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Mild Mannered Reviews - Regular Superman Comics

Superman #677 Superman #677

Superman #677

Scheduled to arrive in stores: June 25, 2008

Cover date: August 2008

"The Coming of Atlas" - Part One: "The World on His Shoulders"

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Renato Guedes
Inker: Wilson Magalhaes

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Superman muses about the state of his life, playing catch with Krypto. Hal Jordan stands with him in deep space, concerned at Superman's naivety toward loss, but ultimately persuaded that things are potentially good and fine.

On Earth, a large white creature does battle with the Science Police, the leader of whom tells us about his life and existence as a member, culminating with Superman arriving, killing the monster, and ending the threat. He also details the lives and proclivities of the other members of the Sciences Police.

Superman departs abruptly, as the Daily Planet globe falls. Atlas catches it, throwing it into space and calling Superman out. The Science Police, including the leader, are shredded, leading Atlas to bellow for Superman again. At last, Superman arrives to face the threat, after telling Hal Jordan to watch Krypto.

2Story - 2: I remember reviewing Joe Casey's run on the Superman comics. Mostly because the flaws, inconsistencies, and oddities that jumped out to any person who'd been reading the comic for more than a half day actually covered more textual area than the summary. That doesn't happen too often, but it happened for this book.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed some aspects of it. It's heartfelt, and well written, but written without an understanding of the character in many respects, which makes it frustrating, because this would be good if Superman weren't, well, Superman, and defined as such.

I enjoyed it for what it was...

...until I examined it closer than the surface. You don't have to do that, if you don't want to. I do, as a reviewer, and that scratch reveals very deep flaws.

It comes from the character perspective, which is my most admired style of writing, but its focus and impetus is strange at best. Superman acts out of character, Green Lantern acts out of character. Atlas has an odd motivation. The Science Police are interesting and well fleshed out, but this is a Superman comic book. This is like the issue Busiek recently wrote with (ugh) Squad K, only Squad K is well written, but it doesn't eliminate the critical flaw: Why would we care about the exploits of Squad K/The Science Police when this is a Superman conflict? An ancillary element should feed the story and its protagonist, not just appear because it's cool.

This issue is mostly a Science Police story, ending with a Superman appearance. A good way to do what this story does is how Rucka handled the SCU. Lupe is developed, as are the other characters in the SCU, but it's over in a page or two and onto the dilemma. Ruin. In this issue, it's mostly Superman and Jordan talking as Superman ignores the conflict, and characterizing a one-note character. If that one-note character takes on more of a role later, great, but here it detracts from the early, defining parts of the story.

The little things that make up this assessment:

Superman and Green Lantern talk. If it seeks to foreshadow something, this is time well spent, but it doesn't foreshadow anything in this issue, so in this issue, it's a waste of time until proven otherwise.

Superman speaks out of character, and oddly. He plays up Jordan's multiple gals, something Supes would likely not consider part of the adventure, but rather a dalliance from his own particular morality. He doesn't realize that Jade dated Kyle, not Jordan, which shows him to be ill attentive at the least, critically ignorant to the regular lives of his own best friends at worst. I mean, Jade is dead. I can't speak to his actions off camera, but one would assume he helped Kyle mourn.

The dialogue is also slightly stilted.

Superman comes off as happy-go-lucky and naïve, which is the default way to characterize Superman.

He's not.

He's an optimist, but a pragmatist as well. There's no way that a guy who has massive, continuing security measures for his wife believes all will just go to plan and will be okay. Sam Lane is dead. His first love has a broken marriage. Every single day is battle after battle. He's DIED. He's been DEAD. I mean, he knows the reality of his life. This is the default "boy scout" defining of Supes, and that worries me, even if it is brief.

Personal pet peeve... using exotic to describe women. Exotic is typically a way that clumsy people describe non-white women, in my experience. Here that's diffused by the fact that you're referring to aliens, but I still disagree with the usage.

Why does Green Lantern give Supes a helmet? To talk? It still makes it seem like he needs air, which is confusing. I suppose he does, to talk, but I see something weird there I can't put my finger on.

Though Superman does character defining things, the story initially serves to mostly characterize Hal Jordan, which is out of sorts, and then serves to characterize the Science Police leader, though the Jordan bit turns into a Superman characterization at the end, I would argue slightly late to avoid turning it into the Hal Jordan show in a Superman comic. For instance, mentioning his history over a mention of Superman's sticks out as odd. There's perfect example to show the deep of Superman's still waters, and instead, he shows Hal as a long-suffering type and Superman as the naïve idiot who doesn't understand what pain is.

The narrative shift is also jarring.

Why the Science Police instead of the SCU? The SCU is a longstanding, rad concept. Why the sudden change to a Legion convention? I understand if there is some tangible character benefit, but what is the benefit here? This is essentially the SCU with another name, so why not go with the SCU? It's like what Busiek did... just a reason to stamp a personal touch on there, and not subsuming the writer into the universe.

There's an awful lot of time spent on a rather faceless monster that's then taken out in a single blast.

Superman kills the monster (presumably, it's stated that way), and then leaves Metropolis in ruins. I can't count the number of ways that's wrong. I mean, first he's simply goofing around in space, then he realizes there's a threat, so does he do what Superman would do? Does he take the monster away from the city, minimize civilian threat, and then make the creature submit without causing it any more harm than necessary? No. He flies THROUGH it, gutting the thing, and the head of the Science Police indicates that when it falls, it is dying. I'd be hard pressed to understand why a writer would say that if Superman hadn't killed the thing.

There are gray areas in Superman's philosophy. Maybe he's a jerk to midgets. We don't know. Perhaps he has a special place he deposits Krypto's crap. These are unexplored things and fertile territories. Of the few immutable truths, however, one is that Superman doesn't kill sentient beings unless he absolutely has to, and even then, he makes another way, 'cause he's Supes.

Superman then, after killing a seemingly sentient being (It didn't speak, but it did have ambulation, motive, and actions, just as Krypto would), departs. He leaves Metropolis in ruin. The monster, when it falls, knocks over what appears to be a skyscraper, if you look. Check the art. You're telling me Superman would simply fly in, kill something, and leave it, in its death throes, to knock over major buildings? The same Superman that can push a planet would not lift the monster and carry it away from where it would kill hundreds, if not thousands of people? It's careless. Both for the writing, and for Superman.

I do understand the urge to show the oddness of a strange character arriving and catching the globe instead of Superman. But that simply shows that Superman, who's always there to catch the globe, is being remiss in his duty. Beyond that, it shows that, since this is a convention, the idea of the Daily Planet globe falling and being caught has been done to death, and is thusly typically unoriginal. I mean, it's even made it into the movie, and those are only the most oft-used, archetypical things that are likely beaten to death. Like breaking chains. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be used, but that if you're going to, it be in a wholly unique way. This can be argued to be unique, but only unique in that it emphasizes a failing of Superman, ergo why use that kind of a unique version?

And why does Superman leave Metropolis in ruins? Did this come across as odd to you as it did to me? He does it so he can say goodbye to Hal. To say goodbye to Hal. With lives on the line.

Are the "all-seeing cams" the ones Lana introduced? Are they some new version? Why is Metropolis under constant surveillance. Odd bit of throwaway there.

Why don't the Science Police attempt to talk to Atlas? Atlas throws the globe, I get that, but you'd think they'd have a little sense and do something like say, "Okay! We'll get Supes, if you stop destroying things."

Instead, we get, "FREAK!" and then a fight. It seems like highly trained even semi-mercenary forces would have more common sense than that, and it seemed like an arbitrary fight for characterized new guys who are then wiped off the map.

Krypto is described as having some kind of behavior problem, despite not having one of note, and of not responding to anyone except Clark, which is obviously not the case, given Conner and Lois. Beyond that, when was Krypto ever "bad" save the time he bit Mongul Jr. in the throat, which was really him saving a life?

Atlas wants to be the protector of Metropolis... so he has to fight Superman? Huh? What kind of odd logic is that?

Basically, this whole story feels like it's written for the trade, which spaces it out. I want the meat of this story, not to be three bucks poorer for an exercise in indulgence and consumer thought. I get that six stories makes a trade, I do. But I didn't need to wade through most of this to get to the point, which is the last page.

Superman is mischaracterized, that's the biggest flaw here. Ultimately the character-focal writing gives this a redeeming feel, but the feel is not the pudding.

5Art - 5: Top to bottom, awesome. I think this is leaps and bounds above his earlier stuff, which was nothing to sneeze at, and he manages to make a rather odd seeming character like Atlas into a compelling villain. I'm very pleased with this artist on this book, and hope they keep him on there. It's great stuff, particularly the way Superman looks. I think this Superman is actually closer to Reeve than Frank's been getting, and that's Frank's best quality according to folks I talk to. Fine work.

5Cover Art - 5: I love the image, even if it's misleading regarding the plot contained inside. It's still a gorgeous painted cover, a fine rendition of Superman in action, and poster-worthy.

The icon over the image is pushed up in that crappy "arty" way they were during the tail-end of the Berganza run for so many books, which is lame, but if all the images are this good, pushing the icon out of the way is justified.

Mild Mannered Reviews


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

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