddle Lois and Clark with a kid, which is kind of like saddling them with marriage. It can be difficult if not impossible to add tension to without causing marital strife or, in this case, hurting a kid on the part of Superman.

So it's fair to say that Lois might want a kid, or might not, but one thing I believe is safely assured. If Lois saw a kid in need, even if she couldn't keep him forever, she would want to try.

But Neal, you then assert, at the end of the issue, that's exactly what she said!

Well, my counter to that, and why I'm not being a wishy-washy fan, is that anyone strong in character, as Johns is, knows that to be a cheap gimmick. It's what they did in the movie. Make Lois brash, annoying, and working against everyone, seemingly, going after the blackouts, but then in the end assume it's okay because it solves the dilemma, despite being contretemps to anyone finding her likable or being able to work with her.

Here, Lois adopts a position she wouldn't, and then reverses it because it makes her character viewed in a better light in the end.

It also makes her look like she asserts one thing, and then emotions take over, and she asserts another, which is also counter to what a feminist icon character would do. In fact, it's almost condescending, even if it happens in real life. Do that with another female character and it might strike of realism. Do it with Lois, it's striking her image. Like if Superman broke a guy's arm. Yeah, Spidey might accidentally do that, and to explore him doing that would make his character stronger, because Spidey makes mistakes. But not Superman. Not really. I mean, yeah, he may not get there in time, he may not save everyone, but all in all, he thinks, then acts.

As Johns knows, because he masterfully characterized Supes later as he did in Up Up and Away, goading Bizarro to attack him instead of the kids, where other writers, as I've seen in the past, will just have Superman start attacking without much dialogue or thought at all.

So there's that. Also, the response to Superman yanking the kid out of the convoy really surprised me. Martha is defensive of the soldiers, when of ALL of those people, Martha, the mother to the core, would not care WHAT happened to a group of grown men with guns so long as the kid they were threatening was safe. And Lois, too, gets in on the act, giving Clark a sour look that made me think LANA in capital letters at Clark when the television indicates the Superman was indeed behind saving this kid from experimentation.


Anyone who knows character, and I reassert Johns is a prodigy of character, would realize almost instantly that the only person in that room who would give a solid damn about military men who are haranguing a small child would be Jonathan, and then he would STILL side with saving the kid but, having military experience himself, would only passively mention the men. "Yeah, those guys had it coming. I still feel bad, though. They were just doing their job. But still...they should know better than to kidnap a kid."

MAYBE. And that's if Jonathan is still considered a military veteran, which I don't know any more because I honestly don't know what continuity is in any way, shape, or form, beyond we've got Superman with powers at youth, Superman of the Silver Age is now our Superman, and Birthright is a vague origin. I don't even know what the context of his frickin' death is any more.

Superman trusts the press to monitor the kid's presence. Good move, honestly, and very good character. Of course, it brings to light the staggering difference between a hardy and rigorous press as one would imagine Metropolis to have, and the one we have, because Superman can trust his press, and I wouldn't trust mine as far as I could throw it, but that's neither here nor there, the scene just got me thinking about that. We have the Bizarro World press...

I flat-out LOVED the fight with Bizarro. Knocking the globe off the Planet, contending with bystanders, the page where they cascade through buildings...Kubert renders it beautifully and I love the beats, right up until the end. GREAT stuff, and a great fight.

What kills me is that this story adds nothing new to Bizarro. Nothing. I mean, he breaks a kid's arm, which was, I suppose, the requisite NEW and EDGY Bizarro they talked up. He tried to heat breath a group of kids. But as Austen showed, smashing a little kid and a kiddie doesn't exactly equal edgy.

What a perfect opportunity to debut that blue K that landed at the end of Public Enemies, huh? Instead, what happens? Superman heats up Bizarro, then freezes him.

What? I mean, seriously? Would that stop Superman? Doubtful. Would it stop Bizarro? I don't think so. The battle might have needed more pages, I don't know, but you don't let Bizarro out unless you have something to bring him back in, and heat vision coupled with frost breath against a guy with Superman's powers doesn't play with me.

This is so ODD from Johns for me. I don't think it's Donner, honestly, because you can see Donner in other things, like the plot itself, which sounds like Superman 3 so far, if Donner had been given a shot. The technical stuff would probably be handled by the guy who knows the universe well, Johns. Maybe I'm off-base.

Either way, whoever wrote it, that end to Bizarro's fight, especially after it was so epic, is disappointing.

Another continuity point. The bus falls on the kid, the kid is invulnerable, so it doesn't hurt him at all. BUT, his clothes are torn all the shreds.

Superman gets a bus smashed into him, and it doesn't even damage his cape.

So which is it? Does he have an aura, or not? They're both Kryptonians, so gross contact with objects should harm them the same way. My guess is that if this is the Silver Age Supes, he's clothed in the garments from his ship, and the kid was just in plain human cloth. We're then back to the ridiculous suit that never changes and can't be damaged because it's made of Kryptonian cloth.

If so, then pray tell, how did the S shrink? And where did he get the belt buckle?

THIS is why continuity is important and should be defined coming out of the gate.

Like Smallville, this show's release of Zod has no real plot coherency. Say they have a kid in the Phantom Zone, if they can't get out, how can the kid? And if the kid gets out, how does that fly them to the Fortress and release them? It's kind of an arbitrary plot device, like someone might use in a movie, so I'm guessing that's Donner. Regardless, there's still something weird there. As pleased as I am to see Zod, that doesn't make up for a story that doesn't cover A to B. Yeah, Zod can't sit there waxing about how he escaped, and sure, the Phantom Zone is an inescapable prison, but that's why good writing is supposed to get beyond that with a tether.

Simple solution? What I would have done, especially given Donner? Have Lex help them escape in exchange for Australia, and have the kid be his idea. That'd make it doubly personal, and give Johns more Luthor action.

Point being, there are many better A to Bs.

Speaking of A to B, Clark and Lois then leap to Luthor as the culprit for releasing Bizarro without any real reason. Luthor is the baddie in their lives, the guy behind them constantly pulling the strings, yes, but without any logical reason to believe he was behind it, why would they? They might say, "Hey, it could be Luthor. You think?" but not: "Bizarro was sent by somebody." "LEX LUTHOR." "Who else could train that backwards monster?"

That sounds all dramatic, yes, but how do they know he was sent? How do they know it was Lex? He didn't act trained, so why did they assume he was trained? Bizarro is always strangely focal on some backwards intention. Like LO-IZ! who he always tries to singularly kidnap to "protect" when he comes to town. Do they assume he's trained to do that then?

Causality, which is something that someone who's masterful in character knows. Johns knows this, so I've gotta be honest about this.

ESPECIALLY given that in the recent past, in the last three or four years (I forget exactly, but not long ago), Bizarro was TRAINED by ZOD (another Zod, yet another Zod) to attack at his behest. Remember? No one else could train that monster?

This is the editor's job, to let the writer know these issues, to appraise when continuity will be mauled like that. But if I can find all these things and an editor can't, my guess is that the editors or the writers could care less, honestly, about Superman's recent past. Which is understandable in ways, given that the Russian Zod and number of other things (Joe Casey, Chuck Austen, and Brian Azzarello, for instance) were abominably bad, but you also, in order to retain the storyline, have to deal with these failures. Acknowledge them. Fix them. It's how you un-jump the shark on a TV show, or make up for Jar Jar in Episode One by turning him into the villain that grants Palpatine his power. It's as simple as Perry taking up cigar smoking after it gave him a heart attack and simply saying, "Yeah, can't stop. Started again. Sorry."

That's a good way of doing it. You can say, "But he had a heart attack!" but then the writer can counter with, "And he'll probably have another, years down the road, in comic time, and we'll deal with it. Time is fluid in comics."

Christopher Kent, an obvious homage to Reeve, is great. I don't know how to handle that he's the herald of Zod, but heh, I don't think they mean it that way. And it's great to indicate that if Clark had a kid, it'd be named Chris. Appropriate, and exactly what I'd hope they would do. Coolness.

They did such a great job translating in this series so far...all that Kryptonian, I would have died translating it myself. But for all that, I still had to look it up for that ship, only to find...OPEN? OPEN? Heh.

When did the Phantom Zone become a shell? Kinda weird, I hope they throw some light on it.

From the above, you might gather that I hated this issue. Not so, as I said, the fight was excellent, I like the return of Zod, the kid is a sympathetic character, and this is, as I stated, a great vision of what Superman III could have been.

It raised issues of character, and it raised issues of story coherency, which is not what I expect from Johns. I've gotta comment on that.

But as I said, and as I will continue to say unless this becomes a habit, Johns is the best, and this is the first issue he's ever written that I've read that gave me pause. And I doubt it'll be repeated.

5Art - 5: There are a few issues with the art, but all just matters of depiction choice. They keep a few things from the movie, the belt, the small S, but they don't get rid of the S in the back? Which means they're picking and choosing what they like and leaving the things they don't. There's something to be said for that, but it's also inconsistent, which is something that bristles me as a writer and lover of a coherent consistent narrative in comics. Especially given that it's not incredibly hard.

Lois' hair is just hideous, and robs her of her femininity. I know, after that big rant about feminism, that's about the most sexist thing I could say, but regardless, she looks like a guy. And a petulant one. Does it play to her character's feminist roots? Maybe. I don't know. I find the stereotypical butch chick as feminist doesn't exactly fit the bill, I see feminism as a character thing, not like the mohawk is to punks.

Regardless, I don't like it, not because of its association with feminism (so it's not sexist), but rather because it's just unattractive to me, and Lois Lane is what I consider my female ideal. A smart, pretty chick who can logically compete and often best me. Take away the pretty, and she's just competition.

However, all that said, this issue SMACKS with great art. The fight is incredible. The Planet getting hit. The kid's expressions. Everyone's expressions. The background. The reveal at the end. The paneling and pacing, incredibly dynamic. Just hands-down, great work. So while I don't agree with some of the aesthetic choices, I'm not going to let it blind me to just great work.

I almost started hunting the internet for Adam's email so that I could ask him if he would sell me that image of Bizarro and Superman crashing through the buildings. It's probably the most beautiful scene of its kind I've ever seen. Something about how the debris hangs in the air, and how it's the same essential scene but in varying circumstances. It shows a depth to the fight of time even though it's a short brawl, and that makes it FEEL longer even though it's just one page. That takes incredible talent.

Then I remembered I'm in debt for writing. But if I had any cash, that's what I'd be doing right now, because that's masterful stuff.

5Cover Art - 5: I'm digging these grayscale covers, even though I usually like color. It's neat, and it establishes a tone for this arc that others have lacked. Take away uniformity, yeah, but still, it's great stuff.

I don't honestly have more to say about it then that. It's obvious just looking at the incredible pose and detail that this is high quality stuff.

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January 2007

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