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Mild Mannered Reviews - Smallville Comics

Smallville: Season 11 #10

Smallville: Season 11 - Chapter #10

Released Digitally: July 13, 2012

"Guardian" - Chapter 10

Writer: Bryan Q. Miller
Penciller: Pere Perez
Inker: Pere Perez

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge

When Superman causes a fire, he puts it out between the time the fire department is called and the time they arrive without anyone knowing about it until they find his apologetic calling card. General Lane and Superman have a discussion about heroism and accountability but are interrupted by Emil's signal watch over at S.T.A.R. Labs, where Hank Henshaw has taken an enraged and horrified measure of his altered state of being and has attacked Lex Luthor. Because Superman didn't save him and "can't save everybody," Henshaw intends to take Superman's place.

3Story - 3: Writing that synopsis made me sigh. Other than the parts about Superman putting out the fire he caused (the note was corny, but ok, he's a hit-the-parked-car-and-leave-a-note kind of guy) and the conversation (mostly) with General Lane, distilling this thing down into its core components just leaves me exhausted from trying to comprehend character motivations.

By the way I'm really not, in life, normally as adversarial as I end up being in these reviews. It happens because my snark makes me smile when I'm trying to laugh at what's otherwise boring or depressing me. But I get both that it usually comes out as sarcasm and that sarcasm is often difficult to discern as such in the written word. I should talk to Steve about adding an audio file of me reading the review. You would laugh more than you would fume, methinks.

But, more specifically and with genuine outrage, this has happened here, I think, because I continue to find the Superman in Smallville to be less a symbol of truth and justice (and, yeah, the "American Way," but I'd say that's been updated and rebooted a time or two itself, plus I'm Canadian) and more a symbol of a symbol (because nor is Smallville canon) of Superman. The stories aren't about truth and justice, they're set inside Superman the symbol, the trademark, the brand. We are meant to feel truth and justice through association with the brand, not through the characterization and dramatization of truth and justice here and now.

At least, not necessarily. That sometimes happened on Smallville - the actual evocation of core Superman themes - but you might not have bet on it, week to week. Smallville the show did angst pretty well, and insecurity, but also elation and loyalty. I can't tell what the comic is trying to do, other than get published. I mean, there are fragments ("Men in our position can't afford to lose our tempers, son."), but they are not in the majority.

And that's altogether boring and depressing. Also frequently maddening. If you care about such things.

But I digress. Back to character motivations.

I appreciated the father-son vibe in the scene with General Lane, but it doesn't jive with the apparent retcon that he hadn't put it together that Clark was The Blur. Yes, retcon. Come now, we all walked away from "Ambush" thinking this was the case. No, it was not made explicit. But, verily do I say unto thee... come now: that's what they wanted us to think, and surely it wasn't to set up these latest developments.

I mean, you'd have to be telling me that General Sam Lane doesn't remember a face - forsooth, the face of the man with whom his cherished daughter is planning to marry! Sorry. Fail. Maybe if the timeline was the full seven years after the show's finale, like the coda in that episode had it. No, this is just odd, especially since they point it out. I will thus, however, accept the update of a scene with the General and Clark in private wherein the General explains that he, too, knows something about keeping a secret. (!) (Remember, Lois doesn't seem to have any idea about that moment in the barn.) And that, ultimately, now that he's gone full-on public as Superman, that's really too bad for Clark. God and country and stuff. I would believe that from this character.

(Thank you, Michael Ironside.)

Henshaw's complaint being that he "can't feel anything" is relevant tie-back to the scene with Clark over lunch in episode five, which at the time was functioning as foreshadowing of the current action. Because we don't really ever get to know Hank, this all ends up being a bit too "well made," but I'll praise evidence of planning around here every time. It's also logical motivation to be horrified at having had his mind transplanted into a machine (ah, irony), but I'm having trouble with the outrage at Superman for not saving him (despite his own heroic insistence at the time that he, Hank, had to stay with the ship) and at the attempt to replace Superman for this failure.

I can imagine the explanations: He's clearly distraught. He's not in his right mind (ah, irony!). He's a villain now! He. Has. Gone. Insane!!!

Yes, yes, but it's none too complex, you see, which is how you get believable characters and action. This is a story that took ten approximately-22-episode seasons (and corresponding years) of an hour-long drama to get Clark Kent to become Superman. At the pace of Smallville: Season 11, that's like at least 1,000 "issues" (ball-parking, of course - my hunch is all the panels from all the storyboards from all those episodes [assuming storyboards even exist] would count out to more). Here, Hank Henshaw goes from regular-guy hero to real hero to villain in almost no time at all.

The effect this has in me is me now seeing in the pre-incident Hank Henshaw more an Epicurean thrill-seeker than any kind of hero who now, more than ever, equates doing the right thing with doing what makes him feel good.

Because a real hero would stand by his decision to stay with the ship. A real hero would want to help a Superman that can't save everybody, not destroy him.

In other words, this guy didn't so much become a villain as the villain was finally given means of expression.

Is that what the creators want me to see? I have no idea, nor am I sure that they do.

It's like the show, this way, as it happens, though sadly not in a desirable way. My point, in other words, in the end, is it's still just plot, never character or theme, driving this thing - a preoccupation with the superficial at the expense of ever considering why any of the stuff that's happening in the story is actually happening, to say nothing of what it might mean. As in, the answer to "Why is Tess alive-by-consciousness in Lex's mind?" is almost certainly "To give Lex the motivation needed to establish the means by which Hank Henshaw can become Cyborg Superman" rather than, say, "To provide a running commentary on the conflict in every (wo)man between his/her good and evil impulses."

Unless you're just coming to Superman for the powers, don't you think the second answer would be more compelling? Wouldn't an answer like that make you want to pay close attention?

Otherwise, the whole situation with Tess is just a novelty that makes very little sense - at one point, Lex says her appearance is his augmented mind's way of handling the augmentation and (so, she's a figment?) yet it's somehow actually her (obekabey!!) and Lex wants (and, naturally, needs) to have her removed. Lucky he's got that augmented mind now and can create the means to do this, completely "off camera," basically overnight and with absolutely no attention paid to how "the procedure" works beyond the familiar vernacular of upload and download. Not like that would be interesting.

And it's because of just this kind of thing that I disagree with the many good people here on the Superman Homepage who have exclaimed Smallville: Season 11 to be of superior quality to the New 52 books (this came up in the review from a couple of weeks past, or maybe in the associated Comments, but I hadn't before followed-up on it).

The way I see it, see, is those books would try to explain how the hell Lex's procedure works. They would have already explained how the memory toxin administrator's consciousness transfers to the toxin's receiver (rather than simply saying that it does) and probably also find a way or two to consider the broader implications of such a phenomenon. It wouldn't be a mere plot device, a choice made to rationalize a choice earlier made about a future point in the plot.

In fact, I'm finding the current Superman and Action Comics to be smarter and more challenging, narratively, then Smallville. Kind of by a long shot. (Yo, fellow Homepage reviewers: Who wants to trade for an issue?!) Not perfect, by any means. And sometimes so smart they're stupid (yes, happens to Morrison too often, I'm sad to admit). But much more engaging. When I read the current books, I feel the weight of their history. When I read Smallville, I feel like I'm reading a high-resolution replica of a Silver Age book, with much more relaxed social mores but still all kinds of quasi-scientific mumbo-jumbo in all the right places (i.e. as many places as possible).

Maybe it just takes all kinds.

4Art - 4: I continue to have neither any particular complaints nor feelings of special impression from the art in this book. Meanwhile, I also continue to believe that whatever acclaim is owed is owed more to the color work than to the pencil work. Nice work, Chris Beckett. That letterers even still get specified credit when they are no longer hand-lettering kind of blows my mind, but that isn't a factor in my scoring, which has held at the 4 since something like forever.

I also want to thank whoever's listening for not including in this issue any of those ridiculous name labels that I have harped on about for being fundamentally redundant. But, sorry, I can't help but notice that one of the economical red-with-white-text exposition boxes was used for the first time to identify a character (General Lane, to be precise), where before they were only ever indicators of time and place.

Truly we agree, dear reader, that this kind of thing is small potatoes, and yet it nevertheless indicates a level of carelessness and default-to-the-expeditious that has sort of always hobbled Smallville, whatever the medium - manifest in the show principally by inconsistent characterization and the frequent flirtation with premise plagiarism, here in the book as a seemingly total lack of ability to abide by its own norms. Makes me feel like the creative effort is directed more at trying to be one thing rather than in just being itself.

4Cover Art - 4: Only in a book that began as a continuing adaptation of a live action property (in this case a television show) could we care about the extent to which the character illustration in the book correspond to the real-life people who portrayed the characters on screen. I think we probably all pretty much expected this kind of fidelity, and not only because the first images of Smallville: Season 11 we even saw seemed to abide by it.

Because, as much as anything, it kind of wouldn't otherwise be Smallville. Right?

So should we care about the obvious drift away from this fidelity in the last few covers? In this latest one, our boy looks more like the singer from Maroon 5 than Tom Welling - he even sort of has the moves like a combative kind of Jagger. (Ok, groan, but I'm leaving it in!) Other than that, it's strong and has a classic composition that shows conflict featuring the hero without giving away too much about his opponent. I'm giving it high marks for competence but not a perfect 5 because of the whole fidelity-with-cast-likeness thing.

Meanwhile, in print...

Issue 3, September 2012

4Cover Art - 4: This is another classic kind of cover but, like the new digital variant, Superman bears absolutely no resemblance to Tom Welling. It feels very 90s, but that's ok - I like a lot of the art from 90s-era books, though I can't say the same for a lot of the writing. So, high marks for strength of style but imperfect for being too generic, in the context.

Up to Season 2, episode 12, "Insurgence" in the Extra Content show recap.

Keep on truckin'!

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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